Archive for heartbreak

Best & Worst of 2010, Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2011 by G.K. Reid

Best Singles of 2010
from 10 – 6

 

 

….much-delayed drumroll please…

 


10. Katy Perry – California Gurls

So, Katy Perry is a trifling, cynical dilettante. Snoop Dogg never ever makes any sense.  At all. And Max Martin has made bazillions churning out some of the cheapest-sounding pop music ever to have chirruped and clattered its way through your ears. Nothing – absolutely nothing – about this should have worked. And I’d love to tell you how it does, but I abandoned logic and reason sometime around mid-August last year, as I was submitting myself to the genius of this vacuous romp for the 198th time.

 

9. Hurts – Stay

Essentially an exercise in top-shelf boybandry, with shades of the Georges Boy and Michael in its unabashed earnestness and outsized melancholy, Hurts craft the kind of fastidiously orchestrated, balls-out ballad that tips maudlin, drunken lonelyhearts into oblivion the world over.

 

8. Alex Gardner – I’m Not Mad

Given the current vogue for introspective synthpop, of which this debut single is something of a quiet masterclass, and Gardner’s combination of matinee idol looks and soft, distinctive vocals, it’s curious the Xenomania couldn’t make this kid into more of a “thing”.  Although the amount of callow moodiness he’s asked to project in the video does suggest they overestimated the electro/Twilight crossover market.

 

7. Robyn – Dancing On My Own

Speaking of glum electro, Robyn proved over three sort-of-albums last year that nobody can weep silently into their alcopops quite like her. Not deviating much from her unique MO, Dancing on My Own is another sneak-attack designed to make you slit your wrists right there on the dancefloor, surpassing even With Every Heartbeat in its exquisite misery. Cheer up, Robyn, thing’s will seem much better in the morning. (They won’t)

 

6. Janelle Monae – Tightrope

It’s such a kick that Janelle Monae finally shot for the kind of niche superstardom that she’d long been threatening to, and in such loose, effortless style to boot. And I’d like to particularly thank her for bringing the soft shoe shuffle back onto the pop cultural radar. This had better lead to a craze.

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42. ‘Leave Right Now’ by Will Young (2003)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 8, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Sentimentality.  That long-standing enemy of honest art.  Well, frankly, I love it.  It’s vital.  But a distinction needs to made.  On the one hand, you have the kind of glossily cynical sentimentality churned out to sucker your grandmother and, on the other, there’s a more plangent form which is helplessly sentimental yet aware of it; that comments on it, even.  The former is typified by bombastic production, surging choruses and a sweeping string section.  It purports emotion, being sung with self-consciously earnest ostentation, but not for a moment does it take its steely eye off of the lucrative ‘Top Ten Songs Most Played at a Funeral’ list.  It wants to raise you up until you’re flying without wings and your pension has evaporated.  Will Young’s first release upon winning Pop Idol – Evergreen – was a culprit of this.  Leave Right Now is a different beast altogether.

It still bears formal similarities to the likes of Evergreen – namely the weakness for strings and the penchant for big volume-increasing choruses – but with several degrees more restraint.  The earnestness with which Will Young sings (despite arguably bearing some annoying tics and mannerisms that belie his greenness) is not in the least self-regarding, but supplely modulated and in service of the song.  Plus, it has that great noise in it. (I don’t know what it is, but there’s a similar noise in Jamelia’s Thank You. Some sort of muffled, bassy thing.  Anyway, it’s great.)

It was a watershed, career-defining moment for him (the song, not the unidentified noise).  His Back for Good. Furthermore, it augured his evolution from bankable one-man-Westlife into a purveyor of a deceptive kind of sentimentalism; lovelorn balladry that can lend itself to montages for departing American Idol contestants, while quietly tackling thorny emotional dilemmas with an air of jaded maturity or, alternatively, a frustrated naivete.

His output ever since Leave Right Now is free of meaningless platitudes and, despite always being about love, there isn’t one uncomplicated invocation of the thing to be found.  Look at the complexity of what has followed his signature hit: All Time Love contemplates the folly of romanticism, a la Rufus Wainwright; Changes is a lament that emphasises inertia over action; Who Am I is a love song that takes issue with the very concept of such a thing; the scathing Grace, with its gloating ‘lonely are the days of your life’ sucker punch, is an incisive character assassination, one hell of a lob to an ex-lover; while Let It Go is so thoroughly despondent that it abandons melody altogether.  These are pop-song character studies that hinge upon the human capacity for sentimentality; try as we might, it’s something that most of us can’t divest ourselves of.  Despite a shaky start, Will Young has mastered the ability of appealing to this part of us, without exploiting it.  It’s not an easy feat.

Bonus points: I can’t believe I’ve written 500 words about Will Young and haven’t mentioned his lovely face.

43. ‘Shame’ by PJ Harvey (2004)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 6, 2010 by G.K. Reid

One of my guiding principles in compiling this list was to separate great singles from great album-tracks-that-just-happened-to be-released.  If a song derives a lot of its greatness from its album context, then it was likely to lose out to those which strut their stuff on their own two legs. So, I kind of screwed up here. ‘Shame’ can’t really be argued as a stronger single than previous entry ‘Good Fortune’ – or, indeed, ‘This is Love’, which failed to even make the cut. Go figure.

Having said that, neither of those tracks lingers with me the way this one does.  ‘Shame’ actively muffles its immediacy.  The sharp percussive gallop that kicks the song into shuffly life barely changes gear, and is further tempered by a plaintive harmonica and a yearning, nerve-baring vocal (of course!).  It’s low-key and self-effacing; a fluid little lament that could slip you by unnoticed or, alternatively, ingratiate itself deep into the recesses of your imagination.

It’s also, typically of Peej, an exquisite evocation of the song’s thematic concerns. And what are those concerns? Well, the irrationality of human emotion.  The grief of loss. The embarrassment of needing someone. The precipitously thin line between fervent desire and abject loneliness. In short, pretty much everything that’s ever propelled PJ Harvey into making music.

  

Bonus points: ‘Shame is the shadow of love’, the chorus sadly, submissively observes.  She’s never before put it quite so succinctly.

72. ‘With Every Heartbeat’ by Robyn (2007)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 17, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Hasn’t Robyn got a long neck? Probably why her boyfriend left her.

This one really creeps up on you. All those plinky-plonk noises initially distract you from just how freaking depressing the song actually is. Robyn gives good heartbreak, utilising her pretty weak voice to genuinely poignant effect, as she treads the fine line between resolve and resignation. 

 

Bonus points: Robyn must give hope to long-forgotten 90s popstars everywhere.