Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Worst Single Of 2005

Drumroll please.

1. "That's My Goal" by Shayne Ward
There was always a place reserved in this list for the X Factor winner (if it had been unexpectedly ok then Westlife would have occupied the top two spots and by God, deserved them both), but the speed and commitment with which it grasped the crown surprised even me. For "That's My Goal" is an astonishingly terrible record on so many levels. Let's examine a few.

Imagine for a moment that you're Simon Cowell (just to practice, give a big evil laugh and try to smell of sulphur). The X Factor is your own personal money making machine. Quite apart from the revenue generated by those phone lines every week, the programme gradually builds up an audience's emotional investment in your artist. You even get your audience to select which one will sell you the most records - it's like having the world's biggest focus group that pays you for the privilege. Give another big evil laugh.

So there you have your ready-made millions of customers, and when your hapless winner comes to record their single, all you really have to do is avoid putting them off. So the question you need to ask is this: what's the blandest thing on the menu? What's the least offensive song you can come up with?

Well, you need a tune that you think you've heard before. Throw a rock at any Westlife album and you'll hit at least eight suitable songs (actually, just throw a rock at Westlife). So take those, cut them up into small pieces, throw them up in the air and arrange them in any order you like. Add a fairly meaningless yet life-affirming, winning-against-the-odds type lyric ("You know that I need you, And can't breathe without you, Live without you, Be without you etc") and you're away. Don't worry that the phrase "That's My Goal" is more suited to a management training day than a love song - just think of those extra royalties come World Cup time.

Of course, the great record-buying public is much more sophisticated than that, and will happily buy fairly left-field records by unknown artists (even at Christmas - remember Gary Jules and Mad World?). But you didn't get where you are today by not underestimating the proles. You evil, despotic, shameful excuse for a human being. OK, you can stop imagining you're Simon Cowell now.

You do have to feel slightly sorry for poor Shayne, a mere pawn in this debacle. If he has any lasting musical success, it will be in spite of, rather than due to, his reality TV success. Look at the last two reality pop winners - one is now back doing the South London Pub Singer circuit, and the other is now chiefly famous for not being quite as fat as she used to be. Both were launched in similar circumstances. Blandness may sell records in the short term, but it doesn't win respect, coolness or lasting wealth. But of course that doesn't bother Cowell, as he's busy planning next year's treadmill. So be afraid.

By the way, the worst single of 2006 has already been decided. Happy New Year everyone.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Most Mediocre Songs Of The Year

In celebration of the middling...

10. "Since You've Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
Just sort of passed me by.
9. "The One I Love" by David Gray
Didn't really move me either way.
8. "Breakdown" by Jack Johnson
Yeah, I can take it or leave it.
7. "Getaway" by Texas
They're just sort of there, aren't they?
6. "Dakota" by Stereophonics
Well, it wasn't completely awful.
5. "Have A Nice Day" by Bon Jovi
4. "Tumble and Fall" by Feeder
Perfectly adequate.
3. "Suddenly I See" by KT Tunstall
2. "No Worries" by Simon Webbe.
Nice enough.
1. "When I'm Gone" by Eminem.
Sorry, I wasn't listening. Did you say something?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Second Worst Single Of 2005

Hope everyone had a good Christmas. Now, back to the bile...

2. "You Raise Me Up" by Westlife
Earlier in the year, for a brief shining moment, it seemed the lovable Irish Stepford Sons were on the decline. Their album of Sinatra covers hadn't done as well as expected, and they had lost the one member who seemed to have any character at all - spade-faced doofus Bryan McFadden. But then everyone remembered that he, like the three other "background artists" in the band, never contributed that much anyway, and so sure enough they returned with no conceivable difference in their sound at all.

And that return was one desperate, last-ditch attempt to claw back their success. Every base had to be covered. Their fanbase had always been mums and nans, entranced by their nice-catholic, non-threatening good looks (a genius move, as such a fanbase would never grow up and get bored of them), and the blander their songs were, the more they sold. So "You Raise Me Up" is a bland, bland song about how great mums and nans are. Brilliant. All they had to do then was make the video a black and white picture montage of people hugging while the boys walk around in slow motion and emote unconvincingly, and bingo, a number one and a funeral staple into the bargain.

A huge, huge disappointment, since it wasn't the failure it should have been, and so proves they have no sell-by-date and will go on churning out sub-Lloyd Webber dirges until the end of time. How depressing is that? And it's a worry proven by their almost equally awful duet with Diana Ross. They are the second most evil force in music today, and it would take something truly breathtakingly terrible to beat them in this chart. Now, what can that be?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Third Worst Single Of 2005

3. "My Humps" by The Black Eyed Peas
You know how it is. After a hard day in the studio working on your diet-Fugees brand of pop, it's good to go out for a few beers. You get back, someone's left the drum machine running, so you kick back, have a few smokes and piss about with the microphones till everyone falls unconscious. You awake the next morning with an uneasy feeling, hoping to Christ no-one recorded that bollocks you spouted last night. But they did. And they released it as a single.

This is the only explanation I can think of for how "My Humps" came about (as well as, come to think of it, "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani). It has to be true, because the only alternative is that someone walked into the band meeting and said "You know, I've always wanted to do a song about my arse." At least I assume that's what she's singing about - unless she actually has a horrible spinal deformity, in which case I have completely misinterpreted the song and I apologise.

The worst thing is, the song has "hen night staple" written all over it. This is despite it having no discernible tune, and having a message which is the exact opposite of classics like "I Will Survive" or "Independent Women" - man buys expensive stuff for his girl because she has pert buttocks. Is it satire? Possibly - but are those hen-nighters enjoying it because of the satirical content? Or because they can sing, "My lovely lady lumps" at each other and get away with it? Not that there's anything wrong with that as such, but would they do the same to "Big Bottom" by Spinal Tap, which has much the same sentiments, and with a much better tune? Lord, I hope so.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Fourth Worst Single Of 2005

4. "Fuck Forever" by Babyshambles
In compiling a list like this, it's inevitable that personal taste plays a part. It would have been easy to take, say, an hour's worth of Radio 2 programming and present that. Having said that, I have done my best to include the worst of a fairly broad range of genres - bad R'n'B, bad Dance, bad coffee-table snooze-jazz. And when you need some bad Indie, it's hard to think of a better example than "Fuck Forever".

I've covered Pete and his problems before, but to summarise: he's a sad burnt-out junkie waste of talent. "Fuck Forever" is his typically half-arsed and muddled attempt at self-aggrandisement ("So what's the use between death and glory?" - eh?) and protest ("New Labour and Tory... All and the same" - roughly one percent as eloquent as "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"). For someone hailed as a poet, it's shocking: the lines often don't make any sense, giving the impression that he's making it up as he goes along, and his idea of rhyming is just to repeat the same line again. If there is any anger implied by the lyrics it's undercut by his trademark singing voice - as if mid-yawn - and a weedy, ramshackle backing, leaving the song with all the effectiveness of a drunken tramp taking a swing at thin air.

Of course it's possible that this song is actually a gloriously witty self-parody. In which case, fair enough. But it's still a crap song.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Seventh, Sixth and Fifth Worst Singles Of 2005

7. "So Much Love To Give" by The Freeloaders
6. "Star To Fall" by Cabin Crew
5. "Why" by DJ Sammy

Now first of all, there is nothing wrong with disposable pop. There is an argument to be made for discerning a certain genius lurking within the records of Girls Aloud (in a kind of trashy, slags-on-a-hen-night kind of way). But the problem with the three singles listed above is that they are all utterly, utterly devoid of any creative spark whatsoever. All were made by people who have obviously read the KLF's The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way without detecting a hint of irony.

The formula is simple: take a long-forgotten 70s or 80s tune, put a rentakit trance beat under it, remove any confusing things like verses, repeat to fade, and hey presto - a song with a readymade hook already lurking in the back of people's subconscious, so they recognise it when they first hear it, and don't have to bother with all that tedious "growing on you" stuff. Music for people with no attention span. Piece of piss.

Anyone can have a go - indeed, it took a fair bit of research on my part to find out who the people behind these abominations actually were. The Freeloaders win points for having the decency to name themselves for what they are, but lose points for being on a label that seems to specialise in this sort of bollocks (including The Record That Proves There Is No God - namely the Cha Cha Slide by DJ Casper. Don't get me started). Cabin Crew (who wisely choose to be as anonymous as possible) win the prize for most obscure sample - "Waiting For A Star To Fall" by Boy Meets Girl, a record so 80s it appears in the soundtrack of Three Men And A Baby. You can just smell the rolled-up jacket sleeves and mullets.

But the worst offender is DJ Sammy. Laughably, he presents himself as an artist, even though his career is based on parasite-pop like "Why". His website is unintentionally hilarious - his biography begins, "his presence is positive and his vibe is cool". Just fantastic. Everything the man touches he leeches the life out of. He has done it to Bryan Adams, Don Henley and now Annie Lennox. But he does make you appreciate the originals, which in Bryan Adams' case is no mean feat.

These records are uniformly awful, and each are very deserving of a place in our chart (and they are not just an excuse to use up three places quickly because December is rushing by, oh no). But to return to The Manual (a wonderful book, insightful and just dripping with sarcasm, and available in it's entirety online here), there is a note of foreboding:

"People equate a Number One with fame, endless wealth and easy sex - a myth that they want to believe and one that the popular press want to see continued. Along with the soap stars, sporting heroes and selected (however distant) members of the Royal Family, pop stars belong to a glittering world of showbiz parties, at one end of the scale, to illicit liaisons, at the other, where their lives are dragged up, dressed up, made up and ultimately destroyed. The celebrated, of course, are apt to fall into a world of drugs, drink, broken marriages and bankruptcy but even this is given the glamour treatment instead of the squalid misery that it is in reality. "

We can only hope.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Eighth Worst Single Of 2005

8. "Nine Million Bicycles" by Katie Melua
Actually it could just as easily have been something by Norah Jones, Michael Buble or Jamie Cullum, or any other of the interchangeable purveyors of Parkinson-championed snooze-jazz. In fact, that's a misnomer in itself. Any jazz lover will tell you - if you give them half the chance, and I strongly suggest you don't - that jazz is characteristically lively, freewheeling and experimental, whereas this music is the polar opposite. Luckily, with Jamie Cullum, since I'm a medical man I can't concentrate on his music as I'm too busy trying to diagnose which syndrome he's got. So his music hasn't permeated my shell thus far.

But Katie Melua. Pretty, winsome, inoffensive, backed by sinister musical svengali. As manufactured as S Club 7, in other words. And the musical mastermind behind the Melua phenomenon? The one and only Mike Batt, whose previous triumphs include The Wombles, the theme from a Conservative Party Political Broadcast, rabbit slaughter anthem Bright Eyes, and a composition entirely made of silence. And he even nicked that. Looking as he does (a little like an elongated Charlie Drake) you can well understand why he prefers to hide behind a facade of pretty young women and huge furry litter-pickers.

The song itself is based on the premise that the statement "there are nine million bicycles in Beijing" is an undeniable fact, just like the fact that she loves her man. A recent report in the Western Courier suggested there were actually closer to eight million, and that figure was dropping due to more and more people buying cars (find out more about bicycling in Beijing here, a site which will also play you a very nice piece of music, much more pleasant than anything Batt could come up with). So, Katie, it's more of an approximation than a fact, and certainly nothing on which to form the basis of a relationship. Especially when shrouded in a tinkly afterthought of a tune and horrible faux-celtic pipes.

Still, I bet it sounds nice at dinner parties.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Ninth Worst Single Of 2005

Look at the time!

9. "Alex F" by Crazy Frog
An obvious choice maybe, but let's be quite clear about just how evil this record is. Designed purely to sell ringtones - evil - to morons who think the nokia ring isn't quite irritating enough - evil - milking a phenomenon which was already annoying to the point of self-immolation - evil - by pasting said ringtone on top of a jive bunny-style disco reworking of an eighties hit. Evil, evil, evil.

So bad that towards the end of the campaign it was actually marketed as a means of annoying people, the fact it was mainly bought by children did at least bring some belated schadenfreude as the makers had to spend thousands of pounds digitally removing the frog's genitals from the animated video.

So why is it only number nine? Well, two reasons - one, it annoyed Chris Martin, and two, if heard on a train, the sound of the mentally ill amphibian performs two important functions: it marks the phone's owner out as a complete idiot who must be ostracised from society, and it provides a nice eye-rolling moment of bonding between all other commuters. For that reason, it has killed the silly-noise-ringtone industry stone dead, and we must therefore be grateful.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

These Bigots Must Be Stopped

It has long been a source of some embarrassment that I never got round to seeing "Jerry Springer - The Opera" when it was on at either the National Theatre or in the West End. It got great reviews and won a shedload of awards and I think I was under the impression that it was going to run and run. Its premature closure therefore took me somewhat by surprise and so when BBC2 announced it had filmed the show for broadcast I looked forward to being able to fill in a gap in my cultural knowledge. By the time the day of broadcast arrived, this mild anticipation had been transformed into a pathological, single minded determination that I would be watching this show come what may. The reason for this change was the campaign by a bunch of self appointed moral guardians (for which read right wing religious fuckwits) who used every trick in the book, from e-mail and internet campaigns to death threats against BBC executives, to using hitherto unheard of theories of quantum mathematics to calculate that the 90 minute show contained something like 14 billion obscenities, in order have transmission stopped on the basis of the show's alleged blasphemy. By the time this bunch of cretins had had their evil say, I was going to be watching this show. So was my 62 year old mother, who I am guessing would not have given the show a second glance in the listings were it not for the fact the publicity created by the furore brought it to her attention that watching it would constitute a stand against narrow minded bigotry. Many millions of viewers took the same line, giving BBC2 unheard of Saturday night viewing figures and rather undermining the moral majority claims of the protesters.

Now, Jerry Springer is coarse and contains a considerable amount of swearing and as such will not be to the taste of all. Whether it is actually blasphemous is an entirely separate issue time does not allow me to debate here, although my personal view is that it is not. Nor am I going to debate whether such blasphemy laws are appropriate anymore, although I bear in mind co-writer Stewart Lee's caustic observation that the private prosecution for blasphemy brought against him by these morons was thrown out by the courts "on the ground that it wasn't 1327". No, the reason for blogging this now is that the DVD has just come out and the scum have been masturbating themselves into a righteous frenzy once more. As a result of this, Woolworths and Sainsburys have both declined to stock the title, the latter because it received "10-20" complaints. These leads me to propose two courses of action:

1) I am guessing that most Distractor readers would no more be seen in Woolworths than they would join Christian Voice, but I bet you go to Sainsburys and this has to stop until this ludicrous decision is reversed. I realise Tescos is a bit down market but there has to be a Waitrose somewhere near you and freedom of speech depends on you making the extra effort.

2) Next time McFly release a record, 20 of us need to get on the phone to Sainsburys complaining about the offence it causes us. That's all it takes, apparently. Just think, if we'd known it was that easy we could have prevented Avril Lavigne's entire career.

Finally, if you don't like swearing and the sight of a man claiming to be Jesus in a nappy, your television is equipped with at least 4 other channels and an off button. Please make use of them before you try and inflict your medieval views on the rest of us.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Tenth Worst Single of 2005

There will, naturally, be lists of all that was great about 2005 in due course (mmm, lists). But counting down the dross of the year requires a little more thought and space. All of the forthcoming monstrosities reached the top ten, all invaded our collective consciousness to an unwelcome and inescapable degree, therefore all are more than deserving of our collective bile.

10. "Let There Be Love" by Oasis
Back in 1995, Oasis were gods. Their power, attitude and My-First-Beatles-Chord-Book tunes had Britain entranced. There was a genuine excitement about them - if they could hide a song as fantastic as "acquiesce" away as a b-side, wow, how talented must they be? Then, sadly, they blew it, Oasis have been bloody terrible since about 1996, and the music press and their fans have so, so desperately wanted them to be brilliant again ever since.

So when, this year, Oasis released a record that wasn't a festering pile of toss, it was the comeback of 2005. Critics bandied about words like "rejuvenated" and "artistic rebirth", when they really meant, "thank Christ it's slightly better than the previous one." Actually, there is some artistic progression - they're ripping off people other than The Beatles now. "Mucky Fingers" rips off Dylan. "The Importance Of Being Idle" rips off The Kinks. "Lyla" rips off The Who.

"Let There Be Love" is the exception. It does rip off The Beatles. And it does so in a plodding, lazy, pompous manner. It's "I Am The Walrus" slowed down and dumbed down and made lyrically anodyne, more or less what Oasis have been recycling since 1995 with diminishing returns. Listen in succession to, say, "Wonderwall", "All Around The World", "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" and "Let There Be Love", and you will notice three things. One, it takes an intense feat of concentration to notice where one ends and the next begins. Two, Oasis seem to be gradually nodding off. And three, you will have wasted a good fifteen minutes of your life, and you'll never get it back.

A dull mass of inconsequence from an overwhelmingly average album, "Let There Be Love" sounds like The Beatles do now - half dead. And it's currently Britain's second best selling single. Proud of yourselves, are you?