Pop Song Review: Calvin Harris feat. John Newman – “Blame”

Today I’m reviewing the new Calvin Harris single “Blame”, which came right out of nowhere to debut at no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Wow, so this must be really good, right? …Right?

First impressions: So it sounds like Harris has released another breezy summer jam for people to kick back to with a cold drink as they soak in the sun, and it would have been perfect if it hadn’t been released in September. Actually, given the lyrics maybe it isn’t all that summery after all? Ah, disconnect between the music and the words: always a sure sign of a winner.

The music: I really don’t think Calvin Harris is trying anymore. Remember “Acceptable in the 80’s”? Remember how fun, fresh and vibrant the sound of that song was? Remember how different it sounded to everything else in the charts? Also, have you noticed how he hasn’t put out anything that interesting or remarkable since?  It’s kinda sad, really, because knowing what he’s capable of I don’t understand why he insists on making music that just blends in with everything else in the charts. I mean, I touched on why DJs need songs that can easily blend together in my Duke Dumont review, but we all know Harris is better than this. Why is he so content to tread water? Is it because pandering to the lowest common denominator is where the money lies? Could be.

I mean, listen to the music. Haven’t you heard that beat before? Those bubbling synths? The whole summery, shiny, everything’s great vibe? Calvin Harris recycles musical ideas more than Disney did animation in the Sixties. Didn’t Harris kinda pioneer this sound early on in the decade as well? I mean, Eurodance isn’t exactly a recent trend, but I seem to recall him being one of the first DJs to really start feeding it into Western pop music; and now the copycats who followed in his wake have better ideas and are taking more risks than he is. It’s like the ouroboros of modern dance music or something. This isn’t Newman’s magnum opus either – just listen to the way he mangles that extended syllable in “night.” Do they not teach melisma at singing lessons anymore? (Yeah, yeah, I can’t sing like he can, blah blah, whatever, but before you start hammering out a fallacious appeal to accomplishment, I should point out that just because someone is a good singer, it doesn’t mean their singing is always good.)

At the same time, though, I can’t say I dislike it particularly. I don’t really like it either, but for a club-banger, at least, it has a certain smoothness to it (although the post-chorus instrumental is as head-pounding as ever) and it does make an attempt to incorporate some gentle soul into the melody, which I appreciate. Sure, the beat is tedious, but it could have easily been more tedious, and I think that’s what we need to take away from this: it could have been worse. It can always be worse.

The lyrics: “Can’t be sleepin’ / keep on wakin’ / is that the woman next to me?” Hey, morning-after guilt (sort of)! Now there’s a new and fresh subject matter for dance music to explore: feeling bad about drunken, meaningless sex. That’s what people want to think about in a club on a night out, right? Nah, you know I’m just kidding – people in clubs don’t think about what they’re doing.

But I can’t say I care for songs like this, you know: these weird humble-brag songs where somebody complains about the awful, depraved, hot, sweaty, nasty, morally-troubling night of skin diving they just took part in, designed to be played to a club full of people looking for just that. Conflict of interest, know what I’m saying? Also, for a country that’s so liberal-minded when it comes to casual sex, we sure know how to take the fun out of it. Who’s really getting blamed here? These people just want a night out, Harris – leave ’em be.

The main hook is this puzzler of a line: “Blame it on the night / don’t blame it on me.” That’s, er, that’s quite the buck-pass you’re trying to pull off here, mate. Don’t worry, though he defends his excuse: “can’t you see? / I was manipulated by it.” Oh I see, you were tricked into having sex with this woman… by the night. As in, the state of not being day. You, ah, you really want to roll with that, pal? You don’t just want to admit that you were both a little tipsy and she looked really good so you made a move? ‘Cos that would be perfectly acceptable, you know – I’m no prude. (Well I am, kinda, but I try not to be. It’s really more a result of environmental circumstances than–look, we’re getting away from the point.)

But blaming it on the night? That’s not just a bad excuse, it’s a weird one. I mean, the night? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Did an owl pressure this guy into porking this lass? Was it the moon? Was he affected by the moon? Is John Newman a werewolf? Also, wouldn’t it be funny to see how far he’d run with this excuse? Like if the woman got pregnant by accident and asked him for a little financial assistance, just to help with furniture for the child and stuff, and he just dug his heels in and kept saying, “but it wasn’t me, I tell you – it was the night! I was manipulated by the night! Why will no-one believe me on this?!”

“I was a friend she missed / she needed me to talk.” And now he’s trying to pass the buck to her. What a gentleman. I honestly think the inverse, “don’t blame it on the night / blame it on me”, would have worked better here. For one, he’d be manning up and admitting that the drunken liaison was at least somebody’s fault. He’d also be taking the bullet for it which, even if it wasn’t true, would at least be the honourable thing to do. Instead he pins his problems and his errors on the machinations of someone or, in this case, something else, which is the sort of blame culture the Daily Mail have made a career on.

“I’ll be better this time / I will be better this time.” And of course he’s going to go do it again. Well, you can hardly blame the night for it this time – this is premeditated stuff now.

Verdict: I really don’t understand this kind of music and I don’t think I ever will: the disconnect between the music and the lyrics is just too bizarre for me to fully comprehend. It’s also another tedious club-pop banger, the sort of which I can’t fathom anyone truly enjoying unless they were actually in a club. That said, I don’t mind the melody too much, and the club-pop sound isn’t as grating as it usually is… you know what, I’m feeling nice today – a 3 out of 5 it is.

Today’s double-up is Dio’s “Shame on the Night.” It’s just as confused about its subject matter as “Blame” is (Dio songs usually are), but listen to the passion he puts into it. And that imagery… marvellous.

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