Clean Bandit

A No. 1 Review – “Symphony” by Clean Bandit feat. Zara Larsson

I’m way behind on my attempt to review every UK No. 1 of this year. Let’s pretend this song is still immediately relevant to the charts, yeah?

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I’ve historically been a bit conflicted with Clean Bandit. They’re certainly the best instrumentalists working in mainstream pop at the moment; their songs sound sublime and are musically so far ahead of their contemporaries that it’s almost embarrassing.

The issue is that they keep collaborating with their contemporaries despite them never quite seeming to gel. Place one of Bandit’s precise, complicated instrumentals next to an over-singer like Louisa Johnson and you get a track with no room to breathe, forcing their less ostentatious sound into the background and allowing the song to be dominated by it’s worst element. Similarly, place it next to a wholly uncomplicated artist like Jess Glynne and you get music which is entirely unsupported by its lyrics, resulting in something unsatifyingly meaningless. Too far to either end of the spectrum and you get stuff that doesn’t work: there’s a specific vocal style that serves Clean Bandit well, but it’s so percise that no-one quite seems to know what it is yet.

They’re getting better though. You’d think that Rockabye, the song they did with Anne-Marie and Sean Paul, would end up criminally overloaded given that it features not one but two guest artists, yet it’s actually quite controlled. The thing that makes it work is that there’s an in-song reason for one performer to overpower the rest. The entire track is about the hard work but ultimate self-sufficiency of Anne-Marie’s single mother character, providing a surprisingly deep portrait of how single mothers need more support but are still strong on their own. To reflect this, every single element of the song other than Anne-Marie takes a supportive role to her vocals, from Sean Paul making singular utterances which highlight the important parts of Anne-Marie’s story to music which largely keeps itself out of the way unless needed. Everyone’s working together to highlight and bolster one element.

The fact that this is rare for a Clean Bandit song says something about the band which I haven’t quite said yet. Because I usually prefer the instrumentation to the lyrics in any Clean Bandit song, I have a tendency to argue that Clean Bandit is a great bunch of musicians being underserved by guest artists who don’t get what they’re doing. This perspective implies that Clean Bandit don’t have any control over their guest artists though, which is almost definitely wrong: while I don’t know exactly how they write their tracks, I doubt that they just record the music, send it to the record label and then leave it to everyone else to add some vocals on top of it. Which means that if Clean Bandit have a major flaw, it’s that they don’t write their intricate music to play to the strengths of their collaborators. If you’re going to keep using guest vocalists, you might as well start adjusting your sound for each one. Clean Bandit have never really done this, and so are as much to blame for their songs never quite coalescing as everyone else.

Meanwhile, Rockabye has everyone on the same page and working together to produce a singular effect, everyone being given well-defined roles which feed into the song’s central point. This is what truly separates Rockabye from the rest of Clean Bandit’s discography: the feeling that the music and the vocals are actually working with and off each other as opposed to being merely played over each other in the final dub.

And while Symphony – Clean Bandit’s latest No. 1 recorded with Zara Larsson – never quite reaches the heights of Rockabye, the interplay between Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson is there, working off each other to produce some really quite interesting effects and some very solid storytelling.

The song is about a lonely person who’s developed a crush on someone, the song serving to express their desire to date. It starts off by setting the scene: the narrator talks about how she was tired of “solo singing on [her] own” and talks about how her crush helped to imagine an unlonely life. This is communicated through a very sparce opening where the only instruments are a piano playing single notes in a very separated plinky-plonk fashion, over which is laid the narrator’s voice and an awful lot of echo, making it feel like the narrator is singing to herself in a large, empty room. Then the pre-chorus kicks in and the lyrics move to present tense. The single notes become chords which speed and build up, leading to a sense of forward momentum. This is where the singer and her crush come together, where everything fits into one…

Except it’s not. The music drops out of the chorus and we’re left with the singer largely singing to herself while the piano music flits between the pauses. And so a tension is created: the singer and her crush haven’t got together. And you feel that tension: the music built you up and has left you hanging. You feel in limbo. An effect is made, and it’s a palpable one.

With this framework, the song has now set up what the rest of it has to do: keep building up the instrumental passages until they eventually reach a crescendo, resolving the songs tensions and allowing its characters to finally come together. And so it starts doing that, introducing new instruments to the mix constantly and using the ebbs-and-flows created by it’s verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure to maintain its sense of tension while constantly moving towards an increasingly inevitable finale. While the finale feels inevitable though, it never feels certain. The first musical fake-out has taught us that the crescendo promised by the song is not guaranteed. And of course, despite the ending being inevitable, the song never actually features the singer and her crush getting together. As such, we’re left with a tumultuous snapshot of a relationship-to-be, preserved in amber and carrying all the nerves, joys and fears that developing a new crush tends to bring. It’s effective and beautiful; compare it to the relatively aimless Rather Be and you’ll see that Clean Bandit’s abilities as storytellers have improved greatly.

And the real joy of it is the way that the lyrics use a symphony metaphor in which the singer’s “solo-singing” merges with her crushes melodies and tunes in order to form a full symphony, this being exactly what the music does. The music explains the lyrics and the lyrics explain the music: everything fits and feeds into each other. There’s no difference between vocals, instruments and melody here, they all fit together into one text.

This might seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill – a song has matching music and lyrics, big whoop – but a lot of pop music nowadays shows nothing even close to the fundamentals being displayed here. As I’ve said before, despite me being a very harsh critic of modern pop music, it’s really has to do very little for me to like it. In a world where something as confused as One Dance can be No. 1 for 15 weeks and Ed Sheeran is somehow an apparently acceptable songwriter, a song as proficient as this is frankly exemplary.

Clean Bandit have always tried very hard to be as good as they can and now their efforts are finally playing dues, fulfilling at least some of the potential evident in their earlier works. It’s not quite Rockabye but that’s mostly because using some interesting narrative structures to liven up a bog-standard love song isn’t as half as interesting as using interesting narrative structures to illuminate a very specific tale of single-motherhood in the modern age. What it is though is very good. As their worst, Clean Bandit are one of the most interesting bands going; based on the strengths of these two songs, you could plausibly argue that Clean Bandit are currently the best pop groups in the charts right now.

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The Best UK No. 1’s of 2016 (posted April 2017)

Right, let’s finally finish 2016! Only four months late! Then move onto Ed Sheeran! Oh God, pop music is torture!



Special Mentions

‘Paradise’ – Charli XCX

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A staggeringly gonzo bricolage of 90’s rave tropes, all turned inside out and formed into a club smash that’s romantic, exciting, alien and more. I didn’t enjoy a single song in 2016 as much as I enjoyed this.
[Listen]

‘Suitcase Jimmy’ – Evans the Death

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Evans the Death continue to be my favourite British band going at the moment. Their latest album – Vanilla – was recorded on a barge using guest musicians they found on Facebook, continuing to both diversify of their sound and increase the anger in their work. A particular highlight of the album is Suitcase Jimmy: a stonking barrage of trumpets and shouting which would be the defining sound of British Indie if only I had my way.
[Listen]

‘Madeleine Crumbles’ – Major Parkinson

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A beautiful nightmare; all sweeping violins, ethereal choruses and gritty verses. It’s parent album can’t come soon enough.
[Listen]

‘Higher’ – Carly Rae Jepsen

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I didn’t start listening to Carly Ray Jepsen’s Emotion album until early 2016, meaning that it missed out on being included in my Best of 2015 list. I’ve always been slightly ashamed of this: the album’s great. Luckily, Jepsen’s 2016 appendum – Emotion Side B – is just as good as it’s big sister, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same heights. ‘Higher’ probably comes closest to those highs, hence why it’s on the list, though shout-outs have to go to the songs ‘First Time’, ‘The One’, ‘Body Language’, ‘Cry’, ‘Store’… hell, all of them. Everything gets a shout out. Carly Rae Jepsen’s the best.
[Listen]

‘Same’ – Clarence Clarity

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Clarence Clarity specialises in throwing discordant noises, random computer sounds and distorted voices together into labyrinthine messes that somehow work as solid, cathartic pop songs. Same is technically the B-side to his single Vapid Feels Are Vapid but I prefer it, so on the list it goes.
[Listen]

‘Stained’ – HMLTD

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A baroque piece of 80’s throwback goth electro, married to an actively tasteless aesthetic which combines The Damned and Bauhaus into something distinctively new. Its music video also wins the prize for most disgusting of 2016, so you know the band’s doing something right.
[Listen]

‘Ain’t It Funny?’ – Danny Brown

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Maybe funny’s not the right term: boisterous, demented, trumpet-filled and swinging are better. The most enjoyable rap track of 2016 for me.
[Listen]

‘Me And Your Mama’ – Childish Gambino

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An immense two-part soul throwback featuring intense vocals, biblical gospel backing, meaty instrumentation, and the most delightfully childish name of the year. An astonishingly fun track with some real impact behind it.
[Listen]

‘One Call Away’ – Charlie Puth

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What can I say, this song just gets me. Is it trite, cheesy and overly earnest? Yes, it is. I love it.
[Listen] [Original Review]



And now the list itself:

#5 – ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber

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This is my least favourite song of Bieber’s ‘Actually Quite Good Phase’, coming well under both What Do You Mean? and Sorry in my estimations. Unfortunately, due to the absolute dirth of No. 1’s in 2016, the number five slot either had to go to this or Cold Water by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and MØ. I can’t remember what Cold Water sounds like, despite the fact that I last listened to it five minutes ago. Love Yourself it is.

#4 – ‘Shout Out to my Ex’ by Little Mix

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Easily the least interesting song Little Mix has ever released. As previously explained, it’s little more than “an repeat of Love Me Like You, which in turn was a repeat of Black Magic, only without the magic bits”. Love Me Like You and Black Magic are both fantastic hits though; being a direct retread of them still means that you’re a pretty good pop song, particularly given how joyless everything else was that year. Little Mix on autopilot is still better than almost everything else in the pop scene; that’s how good a band they are.

#3 – ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)’ by Mike Posner

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It grew on me. Though I’m still convinced that the remix instrumental completely misses the point of the song, I can’t deny that it sounds wonderfully atmospheric, resulting in the minimalist pop hit of early 2016 that was the easiest to lose yourself in. This became the song that I most enjoyed listening to in the first half of the year; at least, it was light years ahead of it’s nearest contemporaries Stitches and 7 Years.

#2 – ‘Rockabye’ by Clean Bandit feat. Anne-Marie and Sean Paul

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Possibly Clean Bandit’s best song, combining their trademark pristine instrumentation with a solid tale of single motherhood and female strength. Even Sean Paul is used to the best of his abilities, being slotted into the background so as to provide pretty vital backing vocals. A fully fleshed out and realised track: at last, Clean Bandit have a song that feels worthy of them.

#1 – ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey

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Yeah, it’s a failed mess, but it’s exactly the type of failed mess we need right now. The Chainsmokers are not good artists but, for just one track, they managed to accidentally hit gold, producing the track that most encompassed what 2016 was – for better and for worse.


Right then Ed Sheeran, I’m coming for you!

A No. 1 Review: “Rockabye” by Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie (plus a lot of other things Sean Paul featured in last year)

I haven’t updated this blog in a while: in between moving house, starting a PhD, working a job, dealing with Brexit and staring dumbfoundedly at Donald “Racist Paedo-Rapist” Trump, the blog has ended up taking a backseat. I’ve been determined to finish my No. 1 reviews though so here we are, a whole bunch of posts giving quick reviews of every 2016 UK No. 1 that I missed while they were in the charts:

So… Sean Paul is back. Indeed, 2016 was awash with Sean Paul. You couldn’t move for Sean Paul. Signal 1 played nothing but him for five months straight, intermixed with the occasional Can’t Stop the FeelingYet Mr. Paul didn’t release a single song of his own that year; he just appeared on everyone else’s tracks. The thing is: no-one really seemed to want him to be there. For example…

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“Cheap Thrills” – Sia feat. Sean Paul

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Cheap Thrills is a mindless party jam about how great it is to go the club and dance. This type of song doesn’t really get made anymore, critiques of club music being much more common. That said, this is a song written by Sia, someone who is an incredibly slippery character. More than that, it seems to say something quite fundamental about her character: namely that she’s becoming increasingly bored with having to make pop music.

A lot of this comes from the album that Cheap Thrills is a part of. Cheap Thrills is from This is Acting, an album comprised entirely of songs that she wrote for other people and had rejected. As Todd in the Shadows points out, the reason why most singers would write a song and give it to someone else is that the song isn’t actually very good, otherwise the first singer would have sung it themselves. So the album is made out of songs that Sia didn’t think were good enough, all of which were then rejected by the people she fobbed them to, resulting in Sia going “Fuck it” and releasing the songs anyway. Built into every single level of this album is the idea that everything in it is, on some level, crap. It’s an album of songs that no-one much likes. As such, the idea of it also being one of Sia’s more mainstream and poppy albums comes with the implication that most mainstream, poppy albums are full of crap. The fact that this album has been successful forms part of it’s critique: we live in such a flagging music industry that you can literally release an album of rejected off-cuts and still have it be one of the best received albums of the year. Now that Sia’s a mainstream success, she doesn’t need to care anymore, and This is Acting basically exists to point this out.

In this context, the title Cheap Thrills can only be read as a critique of the song itself. This song is not good or pristine or well crafted, it’s cheap. It wants nothing more than to be a thrill: something ephemeral, quick paced, gone before you know it. In short, the song’s a mess that’ll be here one minute and gone the next: that’s literally how it defines itself.

As such, the inclusion of Sean Paul comes off as something Sia did for the sake of it: “Let’s get some has-been rapper from a decade ago to do some guest verses because why not; everyone else does it and it’s not like I’m going to put any effort into this”. Sean Paul’s presence is thus little more than a cynical parody of songs that pull stupid shit like getting someone as irrelevant as Sean Paul in to do a guest verse. His very appearance is a critique of itself.

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“Hair” – Little Mix feat. Sean Paul

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The Little Mix song Hair goes even further in this regard. In it, Little Mix equate breaking up from a relationship with getting a haircut: “Okay, gonna bleach him out, peroxide on him / Here on the floor like a memory of him / Now I feel brand new.” The thing about this lyrical conceit is that, underneath it’s bubblegum exterior, it’s almost impenetrably dark. Little Mix’s relationship with this man was so bad that, now he’s gone, they have to completely change their appearance in order to feel themselves again. This man got under their skin, got in their head, completely destroyed their personalities and wrecked them from the inside out. Little Mix’s last boyfriend wasn’t just a prick, he was psychologically abusive.

The forced cutting of hair is a traditional punishment aimed at women too, performed by men to make them less feminine and thus shame them into living however the men wished. Plus, what type of people have to completely change their appearance in order to get rid of other undesirables: those in witness protection and people who are running from violent people for their lives. I could even quote fitting sections of The Rape of the Lock here if The Rape of the Lock wasn’t sexist bullshit pretending to be satire. My point is that enforced hair cutting and male violence against women (in particular, rape) have been frequently equated to each other. As such, the boyfriend in Hair is an abusive criminal and the song itself is about the recovery methods of a rape survivor.

But what role does Sean Paul play in this? Well, he plays the rapist. More than that, he plays him completely unrepentantly:

“Inseparable at the beginning when we started,
Good chemistry between me and you girl we got it,
I spit you game and just to tame you was my target
That was my aim just to be playing with your body
Thought that forever we could continue this party
And now you telling me that your love is departed
Right I’m just saying you gon’ miss your sugar-daddy.
How you gon’ get me out ya hair girl when I bought it?”

So Sean Paul is a prick. But listen to that language: “I spit you game and just to tame you was my target.” Doesn’t that remind you of the Blurred Lines lyric “Tried to domesticate you / But you’re an animal”? He’s also got the “game”; he wants to “be playing with your body”: he talks just like any club singer of the past decade, using their turns of phrase and their type of language. Hell, he even refers to his prolonged abuse of Hair’s narrator as a “party”. Sean Paul is fully representative of 00’s era club music in this song. If you felt that many of the songs from this era and genre were overly rapey, here’s a song that purposely presents a 00’s club singer as an actual rapist.

Of course, because this is a Little Mix song, what is the correct way of fighting against your male abuser? Well, go out and have a make-over. Or, put another way, go out and be as confidently girly as possible. Sexism is imposing a certain set of values onto the genders so as to keep the balance of power firmly in one gender’s court: just refuse to believe that your gender naturally diminishes you as a person and carry on regardless. There’s nothing more powerful and disruptive as doing whatever you want even after being told not too. Get your hair done and stick two fingers up to Sean Paul: it’s the Little Mix way.

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“Rockabye” by Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

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There is potential salvation for Sean Paul though, that being Rockabye which he did for Clean Bandit alongside Anne-Marie. Rockabye is about the trails and tribulations of single motherhood, talking to a baby about her hardworking single mother in order to confirm to it that ‘somebody’s got you’ and that it never needs to feel sad. As such, the obvious question to ask is what’s Sean Paul doing here? Where does the aggressive club dancer fit into this small-scale story of motherhood and intimate spaces?

Surprisingly, he fits into a support role. Mr. Paul appears to introduce the song ‘for all the single moms out there / going through frustration’ before immediately taking back-up vocal duties behind Anne-Marie, allowing her to tell the tale of a struggling single-mother while providing little utterances to emphasize various parts of her story. In certain verses, it almost sounds like he’s listening to Anne-Marie speak, his noises being little filler sounds to show that he’s still listening:

“Facing the hard life, without no fear (Yeah) […]
‘Cause any obstacle come you’re well prepared (Oh no) […]
And you give the youth love beyond compare (Yeah)
You find his school fee and the bus fare (Yeah)

This gives Mr. Paul an interestingly liminal position within the song itself. The only other man mentioned in the song is the single mother’s daughter’s father, a man who is defined by his absence from the mother’s life and from the song in general. Similarly, Mr. Paul’s appearance in this song is defined by it’s lack: by the way that it falls into the background and doesn’t impose itself upon the main narrative thread; by the way that it’s easily missed and not strictly neccessary. Built into this is the song’s opinion on absent male figures: their disappearance is sad and deeply felt, but ultimately they’re not needed and women can go on regardless. More than this, the situation is presented as one where the opinions of men do not matter at all: men can help but they can do so by listening, emphasizing and supporting women, not by imposing their ideologies onto them.

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In conclusion, Mr. Paul is a surprisingly liminal character in the pop world as a whole at the moment: a marginal figure infecting mainstream hits, a club musician haunting a post-club world. Built into his persona are both warnings from the past and potential ways into the future. In short, he is a symptom of a music scene which has rejected its past forms but still doesn’t have a new one. For better and for worse, Sean Paul was the artist of 2016.

Rapid Reviews 07/06/16

So after spending a long time setting the blog’s aesthetic standards in stone and despairing at the ruination of British society, let’s relax for a bit and release some residual steam on a few easy targets. We can return to things like nuanced analysis (?) next post. Let’s go!



Tears” – Clean Bandit feat. Louisa Johnson

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The problem with Clean Bandit is that they’re only as good as their collaborators allow them to be. Pair them with people like Sean Bass and Alex Newell and they shine: the singers have the technical capabilities to match the music, and thus free Clean Bandit to really go for it with their musical compositions. Pair them Jess Glynne though and they completely fall apart: Glynne is not capable of matching what they’re doing and so their songs end up disappointingly disjointed.

That problem rears it’s ugly head here: Clean Bandit and Louisa Johnson just don’t work well together. Clean Bandit are known for their classically influenced, precise and multi-layered instrumentals: there’s a lot going on in Clean Bandit’s music and it’s always very tightly controlled. Meanwhile Louisa Johnson is an X-Factor winner and so comes from the school of singing whereby she injects as many syllables into each line as possible, resulting in an overly fussy mess. When you’ve got two people in the same song whose sounds are this busy though, one is going to be naturally drowned out by the other. Unfortunately Louisa Johnson is allowed to take control, filling the song with empty vocal gymnastics while leaving Clean Bandit with very little space to do anything interesting musically. The result, again, is something which is disappointingly disjointed and uneven. Even worse than that, with no space for anything interesting musically, the song just sounds bland. It’s the least interesting Clean Bandit song by a long chalk.

Clean Bandit are just too easily dominated by their guest artists, which is a shame because I’m still to hear a guest artist who isn’t entirely outclassed by them. I just want them to produce an entirely instrumental album, though I suppose that won’t happen while they’re still trying to get in the charts.



Faded” – Alan Walker feat. Iselin Solheim

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This could’ve been interesting, maybe: the lyrics at least have some ideas in them, and they’re not bad ones at that. Sure, “sun and water metaphors being used to describe a relationship” has been the default mode of a lot of pop music recently, but this song twists them by having the boyfriend be the narrator’s “shadow” who is linked to the ocean and blocks her from the sun, subverting the traditional way that these metaphors work. Unfortunately, it’s still not that interesting. Even if it inverts the metaphors, it’s still using the same images as a lot of bog-standard pop at the moment. And, again, the music is just bland: sparce and empty.

I have tried to listen to this song in the same way I listen to Are You With Me – as an atmospheric track that’s meant to sound like pop but fundamentally isn’t – but the subtexts of the lyrics just aren’t there to support this mode of listening. Fundamentally, the song is meant to work as a cathartic release and it details a standard love narrative: it’s 100% pop music on auto pilot, draped in imagery that’s an inversion of the usual so as to look vaguely interesting. It’s like Deadpool or The Fault in Our Stars: narratives which are trying to look like radical deconstructions of their genre but which are ultimately just standard examples of their genre with louder witty asides. There might be something in it, somewhere, but actually finding it feels pointless.



I Know What You Did Last Summer” – Shawn Mendes feat. Camila Cabello

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Shawn Mendes’ girlfriend cheated on him once, they stayed together, but now she’s acting shady again and he’s demanding to know where she’s been, which means the relationship isn’t working and the two should break up. Relationships are about trust; two people can stay together after one cheats on the other but only if trust is regained. Mendes doesn’t trust his partner, is now getting overly aggressive towards her and, as such, they should break up. He’s a whiny demanding arse, she’s self-involved, they don’t seem to have any actual reasons to stay together, yet neither actually reach the obvious conclusion at hand. Instead, we two unlikable people shouting at each other in circles to cover the fact that neither have actually arrived at the most obvious conclusion yet: they should break up.



Love, Hope and Misery” – Jake Bugg

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Jake Bugg is an indie rocker who so obviously wants to be the Libertines, it’s ridiculous. In that form though, he’s at least bearable: wannabe rock stars are omnipresent in the indie rock scene, they just come with the territory. But now the bad boy’s going to show his softer side, and my god is it terrible.

Jake Bugg’s vocal styles for this song combines the nasal tone of Passenger with the vapid whinginess of Shawn Mendes, resulting in a performance which feels like being stabbed in the ear with an ice pick. The orchestral music sounds like it’s been ripped from a low budget 1970’s easy listening record, and the lyrics tick off every Post-Club cliche it’s possible to check off, minus the “actually be good” box. It’s unlistenable. A genuinely terrible song.



Work From Home” – Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign

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For the longest time, I was convinced that this song was Rihanna’s Work. Then I actually watched the music video for Work and found that I was actually listening to something completely different. Also, I was listening to something infinitely better.

Work From Home is nigh-on indefensible. A woman is sending sexts to her partner while he’s at work while complaining about how his work stops him from being able to constantly have sex with her; still she resigns herself to it because he does have to work and, after all, he is “the boss at home”. Meanwhile the husband (as played by Ty Dolla $ign, the man with the worst rap name I’ve ever seen) spends his time talking about how much his wife better be constantly making herself look sexy for him and “putting overtime on [her] body”.

See what’s happening here? The man’s duty is to go off and work, making the money and providing a life for his family back at home. In return, the woman’s duty is to stay at home, comply to her husband’s wishes and make herself sexually available whenever he might want it.

How the fuck is something this sexist acceptable in this day and age? I mean, wow. Fucking wow. Do I even have to go on? When we live in a world with Little Mix, why could we ever need Fifth Harmony? Fuck this song; fuck it.



Just Like Fire” – P!nk

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Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass was a surprisingly decent film, seeming to understand Tim Burton’s version of Wonderland much better than Tim Burton ever did and retroactively fixing a lot of the problems I had with the first movie. (Yeah, I think Deadpool and The Fault in our Stars are overrated and like the second Alice in Wonderland film. Suck it.) There’s one thing that’s horrendously jarring though: that being when the film awkwardly slams into the end credits and it’s tie-in song Just Like Fire starts playing. That song just does not fit what went before it.

Part of this is just a matter of context. Alice in Wonderland is set in the Victorian era and in a surreal self-contained fantasy land: though passing comment on the modern world, it’s fundamentally disconnected from it. As such, to end the film with a top 40 hit from a famous post-2000 singer is like ending The Book Thief with Skillrex track: the song just fundamentally doesn’t belong in the film it’s in.

The song barely fits with the film thematically either. Both are fundamentally feminist texts which feature female characters refusing to be defined by their opponents – whether that’s Alice refusing to sign a man’s business contract which would make her an intern or P!nk fighting against whoever she’s fighting against – but other than that, they’re polar opposites. This can be most obviously seen in how they deal with the theme of madness. In the film, Alice is fundamentally not insane; it’s just that the world treats her as such because it looks at a woman going above her station and inherently sees something wrong with it. Meanwhile P!nk is busy claiming that she’s unbeatable because she’s resolutely insane and no-one can touch her. The two messages are completely separated; they’re saying two different things.

And where did the fire metaphor come from? There’s only one fire in the entirety of the original film: that being the fire which killed the Mad Hatter’s family. So is that what P!nk is: a dangerous fire so out of control that she keeps causing distress and death to her friends and family? That doesn’t work at all. I could go on.

The result is a tie-in song to a movie that the writer has obviously not watched. In a post-Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack world, this is just not acceptable. The fire metaphor is cliche, the music and lyrics are P!nk on auto-pilot, and the song is completely disconnected from it’s source material. No-one cared at any point: once again, it’s blatantly a paycheck mascarading as a song. It’s Faded but stuck at the end of a movie.



Stitches” – Shawn Mendes

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Just to reiterate (again), this is everything that’s wrong with pop music. Genuinely awful.

A No. 1 Review: ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne

This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Here’s the latest one:

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Trying to run a blog about UK No. 1 singles has proved to be harder than I thought, if only because every review so far has presented itself as an complete challenge that somehow needs surpassing. Pitbull’s Timber was me starting the blog and therefore having to figure out exactly what type of reviewer I was going to be and from what perspective I would write my work. Happy then appeared and proved to be a challenge because it was in fact a song I actually liked, striking somewhat against the overly sardonic tone I had used for Timber. And now we have Rather Be, the UK’s latest No. 1, which has provided my most greatest challenge yet:

I hate this song. I should love it. And now I need to justify my hatred for this song without rendering my other reviews as hypocritical and rather obsolete. Oh the ever present joys.

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OK, so why should I like this song? The intro is fascinating and the mixing of classical violins with a purposely toned-down club beat is a really interesting idea. This is then backed-up by a topic that isn’t about sex or dancing but is instead about love, and about actual healthy life-affirming love at that. “We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have travelled land and sea / But as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be.” That’s a great sentiment which elevates love without glorifying it, admitting that love isn’t perfect, that the most important effects of love are emotional rather than physical, and making you feel as if the singer is genuinely talking about a relationship rather than singing a standard love song because love songs sell. There’s an importance to the song’s subject – they aren’t just someone you met at a club earlier that night – and therefore there’s an importance to song itself. There’s actual emotion here and something to become actively invested in.

If Putbull’s Timber represents club music at it’s most base, vulgar and meaningless, Rather Be thus represents club music that’s heart-felt, intricate and meaningful. It takes all my problems with club music and remodulates the genre so as to fix those flaws: it’s a song with a strong beat that you can dance to, yet it’s also a song with meaning and interest that you can listen to. In short, it’s the type of club music that I’ve been asking for for years. So the next question: if this song is so great, why do I hate it so much?

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Answer: because it’s shit. Utter idiotic crap. The vocals at first sound distinctive but soon turn out to just not be very good. As nice a sentiment as the chorus is, the words are so messily crammed into the tune that it renders the song’s center piece chorus as “If you give me a chance, I would take it / A shot in the dark but I will make it / Knowwiturlsdfhsdfdfgndfiarr you can’t shame me / When I am with you there’s no place I’d rather be”, something which rather flies in the face of a song that, up until that point, has mostly relied on using a purposely low-key sound to deliver a simple emotional statement as directly as possible. This is compounded by the fact we get literally no information about the song’s love interest at all. The one thing we’re told about him is that, when compared to the narrator, he’s “different and the same”. Which tells us nothing. Indeed, the lines directly after that one seems to be talking directly about how formless a character he is: “[I/We] gave you a different name \ Switch up the batteries”. I don’t even know that means on a literal level but it just gives the impression of a character who’s outward characteristics are completely interchangeable and therefore rather pointless. And the “switch up the batteries” line just gives me the impression of a man who’s dead. As far as I can tell, this song is sung to an Energiser Bunny. Why couldn’t it be: it’s not like we’re ever told anything that denies that.

And because the entire song is based on just how much the narrator loves this man, who I must stress is no-one in particular, we never get to see who the narrator is either. All we get is that she’s extremely dedicated to this one person for no particular reason, and all I can extrapolate from that is the narrator therefore just seems to be extremely, excruciatingly needy. I’m sorry, did I say that “Rather Be represents club music at it’s most heart-felt, intricate and meaningful” two paragraphs ago? No, I was wrong. This song is still meaningless. In fact, I think this song has less meaning for me than Timber is, and half of Timber‘s lyrics are Pitbull endlessly repeating the word “Timber”.

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Timber at least knows that it’s mindless shit. It never tries to be anything but mindless shit. You walk into it expecting mindless shit, you leave having heard mindless shit. In this way, at least Timber can be described as honest. That song is what it wants to be. Rather Be meanwhile is downright deceitful. It uses classical violins and a down-key beat to give eratz class to a song that is as shallow and vapid as any other club song of the past decade. It’s my exact definition of pretentious: a piece of work that apes the tropes of greater works without the talent or intelligence to back it up. It’s like covering a vacuum in glitter; it’s a complete and utter waste of your time.

Despite that, I’m glad the song is a success. More than that, I hope it proves influential. It represents a move in the buying public towards more intelligent sounding songs and towards more interesting music drawn from a wider range of influences. We’re sick of one-night stands and are finally showing signs of looking for an true relationship. Now that this song has proven that “smarter” work can sell, hopefully it’ll convince people with actual intelligence and skill to throw their hands into the ring and therefore hopefully we’ll get some pop music actually worth looking for depth in. Rather Be is the first step towards a new era of hugely superior pop; I just hope that will eventually be remembered as an awkward first step as opposed than the all-encompassing piece that actually set the trend.

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