Month: November 2014

Pop Song Review: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Another pop song review for all you sexy things out there, howzat? Anyway, today’s review is “Blank Space”, the new Taylor Swift single.

First impressions: Insert obligatory “Lorde knock-off” remark here. In all seriousness, though, there’s a definite Lorde-y vibe here in the breathy vocals, the clear thudding beat and the minimalist electronic production. Dear Lorde, amiright?

The music: Swift continues her march into popdom with her latest single: a morose, mournful song about the end of summer and the long, slow crawl through the cold, unforgiving winter months. At least, that’s the impression I get from the music.

As much as I generally dislike A Dose of Buckley, because tangential connection, he does make a good point in one of his videos about the success of “Royals” by Lorde: that the likely reason it took off as it did was because of the catchiness and textual opulence of the repeated “gold teeth, grey goose” hook and not because of the rest of the music or the lyrics. This makes sense to me, personally, because I never quite understood the success of “Royals” or, indeed, any of Lorde’s music: it always struck me as cold, joyless, cynical and emotionally distant. Decent for the indie scene, sure, but pretty poor pop music. Now, given that Swift has obviously opted for a similar style for her latest single, the one thing I feel she could have done was inject some warmth into it, or at least put some of her trademark personal touch on it that might have given us a reason to care about the song.

As you might guess, that doesn’t happen. The music is sombre, frosty and dark which, on its own, I suppose is fine, but not necessarily for someone whose last hit was the ebullient “Shake It Off”. The only real musical elements at play here are the melody and a quiet, ringing synth stuffed into the background. The melody isn’t all that interesting – there aren’t any decent hooks and it’s more of a tuneful rap for the most part – and the synths are unassuming, so overall it makes for a pretty useless and drab experience. That cacophonous, marching beat doesn’t let up, though, pounding into your senses as that droning synth bass that modern artists are so puzzlingly fond of buzzes like a swarm of hornets beneath the surface. If there was anything lively or catchy about any of its pieces the song might have worked, but it’s all too serious and “artsy” to be enjoyable. It’s a song you “appreciate” more than you actually like.

Ultimately, all “Blank Space” offers is just that: a clear, white surface, pure but faceless, clean but void of personality or warmth. This is some of the coldest, most emotionally stilted music Swift has ever put out – but hey, at least it sounds like 1989, right? Because the album name and the… yeah, I have no idea what 1989 sounded like, either.

The lyrics: Taylor Swift is… urgh, jeez, this is boring. Huh, what? Oh, hello, yes, sorry about that. Anyway, Taylor Swift is a mean-loving woman who wants herself… I guess a mean-loving man, but I’m not too sure. Who else wants to put odds on this song appearing in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie next February?

“I could show you incredible things / magic, madness, heaven, sin / saw you there and I thought / “oh my God, look at that face” / you look like my next mistake.” So she’s someone who claims to have some significant skills and abilities to her name and likes to pick out lovers who she feels are wrong for her. So really she’s holding all the cards here? That’s female empowerment, I guess. I mean, it’d be nice for women not to have to feel that the only way to empower herself is through sexual prowess or some sort of dominatrix fantasy, but it’s a multi-angled thing, this self-confidence business – different strokes and all that – so… hm. Okay, I’m not looking, but how many articles have Jezebel published about this song in the past fortnight?

“New money, suit and tie / I can read you like a magazine / ain’t it funny, rumours fly / and I know you heard about me.” So are there rumours about him too? Or is she just pre-empting the rumours about her? Why are there rumours about either of them? Who are these people supposed to be and why should I care?

Boys only want love if it’s torture.” Do we? Oh, I guess it’s like that whole “women like it rough and sleazy” thing the hair metal bands were going with in the mid- to late-Eighties (hey, that’s what 1989 sounded like!). Of course, those bands were, and still are, widely reviled for that sort of attitude towards women, reducing them to objects that looked good and tasted even better rather than regarding them as human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own. That’s different to this song, of course, because we learn so much about the guy in this song. I mean, he’s pretty and he has nice stuff and… er… well, I guess she’s not exactly sexualising him, either, so… I don’t know. I don’t even know anymore. And you know what? I freaking love hair metal, too, so do your worst.

“Screaming, crying, perfect storms / I can make all the tables turn / rose garden filled with thorns / keep you second guessing like, / “oh my God, who is she?” / I get drunk on jealousy / but you’ll come back each time you leave / ’cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She sounds delightful, doesn’t she? Okay, so she’s playing up the whole “I’m bad and you’d better know it” stuff in order to project a sense of confidence, wildness and unpredictability, but really it comes off as less that and more, “whatever pets you own, I will murder them, just for kicks.” It’s pretty funny how we can romanticise abusive relationships these days as long as it’s a woman singing her own crazy plaudits. Imagine a man telling his lover that he can “make all the tables turn” and that he gets “drunk on jealousy” and the whole thing gets a lot more sinister. I mean, do guys actually want to sleep with crazy women? Somebody better tell Gilbert and Gubar that the madwoman got out of the attic and, apparently, she’s a bit of a fox.

“Got a long list of ex-lovers / they’ll tell you I’m insane.” Oh, I bet the tabloids have just gone nuts over this line, haven’t they?

Verdict: You know, if there’s anything the recent S Club 7 quasi-reunion told me, it’s that pop music used to be fun. I won’t argue that it was much better, but I will admit that “Don’t Stop Movin'” was my jam back in 2001 simply because it was catchy, upbeat and fun. I struggle to think what poor child would look back at 2014 in thirteen years’ time and think, “oh man, yeah, I was just all about “Blank Space” back then.”

This isn’t good pop music, is what I’m saying: it’s boring, listless, tuneless and bland. “But it’s what the kids are listening to these days!” you all say. Yes, and somehow the kids were tricked into buying tedious, soulless music. Why? I think, really, because it’s popular: if there’s one thing you need to know about young people, it’s that they’ll do anything, say anything and buy anything as long as they think it’s popular. Your teenage years are basically one long popularity contest and the music you listen to is just one factor of that. 2 out of 5, and only because I really don’t want to have to listen to it again to be sure I shouldn’t have given it a 1 instead.

Today’s double-up is not, in fact, “Don’t Stop Movin'”, though here’s the video if you fancy a nostalgia-gasm for lunch. The actual double-up is “Just Like a Woman” by Black Spiders.


Pop Song Review: Rixton – “Wait On Me”

Today’s review is “Wait On Me” by Rixton. I don’t normally capitalise the “o” in “on” if it’s within the song title because, for the most part, “on” is a preposition denoting location: Smoke on the Water, for example. However, here, “on” is… you know what, let’s just start the review.

First impressions: Well that was weird – I looked up the new Rixton single and this Maroon 5 song started playing instead.

The music: Ska music: reggae for white people who can’t dance. Ska pop: reggae for white people who can’t dance and probably aren’t old enough to drink.

Jokes! Well, not really, but I do find myself liking this song the more I hear it. The verses aren’t much to talk about but the beat drives them nicely, so at least you’ve got something to enjoy while the song’s actually playing in case you can’t remember what you were just listening to. I actually do like the bridge, though, and the chorus isn’t too bad, either – a nice choice of notes, there. The guy’s got a decent voice and, to his credit, he doesn’t try to put on a cod-Caribbean accent, while the band do their job well enough. Speaking of bands, I compared Rixton to Maroon 5 earlier, but where the latter is basically the Adam Levine Project at this point the former does actually feel like a cohesive unit, which I appreciate mightily. And hey, at least these guys don’t have Adam Levine’s whiny falsetto or Adam Levine’s scrawny, oversexualised posturing or… just Adam Levine in general, actually. In fact, every band ever gets a plus point for not having Adam Levine (except Maroon 5, of course. Sorry, lads).

I don’t think the post-chorus whistling bit was necessary, though. It doesn’t add anything to the music and it doesn’t refer to anything else within it, so it just sticks out like a piece of toilet paper stuck to the song’s shoe. Not much else to say about the music, though, other than, “well done, for the most part.”

The lyrics: Somebody commented on the official video for this song how much they appreciated Rixton’s “creative lyrics”. Red flag to a bull, right here – let’s have some fun.

“Wait on me, I know how to love you / and I wanna love you some more.” Grand start, I must say. Here Rixton explore the deep, problematic notions of excess and arrogance associated with western culture: he’s perfectly confident that he knows “how to love you,” but he’s not satisfied with that so he has to “love you some more.” He has to prove his prowess again and again, out of greed but also out of an unspoken self-hatred tied in to his crippling lack of self-worth. With this one line Rixton have identified the modern man: an individual whose boastful, overconfident exterior is merely a mask to hide how weak and frightened he really is, persistently compelled to over-perform in order to keep up with the entitled, fast-moving, hyper-sexualised modernity of a culture which is slowly but surely killing what’s left of him. Brilliant!

Okay, fine, I’m being needlessly mean here, but if this is what passes for “creative” lyricism, no wonder pop music is stuck in a bit of a rut. “Wait On Me” is pretty pedestrian stuff, even by pop music standards: “Take it, take it / I’ll give my heart to you for free, girl / don’t you break it, break it / along with every piece of me.” Do I even need to analyse this?

“I wanna be the one to know what you need […] I never wanna be your ex-man / I’ll never make you feel ignored.” Aw, that’s sweet, Rixton.

“You can go and find your next man / but I know what you’re waiting for.” That’s… not quite as sweet, honestly. Is it me or is there a weird stalker/cuckold-esque vibe to this line? Or maybe it’s just posturing – or all of the above. “Pah! Go, feeble woman! Go to your new lover as Rixton watches on. Rixton shall watch with his all-seeing eyes your romance blossom, gaze as you dally in sweaty, sexual conquest, smile as you argue over trivial matters, laugh as you cry, gloat as you moan and beat his chest as you hold yourself in silence, for Rixton knows what it is you truly desire, what you truly crave – and it is Rixton! All roads lead to Rixton, my dear, as you shall find in your pitiful journey to be rid of me. But no-one shall be rid of Rixton! No-one!”

“I’ll go the distance but not all of the way.” I can’t tell if this is romantic or not: you could take it as him wanting to hold off from sex to get to know her better, or as him wanting sex without a relationship; it really depends on what your definition of “all of the way” is. Well, the absolute “all of the way” is death, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going for here. I mean, it could be, but it’s a strangely morbid angle for such an otherwise-upbeat song.

“Come a little closer / wanna be the one to explore / a little trouble never hurt nobody/ oh, I wanna feel your body.” Er, good one? And I thought you didn’t want to go “all of the way”. What is feeling her up if not approaching all the way? Or is that just the “distance” you were talking about? “Hey baby, come a little closer, let me feel you good, let me–woah, was that a kiss? Hey, I didn’t think you wanted to go that far. I mean, jeez, lady.”

“Say what you mean to me and mean what you say.” I guess this is kinda clever, or just completely redundant, or slightly intelligent, or totally unnecessary, or fairly witty, or absolutely tautological.

Verdict: This isn’t too bad, actually. It’s certainly better than their last hit, “Me and My Broken Heart”, even if I can’t quite tell the two apart at times. 3 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Waiting On You” by Coverdale & Page.

Rock Song Review: Soundgarden – “Storm”

The long-awaited Soundgarden rarities compilation has finally been announced for release in late November – Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path, a career-spanning reaping of the vaults that looks set to be everything Queen’s latest compilation, Queen Forever, should have been. So here’s a review for “Storm”, a newly-recorded version of an ancient and long-lost track and the first to be released from the new collection.

The music: Although the track was recorded earlier this year, the song itself dates back to a demo tape Soundgarden cut in 1985 before they even released their first EP. If you’ve listened to any early Soundgarden you’ll know that their Nineties alternative rock sound wasn’t fully formed by any means. In fact the music was more in line with Eighties post-punk and new wave with elements of early Seventies heavy metal sewn in as well, so they could sound like the Misfits one second, Devo the next and Black Sabbath the next after that. It’s interesting stuff, even if their songwriting skills still needed a few years to sharpen.

But anyway. This is very new Soundgarden covering very old Soundgarden. As you’d expect the post-punk sound is still there – with its guitar squawks, rumbling bass and heavy, brooding production this could have fitted easily onto Screaming Life. Also like much of early Soundgarden the structure is unconventional and often disorientating: there is a chorus here to speak of, but you might miss it in the whirling, psychedelic vortex of dark, sinister sounds present here. In that sense “Storm” is an accurate name: the drums ground the song with a consistent rock groove but the key here is the atmosphere, the thick bass and heavy chords conjuring the black clouds above with only Cornell’s aged croon cutting through the rain as the frequent spikes of guitar noise keep the listener constantly on edge.

It’s all very cool, even if it never really explodes as you might expect it to. Then again, Soundgarden made a career on dodging expectations, so it’s pretty fitting. The song it reminds me of most is “Nazi Driver” from Ultramega OK – nervy, quieter passes accentuated by brief, clattering convulsions of sound. Post-punk, you might call it, but whatever the genre it’s heavy, menacing and foreboding. Music to send you running for the hills, or at least under your bed, this is a beast about to pounce. Do I sound like a press release right now?

The lyrics: Now, here’s the thing. With my pop song reviews it’s usually pretty easy to sum up the lyrical themes in one line because pop music makes its trade on simplicity and immediacy. Rock lyrics, on the other hand, can be anything from nice and obvious to head-scratchingly complex. Soundgarden lyrics, in particular, have never been easy to bottle down into a tidy statement. Did you ever find out what “Black Hole Sun” was about? Exactly.

There aren’t even that many words here to play with, but the ones that are here are interesting. Even though this was written nearly thirty years before anything on the band’s recent comeback album King Animal, lyrically at least it feels like an extension from that record’s themes of hopelessness in the face of nature and encroaching mortality: “the storm has weakened minds of steel / the rain to capture hopeless ones.” Very bleak stuff, but typical Soundgarden: obtuse and rich in flavour, like a weirdly-shaped cake. Or something less stupid. See what I mean, though, about the power of nature juxtaposed with the futility of life? The strong-willed have fallen while the weak-willed have simply been sucked into the maelstrom. We all bow to nature in the end, I guess.

“Watch as they run faceless, faceless.” Here we’re asked to spectate upon the flight of the anonymous, possibly from a position of ill-gotten power: “all hope for those corrupt / all strength for those corrupt.” There seems to be a social connotation here, as if the storm has removed what makes us human: the identities of the masses and the souls of the wicked. “My heart comes seeking faces / but all around me is faceless.” He looks to the crowd for warmth and familiarity but all he finds is an anonymous horde running, constantly running either from or towards something.

“This fear has passed them incomplete / those words unspoken with no restraint.” Okay, this line has stymied me a little. The fear passes them incomplete… so they’re only slightly afraid? Are they supposed to be more scared? Of what? And “words unspoken with no restraint”… words not restrained from not being spoken… well, that’s a double negative, so in fact it’s words restrained from being spoken, which possibly alludes to censorship or silencing the masses, which chimes with the removal of identity connoted by the “faceless” part.

Of course, it’s up to anyone to decide what the “storm” and “rain” are metaphors for here – the crushing reality of life, perhaps, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer? Or even just some awesome, evil storm stirring up some havoc? This is what I love about Soundgarden lyrics: they’re pure literary theory fodder.

Verdict: Oh, definitely a 4 out of 5, and not just because I’m a fan. This is wonderful stuff here. I may also have a few words to say about Echo of Miles when it’s out because… mercy, does that look good.

Today’s double-up, by the way, is “Black Cloud” by Trapeze.

Pop Song Review: Cheryl – “I Don’t Care”

So the current UK number one single is a Cheryl ex-Cole song, the week after she performed it on The X Factor which she recently returned to as a judge. That’s amazing, it really is – people still watch The X Factor? Anyway, today I’m reviewing “I Don’t Care” by Cheryl Fer… uh, Fernaver, er… Veranda? No that’s not it, er… Fandango-Vindice? Eh, Cheryl will do.

First impressions: A summery club-jam with whooshy synths and an Ibiza beat, perfect for those July nights on the beach with your friends – and assuming people still have this song on the brain in eight months’ time when it actually is July again, it’ll be perfect. Meanwhile, who else is looking forward to Christmas?

The music: Didn’t I say a while back that I was done reviewing club-pop songs? And here I am reviewing two in a week, not long after I said I was also done doing that?  I guess demand was just too high for me to remain retired on that front, wasn’t it? “This can’t be so,” cried out a generation in unison. “What must we do to resurrect the Archbudgie’s bi-weekly critical interest in these mindless club jams? Must we purchase the new Cheryl single in our masses? If it must be done, let it be so!” And so they did. Or, you know, they just liked the song and it had nothing to do with me. Whatever.

So this is another club-pop song, released at a time when people are probably even keener to head into a club full of warm bodies than stay out on the cold, rain-swept streets. Not me, mind – I love the rain and you should too – but it does serve a purpose, like hot chocolate mixed with vodka. Does it work? Mostly, yes. The song, that is, not hot chocolate and vodka.

There’s a big, fizzy beat to get you moving and grooving, because apparently I can only describe current music like an old man now. The melody is well-constructed and Cheryl’s in good form, especially in the chorus where she just belts out the title with an energy we don’t normally get in her music. The song itself isn’t my bag but I like the little elements that make it up, particularly the bass – nothing special in the actual notes, but it seems to my ears to be much thicker and more prominent than in other pop songs of its kind and, because of that, the music actually feels like it has some proper support for a change. There’s also a nice, subtle groove to that synth-riff that I appreciate – you know, the “duh-duh-duduh” part? Look, even if you don’t, just nod your head so we can move on.

It’s the sheer vibrancy here that works the most, though. It certainly elevates it above her other singles: for once she actually sounds like she’s enjoying her work. There’s something to put on the Pros list for 2014: a fun Cheryl song. Frankly, given the sucky year this has been we need all we can get.

The lyrics: Cheryl’s ex-man is going out with somebody else but she doesn’t care, so much so that she wrote a song about it. Well, co-wrote. Typical pop song fare, I suppose: the jilted lover moving on with a flick of the wrist, a shake of the hips and a crack of the whip. Also, about a metric ton of ice cream, if sitcoms have taught me anything.

“Waking up diagonal like an animal / in a cold and empty bed.” But she’s in it – how can it be empty, I ask you? Sense: not being made here. I guess the whole diagonal sleeping implies she’s in a double-bed that used to be occupied by two people and now isn’t because relationships are hard guys, but the “like an animal” part throws me. Are animals known for diagonal sleeping arrangements? Missed that one in biology lessons. I know cows have been known to sleep in alignment with the north/south axis for some reason, but Cheryl isn’t a cow. I noticed that, you see. I’m observant like that.

“I heard you brought that girl around in half a gown / and asked if I’ve been there.” I’m not all that in tune with fashion trends, but are half-gowns a thing now? What even is that, a gown with half the material cut away? That doesn’t seem like optimal club-wear, personally. Also, why is he asking if you’d been there? If “there” is the abode where he’s bringing this young lady of his, is there a chance you would have been there? Do you have a tendency to creep back into his house? I think I need more information here. Who is he asking, too? His landlord? His cat? The woman he’s bringing around? What a weird lyric this is.

“I don’t care / and it feels so fucking good to say I swear / that I don’t care.” Eh, eh, get it? She says “swear” just after she drops an F-bomb. Geddit? Yeah, geddit? Do you fricking get it already?!! Yeah, there’s cursing, but that doesn’t really surprise me anymore: casual swearing is pretty commonplace nowadays (hence the whole “casual” part of the equation) which, on the one hand, removes its taboo value and arguably frees up our speech. On the other hand it dilutes the potency of the form: swear words are used less these days as true curses and more often as overly-enthusiastic modifiers, such as the aforementioned Cheryl usage, so whatever edge they might have once had has largely been lost. I still refuse to use them, though. #prudeandproud2k14

“Everyone is saying now, just slow it down / or I’ll get hurt again / when these things are feeling me, it’s healing me / and I’m screaming, I don’t care.” Let’s pick this line apart a bit: “everyone” – friends, loved ones, presumably unloved ones too – is telling her not to rush into another Ugandan discussion so quickly, I’m guessing because this relationship ended so recently they expect her to still be getting over it. But nope! R Cheryl’s off again because “these things are feeling” her which… I…

Okay, what does that actually mean? What things? The fingers of strange men? Whatever it is, it’s “healing” her, so supposedly there is still a wound and it’s fresh enough to need medicinal care (in the metaphorical sense, natch). She doesn’t care, though, because it’s R Cheryl! Except… anyone feel like she should? Or is this the prudish old man speaking up again?

Basically it’s like Tove Lo’s “Habits”, except we’re supposed to see her post-break up hard-partying as a positive thing. She’s actually screaming – full-throated cries to the night – that she doesn’t care, often a clear indication that you do in fact care a little bit. It sounds like the pits of desperation and denial to me which, obviously, isn’t what the free ‘n’ easy music is trying to convey, but now it’s all I can hear. By the way, I know this has a pointed message in that it’s directed at someone she used to know, but if this turns out to be some closet “haterz gunna hatez” song I won’t be happy. I have cannons and they will be fired.

“I can see the Milky Way and it seems so far away.” Hm. Anybody want to dive in here and update her with some basic astronomy?

Verdict: Eh, I guess it’s not all that bad. It’s upbeat, it’s catchy enough and it has a vim to its breezy bounce that a lot of club-pop doesn’t. 3 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Movin’ On” by Bad Company. Sure, they’re not technically about the same thing but, in another sense, they are. Besides, it’s Bad Company – what are you complaining about?

Some Thoughts on Beats Pills as Product Placement


“That’s some great unintentional symbolism right there: a woman is literally being choked by modern music. They are literally forcing these Beats Pills down our throats now.”

That’s a quote from Luke Giordano’s This Song Sucks review in regards to the above scene from Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch”, one of the many, many, many mainstream songs in the last couple of years to feature a Beats Pill in its music video for no apparent reason. If you don’t know what a Beats Pill is by now, it’s a portable speaker, like one of those dock-station gizmos you can buy from Aldi for about ten to twenty pounds, except the company Beats made it. That’s about it. Oh, and it has a little Blur-style ‘b’ on the front and a price-tag that’ll have you eating sawdust for a month if you’re strange enough to buy one. And sometimes they’re pink.

But why the sheer prevalence in modern music videos? Respect for Dr Dre, co-founder of Beats Music? Wanting to jump on the latest trend? Nah, simple product placement is my guess. That’s the gist of it, really: the Almighty, All-Consuming Dollar. It’s not like product placement is a new thing, either, but the utter ubiquity of these dorky speakers is still pretty startling. They’re so blatantly placed, too, as if the video makers figured that all they had to do to get us to splash out on these things is dangle them in front of our noses like a carrot or a hypnotist’s pendant. What’s also startling is just how little people care about this, as if we all unknowingly agreed to simply put up with this tasteless marketing spam without a fuss. Are we really all that okay with this nonsense? Or are we all all just bored and exhausted of shouting and pointing? If that’s the case then congratulations: we’ve shown capitalism that all it needs to do to crush us into place is wait until we tire of fighting back, at which point it gets to move in and do whatever it flaming well pleases. Just ask the reservoir where Capel Celyn used to be.

Okay, maybe I’m overly dramatic here: this isn’t a surprising turn of events, by any means. Product placement in pop culture has been getting more and more aggressive over recent years, two significant examples being Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video in 2010 and the last Transformers film (whose very existence is basically product placement). With that last example in mind, maybe it’s actually not a bad thing that Beats is everywhere: instead of lots of obnoxious products being shoved into our face we merely get the one, like a King Rat situation where the big rat keeps all the little rats in place. Still, it’s pretty shameless; and though I’m not sure we needed further confirmation that the modern music industry is little more than QVC set to better (or worse?) music, here it is anyway.

(And yes, music videos are expensive to make, largely because the music industry is in a hole it arguably dug itself, so the video creators need a way to finance these things and, sometimes, have to sell themselves out a little to cover the costs. But did they ever consider, y’know, just spending less money? Surely there’s a way to make a striking, provocative piece of footage without spending the average yearly expenditure of a small European country? If these people were just a little more creative and… you know what, never mind.)

So let’s look at a hilarious exercise in self-justification from Beats president Luke Wood, via Dazed, in which he discusses the rise of the Beats Pill and its increasing presence in music videos. Firstly, I’d like to mention the opening statement from the interviewer in which she un-ironically informs Wood that, in contrast to the Beats Pill, “some product placement can feel way too forced,” making her either a dedicated kiss-ass or the most naive journalist I’ve ever encountered. Wood’s response:

The great thing about the music video is music, and music has to come from somewhere. So just like a Fender Stratocaster has the perfect place in a rock video, headphones and speakers are perfect in a music video.

Well, that’s a false equivalency right off the bat: the Stratocaster doesn’t play the music, the guitarist plays the music using the Stratocaster. It’s not a speaker, it’s an instrument: the very thing needed to write and make the music in the first place. You can’t write a song on a Beats Pill. If that’s what you’re going with, show us your Pro Tools rack in your video instead, or the poor engineer having to rush out the next Ariana Grande single. A better equivalent would be the amplifier the guitar is plugged into, except that’s also a stretch because amplifiers are necessary components for the electric guitar sound – it’s how we hear the ruddy thing – whereas most devices that can play music these days come with their own internal speakers.

His claim that “music has to come from somewhere” is a strange one, too, because rock videos don’t always show the band playing; and it’s a rare thing indeed to see pop artists playing any instruments in their videos. Besides, if the Pills weren’t there it’s not like we’d be saying, “hey, what’s going on? Where’s that music coming from?” How dumb does corporate America think we are?

Here’s another quote on the nature of the Beats Pill as a “status accessory”:

I made rock videos for a very long time, and it was never a mistake what kind of guitar they were playing in the video. The guitar player thought for a long time, “What do I want to say about myself in this song? And the guitar says that.” I think everything has semantic value.

Yes, and the Beats Pill says a lot about the video’s maker, too. It says, “Beats paid us lots and lots of money to put this in our music video.” Also, yes, I would imagine guitarists are usually concerned with the semantic value of their guitar in a song, given that “playing said guitar” is often their only role within it. Are we really putting “guitarist” and “person who holds and/or turns on unnecessary portable speaker” on the same pedestal now?

The discussion trails off a bit from here into Wood’s time in the industry and the changes he’s seen, which could have made for an interesting interview on its own. Instead it’s inserted into this nothing of an ego massage, which quickly rolls back to Beats and the changing musical landscape. On whether things have “changed for the better”:

Some artists are truly multidimensional and their vision transcends making a recorded artefact. For many artists, it’s an incredibly rich time because the canvas is everything: it’s installation, video work, TV, broadcasts, live events, theatre. For an artist who likes to play with visuals, you can change that every day through Tumblr or Instagram.

You know, I wonder if I should send that into Pseuds Corner in Private Eye and earn myself a tenner? At least half of those things he lists have been around since the Seventies (heck, Alice Cooper built a career on incorporating theatre into the medium of the rock concert), so why does he seem to refer to this as a recent occurrence? I should note at this point that the article’s title is “Why the Beats Pill is suddenly everywhere” and at no point has the interviewer made any attempt to actually squeeze an answer out of the man as to why this is. I mean, it’s fairly evident, but a concrete answer would still be nice.

And finally, on whether he is surprised by how well musicians have taken to being paid huge whopping sacks of cash to endorse Beats Pills:

No. We built the Pill because we found ourselves constantly in situations where we wanted something other than a headphone.

Like a portable speaker, which is not a technology Beats “built” by any means. Ever since they figured out how to make regular size speakers smaller, we’ve had what the Beats Pill essentially is. Besides, most of these people are likely to have an iPhone or some sort of smartphone, which I’m sure also play music out loud if you remove the earphones. Come on, even my battered old iPod Touch from five years ago can do that.

We’d be somewhere and we wanna hear music. […] Usually I’d be bored out of my mind with no music. That’s what the Pill does for people, especially artists who travel constantly.

So yes, the interview itself is effectively product placement as well (as is this post if you think about it, but let’s not). Weirdly enough, he doesn’t do a particularly good job of explaining why I actually need a Beats Pill. If you’re an artist constantly on the move, I would imagine you already have some accessible method of playing music, given that you rely on the medium to earn a living. If you’re in the car and want to play some songs off your iPhone or whatever, just buy a cheap auxiliary lead and connect it to the radio. Some cars even come with Bluetooth so you can beam the music without any fiddly cables. So you ask, “but what if I’m on a train or a plane, or even walking down the street, and I need my jam”? Then respect the other passengers or passers-by who might not want to listen to the latest Calvin Harris single with you and use your headphones, you git.

Okay, look, if you own a Beats Pill or are thinking of buying one, kudos to you. I don’t want to discourage or dishearten you in your purchase in any way. Truth be told I can see how they might be useful, particularly if you’re hanging out with your friends and you want some loud, clear music playing as a soundtrack. But it isn’t anything new and, from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t give you any better sound than that cheap Aldi speaker I mentioned earlier in the post. Please, combat corporate America today and simply think about your purchases.

This has been an Archbudgie public service announcement. You may now resume your internet duties.

Pop Song Review: Tove Lo – “Habits (Stay High)”

Two pop song reviews for you this week. Today it’s “Habits (Stay High)” by rising dance-pop star Tove Lo. Fun fact: this song spent a considerable amount of time this summer atop the Billboard Rock Charts. Another fun fact: I nearly gave myself an aneurysm trying to figure out how that happened. The matter even pushed me to send out out one of my rare tweets that wasn’t an automatic Publicize posting by WordPress:

Like the Kadupul flower of Sri Lanka, you must enjoy it while you can. Anyway, here’s the video:

First impressions: Well, it’s definitely not a rock song, so well done there Billboard. Actually as far as dance-pop songs go it’s pretty good: catchy, emotional, danceable but with a dash of sadness. Not bad.

The music: Given its odd placement on the rock charts I was all set to dislike “Habits” but I have to say, I found myself pleasantly surprised by what I heard. It’s a song that holds back rather than assaulting your senses, which I appreciate: the production is smooth but subtle so it never overpowers the ear, a rare feat for a song intended to be blasted in clubs. The chorus doesn’t explode but rather swells to a backdrop of synths that sounds to me like a sombre choir, accompanied by a little falling violin line tucked into the mix (though I’ve always been useless when trying to pick out string instruments, so it could be something else).

There’s a definite undercurrent of despair to the music, all minor notes and chords (I think – again, me no music great): even the synth line that holds the verse together is more of a barely-contained weep than the thunderous clap of confidence you get from a lot of club-pop. It doesn’t forget its main purpose, though, and much like somebody just about holding themselves together for the sake of The Dance, there’s a tidy little groove at work here keeping the beat snapping along. It’s definitely a step or two above most dance music I hear, which admittedly isn’t a lot these days.

As for the vocal side of things, Tove Lo has a very nice voice and it fits the music well – there’s something impassioned and yet defeatist about her delivery, breathless and desperate yet confident and firm. Also, because the music is relatively minimalist in construction it lets the melody stand out on its own and, fortunately, it’s a strong, catchy melody with some lovely, mournful hooks set to a nice, funky groove. Yes, this is the Archbudgie not just complimenting a dance song, but profusely so. Again, enjoy it while it lasts.

The lyrics: Tove Lo is having trouble forgetting a former lover, so she has to constantly get drunk, take drugs, party and sleep around – i.e. “stay high” – just to get this person off her mind for the night. I guess it’s less expensive than therapy, but probably not by much. The opening line is “I eat my dinner in my bathtub / then I go to sex clubs,” so we’re diving right in, so to speak. It’s interesting that the lyrics start out with what sounds like a pretty wild night out, only to arrive by the end of the verse at “I’ve been around and I’ve seen it all.” This might be the single most important line in the song because it really hits home the emptiness, numbness and exhaustion Tove Lo is trying to convey… or maybe I’m just spit-balling here? What do I know?

“Gotta stay high all my life / to forget I’m missing you.” Or she could just move on and find someone else, but that would admittedly be a less interesting story. How much shorter would The Revenger’s Tragedy have been if Vindice had just said, “eh, plenty more fish, am I right?”

“Oh, make it fast and greasy / I’m numb and way too easy.” Is she describing rebound sex or a McDonalds meal? The former interpretation is quite sublime in the way it alludes to Tove Lo’s complete state of desperation and self-loathing – that she just wants a quick release to keep her mind and body occupied without any concern for her health or well-being – while the latter… actually, no, that works too.

“Staying in my play pretend / where the fun ain’t got no end.” So she’s acknowledging that the lifestyle is all just a fantasy she plays up for herself? Interesting. Now, I know that I’ve had a pop at club songs in the past for making a night out seem like a dismal exercise in self-delusion when the music is trying to create an entirely different atmosphere, but I don’t know, something about the lyrics in this song sell it in a way the others didn’t. Tove Lo’s pain feels more real, more visceral than the histrionic melodrama of something like “Blame”. Maybe it’s because the sadness of the music actually matches the sadness of the lyrics for a change? That could be it. Mind you, if she has the money to maintain such a hard partying lifestyle she must be doing something right with her life.

The only real criticism I might have is that it’s all very surface, if you know what I mean: there’s no attempt at metaphor or irony here – it’s all very straightforward and obvious what she’s talking about. That’s a minor niggle, though, and even with that in mind the specificity of the lyrics, e.g. the direct references to sex clubs and munchies, does make it relatable in a way that might have been lost or muddied had she attempted anything more complex. So what I guess I’m saying is “shut up, me,” and I kinda wish that was the first time I’d found myself saying that. This week.

Verdict: This might be some rush of blood to the head talking here, but I’m going to give this a 4 out of 5. It’s as close as we’re getting to modern romantic tragedy and it’s a pretty catchy, bristling tune to boot. Still not rock, though.

Today’s double-up is “I Never Cry” by Alice Cooper (yes, it’s another Alice Cooper song, because screw you, Alice Cooper rocks). Alternatively feel free to substitute any blues song ever written.

A Thousand or so Words on “Dad Rock” and the Old Punks

I read a fairly interesting piece on the Telegraph website the other week about how “dad rock” records are keeping the record industry solvent over the Christmas period, citing the new Pink Floyd, Queen, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC releases as evidence that we flock to “stocking-filling box sets, repackaged classics and new albums from vintage artists” for the holidays. That’s an interesting discussion of its own, but for me it once again raised the question of what exactly “dad rock” is. What I am aware of is the blatant belief, at least on the Internet, that it is somehow a negative thing that we should generally be ashamed of, from this “confession” from a fan of the genre to this condescending Flavorwire list which proclaims in its Google search listing that “dad rock” is “not all terrible”, the assumption presumably being that most of it is.

So what is “dad rock”? Music that dads listen to, so the most simple interpretation goes, but from what I gather there isn’t any one meaning everyone agrees to. Is it a matter of age? The older the lamer? By mere chronology that would make the Clash only slightly less lame than the Eagles, two bands who released their quintessential works within about a couple of years of each other. Let’s say you’re a man who was twenty years old when he bought New Order’s second album, Power, Corruption & Lies, back in 1983. That would make you fifty-one years old in 2014 and very likely a father of at least one child, themselves possibly in or entering their twenties. Does that make New Order a “cringeworthy” dad rock band? Or is it not that simple? No, it never could be, could it?

“Dad rock”, as a term, has only two concrete parameters we can work with and they’re both nebulous to an insane degree: it can’t just be “music that your dad likes” because that could be anything – my dad likes Gregorian chant music, among other things; while the yearly Rock and Roll Hall of Fame debate proves that we aren’t even permitted a neat definition of “rock” anymore. The tidiest understanding I can fathom is that “dad rock” refers to a specific genre of melodic “classic” rock music dating from the Sixties to the early- to mid-Seventies, conveniently right up to the punk explosion that occurred shortly thereafter. In some cases it also pertains to the heavier rock and metal artists and scenes of the Eighties like NWOBHM, thrash and glam metal, conveniently right after the punk explosion had burned itself out. Sensing a trend?

For me, at least part of the issue is rooted in something that one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Hall, has been getting at for some time now: the old punks have, from prominent and “influential positions in the media,” been perpetuating for decades, whether consciously so or otherwise, a “Year Zero” notion which posits that punk rock was a necessary wiping of the slate that brought music back to a point of common sense after the grandiosity and pretension of prog rock. Having not been alive in the late Seventies you may consider me out of a position to challenge this (although we’re gradually running out of people who can), but the assumption that the simplicity of punk was somehow more genuine and worthwhile than the complexity and elaborate nature of prog has always been a weird one to me.

It’s also a pretty poisonous mentality that still leads to artists like Within Temptation – a group whose symphonic metal music can sell out Wembley despite minimal mainstream coverage – getting backhanded compliments like “complete hokum” and a “corny potboiler of a band.” With this example in particular you can tell the critic did in fact enjoy the concert but forced herself to adopt this cynical distance between her and the music, as if she couldn’t allow herself to be seen enjoying something so elaborate and bombastic for fear of opening herself up to mockery and judgement (a wall I personally doubt she would have put up had it been a Foals gig). Perhaps it’s simply a passionate response based on my own affection for “dad rock” – after all, I got into music by rooting through my dad’s old CDs – but that’s what the name really is to me: a straw-man hoisted up by elitist old punks who want an easy stick with which to beat the music they want you to believe they eradicated – in their minds they’ve been running a victory lap for nearly forty years now.

It’s hysterical when you consider that one of the icons of punk, John Lydon, eventually went on to form Public Image Ltd., a group whose music was often as complex and difficult as the prog records he supposedly made redundant. What was post-punk, really, but a progressive response to the limiting simplicity of punk? Perhaps the mentality will backfire on them and the late Eighties/early Nineties grunge bands, whose music was fashioned to an extent on the old classic rock records, may be considered “dad rock” in years to come? Heck, the Foo Fighters are still making Seventies-indebted rock music to this day. Personally I’d like to think that the consensus will change once all the old punks have died off, but the likelihood is that all the younger bloggers and writers who bought into the myth themselves will keep on selling it to the next generation, and so on. At what point does the buck stop? I suppose at a point when we as a culture can acknowledge the merits of all styles and scenes of music without resorting to petty, tribalistic arguments over which artist or genre is “cooler” than another.

So never, then.