In this week’s Stylus UK Singles Jukebox, you’ll find my thoughts on new releases by Ja Rule, The Bodyrockers, Nine Inch Nails, Hard-Fi and the Chemical Brothers featuring Kele Okereke. With a larger panel now contributing, it therefore follows that fewer of each panelist’s reviews are selected for the final cut – which is a drag when you’ve spent ages preparing them, but less of a drag when you’ve got a blog to stick them in instead. So with that in mind, here are all ten reviews in full:
Caught Up – Ja Rule ft Lloyd (5)
There’s something of the post-Kanye West about this stab at giving gruff ole Ja Rule a commercial crossover hit, by setting his guttural mutters against some sweet Eighties Groove soul stylings. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have been able to stir up much interest from Ja himself; almost relegated to a guest spot on his own record, he sounds distracted and disinterested. A couple of minutes in, and all the ideas have been used up; the rest is merely crank-it-out repetition. Nevertheless, by the end of the song – with all the vocalists having packed up and knocked off early to beat the traffic – there’s something of a reprieve, as the backing track is given some space to gently unwind, in an almost dub-wise style. It’s the best bit by far. (But shush, no-one tell Ja. He has probably never listened that far. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.)
Walking With A Ghost – Tegan & Sara (4)
A potentially attractive Police-style loping rhythm is spoilt by a stiff, restrictive execution that begs for some fluidity and development. Meanwhile, several flights upstairs, there’s an aggravatingly strident and disconnected quality to the vocals, which doesn’t bode well for the future.
The Hand That Feeds – Nine Inch Nails (3)
For all of their mock-outraged accusations, Trent Reznor and the boys seem considerably less likely to “bite the hand the feeds you” than they are to seize it in both hands and cover it in a thousand eager smooches, so manifest is their desire to score a fratjock-pleasing MTV2-friendly hit with this piece of witless, desperate froth. Once upon a time, they wanted to be Jim Morrison fronting Ministry. Now they’ll just settle for being Fred Durst fronting Garbage.
Jerk It Out – The Caesars (8)
“The song you’ve heard everywhere“, according to the press advert – and indeed, there is something here which makes you feel as if it has been around forever. Every Friday and Saturday night over the next couple of months or so, student DJs across the country will be cueing this up next to The Bees’ Chicken Payback, against which it sits perfectly: there’s the same uncannily accurate 1960s retro feelgood vibe (augmented here with a nagging organ refrain), combined with the same late 1990s Big Beat sensibility (I’m guessing this is particularly big in Brighton). With no supporting album to promote, this looks set to hang around the singles chart for yonks – particularly once the nostalgic Dad download demographic gets hold of it.
I Like The Way – Bodyrockers (6)
Sporting a central rock guitar riff that is doubtless as close to Deep Dish’s Flashdance as highly paid teams of international copyright lawyers will allow, I Like The Way has all of the workmanlike insistence of So Much Love To Give by The Freeloaders, without any of the latter’s redeeming sense of breezy joy. Indeed, its brutal effectiveness as a motivational blunt instrument for those who have been denied the benefits of a broader musical diet suggests to me that the Bodyrockers are nothing less than the Turkey Twizzlers of dance. (It’s no use trying to wean them onto nice, healthy, organic “microhouse” either; there’ll be rioting in the streets before chucking-out time.)
Tied Up Too Tight – Hard-Fi (7)
The latest adherents to the age-old English tradition of disaffected petit-bourgeois youths from the suburbs (in this case, Staines in Middlesex) casting beady, aspirational eyes over at the glamour, grit and grime of the big city, Hard-Fi have – almost inevitably – caused the requisite “buzz” at this year’s SXSW festival, and now stand poised with studied faux-ennui at the threshold of success and excess, veneration and ruin. There’s an anthemic quality to this which puts me in mind of 1993-era Blur in their 1966-era Kinks phase, as well as a tantalising snatch of piano towards the end which would have evoked the glories of Jools Holland on The The’s Uncertain Smile, had it been mixed a little higher and allowed to go on for a little longer. I think everybody should be allowed to say this once, without fear of redress: file under “promising”. Ooh, proper rock criticism!
Retreat – The Rakes (3)
WARNING: NME GUITAR BAND MEMORY BUFFER EXCEEDED. PLEASE REMOVE ONE OR MORE FROM DATABASE BEFORE PROCEEDING WITH REVIEW. (OK, so I’ll drag-and-drop The Others and The Subways to the recycling bin; that should clear some space.) ERROR: MAXIMUM NUMBER OF RECYCLING ATTEMPTS EXCEEDED. PLEASE SELECT SOMETHING LESS DERIVATIVE. Bah, got me there. Sorry, readers!
Munich – Editors (6)
My old English teacher always maintained that the best way to form a picture of the cultural pre-occupations of any age was to study its second-rate art – for just as first-rate art transcends its age, predicting movements which are yet to come, so second-rate art remains firmly mired in its own times, mirroring the predominant influences of the day. In which case, might I suggest that space be cleared in the 2005 time capsule for the Editors: a band with such a seemingly foreshortened sense of history that it wouldn’t surprise me if Bloc Party and The Bravery were cited as major formative figures. Having said that, there’s a nice piece of chiming, high-register, almost bouzouki-like guitar work accompanying the choruses, which lifts this marginally above the quotidian. In a disappointingly thin week such as this, such small mercies are to be gratefully seized upon.
Teenage Superstar – Kim Lian (8)
Just as the title of Just Seventeen magazine indicated a readership with an average age of thirteen, so we can infer that any pop song with the word “teenage” in its title is being explicitly marketed to an audience of eleven and under. In this respect, the flame-haired Dutch-Indonesian popstrel and her Swedish production team have done a commendably efficient job; it is easy to imagine Kim Lian being daubed onto the backs of thousands of exercise books in multi-coloured “glitter effect” gel pen lettering between now and mid-July. An intoxicatingly cheerful playground-rebel anthem in the Joan Jett/Go-Go’s tradition, for those who still find The Faders a little too grown-up and threatening.
Believe – Chemical Brothers (9)
Everything else in this week’s list is Product; this alone qualifies as Art. I’m a particular sucker for the agreeably deranged bloops and blarps that sit above the rest of the music: melodically and sonically separate, but oddly complementary, in much the same way as on the comparatively restrained Negotiate With Love. A thundering juggernaut of a track, this plays to the Chemical Brothers’ traditional strengths. It therefore succeeds where the brave-yet-flawed attempt at mould-breaking that was Galvanize fails.