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THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1: “People We Want”

Image’s The Wicked + The Divine #1 landed this Wednesday, bursting with the promise of being my new favourite comic. It’s too early to say that yet and, besides, reviewing single issues of a comic is a bit of a vulgar business. So let’s get our essay on.(Spoilers follow, both visual and textual.) Let’s kick off this two-part blog with a big old declaration of bias: Jamie McKelvie & Kieron Gillen together make up just about the only fandom that I’d identify as part of. Their first comic together, 2006’s Phonogram, introduced me to a whole host of ideas – formalism, poptimism, Kenickie – which make up a not-inconsiderable chunk of who I am today, and not just why but the way I’m writing this blog. Their work is the exception to the rule that I don’t buy comics monthly, and certainly not as print issues – I’m writing this having read a digital copy of issue one, knowing there’s a pre-ordered copy waiting for me in my local comic shop. Their Thought Bubble DJ sets drag me halfway up the country on an annual pilgrimage of drinking, dancing, and ill-advised behaviour. I’m pretty sure Drunk Alex has tried to make out with at least one of them. I am a complete fanboy and frankly, my opinion on any new comic they put out is not to be trusted. So why the hell am I telling you this? Because it’s one half of what The Wicked + The Divine is about. It’s a story about the relationship between creator and consumer, centering around an excellent high concept: once each century, twelve gods reincarnate on earth. In human bodies. As pop stars. The story is already in motion when we join it. The gods have been manifest for a while – or at least, based on the three blanks in the chapter’s introductory Jonathan Hickman-esque diagram, nine of them are. The public are aware of their apparent divinity and are reacting in various ways, ranging from utter devotion to the application of semi-automatic weaponry. This is a narrative-driven comic – exposition and explosions, a couple of mysteries, a cliffhanger to close – in a way Phonogram never was. My first impression was that the issue flies past too quickly, despite the doubled page count, but it actually manages to seamlessly introduce the concept and establish an incredibly broad cast across two distinct time periods without ever having to stop the story to make time for introductions. So let’s do some introductions: So far, it appears that The Wicked + The Divine belongs to Laura, our viewpoint character. For now, she’s pretty much just a Fan, with the suggestion that she’s trying to escape something in her own personality through her relationship with music. Amaterasu is the first of the gods we see, mixing Florence & The Machine and Kate Bush with an added splash of Bolan glam, some openly mystical iconography and eyes that (in a classic McKelvie/Gillen motif) turn into tiny eclipses when she’s in full performance-god mode. Luci(fer) is the first god we actually meet. She’s an androgynous Bowie-esque retro revivalist, referencing the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Philip Larkin, decked out with a white suit and a La Roux quiff. Luci probably gets the most development of any character in the issue. She’s introduced as something of a standard-issue Warren Ellis Female – sharp tongued, fearsome and permanently smoking – but towards the end of the issue that trope gets exploded, fairly literally, and again we get a glimpse of the young woman she is underneath. If Luci and Ameratsu were real pop stars, though, I suspect they wouldn’t be part of my pantheon. The god I could imagine tributes to on an alternate-universe version of this blog is also the one we see least of: Sekhmet, Egyptian cat goddess by way of Rihanna. It’s the most striking and direct visual resemblance to an actual celebrity in the comic. More specifically, though, Sekhmet embodies a particular side of Rihanna: the pelvic thrust of S&M, the stamina-and-virility-challenging super-dominatrix of Rude Boy. She’s all that good stuff stripped back to pure animal form, draped over two groupies (one of each sex, obv), uninhibited in the most literal sense, chasing red dots across the furniture like an actual cat.Then there’s Cassandra, a journalist and non-believer who probably deserves her own essay. For now, let’s just say acts as the voice of scepticism.  (Something you might have noticed – that was a lot of ‘she’s. Of the (by my count) ten potentially recurring characters, just two are boys. If that doesn’t sound too important to you, well, you’re probably not a regular comics reader.) Cassandra tries to ground Amaterasu by reminding her she’s just “a seventeen-year-old from Exeter”. It’s simultaneously a paean to the transformative power of pop and a suggestion that maybe she’s just playing the same game as Laura. Less Amaterasu, basically, and more amateur. She points to Sekhmet, saying it’s not “a dignified way for a woman to behave”. You’ve probably heard someone say a similar thing about Rihanna or one of the other pop stars in Sekhmet’s DNA, and it raises a question of control and choice. Would whoever Sekhmet was before have chosen to become a cat sex god? How much of Rihanna’s sexualised presentation is self-determined? For a comic which I said goes by far too quickly, it manages to pack in a remarkable amount of questions about the creation and consumption of pop creation, both the specifics and the universal. Here’s one more question: how much am I extrapolating? Look, I told you I wasn’t to be trusted. The Wicked + The Divine feels like a comic that was made for me, from concept to execution to the fact that, based on the caption box and the look of the houses, Laura lives a ten-minute walk from where I’m currently sat. There’s a scene early in the issue where Laura attends an Amaterasu gig. The star-god scans the audience, and […]

Two Songs Which Came Out in 2012

We’re way past the halfway mark of 2012 now, and I’d struggle to put together a list of my Top 10 Tracks For The Year (let alone Albums). I’ve been struggling to find new stuff that I really love. Now, I’m not saying these are my two favourite songs of 2012, exactly … but I might be. Kitty Pryde – Okay Cupid                                                                                          Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe Two approximately teenage girls (Pryde is a bit coy about her exact age, Jepsen’s actually in her mid-20s, but image is what matters, right?) taking on classic girl-loves-boy pop, from two very different angles. (And, as if it needed to be any more explicit, Pryde’s haha i’m sorry EP, opens with a song sampling/covering/taking the piss out of Jepsen’s masterpiece.) One of them is pure summery POP!, the joy of the first time and the stolen look; the other scuzzy-edged hip hop, the joy of teenage obsession and the stolen piece of clothing. Call Me Maybe glossy and locomotive, Okay Cupid is woozy and atmospheric, pushed along by blurry Weekndesque beats, the sound of something just kicking innnn. Where Okay Cupid goes in for a wealth of detail (cigarette breath, drunk dials at 3:30am, Frank Ocean) Call Me Maybe is all broad strokes (trading phone numbers, ripped jeans, just knowing). It’s the kind of pop song that could be about anyone, its signifiers borrowed more from what we’re told love is like than what it tends to actually be like. That’s no bad thing, of course, because a) hormones and b) Call Me Maybe is being delivered to directly to the subject of affection. It’s a girl laying it all on the line but trying to play it cool, a bit (after all, Jepsen is quick to remind her beau that plenty of other boys are trying to chase her), and you’re the “You”, and you can’t really imagine saying no to that maybe. Okay Cupid is delivered at someone, kind of. Certainly, it uses the “You”, but it’s a scrapbook, Facebook-album version of you that’s being talked to. The song is pretty clearly positioned in the bedroom, that sanctuary of living with your parents, from the “get out of my roooommm! blerghhhhh!” epigraph – and it’s hard to imagine Kitty’s anything but alone there. Which is how you know she means it all. It’s still a performance, though. Pryde plays the teenage girl role for all it’s worth, fetishistically working the divide between innocence and experience. She dips in and out of making silly noises in a way not seen since the sainted Cher Lloyd, her delivery equal parts bored drawl and playground giggle. Pryde’s voice is sweet but there’s something in it that’s kind of crusty, like nicotine-stained fingers – or like someone worked back from Ke$ha’s projected image and made music that actually fits it, and that I actually like. …There’s lots to grab onto in Okay Cupid. That’s part of its pleasure. The joys  of Call Me Maybe are harder to describe – especially trying to find something to say that’s not entirely redundant given that you’ll, stone-cold guarantee, already be familiar with it. Kitty Pryde may be named for my favourite X-Man, but it’s Jepsen who feels like the superhero. Some of what she says suggests she’s vulnerable, but the music surrounding her just makes her sound invincible.It’s teen-mag glossy. It’s a pop force of nature. It just sort of is. And the second it’s over, it’s already a bit hazy, just one long unending chorus in my memory. Which feels fully appropriate, given what it’s about. What it’s about, what songs are about, being: the crush as fantasy. In one case in the knight-in-shining-armour sense, in the other the hands-down-your-pants sense. Although, actually, honestly, the latter could be true of either song. The only reason you know Carly doesn’t have her hand stuck firmly down the front of her jeans is that it’s hard to imagine anyone managing to sing Call Me Maybe without at least a few cheesy arms-in-the-air dance moves. Really, like any mirror image, they’re not that far away from each other. It’s not as simple as one squeaky clean Hollywood romance and one ironically distant and kind of dirty. After all, it might be Jepsen giving off Disney Princess vibes, but it’s Pryde that explicitly mentions being one. It might be Pryde that talks about sex, but it’s Jepsen that’s getting laid. When Jepsen invokes selling her soul, the song’s so sincere you can’t help but believe she really means it.There’s a sneer in Pryde’s voice, especially put next to the earnestness of Jepsen, but there’s genuine romantic sentiment in there too, mixed up with all the sexual longing and grandstanding. It’s essentially the same story of a one-way relationship – not unrequited, quite, but not exactly mutual either. It’s roughly the same (universal, Pop-Platonic) ideas, through a different filter. They’re almost the same song, or at least two sides of some multi-dimensional hypersong, giving each other light and shade, feeding into one another to complete the circle of how (I imagine) it feels to be a teenage girl in lust. And that’s the story of how I made my own favourite album of the summer, just by gluing the two songs to the back of each other. (And yes, I’m aware that Call Me Maybe kind of came out in 2011. But only in Canada, which really doesn’t count.)

2010: The Third Quarter – Musik

Christina Aguilera – Bionic Sometimes, I think that famous British prudishness is misunderstood. It’s not that we’re scared to hear about sex – not the generation I know – it’s just that we’ve heard it all before and it’s not that shocking. I remember the weekend papers when Bionic came out. They all sang the same couple of tunes: yes, Christina likes sex, we get it / cor, Christina ain’t half ripping off Lady Gaga. Two months later, The Times published a ‘demolishing’ analysis of that Lady Gaga. The central thesis of which was: Gaga’s not sexy enough. Which is ridiculous, of course. Pop doesn’t have to be sexy. Gaga’s the girl you never think to ask if she’s ever had sex, let alone with who or what. Xtina is the girl at the party with nothing else to talk about. Songs as subtle as Sex for Breakfast, lyrics as nuanced as “when the morning comes/I know I will too”. And so, naturally, the British press looked up her up and down, and shook their heads disapprovingly. Not with the horror of broken taboos, but with boredom. And all this is true, and fair, and it whirrs around my head every time I stick the album on (which has been surprisingly often the last few months), but it doesn’t matter. Because the girl has some interesting friends, and she’s brought them with her. The MIA song is the best MIA song of the year; Nicki Minaj infects Woohoo with Minaj-ness, and makes that ridiculous oversexualisation work. But most importantly, it just sounds gorgeous. Turned up loud enough, you can feel the shapes of the music. Of course, it all comes crashing down by the end, when the album strays into attempted seriousness, and the accompanying ballads. But that first half: it might be shallow, it may lack nutrition, but it just sounds so good. Pop doesn’t have to be sexy. This album isn’t shocking and it isn’t sexy. But, hey, this is pop music. Words don’t matter, right? Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself I’ve never gotten Xiu Xiu before, but Miles ‘Tails’ Bradley informs me this is their Pop album. And, well… that title. That’s all you need, really. That’s pure Pop. I played the title track to Liv one drunken Sunday afternoon, in endless rotation between California Gurls and Mystery Jets’ Flash A Hungry Smile and it just fitted in perfectly. The overblown melodrama is giggle-worthy, to hear someone cutting all the indirect subtextual crap and just singing ‘dear God I hate myself’ as a chorus. But like the best Pop, it also manages to take you in, and make you feel it. And then titles as light and friendly as Chocolate Makes You Happy encourage quiet giggles in a different way. But there’s always something underneath, something savage with glinting eye. Pop. Best Coast – Crazy for You Girl loves boy. Girl loves weed. Oh gosh how she loves both these things. As many times as I listen to it, this album remains essentially a half-hour of just Boyfriend in my mind. Which isn’t a bad thing, and is probably fitting, given that this is the musical equivalent of a stoner movie. But … good, like. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left-Foot Guaranteed to add an extra 30% of swagger to whatever you’re doing while it plays. Mystery Jets – Serotonin & The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Grouped because they are each other’s evil twin. Both are albums of pretty music that can be dialled down and left to settle into the background and the back of your mind. The difference is that Serotonin makes that into a virtue. It’s easy listening in the Belle & Sebastian sense, the kind where you spot your fingers creeping towards the volume dial, catch yourself singing along half-way through a song. Whereas Suburbs is easy to forget. It’s easy not to notice that it’s on. Occasionally something will snag your attention and you’ll wake up, with no idea where you are in the album, or which songs have slipped by unnoticed. The album occasionally hits on a typically great Arcade Fire lyric: “watching the end of the world on a badly compressed “ or a great song. Sprawl II is absolutely stellar, a contender for best Arcade Fire song. It’s possibly telling, though, that it is the one song that doesn’t sound like the others. It barely even sounds like Arcade Fire at all. With the Regine-led vocals and pulsing synths-y electro beat at its heart, it could almost be a Knife song. But to steal a line from my handsome comrade Mr Christopher Sparrow, the album is less than the sum of its parts, somehow. I like the album a lot more than on first listen. Being able to buy it for £1 helped a lot. A lot of people – some of whom I trust, many who I don’t – have raved about this album, and so I keep listening and waiting. I’m still waiting on a metamorphosis. Maybe it won’t come, maybe it will, one day. Whereas Serotonin comes on sexy straight away, muttering in your ear. It’s a continuation of the Jets’ journey into an imaginary universe where it was ’80s pop still roams the earth, unchallenged. It’s polished, crowd-pleasing stuff, with just enough Mystery Jets flair and eccentricity to keep it recognisable as, y’know, something the NME would talk about. The passion’s beginning to fade a little, I think, and it’s possible our time together is coming to an end. Maybe by year’s end I’ll feel the opposite way about these two albums. We’ll see. Robyn – Body Talk Pt 2 Which is, of course, just great. It’s more Robyn, in a year full of Robyn (though not full enough: I’m indignant about the news that Part 3 is set to be half greatest-hits, with only five new songs). Nevertheless, this is a brilliant way to do pop music. Releasing three albums […]

Number One, #7

This has been sitting in the drafts folder for a week and a half now, as various complications have conspired against it. Am avoiding this week’s results, so to speak, to keep the purity of my opinions.(EDIT: since checked and it’s still Number One! Woo! Both because it keeps this relevant and it means all is still right with the world.) It’s been harder and harder to find anything to say about the recent crop of #1s, and I’ve got more and more behind. Tinie Tempah? Bruno Mars? Alexandra Burke again? The top spot has been a success of sighs for a few months now and, with the X Factor machine revving up, the near future looks bleak. But then sometimes Pop does exactly what it’s supposed to, and surprises you. And so the song that was like a number one beamed in from an alternate, slightly better universe, is actually Number One. CEE LO GREEN – F’ YOU That title is a bit contentious. Because the version actually listed on the official chart is Forget You. Which is precisely 40% less fun, thanks to that removed f-bomb. Now, there’s nothing wrong with censoring. It’s understandable, and there’s no other way this song could have conceivably gotten to #1. Regular readers might be aware that I’m partial to a bit of substition myself, in the interests of keeping the blog family-friendly (and for my own amusement). Thing is, getting rid of the swear takes away some of the fun. Replacing it with ‘forget’ changes the song entirely. 1) It steps down the emotion of the song, from a desperate regretted-in-hindsight late night Livejournal entry* to a shrug of the shoulders.2) It undermines the big silly idea at the centre of the song: a mash-up of squeaky-clean Motown pop and the foul-mouthed self-expression of modernity.…But, ignoring my own subjective and (very) occasionally flawed opinions, the biggest problem is:3) Tacking on an extra syllable makes it impossible to curse along with the radio. That’s just uncool. It says a lot, then, that running at 60% capacity, this is still the best Number One we’ve had since California Gurls, the song which kickstarted this semi-failed experiment. My reaction to finding out this had made #1 was to reflexively shout ‘yes!’ out loud. Take that, Take That! Forget you, X Factor! (I was originally going to do a run down of the singles that have made it to #1 between this and the last time I did one of these, and why FU is better than every single one of them, but ultimately I just couldn’t be bothered with them, it’s been that drab. So I’ll just explain why this is so great and leave the comparison to you, trusted reader.) It takes a great gimmick and works it into a perfectly constructed slice of catchy Pop. Everything is built on a solid shoulder-shaking, finger-snapping foundation. Then it layers on the beautifully physical voice of Mr Green, dealing with a relateable sentiment: “I see you runnin’ round town with the girl I love…” Then, bam!, in comes the first f-bomb, balanced exactly between you tell ’em! empathy and oh no he di’n’t! funny. It’s not that swearing is shocking or new, but the context – that classic pop sentiment, the sound of it all – is enough to leave your mouth agape on the first listen. But just in case that didn’t get your jaw to drop, inventive moment after moment is constructed around this. The harmonising backing singers, dropping the classic couplet “Oh sherbert she’s a gold digga/Just thought you should know, fella.**” The way Cee Lo extends out the high-pitched “pity the fooooooool” that accompanies it. The bit where it builds to Cee Lo’s voice, like hot tar, letting it all out seeming to worry about shape, while fitting perfectly to the rest of the song. Just how effortless it all seems… That effortlessness makes the song hard to write about. Pulling back the curtain a bit, there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to get this blog finished. Perfect is the word that keeps cropping up and getting backspaced out. The whole thing is polished till it shines, but that makes it water-tight and impenetrable. I’ve listened to the song a couple of dozen times in an attempt to get in. The best thing I can say about it – the quality which makes it a perfect #1 – is that I still want to hear it again. *Yes, I’m talking about The Social Network here, which I saw last night. Opinions forthcoming.**An example of the aforementioned censorship, there.

Number One, #6

And so it’s X Factor season once more. And by some grand, certainly-not-orchestrated coincidence, the children of X Factor are back. TWO WEEKS AGO #1 Olly Murs – Please Don’t Let Me Go To this day, I haven’t heard this song on the radio or seen it on any music channels. I would, of course, skip straight past it. But, still, I haven’t been given the chance. Which raises the question how exactly it became #1. The actual content of the song is probably the answer: Take That piano/straining-vocals opening. Easy cheery singalong bit. The usual wet earnest pop-boy sentiment.Familiar music; Lyrics you’re sure you’ve heard before; that bit, isn’t that..? – and then your brain gives up from sheer boredom. I’m being unfair. A bit. I’d pre-decided my opinion on this, pretty much. X Factor is the one thing that can harm my modern-day poptimistic outlook on music, especially when it means . I was actually pro-Rage last Christmas. It brings out the angry teen in me. Being fair: the opening, at least on this video, is actually a bit interesting. It’s all degraded, old record texture; unfortunately, then the song proper kicks in and it’s bland, it’s non-threatening, it’s … I’m sorry, being fair is hard. Another disinterested sigh of a #1, readers. ONE WEEK AGO #1 Alexandra Burke – Start Without You This is much more silly. Which is possibly X-Factor-output’s highest calling. I’ve noticed some strong reactions to this from various pop-inclined friends and relatives. Ugh, turn it off, can’t stand it. But I quite like it. It probably helps that I first saw this on breakfast-time TV (see? This one actually gets played), with Alexandra Burke in her underwear and similarly ridiculously-dressed muscled sailor men. I was groggy, it was strange, I went back to bed. Seaside souvenir shop tacky chorus. Multiple Boom!s. “I’m like a beast”. Garbled cyber-goblin voices. Again, I admit the role bias plays. A lot of the stuff in here, if it had caught me a different way, would be listed with the usual pop-crimes: not least its continuation of the recent theme of pointless dancefloor setting. It is a bit rubbish (see: the rap) but its heart seems to be in the right place. (And it actually has one, which is hardly guaranteed with X-Factor stuff). I reckon it deserved a #1, just about. File alongside Green Light. I won’t listen to it again, no guarantee I won’t turn the radio over, even. But it tickles something in me. And as I put the finishing touches to this, ‘today’ clicks around. A new Top Forty, a new #1. Will it be good? Will I write about it in the actual week it comes out? Find out in the next installment of … NUMBER ONE.

Number One, #5

I deliver this missive from Murcia, Espana. I should be holidaying but I love you guys too much and I’ve missed two hott new Number Ones already. Here are some words on them. #1. Roll Deep – Green LightJust wholesomely rubbish enough to work, I think. The central metaphor strained to breaking point (“Stop/Take a Look, left and right/Is it clear for me to go?”), a video which is just the various differing-values-of-ridiculous members (my favourite? Either the guy with the shades and top-knot, or the guy who looks like a chubby Jon Tickle) in front of block colours, genuine road signs, and the occasional shot of an actual traffic light. I’m hardly desperate for the opportunity to dance to this, but I probably wouldn’t change stations if it came on the radio. It is, if I’m being completely honest, the kind of song I guiltily catch myself enjoying in the shower before realising I’ve been singing along for the last two minutes without noticing. #1. Taio Cruz – Dynamite Meanwhile, something about this is more insidious and lazy. I briefly considered just cut-and-pasting an old review for one of the other generic-R&B Number Ones, but I’m wearing that particular rant a bit thin, I think (in conversation moreso: the words generic and R&B having been sighed so frequently recently that I’m starting to get a little self-conscious about it). So I’ll try instead to point out what makes this particular selection so offensive to my tastes in an easy-to-read point-by-point style: -Repeating ‘throw my hands up/ayo’ in a way that caters to the lowest-common dancefloor denominator and has absolutely nothing to do with the song. -The phrase “I’m wearing all my favourite brands”. Humanity as it currently exists has been proved obsolete; please welcome Homo Nikeus, the very pinnacle of capitalism’s long evolution process. -Being yet another song about what precisely the protagonist plans to do in the club. -Using autotuned vocals in a way that adds precisely nothing to the qualities of the music except sounding a bit weird. Except, oh, guess what: it sounds completely unsurprising given that approximately twenty-three thousand* songs have used this particular. -Actually, scratch that first criticism. The song isn’t actually about anything, is it? It doesn’t even have the usual novelty hook, or twist on the formula and instead chooses to be a series of small semi-coherent collections of words on the general theme of being in the club. More terrible dynamite/explosive analogies next time, please. -Somehow managing to make its presentation of girls in the video more leery and touching-yourself-behind-a-reflective-screen than the current par for music videos. -Ending on a completely unearned self-congratulating applause when, in fact, the sound of someone miming putting a gun to their head would be much more apt. Two mediocre-to-poor Number Ones, anyway. Roll on this week’s hot pick, selected entirely at random by the atrophying twitch-reflexes of the discerning music-buying public. *Values accurate to the nearest twenty-three-thousand.

Number One, #4

Today being Thursday, I realise this is ridiculously delayed, for a combination of good personal reasons and a less professional but nonetheless all-pervading dread of this week’s song. But if this has any chance of being the semi-regular feature I want it to be, I have to finish it before next week’s. Which hopefully won’t be delayed. Flo Rida – The Club Can’t Handle Me (feat. David Guetta) A week or so ago, young Miles came to me – I am, after all, a doctor of Pitchforkism, just as I am a doctor of love – with a problem. This song, Club Can’t Handle Me by Flo Rida and David Guetta, two artists whose previous music he had no love for him, it worked for him. So I listened to it, and found I was not suffering from the same affliction. It’s not as obnoxious as I remembered, as I reluctantly gave up my LCD Soundsystem and typed in those words into Spotify’s search bar, huffing like the petulant indie-child I am. It is, dare I say it, actually a little fun, and I can see why it would make sense for someone, but that person is not me. Except for the bit at the beginning, where Flo (presumably this is how we are to refer to this ridiculously monickered gentleman) shouts out to his track companion “I see you D. Guetta, let’s get ’em”. This bit is solid gold.

Number One, #3

I am doing this, for the first time, before knowing the result. The chart unfolds before us. Ooh, exciting, eh? So, in the meantime, let’s catch up on the missed weeks of hott Number One Hits. Looking at what I’ve missed, I see I’m going to hate myself for doing this… FOUR WEEKS AGOKaty Perry – California Gurls Again. One time too many, by my reckoning. Was it even still sunny? THREE WEEKS AGOThe Club is Alive – JLSWhat exactly keeps the pop-Frankenstein that is JLS alive baffles me. What sustenance feeds this monster? The hearts of young gullible girls, and mid-twenties girls who should know better, snatched late at night? When it lifts – argh – it lifts its shirt, to show what lies beneath, is the correct response not to be repulsed? The Club is Alive is a perfect example of this shambling undead mess. Look how it masquerades as one of us, so desperate to convince us it is ‘Alive’ at it assembles itself from a set of below-adequate parts. A weird The Sound of Music sample, as shown to be pop-poison by Gwen Stefani not all that long ago. Bargain-bin electro-effects, cheap tinny synths and melting voices. The refrain “you can be the DJ, I can be the dancefloor/you can get up on me” which apart from its failings to make any sense as an analogy, doesn’t even sound snappy. 1, 2, 3, bleeding 4… You question which element, exactly, came first and was considered good enough to have a song built around it. This is not just poorly reanimated pop, it is the Tesco Value Frankenstein, a sellotaped-together selection of dull, unattractive parts that do not add up to a whole.(The chart countdown reveals that it won’t be this All Time Low song that makes #1. Phew.)TWO WEEKS AGOAirplanes – B.o.B. (feat. Hayley Williams)So, if M.I.A. is Maya, this guy is Bob? That’s just not good enough for pop music. Fittingly, neither is this. Which is where I could finish. It’s certainly not as deserving of my ire as JLS, being a moderately good song. Bringing in mediocre female rock vocals in actually hurts the song, which when Bob’s flow gets going – apart from the annoying tendency to drop at the end of a line – has a certain urgency to it. But the chorus sounds like generic R&B trying to do Evanescence and, that being the bit we’ve all heard over and over for the last month, makes this song’s ubiquity … a bit hurtful, really. Did we not learn the first time, people? (And it’s not Eminem which … I’m actually a bit gutted about. I haven’t had chance to take any of the new Eminem stuff apart yet, and I am hungry to do so. Know this, Mr Mathers: I continue to be Very Disappointed in you.) ONE WEEK AGOWe No Speak Americano – Yolanda Be Cool vs D-CupThis is more like it. Summer novelty hit which I can’t actually quite get my head round. It’s like – along with that Stereo Love song – an attempt to reclaim the viral europop people used to bring back in their heads and their mouths from holidays on the Mediterrenean and have to find on tape back at home, if only to inoculate themselves. Where that song takes a pure retro route, however, this one is that phenomenon described to a DJ of five years in the future, whose record collection only stretches as far back as this January. It bends, flexes, plays with the raw materials in its metallic paws. It is an effortless Number One. I am congratulating it more than I probably actually like it as a song, because it is a Pop Hit Designed Only For Chart Domination and it is only proper and right that this was achieved. And we return, just in time for the announcement of This Week’s Official UK Chart Number One. And it is… TODAYNeYo – Beautiful Monster The radio announcement that convinced me I had to return to this idea, right now, was that the three possibilities for a number one were NeYo, Flo Rida and Tinchy Stryder. The way they meld into a generic internet-R&B-superstar-name-generator mush. It’s the names, for one. I forgot to add the name on first posting, and I genuinely had to check which one it was. I can’t tell them apart even by their ridiculous monickers, and the music – of course – doesn’t help. The Worst Bit:The lyrics, in the opening particularly, are delivered slowly enough to be actively painful. The My-First-Metaphor, the obvious rhymes, are so easy to spot you’d have to be politely looking away not to notice.The Best Bit:There are ’90s videogame noises which build, chopping, under the song at various points. There’s one bit where it actually sounds like it’s building to strobing lasers and , but it doesn’t go anywhere more than a slightly louder repetition of the chorus. But for one moment, there’s a thrilling promise. …I’m almost upset I used up my Frankenstein’s monster analogy on JLS, but maybe it would have been too obvious, given the title. It really does sound like one of the parts that was found at the roadside and stitched together for that monstrosity, though. But here’s the thing: while it was never going to reach the Gaga One, the pop-deity its title oh-so-subtly invokes, Beautiful Monster doesn’t even have the balls to be as terrible as JLS’ beast.

Number One, #1

#1: Katy PerryCalifornia Gurls Katy Perry, whatever you might think of her, is certainly an efficient pop star. She appears, here and there, just enough to keep her name famous. She chooses her collaboratiosn wisely – Timbaland, 3oh!3, now Snoop Dogg? This girl knows what she’s doing. And I retain a soft spot for the girl who sings things like “Daisy Dukes with bikinis on top.”* In a world where even Christina Aguilera is experimenting with edgier music, she’s the female Justin Timberlake, the money-making business-woman embodiment of pop. She looks like the girl from 90210 who looks like a cheap replica of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. It’s almost exactly the flip side of Snoop Dogg’s guest vocals on the Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach. The California tourist board must having an absolute field day with its endorsements. The song’s name is spelt stupidly… But, hell, it just works. You’re likely to be looking at me down your nose right now, but there’s a sense that Perry knows exactly how far she can push things. That, if you’re attuned to the right pop sensibility, Perry will never betray you. In an alternative, better universe of the UK, something else is #1: Robyn, maybe. That’s the same UK where we’re not all in mourning about the football right now, one way or the other. But California Gurls is perfect in-shower music, the kind of song you’re just happy to come on while you rub shampoo into those follicles, or while you drive from A to B. It’s a lower level of pop, maybe, but it’s that pop perfected. Some people, no doubt, wish they could all be California Gurls. *An expression I understand, for no logical reason, to mean hot pants and a bikini top. If this is confirmed to be true, then something magic is happening within the work of Ms Perry. She might in fact be a witch.

30 Days of Music: #015

day 15 – a song that describes you We’re over the halfway point. To get all Oscars speech, it’s you guys that have made this happen! That’s right, the little people! I’m sorry, there might be tears, especially with the distinctly emo-teen-MySpace to today’s theme. Britney Spears – Circus I’m a put-on-a-show kinda girl. Circus the album is Britney at her most meta. A lot of the tracks are just about bein’ Britney. About not even Britney Spears, real slightly-messed-up-by-showbiz girl, but the public’s perception of BRITNEY, name-in-sparkling-lights icon. And so, mostly, what they’re about is the spotlight, grabbing attention, and putting on a show. I’m no Britney, but can appreciate that. As a ‘song that describes me’, it’s more about the alcohol-fuelled Mr Hyde that is Drunk Alex, dancing, stripping and generally striving for the spotlight. It was standing on a chair one night, gyrating to this song that it all clicked. But I’ve got to admit, it applies to me too. After all, here I am writing this. It’s not that I’m starved of love or histrionic* or anything: sometimes, the attention just feels good. *Though, thanks for that diagnosis Dr Cowley. If you’re reading this… this one’s for you!