Month: March 2015

Playlist: March 2015

Firstly, I have to apologise for the relative quietness of the blog recently. I’ve been doing quite a bit of personal writing recently, most of it for this MA Creative Writing course of mine, so the Crash Course hasn’t had as much of my attention as perhaps it should have. This isn’t all vanity stuff, either – I have a couple of assignments due soon so most of my creative energy has been channelled into those. It also doesn’t help that the pop singles charts have been really, really bad recently, so even the stuff that is good for me to review I haven’t been able to conjure up the interest or enthusiasm to write about. Shameful, I know, but there we are.

So with all that in mind, in order to keep a little bit of consistency going with this blog, from now on at the end of every month, or maybe even the first day of the next, I’m going to try and put together a list of songs that I’ve been listening to during those past thirty-odd days, just to keep you guys updated with what’s going on with me music-wise. This will include new stuff I’ve been checking out as well as old favourites and deep cuts I’ve been giving a spin. This will also give me a space to talk about new records that have come out recently without having to dedicate a whole review to them.

P.S. Although it says March 2015 in the title this is going to be more of a February/March list, just so you know.

EUROPE, “War of Kings” (2015)

I’m still deciding how I feel about the new Europe album, War of Kings. My expectations were certainly high with the band calling it their best album yet and the record they’d always wanted to make. It even had Dave Cobb on production so I was definitely psyched. The album itself, though, hasn’t really gelled for me yet. I don’t know if it’s just me, because it has been getting very good reviews, but the majority of the record feels a bit too slow for my tastes and a lot of the songs feel underwritten, especially in the choruses, as if they were going for this huge epic feel to the album but forgot to write any hooks to prop it up with. I’ve listened to it a couple of times now and maybe in a couple more it’ll click, but after 2012’s very, very good Bag of Bones it feels like a step down. The title track is still boss, though.

THE ANSWER, “I Am What I Am” (2015)

The Answer had a bit of a career second wind with fourth album New Horizon back in 2013 which has carried them through the next year and beyond, culminating in the recently-released Raise a Little Hell. I pre-ordered the album a few months prior and, as a result, I got to hear this track, “I Am What I Am”, early. Even then I knew this was going to be an album highlight: it’s heavy, it’s groovy and it’s catchy as that hell they’re so eager to raise. I can’t decide where the album as a whole sits among the band’s best and worst efforts: I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Rise (though to be fair, fans may as well be waiting forever for them to top that one) but it’s definitely a notch above Everyday Demons and Revival.

SCORPIONS, “The Scratch” (2015)

I’ve only just got into Scorpions and, I have to say, I deeply regret not checking them out earlier. The band announced their final album, tour and subsequent retirement back in 2010, only to call it off a few years later and put together another album, Return to Forever, in February of this year made up partly of old bits and pieces that never found their way onto an album. I’ve no idea if “The Scratch” is one of the new songs they wrote or something based off an old idea, but it’s one of the most unique-sounding songs on the record with a limber swing to it that defies the band’s fifty years of age. If you can pick up the record – apparently certain territories can’t, which just plain bites – I definitely recommend it. Very solid disc.

UFO, “Run Boy Run” (2015)

A new UFO album in 2015, eh? No, Michael Schenker isn’t in the band anymore and nor is Pete Way, but the band is soldiering on strong regardless despite most channels, even the specialist ones, pretty much completely ignoring them. No, no, classic rock radio, you just keep on playing “Communication Breakdown” for the nine-billionth time. It’s a shame, too, because here’s a song that could really put UFO back in the big leagues (well, the big leagues of the classic rock scene – it’s all relative),  set to one of Vinnie Moore’s grooviest, muscliest riffs in recent memory. Phil Mogg’s melodies are still so nondescript they border on spoken word, but I do like the attitude and energy he puts into this performance. As for the album, the oddly-titled A Conspiracy of Stars, it’s not too bad. I think I prefer 2012’s Seven Deadly by a smidge but, apart from a sagging mid-section of tracks, there’s some strong stuff on there. I also recommend checking out “Ballad of the Left Hand Gun“, another solid song.

BLACKBERRY SMOKE, “Holding All the Roses” (2015)

This is from the album of the same name, an album I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. Blackberry Smoke have been getting good press for a few years now but I was never a big fan of country or Southern rock so I mostly overlooked them. This was the song that finally made me stand up and take notice, though – a bit faster and heavier than their usual style, but still very much in tune with that Southern vibe – and the album didn’t disappoint on the promise its title track made. If you can play an album several times in the space of a few days and not get tired of it, that’s always a good sign, especially for somebody with an attention span as shot as mine is.

CHEAP TRICK, “Woke Up with a Monster” (1994)

I don’t listen to Cheap Trick nearly as much as I should. A little while back I decided to give their 1994 album Woke Up with a Monster another listen after having put it aside for ages. This album was a big comeback for the band after the dud that was 1990’s Busted with a drier, heavier sound that didn’t sacrifice their knack for a hook, and though I’d be lying if I said it was excellent it was still the best bunch of music they’d put out in a long time at that point. The title track is a standout among a very tight set, while the song’s music video might just be the most Nineties thing I’ve ever seen.

BLACK STAR RIDERS, “Bullet Blues” (2015)

The band that used to be Thin Lizzy but aren’t anymore even though they still kind-of are put out their second album, The Killer Instinct, in late February. This was another record I had high hopes for but can’t quite decide how I feel about (I should probably just stop anticipating things, shouldn’t I?). I mean, it’s good, it’s really good, but I really liked their first album, 2013’s All Hell Breaks Loose, and I’m not sure where this stands in comparison to that one on my personal barometer. I had a tough time picking a song from this one but eventually I went with the album’s second track, “Bullet Blues”, as a good representation of the Celtic-tinged hard rock the band cook up here. I also highly recommend “Soldierstown” (which is essentially Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” Mk II, but still), the gorgeous ballad “Blindsided” and the punchy “Through the Motions“, which was going to be my track pick here but sounds a little too similar to UFO’s “Run Boy Run” to stand on its own in the list.

KISS, “What Makes the World Go Round” (1980)

A deep cut from an album most KISS fans would probably care to forget, 1980’s Unmasked, when the band went pretty much full-on power pop. I actually enjoy Unmasked, though, and personally find its polished sound a lot warmer and more focused than the weirdly cold and dark Dynasty that came before it. This is a favourite of mine from the set, and while it’s very disco-y and outdated I can’t help but smile whenever that chorus kicks in.

NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS, “Do the Damage” (2015)

I’ve recently realised that Oasis have fallen into a very weird category for me: they’re a band that I genuinely love, but if anybody wants to tell me that they suck I have no inclination to argue with them. Maybe it’s because Noel has been shouting his mouth off more than usual recently and I’m finally catching up with why the world is so sick of the Gallagher brothers. Anyway, Noel has a new album out and it’s a good’un (well, it’s certainly better than his 2011 solo debut, anyway). “Do the Damage” is actually a bonus track on the deluxe edition that was originally a B-side to the “In the Heat of the Moment” single, but it’s so good it’s a minor crime that it wasn’t on the standard release. Why can’t every song have a sax part?

MOTOR SISTER, “Fork in the Road” (2015)

Eddie Trunk has been championing this band for a good month or two now. As it turns out Motor Sister are actually a supergroup formed in part by Anthrax guitarist, Scott Ian, and his wife, singer Pearl Aday, devoted entirely to performing songs by frontman Jim Wilson’s old band, Mother Superior. They knocked together an album of these covers, titled Ride, in a couple of days and it was released earlier this month. If you’ve never heard of Mother Superior before, don’t worry – neither had I when I first found about this project, and I’d bet a pretty penny that I’m not in the minority on that one. That said, you don’t have to be familiar with their back catalogue to enjoy this: basically if you’re looking for some pure, energetic, unpretentious rock and roll then this record is your ticket.

SCORPIONS, “The Zoo” (1980)

Yeah, two Scorpions songs, get over it. Like I said, I’ve really been getting into Scorpions recently and this song, rightly regarded as a staple of the band’s catalogue, probably stands as my favourite of theirs bar none. The riff, the vocals, the chorus, the groove, the talkbox solo… this song is pure sex. There, I said it and I can’t unsay it. Allow these numerous saucy ladies to illustrate my point (and no, I didn’t make the video).

Red Dwarf III, episode 1: “Backwards”

reddwarfIII1brothers

Red Dwarf III, episode 1: “Backwards”

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor; originally transmitted 14th November 1989.

 What happens?

While out on a training exercise, Rimmer and Kryten (he’s back, by the way) accidentally get sucked into a quasar, transporting them to a strange parallel universe where time runs backwards. Lister and Cat head in as well to rescue them, only to find that their strange “forwards” behaviour has become something of a hit with the natives.

reddwarfIII1landingbay

What do I think of it?

Two parallel universe episodes in a row might seem strange on paper, but not so here. Whereas Red Dwarf II aired only six months after I finished broadcasting, III began airing a full thirteen months later and it definitely shows. Between the two series the show evidently got a nice budget boost because… well, just look at those sets, those costumes, the location shooting, the cast. It all looks so lovely. Actually, no, that’s pushing it – this is still 1989 we’re talking about here – but it does at least look a lot bigger and shinier and more like a professional production.

More to the point, Kryten’s back! After the character’s success with audiences in series 2’s “Kryten” the producers brought him back as a full-time member of the crew, this time played by Robert Llewellyn rather than original actor David Ross. That said, Llewellyn’s performance at this time often feels like an attempt to replicate the fussiness of Ross’s Kryten, which in hindsight seems strange but otherwise makes sense. The casualty of an increased role for Kryten, however, is a reduced role for Holly, who has since become a woman played by Hattie Hayridge (otherwise known as Hilly, Holly’s own love interest, from previous episode “Parallel Universe”). With Kryten there to provide necessary exposition Holly’s role is essentially reduced to a sidepart, occasionally chiming in with a point to make, which is a shame because Hayridge does a good job at taking Norman Lovett’s deadpan mannerisms and twisting them just enough to suit her own performance. She would have a wider role in later episodes, but for the most part she’s a non-presence here. A shame but there’s not much we can do about it now.

reddwarfIII1barroomtidy

Anyway, the episode. The lion’s share of the comedic fodder of “Backwards” comes, as you might expect, from the backwards stuff and the inverted logic of it all, so your enjoyment of the show will largely teeter on what extent you care for any of it. Personally I find the sheer volume of backwards jokes a little tiring after a while, but it does demonstrate the show’s level of comic invention nicely. The points made about the ethical pros and cons of living in such a universe as opposed to our own are actually quite interesting and provide a pretty good balance of opinions. Yes, wars would progress with all the soldiers and victims coming back to life while people would live their lives gradually getting younger and younger, but you’d also have to go through puberty again and eventually end up as a sperm, which isn’t exactly a pleasant way to go out either. (The point about Father Christmas stealing all the kids’ presents is also pure down-to-earth Red Dwarf. Way to put things into perspective, Lister.)

Like all sci-fi logic in this show the backwards stuff doesn’t hold up to intense scrutiny. If anything it only seems to apply to localised events, like applauding by pulling your hands apart and spitting beer into a mug, rather than the overall running order of things. I mean, if time truly does run backwards in this universe, shouldn’t Rimmer and Kryten’s entertainment career have started with them being fired? Shouldn’t the crowd laugh and cheer before they even do anything? As much as these little things admittedly bother me, I can’t deny that the reverse fight scene is just brilliant, with some excellent set work that showed how the programme was developing with not only an increased budget but a tighter sense of direction. Good stuff.

reddwarfIII1cheers

The episode does make a criminal mistake, however, in separating the two characters who make up its best dynamic, Lister and Rimmer, by having Rimmer go into the parallel universe with Kryten instead (a mistake the next episode would rightfully and gloriously rectify). While I think it would have been a better idea, also, to start such a newly-jazzed up Red Dwarf with a story set on the flashy new ship, rather than one that takes them all far out of their comfort zones like this so soon, it does at least signal where the show was headed with its storytelling and sense of scope.

You’d have to twist my arm pretty tightly for me to call it a classic, but by all means “Backwards” was a promising start to what would eventually become a stellar run of shows.

Some stray smeg:

  • Yep, that’s 1989 right there, in all its day-to-day glory. It probably won’t mean anything to many other people, but I love little glimpses into the past like that. There’s a similar bit in Sherlock Holmes in Washington where the central characters are driving through the city. Obviously it’s a stationary car with footage playing behind them, so as they “drive” on you can see a group of people just standing and chatting with each other in the background, apparently not even aware that they were being filmed. It’s so wonderfully normal and natural, it’s just like, “hey, that’s 1940s Washington right there.” Just kinda cool, y’know?
  • Who exactly is that woman watching Rimmer and Kryten in the café?
  • Oh, right, I forgot to mention Cat. Well, what do you expect at this point? Actually “Backwards”, while not exactly letting the character bloom fully, does give him little moments of integration with the cast, like having him go on the mission or showing him talking about The Flintstones with Lister early on, that stand in contrast to his relative distance from the others in the first two series, indicating that Cat was gradually becoming more of an active crewmember than the stowaway he often felt like before without sacrificing any of his key triviality or self-obsession. Hey, it’s not much but I’ll take it.
  • Thinking about the “bar room tidy”, it’s actually quite messed up. It starts/ends with Lister uneating/eating the gentleman’s pie, the gentleman gets worked up about it and unpunches/punches Lister, then the fight gets going and eventually ends/starts with the room nice and tidy. So looking at this in linear forwards logic, the room gets trashed, then the man punches Lister, then Lister eats the pie? Shouldn’t that be the backwards narrative? I guess Lister and Cat as forwards-universe agents in a backwards-universe screw up the logic a little, but it’s still a bit odd.
  • That final scene with Cat… there aren’t any words.

Pop Song Review: Usher feat. Juicy J, “I Don’t Mind”

Let’s talk about Usher. I quite like Usher. Got nothing against the man. I couldn’t care less about Juicy J but I like Usher. That’s about all I have to say, really, so without further ado let’s get down to today’s pop song review: “I Don’t Mind” by Usher featuring Juicy J, because heaven knows they couldn’t leave him out.

NOTE: No official music video for this one, apparently, so enjoy reading some soulless static text instead.

First impressions: This is surprisingly upbeat for a slow jam, isn’t it?

The music: “I Don’t Mind” is a minimalist R&B love jam accentuated by percussive handclaps, a pillow-thud beat and a single repeating synth chime that changes its note to signify some semblance of musical movement. This is a long-winded way of saying that “I Don’t Mind” doesn’t have a great deal going on.

That could work, to be honest. Often less is more and I appreciate that the song holds back more than it does push itself onto you. Admittedly there is something oddly warm and charming about the sheer space that’s been left in this recording and I could easily imagine someone using this as the soundtrack to an intimate moment with their beloved… or at least I could if the melody were up to scratch. As it happens, however, there’s no discernible hook (beyond the weird way Usher sings “I don’t mind” in the chorus) to make this a worthwhile or enjoyable experience. It’s not catchy and it’s not syncopated enough to dance to; matched with the equally underplayed accompanying music it all dissolves into a formless wash.

Usher’s vocals are fine. There are moments where he overdoes it and it sounds silly, but for the most part he keeps restraint on his voice and it suits the song nicely. Unfortunately he hasn’t been given anything good or memorable to sing and as a result the whole effect is pretty underwhelming, like a filler track from one of Michael Jackson’s weaker albums. Then Juicy J’s obnoxious rap cameo comes in, ruins what atmosphere there was with his ugly monotone voice and we can all go home.

Also, why does the time signature change between the verse and the bridge? The verse notes are written in 12/8 but the bridge and chorus are in 4/4. Why do that? The sudden change is just jarring and distracting. There’s no need to show off here. This isn’t a Yes song, it’s an R&B crooner.

The lyrics“Shawty, I don’t mind If you dance on a pole / That don’t make you a ho.” Huh. Well, that’s a change of pace for a modern R&B song: actually acknowledging a woman’s worth beyond her sexualised profession. Now that is actually pretty–

“Shawty, I don’t mind when you work until three / If you’re leaving with me.” Oh. So you don’t mind that she’s a stripper and that she works late as long as she’s having sex with you later? That way you get to be the big man who doesn’t mind that his girlfriend strips for money as long as she is a stripper and as long as she is in fact your girlfriend? That’s just having your cake and eating it, dude. You fool no one. (Or, according to the YouTube comments, apparently you do.)

“They be lookin’, but they can’t touch you, shawty, I’m the only one to get it.” I’m getting some pretty bad “Steal My Girl” vibes here. Even if the sentiment has the best intentions in mind, which I like to think it does, it still comes off as patronising with a strong dose of male fantasy. “No, girl, I don’t mind that you’re a stripper. I don’t mind that other guys fantasise about you, because you’re mine and I get to have sex with you. Not them, me! I truly am the bigger man here.”

“You want your own and you need your own, baby, who am I to judge? / Cause how could I ever trip about it when I met you in the club?” See, he’s trying to be thoughtful, but there’s always this caveat, isn’t there? Some specific clause that allows her to be validated as more than a mere sex object on the predicate that we never forget she is having sex with him and only him. What about all the women in her line of work who aren’t riding his junk for free? Are they still hoes until he validates their existence beyond their sex appeal?

“I make enough for the both of us, but you dance anyway.” Ah jeez, he couldn’t have just let her have that, could he? I mean, “you dance anyway?” This is her job. It’s not some after-hours hobby of hers, it’s how she makes her living. Does he genuinely think he’s being thoughtful with this condescending garbage? He’s rich, has sex with a hot stripper and he gets the moral high ground. Why doesn’t he just give himself wings and the ability to breathe fire while he’s at it?

“You can twerk it while in a split, you racking up them tips / Your body rock and your booty poppin’, I’m proud to call you my bitch.” And I bet she’s totally proud to call you her boyfriend as well. What a considerate guy Usher is here, focusing solely on her body and monetary worth and calling her a bitch. Just the best guy, truly.

Aaaaand here comes Juicy J to trip over the point of the song, not that it wasn’t a banana peel of a point to begin with:

“I’m just tryna cut her up, tryna bust a nut / Tryna take somebody bitch, turn her to a slut.” Cut her up? She’s a stripper, not the Black Dahlia, you psychopath. Coupled with the Jeffrey Dahmer mention in Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” I’m seriously beginning to worry about this guy’s frame of mind… or is “cut her up” a rap term? Eh, who cares. He’s still screwing up the song’s message: apparently if you strip for money then you are, in fact, a slut. Well done, Juicy J. You’ve made the rest of your pals in the Pleistocene era proud.

“It’s okay if you work late, we can still party like it’s your birthday / We can still party hard in your birthday suit.” Juicy J is a witless moron. That is all.

“Knock that pussy out the park like my name Babe Ruth.” Hey, while you’re at it why not knock her straight to the moon like your name Ralph Kramden, you dunce?

“When we in the bed she like to roleplay, tell her friend to join in both ways.” And of course it wouldn’t be a brainless male fantasy without the promise of a guy-girl-girl threeway for no reason. Hey, Juicy, if she’s bisexual then that’s twice as many people who might be able to steal her away from you. Do you want to take that risk? She is yours, after all.

Verdict: I suppose it’s at least a progressive message for the modern rap/R&B scene to hear that strippers aren’t just sex objects (though given now Neanderthalic the scene is right now that’s hardly saying much), but the clear ego inflation, the tedious music and Juicy J in general make this a 2 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Another Piece of Meat” by Scorpions, which at least flips the angle and gives the woman the chance to be the sleazebag for a change. (And yes, that’s the second Scorpions song in a row I’ve used as a double-up. In my defence, it’s my blog and Scorpions rock, so deal with it.)

Pop Song Review: Mumford & Sons, “Believe”

Two singles reviews for you this week to make up for last week’s dearth. Today’s pop song review is “Believe”, the comeback single from Mumford & Sons.

First impressions: Huh. Turns out Mumford & Sons without the banjo is… actually pretty tepid.

The music: Much has been said about Mumford and Sons going “electric”, a statement obviously intended to draw comparisons with the infamous “Electric Dylan” hysteria of 1965. Here’s the Wikipedia article on the subject if you’ve nothing else to do today. Does it all mean anything, though?

Well, they’re not exactly sounding like Black Flag, but it is kinda different, I guess. The majority of the song is comprised of these sleepy electric organ chords accentuated by faint guitar highly reminiscent of Coldplay. In fact, is it me or is Marcus Mumford doing a Chris Martin impression? The song is very synthesised, which makes me wonder if by going “electric” they didn’t actually mean “electronic.” Then the guitar slices the tranquility and the song lifts into a soaring Edge-esque guitar crescendo with a decent, if not spectacular guitar solo (still, Mumford & Sons doing a guitar solo? Crikey) before the drums and a slightly-less lethargic Mumford vocal bring it all home. The melody is melancholy and admittedly quite lovely and, personally speaking, if they hadn’t bothered with the finishing whoosh and kept this as a minimalist chamber-pop ballad it would have made for a beautiful album track. Instead it’s the lead single from their first album since the London Olympics ended, and I’m not convinced it works as such.

As for other sources, the NME describes the band’s new direction as “a beefier, straight-up more rock and roll sound,” which only confirms my suspicions that the NME has no clue what rock and roll actually is; while one of the most upvoted comments on YouTube (at time of writing) describes it as “a perfectly evolved sound.” Well, considering that the basic definition of evolution is “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form,” I have to disagree: this wasn’t gradual, it’s not particularly different and it’s hardly any better or more complex than “The Cave” or “I Will Wait“. I’m beginning to think people don’t understand evolution.

Am I being too negative? Possibly. I didn’t care for it at first but, after a couple of listens, I have to admit that “Believe” is growing on me. However, I’ve called this a pop song review deliberately: despite what people have been saying “Believe” is not a rock song and Mumford & Sons are not a rock band. If you disagree, please familiarise yourself with some Virginmarys and then get back to me.

The lyrics: “You may call it in this evening but you’ve only lost the night / Present all your pretty feelings, may they comfort you tonight.” So “Believe” is one of those “no, you suck” diatribes that modern metal bands are so weirdly fond of. Done right these can be quite cathartic, expressing the writer’s frustration and exhaustion with deft maturity; done wrong they just come off as whiny and kinda pathetic. I’m still not sure where this line lies, though the references to “evening” and “night” do at least tie in nicely with the weariness of the music. Also, did these guys just rhyme “night” with “tonight”?

“And I’m climbing over something, and I’m running through these walls.” Is he by any chance climbing over the same walls he’s running through? Wait, hang on, I read “running through these walls” as some sort of fenced maze scenario. Do I get the impression, then, that he can actually smash through walls like the Kool-Aid Man? Why would he need to climb over anything if he had that sort of strength? I’d never open another door again.

“I had the strangest feeling your world’s not what it seems / So tired of misconceiving what else this could’ve been.”  She’s delusional about her personal reality, he’s exhausted with misguided expectations. It’s the original Odd Couple! It is nice that they’re at least hinting at what’s caused the friction, though. I appreciate that.

“I don’t even know if I believe / Everything you’re trying to say to me.” I think “anything” would’ve been a sharper word choice there. It gets the desperation of their fraught relationship across better than “everything” does. “I can’t believe everything you say anymore. Some stuff I can, of course, but not everything like I used to. I was pretty gullible, wasn’t I? Yeah, I’m in a better place now.”

“So open up my eyes, tell me I’m alive.” Now there’s a weird image for a pop song. Great for a horror flick, though.

“Say something, say something, something like you love me / Less you want to move away from the noise of this place.” Move away! Make it work! This place sucks and I know there’s still something good between you two. I know there–sorry, just gushy, touchy, romantic Archbudgie slipping out of his cage for a second there. All apologies. It won’t happen again.

Verdict: “Believe” is a fair, if not great comeback for Mumford & Sons. Despite the promised bells and whistles of the electric direction it’s too bland and too similar to their earlier work to win over a legion of new fans, while those who enjoy the band’s brand of pop-folk might actually be put off by–eh, who am I kidding? With the pull these guys have this’ll easily hit top ten, regardless of how good or bad it is. Speaking of which, 3 out of 5. I’m really going to have to start handing out a different rating soon.

Today’s double-up is something a bit livelier: “Don’t Believe Her” by Scorpions.

Pop Song Review: Years & Years, “King”

Well, the BRIT Awards have come and gone, as has the resultant chart-clog by last year’s greatest hits, and we can finally look forward – or at least, the direction “forward” we’re being pointed in – with today’s pop song review, “King” by BBC Sound of 2015 winners Years & Years, which has already hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart. I’m sure, of course, that that sudden success had nothing to do with the massive marketing push the BBC and Radio 1 have put behind this track. No, absolutely not – it must be the music, right?

First impressions: Okay, not bad. Still, so far 2015 is sounding pretty much the same as 2014 did. And 2013. And 2012. And…

The music: So pop music’s fairly irritating insistence on getting everyone out of their seats and dancing staggers on into the night, riding as it does the latest trend of expressing sensuality via a singer with a trembling, high-pitched little voice – see also Ellie Goulding and the Weeknd. I have to ask, is that what’s considered sexy these days? (And yes, I’m a guy who reviews pop songs in his spare time – I do have to ask.)

Anyway, “King” is fairly standard dance-pop with shimmering synths, a full bass beat and a passionately sung and constructed melody. Those trumpeting synth sounds don’t do it any favours, sounding as they do like something from an Eighties prog album, though they are at least warmer than many other songs on the chart; while the central groove sounds as if it was culled from some Nineties Ibiza dancefloor sampler. I quite enjoy the chorus, though the verse melody is a little too aggressive in its panting staccato attack, synchronising as it does with the keyboard, er, riff; overall it feels like the song is slobbering in my ear, trying to paw at some girl sat one seat over. All the typical rises and falls you’d expect in a dance song are here, though they don’t overpower the melody, which I appreciate. Dance-by-numbers it may be, but it’s still pretty hard to dislike this song.

I’m still a little puzzled as to why these guys were chosen as the Sound of 2015, though, honestly. Oh, it’s catchy, sure, and it’s got a decent beat to it, but there’s nothing new here: it’s the same retro-synthpop anyone who isn’t a DJ seems to be writing these days. According to the BBC, at least, the sound of 2015 is also the sound of 1985, which isn’t the guys’ fault and, I guess, isn’t even that big a problem with me. Heck, rock music’s been living in the Seventies since the Eighties. A little retro style is always cool with yours truly. Just… look, stop calling us rockers “retro” and “old hat”, all right? Everyone’s nicking something from the past nowadays, so why does our music have to be saddled with these descriptors?

Anyway, mini-whinge over. On to…

The lyrics: “I caught you watching me under the light / Can I be your line? / They say it’s easy to leave you behind / I don’t wanna try.” So it’s about two lovers meeting, presumably, in dah clerrb, as so many other modern pop songs are prone to set their stories. I don’t know what being somebody’s “line” means – these kids and their slang, honestly – but despite her reputation as being someone who’s easy to leave behind (classy), he doesn’t want to. He wants to hang on, you see, because love. Still, despite my evidently patronising tone I do acknowledge that this could at least be a nice subversion of the whole “love ’em and leave ’em” dynamic that club culture is based on. Let’s read on.

“Cut cover, take that test / Hold courage to your chest / Don’t wanna wait for you / Don’t wanna have to lose.” Okay, there’s a bunch of stuff going on her and I’m not sure how much of it makes sense. What does cutting cover mean? What test? Why does anybody need courage? Last I checked you were trying to build a serious relationship, which I suppose traditionally takes some courage to admit. Still, you seemed so keen just now – what happened, pal?

“I was a king under your control.” So… she’s Lady Macbeth? Or a chess champion? Is this song about chess?

“I wanna feel like you’ve let me go.” Hang on, you were just talking about how you didn’t want to try and leave her behind – now you want her to let you go? Or is this the lyrics actually progressing their narrative by presenting a relationship, once exciting and new, now deteriorating as the power balance starts to get shifty, with the protagonist feeling equally like the ruler and the ruled, like the most powerful piece on the board yet ultimately a piece all the same, his rule a facade as he is empowered yet easily defeated? Or is it just because “go” kinda rhymes with “control”?

“Don’t you remember how I used to like being on the line? / I dreamed you dreamed of me calling out my name / Is it worth the price?” I thought you were the line, and now you’re on it? Eh, it’s a nice callback, I suppose. Also, there is a theory in the YouTube comments for this video that the song is actually about drugs, which would help to illuminate lines such as this. Being on the line, worth the price, that bit about feeling “another high”… vague and tangential, perhaps, but there is something there. I’m not sure how drugs would watch you “under the light”, though. Also, does the line “I dreamed you dreamed of me calling out my name” make anybody else’s brain hurt?

“Take this from me tonight / Oh, let’s fight.” Sorry, what’s this song about again? Is he being ironic or is he actually inviting her to fight him?

“Let go, let go, let go of everything.” Well, I’m guessing the relationship didn’t work out, then. Ah, well – plenty of fish and all that jazz.

Verdict: 3 out of 5. It’s no better or worse than much of what else is out there right now but, all the same, I wish these guys the best in their career and hope that the pop music machine doesn’t crush them too badly. That said, can we have a new sound for 2016, please, BBC? I’m hearing good things about Cuban salsa.

Today’s double-up is “Kill the King” by Rainbow, which actually is about chess. Just goes to show you can make an ace song about anything if you put your mind to it.