Was there ever a time in chart history when things moved as glacially as they do now? I guess it’s not as bad in the UK as it is in the US, where the incorporation of streaming data into chart placement has acted like quick-drying cement, holding songs in place for weeks on end, but it’s still annoying and doesn’t give me a great wealth of choice for my reviews. I was going to look at Flo Rida’s “G.D.F.R.” but I kept getting a brain blister every time I tried to analyse it. I could have reviewed The Weeknd’s “Earned It” but I already did one Fifty Shades of Grey song. So let’s just go ahead and review the current UK number one single, Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand”.
First impressions: It’s always August in Popland, isn’t it?
The music: In my “King” review I said the sound of 2015 was apparently 1995. Jess Glynne is here to change that, however, and bring it bang up to date by dragging it all the way to… 1997?
In the grand tradition of female singers building an initial presence for themselves by piggy-backing on the exposure of established artists, a la Rita Ora, Charli XCX, Emeli Sandé, Ella Eyre, etc., we now have Jess Glynne whose claim to fame, until now, was singing on those two Clean Bandit songs and that one Route 94 song you’ve already forgotten. This would be her second official solo single, a shiny happy dance song to soundtrack those long, hot summer months. Shame that it’s still April, but I think Glynne’s management are playing a long game here.
That will, of course, depend on whether the song is even still in the public consciousness at that point, which I have doubts it will be based on just how “meh” the song is. A fairly generic dance-pop beat underpins the music while Glynne’s vocals ride at the forefront. The song is upbeat but not terribly fulfilling or memorable while Glynne, though a good vocalist with excellent pitch, often sounds like she’s struggling just a little bit, making the whole effort not bad but not good either, just underwhelming to listen to and difficult to bring back to mind once it’s ended. So of course it went straight to number one. Well done, Britain.
Am I the only one who’s bugged by those pauses between each line in the verses? I mean, yes, we have that “ooh-ooh-ooh” hook filling the space so it’s not just dead air, but it still doesn’t serve the song in any real way. All it does is mask the fact that they didn’t bother writing a melody for the verses – the notes just escalate slightly with every other beat. Speaking of melody I don’t mind the pre-chorus, even if I swear I’ve heard it a thousand times before in marginally better songs, but the chorus has pretty much no discernible hook. Sure, the “I’m ready for this” part might get stuck in your head after hearing it on the radio a hundred times a day, but then so would anything.
Overall this really isn’t a very well written song. In terms of sheer atmosphere and production it’s great: the sound is full and polished, the piano beat is punchy, Glynne’s vocals are crisp and clear and the whole recording has a breezy, shimmering vibe that screams summer. In terms of catchiness, memorability and all the other things that give a song long-term longevity, however, it falls very flat indeed. Of course, they had to go and put a horn section in the chorus, didn’t they? They just know I’m a sucker for horn sections. Actually, it’s almost certainly the case that they didn’t know that and in fact have no idea who I am, but the point stands.
The lyrics: Jess Glynne wants you to hold her hand. Now, when the Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” we all figured there was more going on to what they were asking. Here, though, the music is trying so hard to be earnest and uplifting that I have little other choice than to believe all Glynne wants you to do is just hold her hand. I could be wrong, of course. Let’s find out.
“Standing in a crowded room and I can’t see your face.” Yeah, that’ll happen in crowded rooms. Your point being?
“In my mind I’m running round a cold and empty space.” That’s not a very nice thing to say about your brain, Ms Glynne. Of course we could analyse this image further, but all I can think of now is Jess Glynne with her arms out, making aeroplane noises and running circles around a random empty patch on the floor, which would have also made for a far more entertaining music video.
“Soul is like a melting pot when you’re not next to me.” Wait, what? A melting pot? What kind of image is that? So, essentially, whenever he’s away her soul turns into a cauldron, or at least one of those pots they use for fondues. So when he’s away her soul turns into a tasty centre-dish for parties? That sounds great. This bloke of hers should stay away more often. Also, personally speaking “soul is like a big bowl of melted cheese you can dip bread cubes into” would be a far more interesting image to play with, though they’d have to work to make it fit the metre. That said, what else are these people being paid for?
“Break my bones but you won’t see me fall / The rising tide will rise against them all.” Okay, so we’re getting Biblical in this sweet summery love song. Apparently there are people out to hurt Ms Glynne but you, her beau, are here to… wait, is this “you” a different “you” to the one she was singing to before? Does she think I’m going to hold her hand so hard it’s actually going to break bone? Who am I, Lenny from Of Mice and Men? It’s like Hemingway’s iceberg theory here: there’s a far more interesting story below the surface that we’re just not getting.
“Trying to find a moment where I can find release.” Ahem. Er, I think if you ask your fella you’ll find he’s willing to help you find it too. In fact you might find he’s really rather eager to help.
“I’m ready for this, there’s no denying.” Wow, she’s really ramping herself up for this hand-holding, isn’t it? What’s he got, Hulk hands? Unless this actually is more than just a simple “holding” of “hands” and this has just been one big double bluff, not to mention the same bluff the Beatles made fifty-two years ago. The future of music!
Verdict: “Hold My Hand” is a triumph. A triumph of consistent and tireless marketing and a calculated production over songcraft and artistry. It’s not a bad song but it’s certainly not a good one either. At best it’s competent, serviceable even: it’ll do what it needs to do for however long it needs to do it and nothing else. “But it’s number one on the charts,” you say. Good point – but it can’t be number one forever. Some day it’s going to drop, and when it does I don’t see it troubling the charts, or any other list for that matter, ever again. I’m sure Glynne has better songs in her… so why couldn’t one of them have been her first big hit? 2 out of 5.
Today’s double-up is “The Hand That Feeds” by Nine Inch Nails, because the only other song I could think of with “hand” in the title was that horrible song MJ did with Akon before he died. Also With Teeth turns ten in May, which means 2005 was ten years ago and I think I found a grey hair in the mirror this morning. guys.