01. Biffy Clyro – ‘Saturday Superhouse’
Well this song certainly snuck up on me. I think it’s actually the first of theirs I have ever heard, my knowledge of them up to that point being limited to the pretty cool cover one of their old albums (2003’s The Vertigo of Bliss, apparently). Anyway, this is the kind of energetic, passionate rock music that I thought had been forever replaced by stuttering post-punk pretenders. The new Kerbdog? I dare not dream as much, but it’s a great song anyway.
02. Sophie Ellis-Bextor – ‘Catch You’
This year is notable for me liking singles by artists I otherwise wouldn’t give a sniff to. Sophie is one such artist. Until this year, I was able to smugly snort that she hasn’t done anything to top ‘If You Can’t Do It When You’re Young, When Can You Do It?’ from her time with Britpop mediocrities theaudience. No, I was never a fan of her chart-house or disco-pop jaunts. This, though, has a nice bit of guitar bite (though obviously not enough to alienate her singles-buying audience), and the chorus melody is absolutely brilliant. And, after a ton of listens, it is yet to get old.
03. My Chemical Romance – ‘Famous Last Words’
I had meant to write a blog post about their lead single from the new album, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’. It was rubbish, but in the best way possible. It had a great, epic start, a camply thrilling ending, but the middle was Avril when it should have been Andrew W.K. I’m serious. Anyway, this single sees a return to what the band does best, which is hook filled rock of the most earnest stripe. I love melodramatic teen rock, and this is a fantastic example. Remind me to kick throats when someone next compares this lot to Fall Out Boy or Panic At The Disco.
04. Foo Fighters – ‘The Pretender’
It seems to me that Dave Grohl is on a mission to get a song high in my Premiership every year. As I asked earlier, why else do people release singles in this day and age? Exactly. While they may only release albums every few years, they manage to sneak out at least one great single a year*; ‘The Pretender’ is their song for 2007.
When I first heard a snippet of this one, it was when Grohl appeared on the Moyles show with an acoustic guitar (dialogue highlight: ‘So, I was having a beer with my tea, and-‘, ‘You have beer… with tea?!’). he started playing what he claimed was a track from the forthcoming album, but which iniitially sounded like he was going to psyche everyone by playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ instead. It turns out that was just the beginning to ‘The Pretender’ and it just happened to have a very familiar arpeggio at the start.
Needless to say I have this song on vinyl (but not the album – the only time I saw it in a shop it was twenty pounds!) and when the snare beat kicks in, a couple of beats before you expect it to, it is loud. And I mean loud in the sense of dynamic swings most (compressed to hell) compact discs just can’t communicate. (For instance, as much as I love the song, the fantastic ‘banks of vocals’ crescendo to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Otherside’ is actually no louder on your stereo than the solo bass intro.)
When this tune really starts rocking, it does so to predictably thrilling effect. Grohl, after testing the waters with some album tracks and then ‘Best of You’, has settled into screaming whenever the volume goes up and that’s fine by me. As per usual, Taylor Hawkins’s drum fills are weirdly visceral for a pop single and really add propulsion to the song.
Structurally ‘The Pretender’ really reminds me of ‘All My Life’, and never more so than after the second chorus when the song breaks back down into quietness (at this point I’d like to mention the brief rock ‘n’ roll Chris Shiflett interludes. They are mentioned). While an effective dynamic device that the band employs on a regular basis – best heard on ‘Everlong’ – it is the creative weak point of the piece. ‘I'm the voice inside your head / You refuse to hear’ is eerily reminiscent of ‘All My Life’s ‘All my life I’ve been searching for something / Something never comes, never leads to nothing’, and you could easily sing one over the other. This becomes more blatant with the ‘Who are you / Yeah, who are you’ section echoing the ‘And I'm done, done and I'm onto the next one’ of the 2002 single.
At risk of turning into Theodor Adorno, this really is a case of pseudo-individualisation, something I will be guilty of when I say at least this single breaks straight down into quietness again instead of just rocking out. Well it does, so I don’t care. As to which song I prefer, I’m not sure. ‘All My Life’ has far better drum patterns (especially in the chorus), and the rock-out bit is stellar. Conversely, ‘The Pretender’ has more emotional impact, and a more involving chorus. It also has one last trick up its sleeve.
While ‘All My Life’ followed its breakdown with a bunch of screaming and an abrupt finish, Grohl this time follows his second quiet bit with a couple of choruses and – this is the best bit – overlaying the verse melody onto the last chorus. As I am a complete sucker for vocal arrangements that attempt something even superficially different, I love this. It’s not quite the end of ‘Midlife Crisis’, but what is?
In all, I feel a tad guilty for loving this song (and band) as much as I do. They are blatantly following a commercially very viable formula to the bank but, at the same time, it’s inordinately entertaining. While I’m all for music as food for thought, there are times when a good song will suffice, which is what this most definitely is. times, dare I say it, when we learn to live again. Sorry.
05. Take That – ‘Shine’
This fits exactly with what I was saying earlier about the Bextor song. I hated Take That when I was a kid. Granted, they were no Westlife, but that’s like saying the time I puked in 2001 was better than the pukestravaganza I had late last year. This song is just a shock, because it’s not like their return single (‘Patience’) was any good. This is like a particularly camp musical, and with a really cool vocal melody. It’s almost like a cut from Insignificance, if Jim O’Rourke had dropped the misanthropy for a few minutes. The second half of the song is a grand finale, stretched to pure Queen-inspired opulence, and it’s so hook-filled, one could happily sing along with just the backing vocals. The video is also worth a look, what with the dancing girls, and cute little Mark Owen camping it up with a couple of Ray Harryhausen animations dancing at his side.
My bad, that’s meant to be Howard and Jason.
06. The Ark – ‘Absolutely no Decorum’
Maybe it was scepticism at work, but it took me a long time to listen to this one. As a fan of glam rock (and I mean proper glam. There was nothing glamorous about Slade. Or Mud), I tend to either love or hate songs in this little musical avenue. This could very easily have been another Towers Of London debacle and, though I had liked an Ark album when I listened, I wasn’t moved in any real way. Thankfully, this is miles better than the Towers, and more in tune with Imperial Drag, one of those great lost bands of the mid-nineties, when it wasn’t cool to do rock music. What really impresses here is the sense of epic elegance during the chorus that elevates it above the trashy also-rans and suggests there is as much ABBA in this band as there is Bolan. It’s almost as if Eurovision traded in really good songs, and this was the Swedish entry.
POSTSCRIPT: Weird. Shortly after I wrote this, it turned out that The Ark was the Swedish entry in Eurovision. Sadly, this wasn't the song and they went with something more... Eurovisiony (read: 'less good').
07. Salem Al Fakir – ‘This is Who I Am’
If 2007 wasn’t already the surprise year for singles, this would have been the biggest shock of this quarter. I don’t even know who Al Fakir is but, when this invaded my headspace, I was very happy indeed. There is a slight funk to the brass samples and bassline, while the endearing vocal cuts a nice rhythm through the chorus. It’s one of those happy songs that legitimately make the listener happy, like a ballady version of ‘Hey Ya’. And the string flourish to finish is just the icing on the cake. Bloody hell, he’s apparently Swedish. And white. I wasn’t expecting that.
08 The Wildhearts – ‘The Sweetest Song’
Oh Wildhearts, I should never have doubted you. I am in the middle of rather a large Wildies project on the blog but, long story short, I loved them in the nineties, they split up in 1998, reformed in 2001 and I doubted the wisdom of such a move. Like my doubt of ‘Umbrella-ella-ella Eh-eh-eh’, I admit to my mistakes! Having now got both post-reformation albums I can confirm that the band still rules, though this single isn’t their best. It’s still good, though, as it marries metal riffs somewhere between Pantera and 80s Metallica with an insanely catchy chorus that combines Mott the Hoople melodies, a Blink 182 hook, and makes it all work. While it is very good, and shows pretty much everyone else how this stuff is done, a release of ‘The Revolution will be Televised’ would likely secure the band a top spot on the Premiership. And, after all, is that not why bands release singles in 2007?
09. Rihanna – ‘Umbrella’
Or, as I like to call it, ‘Umbrella-ella-ella Eh-eh-eh’. I was told a while ago that this was an excellent single and I was sceptical. The scepticism was partly because the person telling me makes a lot of grand proclamations about stuff being excellent but, having now heard it a bunch of times myself, I can most definitely confess to this particular scepticism being pure folly. Forgiveness please, Me Plus One! This is one of those slightly annoying pop songs where one bit is miles better than other bits. Like the end of Pink’s ‘Who Knew’, or the fade-out of Girls Aloud’s ‘Whole Lotta History’, ‘Umbrella’s chorus is amazing, and the rest of it actually rather so-so. The verses are decent enough not to bore (unlike, say, that two-bit Hellogoodbye single), and the chorus is transcendent so as to render complaints – and the rest of the song – redundant. I might as well describe this chorus a tad, so I’ll just say the key shifting is a wonderful and classic pop trick, and it’s put over the top by the little self-echo Rihanna does that gives rise to my renaming.
10. Groove Armada – ‘Song 4 Mutya’
That’s what I’m talking about. After her barely-even-there Kravitz Fest that was… ‘Real Girl’(?)… she finally suggests that her leaving Sugababes was a decent career move. Granted I’m not sure how much of this quality is actually due to her, as the Armada seem to be on something of a singles renaissance of late, but either way it’s good stuff. It’s largely good stuff for the same reason Outkast’s ‘Morris Brown’ was good last year: it sounds like a Prince song from 1985. I dig the lyrical content (ostensibly a relationship song, but more likely jabs at her ex band: ’Guess who has replaced me / what a diss…’), but it’s all about the layered synths and semi-spoken backing vocals. It is great stuff, apart from the tedious two-note section near the end. That and the fact that my 12” – with three versions of the song – doesn’t feature the original, superior, cut. Don’t panic, panic, throughsilver just look ahead now…
11. Lethal Bizzle – ‘Bizzle Bizzle’
I probably shouldn’t like this either. For some reason people diss Lethal B lately and, on the strength of this single, I don’t know why. Sure, it’s no ‘Oi!’, and he is guilty of working with Babyshambles, but Jesus Christ is this ever an energetic track. It’s about two minutes long, peppered liberally with chants of the title over and over again, with bits of chat in between. And that’s it. While on paper it’s not great, and to be honest it’s not great in practice, I can’t help thinking this is my fave grime tune ever. I know it should be a Dizzee track, or ‘Ice Rink’, ‘Duppy’ or one of many Ruff Sqwad tunes (like ‘Lethal Injection’ or ‘Anna’), but at the moment it’s not. Woebot, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry. Sorry.
12. Arctic Monkeys - 'Brianstorm'
Maybe it's just me, but I'm sure they released a single that sounded a hell of a lot like this in 2006. Apparently not, as discog trawls reveal only three singles from the band, none of which are what I have in mind. Anyway, this weirdly starts off sounding like Muse, turns into a Rotherham approximation of Fugazi, but is still very enjoyable. That's mainly due to the vicious amounts of energy the band displays, and also the little details. I'm sure journos are going to go on about 'see ya later innovator', but I'm particularly fond of the Yorkshire-accented kick in of 'bet there's hundreds of blokes that have wept cause you've stolen their ...FUNDER!' Brilliant.
POSTSCRIPT: Aha! A random flick through music telly reveals the song I was thinking of to be none other than 'View From an Afternoon'.
13. Charlotte Hatherley – ‘Behave’
I decided that, to get the most from my singles, I would stick them all on my iPod (with boss new headphones. Never use those white monstrosities) and Shuffle. As a result I know what is on there, but not necessarily whom each song is by. So when this one came on, I had assumed it was Tilly & The Wall, having never heard them, and this being a female-fronted guitar pop number. I was obviously mistaken, as the heading implies. Whoever this was, I was overjoyed by it, especially by the guitars that sounded fragmented but came together in a glorious Gestalt of pop finery that recalls the New Pornographers’ finest moment: ‘Three or Four’. And it’s better than the Tilly & The Wall song.
14. Mastodon – ‘Colony of Birchmen’
It’s Mastodon, innit. While I am admittedly not their biggest fan (though I do want to attend one of their gigs at some point before they get too big), they do have a fine line in single cuts. Last year boasted the brutal, nasty ‘The Wolves are Loose’ (there’s one for the Simon Reynolds ‘wolf count’), and this season’s track is this weird tune that mixes Mastodon’s own workmanlike stoicism with guest Josh Homme’s smoothness. And it works, oddly, despite sounding like it's going backwards in the chorus. But really because of that.
15. Kate Nash – ‘Caroline’s a Victim’
I shouldn’t like this. I shouldn’t like it at all. But, as this is Bizarro-Zarro Year and all, I do. What is truly frightening is that I like everything about it. From the ‘Fix up Look Sharp’-goes-to-the-suburbs beat to the arch Mockney vocals, to the fat synth the song ends with, it’s great. Nash herself seems to be something of a modern day Pam Ayres in the way she looks buttoned-up and housewifey, but can’t help throwing the camera filthily suggestive looks. She’s probably the kind of person who’ll really start to annoy me after another single or two, though. Anyway, it’s a good thing Dizzee’s ‘Industry’ is rather good, because Nash now has the big beat.
16. My Chemical Romance – ‘I Don’t Love You’
The transformation of My Chemical Romance from Glassjaw sound-alikes to Bon Jovi 2K7 continues apace, and I can’t say I have a problem with it on the face of this. If ‘Famous Last Words’ saw vocalist Gerard Way performing earnestly in a compelling manner, this sends the schmaltz – ergo the quality – through the roof. Not only is the chorus incredibly strong, but Way’s adlibs and screams are excellent, amounting to the most emotional performance in a single thus far this year. The guitar solo is also worth noting, so consider it noted.
17. Cold War Kids – ‘Hang Me Up to Dry’
This one seemed to come and go with little in the way of fanfare, but it is one of the better examples of this current rock-as-non-rock subgenre. One of the Radio 1 Airfix DJs gave it ‘single of the week’ status, which meant it got played every day for a week. I don’t see the advantage there seeing as most songs get played every day for a fortnight anyway. That said, oddly loping guitar hook + actually good singing = I like.
18. Mason vs. Princess Superstar – ‘Perfect Exceeder’
I liked this a lot when it was ‘Yeah Yeah’ by Bodyrox. Someone told me the music wasn’t very IDM, as a diss, and I laughed. Anyway, as much as I liked that version with Luciana (yeah, she seems like she’d be unbearably annoying in real life, but that just added to the snotty brilliance of the song), this is just something else. Sure, all I know about Princess Superstar is that ‘Bad Babysitter’ song, and the fact she’s apparently very rude, but this rules. It’s just too catchy for me to resist.
19. Gwen Stefani - 'The Sweet Escape'
Gwen's a strange one. I will readily admit to liking No Doubt, even (especially, more like) when they went all poppy. Like they weren't poppy anyway. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our Gwen has been carving out quite the lucrative solo career that has ranged from the absolutely marvellous (the JLC remix of 'What You Waiting For?' springs immediately to mind) to the rubbish ('If I Was a Rich Girl (and I Am, Nice One)'). This is pure pop with none of those bizarre attempts at avant-garde that sometimes plague pop tunes. I thought Akon was Will I Am when I first heard it, on account of the banality of guest vocal, but the chorus is both so sweet, and so passionately sung (really, listen to that enunciation) that this ends up ruling.
20. Rihanna – ‘Shut Up and Drive’
While this bears no relation to the Deftones single ‘Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)’ – now that would be amusing – I do get an eerie feeling of nineties rock déjà vu from it. And I have no idea why. There is something about the chorus melody that reminds me of, if not the early nineties Seattle bands, then certainly the pretenders that came in their wake. Maybe even later than Stone Temple Pilots. Perhaps this song reminds me of Second Coming or someone like that (not their best song, but seemingly their only video. The director probably watched ’Stinkfist’ a few times). In their defence, Second Coming was a far better band than the more successful Silverchair/Bush/STP, and they were from Seattle. Bloody hell, they’re still about! Anyway, this is a weird hybrid of glossy post-post-grunge and synth pop that shouldn’t work but largely does because of the strength of the hook. And if it sounds a bit reminiscent of ‘Blue Monday’, that’s because it samples the Orgy cover of that song.