Thursday, October 23, 2014

Here's a new Iggy Azalea song

After the big pop hooks of Fancy and Black Widow, it's interesting to hear Iggy Azalea doing a stripped-back, beats and lyrics hip-hop track again.

Iggy Szn (it's pronounced Iggy Season) is taken from a "repack" of the Aussie star's debut album The New Classic. Rather than the usual "one new single and a bunch of bonus tracks that weren't good enough first time around" deal, this is an altogether stranger affair, keeping all of the hits and substituting everything else with new songs.

Could this be a new business model for the music industry - release your debut album, see what tracks people like, then replace the duds every six months until you end up with a Greatest Hits collection in four years' time. How amazing would that be?

Whether Iggy Szn will make it onto Azalea's theoretical best of in 2018 remains to be seen. But for now, as a stop-gap blog post on a Thursday night, it's worth a listen.

Iggy Azalea - Iggy Szn

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Ever fallen in love with a song you shouldn't have fallen in love with?

Don't you hate it when a terrible band releases a stunning single, and you have to re-evaluate everything you ever thought about them?

It happens to me with alarming regularity. In the middle of an endless stream of hoary old plod-rock, the Stereophonics released Dakota, a song so nimble and sexy it literally smacked my gob. Linkin Park's What I've Done was the unexpected highlight of my Guitar Hero repertoire. And I have had to make peace with the fact the Olly Murs' Troublemaker is, in fact, not completely shit.

But these aren't guilty pleasures. They are actual pleasures. And conclusive proof that that the infinite monkeys theory applies to music.

Now I can add Cobra Starship to my list. You may remember them for their limited vocal range and mid-ranking chart hits like Good Girls Go Bad. Or perhaps not. Either way, here they are with a new single that redeems their career in one fell swoop.

The fact that Never Been In Love is co-written and co-sung by Icona Pop might explain the sudden turnaround. Based around a descending piano riff that's legally distinguishable from Praise You, it features a giddy set of "na na nas"; a ramshackle tambourine loop; and the brilliantly questionable lyric: "when you leave, it's like the Titanic / I split up into pieces in the Atlantic". Crikey.

The question is: Does this rescue Cobra Starship's reputation? Or is the featured artist doing all the heavy lifting (technically known as the Bryan Adams and Mel C effect)?

I'm afraid it's the latter, as the Swedish bits stand out like a sore thumb at a hitchhikers' convention. But when the song is this stupid and enjoyable, who cares?

7/10 in a trashy Christmas Party kind of way.

Cobra Starship - Never Been In Love (ft Icona Pop)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Video breakdown: Gwen Stefani

If I'm not mistaken, this is an awful migraine of a video.

Let's have a look "in detail".

:: Opening scene: Gwen is posing for a classy magazine or something. We can tell it's classy because it's black and white. But - heavy symbolism alert - the black and white also tells us Gwen is down in the dumps about her lying boyfriend, whom she will discuss at length over the next three minutes.

:: Suddenly, Gwen is swept away in a cyclone of her lyrics, which must be terribly inconvenient. The cyclone whisks her to a garish technicolor CGI-scape and deposits her atop a big yellow road. Essentially, then, this video is The Wizard Of Oz, recreated as a horribly pixellated Flash video from 2003.

:: Gwen walks along the yellow brick road. Except she isn't really walking along the road at all, she's on a treadmill in front of a green screen and the road will be added later. The end result is that Gwen looks like she's forgotten how to use her legs properly.

:: This happens for some reason.

:: Oops! Gwen has forgotten to turn on her product placement telephone.

:: Oops! Gwen has forgotten to wear her product placement headphones.

:: There is now some extremely lacklustre dancing in a storm drain. I don't know why we're suddenly in a storm drain, but that's where we've ended up. Perhaps I missed the storm drain segment in The Wizard of Oz. Does it come after the Munchkin song? It's a long film and I may have dozed off.

:: This bit is pretty good, though. Like an M.I.A. video without all the shouting and lip curling.

:: Gwen is swept up by the cyclone, which returns her to the photo shoot.

:: But, and this is probably important, it's in colour now.

:: Closing scene: The entire incident leaves Gwen with stomach cramps.

What a story! What a resolution! What an eyesore! What a waste of three minutes!

Here it is again with moving pictures, if you need to see for yourself.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

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Ones to watch: Ekkah

If like me you've already worn a hole in your new Jessie Ware CD, then this should fill the gap until the next Amazon delivery.

Rebecca Wilson and Rebekah Pennington are two friends from Birmingham trading under the name Ekkah (you can see what they did etc, etc) whose exquisite debut single, Figure It Out, was featured on the blog back in May.

Their new single is called Last Chance To Dance, and it captures those euphoric-but-desperate last moments on the dancefloor before the doors open and the club vomits you into the yellow night to find a cab and a sorry bag of soggy chips.

As the Jessie Ware comparison would suggest, it's slinky, perfectly executed, low-key funk. Exactly the sort of thing I'd hoped the Mutya Keisha Siobhan reunion would produce before it collapsed like a souffle in a black hole.

PS: Ekkah are touring with Jess "her off the good Clean Bandit single" Glynne for the rest of this month, if you want to catch them in action.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Tove Stryke & the mystery of Swedish reggae

Is there such a thing as Swedish reggae? It had never really occurred to me before I read this article, in which Stephin Merrit of the Magnetic Fields identifies it as one of pop's most underrated microgenres (he had his own stab at Sweggae, as no-one calls it, on the track It's A Crime).

Once it had been brought to my attention, I couldn't escape it. Obviously, Ace Of Base constructed an entire career out of reggae's elastic rhythms and europop's plastic melodies. But there's also Robyn's Dancehall Queen and Abba's Sitting In The Palm Tree - which is the nadir of their career, but that's a discussion for another time.

Abba - Sitting In The Palm Tree

Laura Engberg represented Sweden with a Caribbean-flavoured Eurovision entry in 1987 (although it's a stretch to call it reggae) and the country even has a bona fide reggae star - Peps Persson, who Bob Marley called the only white man with reggae in his blood.

Peps Persson - Oh Boy!

I wonder if anyone can help me explain this? From the cursory research I've done, I can't see much reason for the cultural cross-pollination between Kingston and Stockholm. The island of St Bart's was briefly a Swedish colony in the 19th Century, but that's unlikely to be the source. Perhaps you could argue that the chukka-chukka rhythms of dub and reggae are a good partner for the oompah-oompah of Schlager, Sweden's prevalent form of folk music - but again the link is tenuous at best.

Whatever the reason, the advance of Sweggae (as still nobody is calling it) continues apace. The new single from pop sorcerer Tove Stryke is a bouncy, percussion-heavy track called Borderline, which leans heavily on its buoyant reggae chords to balance the strident, politically-loaded lyrics.

I called the song a "bubbling, scandipop gem" when it debuted in a "songs you may have missed" post a couple of weeks ago, and the recently-released video only makes it better.

Tove Stryke - Borderline

If you like that, check out Tove's barnstorming Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You, which came out earlier this year, then get yourself down to her first ever UK show on 5 November.

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Two unnecessary pop singles by artists we've largely ceased to care about

After 2012's underwhelming No Doubt comeback, a new Gwen Stefani solo album was basically guaranteed. And so here we are in 2014, with Baby Don't Lie, the first single from the star's third record.

The speaker-rattling intro immediately wrongfoots you, suggesting a pounding club track before it disappointingly gives way to a meandering midtempo blancmange. Gwen comes across as weirdly aggressive, hectoring her boyfriend to confess some wrongdoing or other. "What you hiding boy?" she repeats with increasing fury over the middle 8. I bet she started the conversation in a restaurant for maximum squirm factor.

Still, with co-writing credits from Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder and Noel Zancanella the song was never going to be an absolute stinker - and the Sophie Muller-directed video, which premieres tomorrow, is bound to be a visual treat.

On balance, then, 6/10.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

Also on the comeback trail this week is Fergie Whatshername out of the Black Eyed Peas, who's taken a mere eight years to record the follow-up to her debut solo album The Dutchess.

The first single, LA Love, basically picks up where she left off in 2006. It's a half-rapped, half-sung, call-and-response earworm in the vein of London Bridge. It's also one of those singles which appears to believe that singing a big list countries makes you seem (a) international and (b) a talented lyricist, when it just makes you sound like a geography teacher.

This one's more instant than the Gwen Stefani song, but more likely to diminish with repeat plays. And, curiously, Fergies's vocal cords seem to have been possessed by Iggy Azaelea.

It'll be interesting to see whether "the kids", who only know Fergie from that song off the Great Gatsby soundtrack, will give a damn about it. 5/10.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

Fans of unnecessary pop singles by artists long past their sell-by date will be pleased to know there's a Madonna album in the works.

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