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Singles Reviews, Plan B Magazine, Issue 03, December 2004

single of the moment
REJOICE! We now have evidence both incontrovertible and danceable that Sharleen Spiteri should stop writing songs with immediate effect! No, I’m not talking about that single, the single that’s making summer stick in the head even as what’s without turns so fresh and decaying. That single is Outkast’s ever new-born ‘Prototype’ (BMG) which very nearly makes ALL else mere interference…But don’t let me lose my thread. JoJo’s ‘Leave (Get Out)’ (Mercury) is something Spiteri (and Dido, Joss Stone and the rest) has been dying and trying to write all her life. Men can gather round in hesitant circles, shifting from foot to foot while growling the words to ‘Sugar Kane’, ‘Waiting Room’, ‘Ace Of Spades’ or ‘My Generation’. Meanwhile, we all know there are records that groups of women will surmount all class/age/race boundaries to dance and sing together AT MEN.
   Take my wife. Take ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Oh! Bondage’, ‘Silly Games’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (both Marvin and Slits re-rub), ‘Wuthering Heights’ or any Supremes or Aretha. For my wife, and her sisters, and her female friends, these are songs seemingly designed for male-baiting (such fun, and so hilariously badly-taken). These are songs for letting someone know where they stand, or for giving fair warning of who the fuck you think you’re dealing with. 

   JoJo’s boy has clearly been a right twat and a dirty stop-out too. Sung from the edge of a dancefloor towards a moodily motionless boyfriend, ‘Leave’ is raw, new emotion blown out of proportion and honed to brutal finitude. The martyrdom of wounded love and a sacrifice barely noticed combines with the infuriating irrefutability of teenage logic for the odd, defiant pay-off: “You’re just a waste of time”. Pitched exactly between townie and punka 10- year-old girl chic, JoJo looks exactly right to play the protagonist. Gloriously unsaddled with Anastacia or Kylie’s world-weariness, it seems she’s enjoying the hate way more than any affection she ever felt – the jutted chin insisting that every second without him will be so much more full. And the cold rationale of dismissing someone as ‘just a waste of time’? Only the young could be so efficient, so clear and so numb. Such clarity makes great records. In contrast, the attempts of Spiteri et al to create the perfect femme-solidarity lurve anthem are simply crushed by the searing belief and passion of JoJo’s three-minute monster. There is no will more thorough, as unkillable and as total as that of a teenager. Sometimes we’re lucky, and they translate for us.

singles of the day:
    A BRACE of indisposable eternity is what hip-hop always provides, so this month go for: Zygote Ft The Sundragon & Jazz T ‘Grizzly’ and Hug Ft Diversion Tactics ‘Murder By Class Vol 1’(both on Boot), Subtle ‘FKO’ (Lex), McEnroe ‘Working In The Factory’ (Vertical Form), Optimas Prime ‘Slang Shotgun’ (Dial Up), Kyza ‘Real Rap’ (Kemet), Teddybears Shtml ‘Turbo Booster’ (Xpr), Skrein ‘Mind Out/Once Upon A Skrein/The Youth’ (Dented), Styly Cee ‘Once And For All/Want What’s Yours’ and C-Mone ‘Stan Bac’ (both on Son) cos they’re all unmissably good. Snoop’s new Neptunes collaboration ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ (Geffen) is a return to form for Pharell & Co (but then, I loved ‘Flap Yr Wings’ n’ all) while Eminem’s ‘Just Lose It’ (Interscope) is merely the soundtrack to his new comeback video (which is all Eminem’s career seems to be based on now). Wish Dre would bless a few others (not just Obie and 50 Cent) with the same care. In the unreal world of the indie ghetto, things go from bad to worse. Indiepopslashrock is so busy going nowhere that the desperation’s starting to seep through the stitching. It looks flustered, knackered out from hitting its head on the brick wall of its limitations. So the records that reveal quite how quickly the new wave of new wave has become the same old shite are coming thick and fast.
   This week, there’s The Rocks’ wanker blues (the dismal ‘Can You Hear Me?’) and my nomination for Worst Single Of The Year, The Departure’s ‘Be My Enemy’ (Parlophone). It’s a song that’s bad from start to finish in every possible way. Lyrics grasp for profundity through vagueness, a grubby wash of reverb over everything that seems to put Thatcher back in power as it gets deeper (oh, how they wish). There’s a vocalist you actually want to bully into suicide and the most painful moment of white-boy funk I’ve ever heard. A band seemingly designed to piss off every unsigned band in the country with their utter undeserved leeway to make music and be heard. Shut these motherfuckers up – somebody. I’ll pay. 

Single of the month (and a mooted peace plan for the 50 years war)
   WELL, fuck, it’s still in the Top 10, so – I was gonna start by saying Girls Aloud’s ‘Love Machine’ (Polydor) pisses all over Jet, Zutons, The White Stripes and The Detroit Cobras…but you know this, yes? Besides, I’m wary of pop evangelism and the inverted snobbery/crypto-fascism of indie fans slumming it in the Top 10 World, so I’ll simply say that indie bands make poor attempts at pop records compared to those who only want to make pop records. ‘Love Machine’ has the most wonderful vamp voices. ABBA bridge. And then…The fucking Monkees!!! But better! Betty Boo better. Ace voices. Rattling along now. Mark E Smith should be involved. But WOW – the doom entombed deep within Girls Aloud’s eyes, the reckless effort it’s pushing against, charges a record as wonderful as ‘Love Machine’ with an extra grit to the glam. There’s a push and shove to the perfection that gets you onside because it’s good to hear people trying their best. Even as they apprehend the Girls Aloud project’s ultimate futility and its present-day grind, they squeeze such immortality from the rush to life.

   And for those who’d seek to attack the pop-minded and are suspicious of being thrilled by melody as opposed to sonic detail? I’d simply say that pop eclipses so much rock right now because it frequently crams way more invention, soundscaped wow and spontaneous magic into a hook-laden three minutes as yer ‘experimental’ hobbyists spread over their entire careers. Pop gets dissed cos it feels no need to wrap up that magic in the disabling smog of righteous smarm, woolly mysticism and charitable self-indulgence that surrounds the lore of rock creativity. Rock aims for timelessness and ends up instantly forgettable. Pop knows its shelf life and so hits immortality.
   Pop makes money, rock makes sense; pop uses everything it can to avoid being earthbound, rock ‘interprets’ its sources, explicates, connects, etc, etc. Bands and critics alike perpetuate such snobbish diktats of basic rockcrit, including those writers who imagine they’re defending pop by trumpeting its ephemerality – the best pop is the absolute opposite of fluff. The problem is rock’s constant desire to be seen as ‘breaking the rules’. Pop knows there are rules and that clichés are only so because they’re true and they work. And so pop will always be seen as hostile to rock’s artistic pretensions.
   This whole wrongheaded battle between pop (patronisingly celebrated for its supposed falseness and superficiality) and rock (condemned to the unambiguous confines of ‘passion’ and ‘honesty’) must cease now, perhaps with the realisation that, queerly, the best pop is blood’n’guts and the best rock is plastic.
   I can believe in Girls Aloud, Outkast, Terror Squad, Britney, Dizzee, just as I can believe in Comets On Fire, Minus Story, and the fine people on Constellation, kranky, etc. The problem is the fucking middle ground. It’s the people like cunting Robbie Williams who wanna make pop ‘serious’ (sniffing a Mercury and a spot on Later…). It’s the people who want to popularise true experimental music by wrapping the sound of Zoviet France around the dull thud of foursquare rock (see Radiohead, Coldplay, Elbow, Interpol and cunting U2).
   Why be happy with that careerist compromise? If you’re gonna go interstellar then go interstellar. Pop could contain and discipline you. Anti-pop could spin you out forever and set you free on yourself. Either way, excel, accelerate towards your own peculiar dead end and out the other side. There’s too much swimming with the shoal right now – chancers hoping to get enough right (ie: enough recognisable) to be waved through. I just wanna dance to ‘Love Machine’, thanks. I’m through with seeing things how they are. I need a better world by the time I’ve finished this fag. Next month, singles of 2004 and a death list for the New Year revolution.


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