Weekly Roundup – 17/04/13

… What F**king Ian Guy? started scrappily, slowly, and with great naivety as the bastard passion project of two movie nerds with an unquenchable love of music, who soon afterward adopted a die-hard music nerd (Steve) who made us appear half-competent. It was fun but, sadly, we all reached a point where there was little time to nurture a fully-functioning music blog. Six months later and, nice as it would be to dedicate myself to Ian, current life arrangements mean that I can only intermittently post feature-length reviews, and even less cultivate an entire themed series or sustain a running feature (as was planned long ago). But I am desperate to share with you the sounds which are defining my day-to-day, and this weekly roundup will do exactly that – document the music, old and new, which has been pumping through my stereo during the past seven days. Here we go… Mike

This week’s first order of business is to announce that the spirit of Joy Division and ’70s post-punk is alive and well in ‘Flesh & Bone‘, the first track taken from Swedish outfit Holograms sophomore full length, Forever (out September 3rd). I love the texture of this track, how dense and gloomy it feels (Sweden is doing this really well at the moment; remember to check out Iceage, who I mentioned in last week’s mini reviews), and of course the fact that its opening riff sounds so much like the one which propels ‘She’s Lost Control‘. It sounds raw enough to indicate that Holograms are sticking close to the recording style and litter of influences which defined their first LP, but also feels refined and matured, instrumentally and lyrically. I’m hoping for great things.

And while we’re on the subject of future releases, I’d like to point out that you can stream the new Honningbarna album on EMI Norway’s Soundcloud. I’ve heard unconfirmed whispers of this one getting a May release in the UK, but for now let’s enjoy the sounds while they’re available. It’s a rough, electrifying hardcore album with some poppy hooks, and doesn’t let up for any one of its 32 minutes. Its first couple of tracks are best, but this is a record bristling with energy, and the choruses on this thing are HUGE. I’ve played it at least once a day every day since Monday, and I suspect you’ll soon be doing the same.

I’ve also been busily compiling the first half of my summer playlist this week, and along the way rediscovered one of my favourite ’90s bands – Veruca Salt. Their 1997 album Eight Arms To Hold You is a masterpiece, and that it (and the rest of their back-catalogue) isn’t better known is inexcusable. ‘Awesome‘ is its catchiest track: a full-throttle anthem boasting thrashing grunge guitar and star-gazing pop hooks in perfect sync, best exemplified by the scratchy guitar solo and schoolgirl choral complementing each other on the breakdown. It has so many seamless gearshifts, seemingly boundless energy, and a lovely outro. All in all… awesome. (Other tracks worth checking out are ‘Volcano Girls‘, ‘The Morning Sad‘ and ‘One More Time’, which sadly isn’t on YouTube).

Sam already did a good job of documenting this week’s Thatcher-inspired charts story in Does Pop Music Suck?, but today (her funeral) feels like the (im)perfect time to visit the topic again, and rediscover Wah’s eerily prophetic party anthem ‘The Day That Margaret Thatcher Dies‘. I very much doubt that this was sitting alongside the hymns at today’s service, but it’s fascinating to listen and see how the lyrics mirror recent events. If any song will go down in history alongside her death, it should be this one, for so accurately foreshadowing the celebratory mob which exploded upon the news a week ago. As it turned out, history had written itself – three decades ago! Above all though, this is a really cracking pop tune.

Finally (this week’s entry has been shortened because of the intro; I’ll cover more in the future), the new single from Camera Obscura, ‘Do It Again‘, was uploaded onto 4AD’s YouTube yesterday, and it’s a wonderfully upbeat return for the Scottish five-piece. It’s been four years since My Maudlin Career, so let’s hope this one lives up to expectations. Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals sound as sweet as ever, soaring over one of the band’s most confident melodies to date. Great.

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Does Pop Music Suck? A Weird Week For The British Charts

The charts went mental this week in the UK. Usually I would only talk about the Number One single, but since that hasn’t changed hands I don’t have to, and the number two spot has ended up being MUCH more interesting.

UK
In case you have spent the past week on Mars, I should remind you that this past Monday former Prime Minister Maragret Thatcher died. Idolised by the right, despised by the left, she was an incredibly controversial figure and, as the right wing press fell over themselves to canonise her, some people on the left openly celebrated her passing. I wouldn’t usually talk politics on this site, much less in this series, but I should contextualise all that I’m about to say. In the political spectrum I’m pretty far to the left (certainly farther to the left than any mainstream British party). I loathed what Margaret Thatcher stood for, though I’m only old enough to have more vivid memories of her successor John Major, and I loathe what her party continues to stand for…

With that said, I do not celebrate or revel in her death. I didn’t celebrate Saddam Hussein’s death, I didn’t celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s death, I didn’t celebrate Harold Shipman’s death. Any death is potentially a tragedy for someone, and we shouldn’t celebrate that. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to swear off being critical of a person or their legacy when they die, just because that may be seen as insensitive. I feel Thatcher’s legacy is poisonous, and the way the right has tried to suggest that any debate about that is despicable and offensive since Monday is ludicrous.

So, what does this have to do with the charts? I hear you ask. Well, somebody came up with the idea of campaigning to get this song to the UK number one spot, and the country lost its collective shit. Please note that I’m not endorsing this video’s commentary.

I’m not sure where I stand on this. I wasn’t one of the 50,000+ people who bought it this week, and I don’t find it immoral that others did, because that in itself isn’t a celebration of an 87 year old woman’s death, but as satire goes it’s a little blunt for my taste, and I tend to feel that it’s obscured the debate that should be swirling around what she DID by focusing it on a stupid song and whether A: it would reach number one and B: if it did, the BBC would play it on the official chart show.

If you were going to run a campaign to get an anti-Thatcher song at number one this week, I’d have gone for this: a profane but relevant song about the legacy she left

The biggest problem, I think, hasn’t been the song itself, but the way that the BBC and the media have reacted to the song and the campaign to get it to number one. Apparently the chart show has changed since I last listened to it (about 15 years ago, to be fair) and they don’t now play every song in the Top 40, as they used to. That said, they apparently usually play every new entry in full. Except in this case. In the end the BBC didn’t play the entire song, but instead bent over backwards to contextualise it. They invited a reporter from Radio 1’s news show, Newsbeat, on to explain the events that had led up to this song charting, but then only played a seven second clip of the song, before offering a couple of vox pops on whether people thought the campaign had been appropriate.

Ultimately I think this was the worst of all possible worlds in terms of how the BBC might have handled this particular controversy, because not only does it hand victory to the likes of the Daily Mail (because the song wasn’t played in its full 51 second ‘glory’), but it also gave them license to complain in articles like THIS that an ‘unrepentant’ BBC had still played the ‘offending’ lyrics.

All in all, everyone lost this argument. It was a stupid argument, about a stupid song, an unfunny stunt, and ultimately the only interesting thing that has come out of it is the only sub 60 second Top 10 entry to date. It was an odd week for pop in the UK, but not really a good one.

 

USA
This is number one. It’s by Bruno Mars. It’s not terrible, but it’s not for me.

I really don’t have anything half as interesting as I said about the UK charts this week to say about this, so let’s just move on and resume normal service next week.

 

Pop Record of the Week

Okay, so this isn’t brand new, but this second single from Paramore‘s fourth album, which came out last Monday, is an infectious, bouncy, pop-rocker, powered along by Hayley Williams. It’s also a nice lyrical balance, with Williams clearly growing up and writing about a long term relationship but retaining her youthful, excitable, outlook.

We’ll have more on Paramore in an upcoming I Shouldn’t Like This, but…

Sam Inglis

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New(ish) Music: The Flaming Lips, Nails, The Doppelgangaz

The Flaming Lips – The Terror

Thirteenth album proper from Oklahoman funksters The Flaming Lips, and their most nakedly avant-garde since 2010’s divisive Dark Side Of The Moon covers LP, starring Henry Rollins no less. Newcomers (where have you been?) won’t find this an easy entry point, but those who have traveled this far with the band will revel in tracks like the thirteen-minute ‘You Lust’, a masterpiece of droning tension which swirls synths and drums while a perturbing electronic pulse (heavily reminiscent of Jon Brion’s Punch-Drunk Love score) gently suffuses into the mix. It’s a dreamy, perpetual high, and possibly the best track they’ve ever recorded. If the rest of The Terror (the title is only semi-ironic) feels lacking in comparison, it’s only because ‘You Lust’ sets an unreachable benchmark halfway into proceedings.

Still, it’s not without its poppier moments. Bonus track ‘Sun Blows Up Today’, with its driving, fuzzed-out guitar, handclaps and gooey vocals is this year’s first great summer track, but elsewhere the pop riffs are concealed under onerous, paranoid electronics. It’s not exactly the new Knife, but it’s certainly not a walk in the park for anyone who relates to ‘The W.A.N.D.’ as a foot-stomper. As ever, Wayne Coyne’s shimmering, candy cane vocals  are what gives the album light; replace him with, say, Nick Cave, and tracks like ‘You Are Alone’ would come off as damn near nihilistic. As it is, Coyne – on top form, as ever – lends an extra dimension to proceedings, making the album feel full when some of its more adventurous melodies (‘Butterfly, How Long’) become a little rectum-gazing. Spend some time with it and expect to be rewarded, but The Flaming Lips do feel like they’re being intentionally difficult on this album, even if it’s to often striking effect.

 

Nails – Abandon All Life

When I was in college, I was a real metalhead. I was into the sort of cranium-crushing, hernia-inducing, blood-quickening death metal that would make the Reaper himself feel a little bit of penis envy. Bands like Job For A Cowboy, who are the musical equivalent of a lethal injection. I hadn’t listened to a new metal album in years when Anthony Fantano at The Needle Drop recommended the new Nails LP, which is 17-minutes of remorseless, punishing hardcore. And boy, is it fucking brilliant.

Discussing individual tracks is difficult, as Abandon All Life feels like one massive boiling pot of emotions and melodies – some songs here clock it at under a minute, with ‘Cry Wolf’ lasting only 24 seconds. It’ll come as no surprise to learn that it’s one of the most vicious on the album. But it’s not just senseless noise – ‘Wide Open Wound’ is a primer on the band’s overall sound, building from the threat of violence into actual violence through carefully constructed riffs and vocals – the whispered defeat of frontman Todd Jones explodes into one of his most aggressive vocals, where he thrashes almost as hard as the raw, dirty guitars (but again, listen to the detail of this track’s end, as the guitar strangles itself into a dark, plummeting collapse). Closing track ‘Suum Cuique’ is equally layered, closing the album with an amazing guitar solo which reaches for the heavens before relocating to the band’s natural home… hell.

Those looking for a place to vent their aggression will want Abandon All Life playing on a loop, but the immaculate production, instrumental ferocity and the band’s undeniable passion will provide plenty of rewards for those looking to spend some more intimate time with this album. One for real hardcore fans, and I might just have to reinvestigate the genre’s current scene as a result of it.

 

The Doppelgangaz – HARK

HARK, the latest full length from enigmatic boom-bap duo Doppelgangaz, hasn’t enjoyed much advance hype in the UK, but it’s the most accomplished hip-hop album of the year thus far, casting a long shadow even over Aspects fantastic comeback LP, Left Hand Path.

HARK‘s production is notably starkers, stripped back to hip-hop’s bare necessities – samples are sparse and unobtrusive, guest MC’s uninvited, and you’ll find nothing to organise the album narratively à la Kendrick Lamar. From beginning to end this is an album of thick instrumentation and heavy feedback. In fact, two of the duo’s past releases were straightforward instrumentals (listen to the drums on ‘Hark Back’ and ‘Us 2 Da Man’ and tell me that wasn’t obvious), but what stands out here are the heavy, chewed-up vocals, spat out in a throaty new yawwk accent. Album highlight ‘Barbiturates’ drops a gorgeous soul sample to underline the harshness of the lead vocal, creating an unlikely and catchy harmony which, were it 1993, would quickly become the sound of summer. It’s a stunning track, and after it not even the hazy, sunshine-and-dope vibe of ‘Smang Life’ can recapture its magic.

Not that the rest of HARK is bad. In fact, across its meticulously measured 37 minutes, the only album which can match it this year for density and craftsmanship, evoking so much with seemingly so little, it the latest effort from Danish post-punk outfit Iceage, You’re Nothing. This stands as an extraordinary blueprint of what’s to come from Doppelgangaz, and is a lush, atmospheric record in its own right, perfectly suited to being cranked-up through your speakers or dialed-down through headphones. The landing of their next LP might not be so muted.

Michael Ewins

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Does Pop Music Suck? Macklemore + Ryan Lewis / Duke Dumont

It’s time. Yes, finally, it’s the long-awaited return of the most important question in the world.

Does Pop Music Suck?

Each week I’ll listen to the number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Official UK Top 40, and I’ll try to tell you (hopefully in a way that is at least mildly amusing, and which may feature the occasional carpet F-Bombing) whether, based on those songs, pop music sucks that week. I’ll also try to point you to some good pop music each week.

 

USA

20 seconds in, I really wanted to turn this off, throw my laptop out the window and beg for mercy. By God, this is obnoxious. Then I remembered Sam and the Womp and I calmed down a bit. The opening consists solely of the repetition of ‘What?’ and a truly anemic beat, and it made me fear for the rest of the song.

I’ll give Thrift Shop this much, the premise is a smart piece of satire (no, stay with me here). In a genre that tends to spend much of its time extolling the virtues of flashing your cash, drinking champagne and dripping in designer labels, the idea of a rapper celebrating the fact that he buys everything at second hand stores is different, interesting, and potentially pretty funny. Unfortunately that’s about where I stop giving Macklemore and Ryan Lewis credit.

This kind of rap really hinges on the ability of the MC to deliver clever, witty rhymes, and frankly this song comes up wanting time and time again. Sometimes the rhyme scheme just doesn’t function. For instance, here’s the chorus: “I’m gonna pop some tags / Only got twenty dollars in my pocket / I – I – I’m hunting, looking for a come-up / This is fucking awesome.” I just don’t know what to say about that, and it’s hardly the only time this MC falls flat in his search for a rhyme (style and hand-me-down’s. Seriously?) How about this little piece of gold? “I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage / One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up“. IT DOESN’T RHYME GUYS.

If Thrift Shop is deficient in terms of its flow it also, at least for me, has another problem… it’s just not very funny. I get the joke here, but the song plays like a Funny or Die video recorded when the site was having an off day, and Macklemore and Lewis only really hit on one comic idea, which their lyrics don’t exploit all that well. For me the song falls flat thanks to the gap between concept and execution.

 

UK

And here was I thinking that the electro nostalgia craze had only reached 1986. I had reckoned without Duke Dumont, whose Need U (100%), from its title on down, slingshots us back to 1991.

The track fits the early 90’s dance formula of deep house synths and a soulful female vocal so well that it almost seems like a lost relic from the time (even the video, which see doctors extracting a portable radio from a man’s stomach, feels like a bit of a throwback). It’s not bad at all, though neither the tune or the vocal would have marked it out had it in fact been released a couple of decades ago. It’s very pleasant and chilled, and I imagine it would sound great in a club, but for me it just seems to be missing that one element, that little bit of invention which would make it really stand out.

Still, this is about as good a high charting dance track as I’ve heard for a while.

Does Pop Music Suck this week? It’s fifty fifty really, but given that Macklemore and Lewis at least have a good idea in their song, I’m going to say no. Do not get used to this.

 

Pop Record Of The Week
Marsheaux: Inhale
I love this Greek synth-pop pair. I first heard this; the title track from their forthcoming album, when they played live in London last year, and have been impatiently awaiting the release ever since. I’ll be buying Inhale on April 22nd. I’d suggest, on this evidence, that you should too.

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New(ish) Music: The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

What F**king Ian Guy? never really closed, it just fell victim to the fact that the three people running it were swamped with other work, but I have to say, I’ve been missing it. I’ll be trying to recruit some new people, or to tempt Steve and Mike back, but I had to kick the site back into life for this…

The Knife are one of the most important bands in my life. There are other pillars: Led Zeppelin got me into classic rock, Tori Amos led me down a long and winding path of singer/songwriter music, Madonna and Saint Etienne made me respect and love pop music. In that same way, The Knife were the trigger point for me getting into the music that now dominates most of my listening. Until I first heard their staggering third album, Silent Shout, I had largely dismissed electronic music as being little more than ‘a load of bleeping’. I was an idiot. Silent Shout and The Knife‘s other work opened up a whole world of music that I had hardly considered before, and have immersed myself in for much of the last six years (though I continue to feel like a beginner in terms of knowledge).

With both halves of the band exploring solo projects lately, to greater (Karin’s jaw dropping Fever Ray album) and lesser (Olof’s Oni Ayhun project) levels of success, a new Knife album seemed like a distant prospect. There was little hint of a new album until late last year, when a mysterious 48 second video was placed on the band’s website. Then, just a few months ago, the new album was announced and the first single; a 9 minute techno slap to the face called Full of Fire, released to their website. The whole album has now been streaming for a week, ahead of the physical release on Monday, and even as a huge fan of the band, it is truly daunting.

At 100 minutes, Shaking the Habitual seems to attempt to make up for the long wait by absolutely inundating us with new music, but spreads that time over just 13 tracks, given that this includes two tracks that are under a minute long there is precious little time given over to songs of anything like a traditional length or structure, with most coming close to the 10 minute mark and one – Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised – running for 19 minutes. There are times at which Shaking the Habitual can feel almost onerous; like a task you have set yourself, as if finishing it is a mark of achievement. For many listeners this will be the case. At the time I first heard it I found Silent Shout, with its own dark, foreboding, atmosphere and dense tracks to be something of a challenge. This album makes Silent Shout sound as mainstream as a Take That album.

I think I’ve made clear already that I’m a very big Knife fan, and I’m an even bigger fan of Karin Dreijer Andersson – I’m also in love with her Honey is Cool and Fever Ray incarnations – but it has to be said that there are times that Shaking The Habitual completely loses me, largely when the influence of their Charles Darwin opera Tomorrow In A Year is most heavily accented. Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised is a real chore, it seems almost to have been designed to signal the bathroom break at future Knife gigs, and would be more aptly titled 19 Minutes Waiting For A Tune. Once, around the ten minute mark, the wash of electronics and the almost random dissonant clanging, almost certainly not made with traditional instruments, gives way to a thumping beat from Olof, and the track threatens to ramp up, develop some direction, and become a monster, but that possibility just fades away. It feels like an exercise, not a finished piece of music. Also a real chore is Fracking Fluid Injection which, perhaps even more than Old Dreams, is indicative of the staggering over-indulgence the record is sometimes guilty of. The penultimate track on the album, it consists of little more than the noise of a wire being scraped tunelessly over a saw and Karin, heavily pitch shifted, squealing rather than singing. If a headache makes a noise, this is it.

Those are, however, the only two tracks I can’t get behind as a whole. The rest of the album is definitely challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding, even though at times I found myself questioning whether some of the tracks couldn’t have said what they took ten minutes to say just as well in five.

The album, by its standards going forward, almost eases us in with A Tooth For An Eye, which features one of Karin’s more natural (in that she sounds neither like a demon nor an instrument) and more extensive vocal performances on the record. It’s the track that really nods to the past, built of layers of sounds (steel sounding drums in particular) that have been a part of the band’s sound from the start, and it provides an easy lead in to the thunderous techno of Full Of Fire, which draws heavily on Olof’s Oni Ayhun incarnation. Though it is nine minutes long, Full of Fire fairly races along; it’s dense and exciting, both a departure and a refinement of what we know as The Knife, it’s one of the best of the album’s longer tracks.

The Knife: Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer

For the most part my favourite things on Shaking the Habitual are the tracks that approach traditional length. Without You My Life Would Be Boring is one of the most upbeat tracks; the beat could almost be called bouncy, but that’s offset by an underlay of a multitracked flute, a pitchshifted screech from Karin and the overall weirdness of the production. From the title you might expect Wrap Your Arms Around Me to be the album’s equivalent of Heartbeats, but the stark menace of the sparse drum track and electronic atmospherics with a vocal that does less work on Karin’s compellingly strange voice than many of the tracks makes that title feel more like it’s talking about strangulation than a hug. Fittingly more digital feeling than other tracks is the stuttering Networking, but the best of the shorter songs may be the one The Knife save for last. Ready to Lose sounds more like something of the Deep Cuts era, and is easily one of the most traditionally tuneful things on the album, but still pulses with that same dark energy as the rest.

As I said, when the album stretches its legs it can feel self-indulgent, but it also has moments of incredible excitement within those tracks. Raging Lung is weird. This may just be me, but there’s a bit of Kate Bush, if she were possessed by a witch, to Karin’s vocals on it, it doesn’t really need the last two of its ten minutes though, which just feel a bit unfocused and as if the song is retreating from itself. The same problem seemed, for me, to pervade Stay Out Here, which is a great track and builds satisfyingly bit by bit to something pretty huge, but really didn’t need to take almost eleven minutes to do so.

You can probably tell from this word count that I’m really torn on Shaking the Habitual. On the one hand I can still hear my favourite band in here, and there are moments of surpassing brilliance. I can hear the depth of what they’re doing, the thought that has gone into this album… and yet it still has moments that seem to lack focus; moments in search of an identity (Old Dreams), moments in need of a producer who’ll say ‘we can do this in seven minutes’. It’s hard to count this album as a disappointment, because I flat out love more than half of it, and I never expected it to get close to being as good as Silent Shout, but I still wish I loved it all, which I may in future, but don’t right now.
Sam Inglis

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Does Pop Music Suck? One Direction – Little Things

Before we get started on this (because I’m pretty sure I want to delay it as long as possible), one quick question… How in the howling blue fuck are Maroon 5 STILL number one in the US? Answers in the comments, or on a postcard, or to our Twitter @WHATEFFINGIAN.

I’ve never heard One Direction before, largely because I am not a 12 year old girl, nor do I know any 12 year old girls. I think they came from The X Factor; pop’s current market leader in the germ warfare arms race, but since I don’t watch The X Factor (see previous sentence for reasons) my only awareness of them has been through the press, which can’t stop writing about how MASSIVE they are. The press, it seems to me, only seem to talk about One Direction in terms of their huge success, their fanbase and Harry Styles’ penchant for the older lady, the actual music (which I think is supposed to be why they’re famous), seems to be curiously unremarked upon.

So… let’s put all the gossip aside. Is this single any good?

It’s… disappointingly non-terrible. In all honesty I was looking forward to this, cracking my knuckles at the prospect of beating up the latest boyband on the block, but it’s not an awful record. Just to clarify this… I don’t LIKE this, it’s nothing I’d ever choose to listen to but for this series, and I’ll never play it again, but that’s about the style of music; these plaintive boyband ballads just aren’t my thing. However, as these things go it’s reasonable, and I can absolutely see why One Direction‘s young female fanbase are buying into it.

It helps that the lyrics are by Ed Sheeran. Sheeran, again, is somebody I’m not a fan of, but I get his success. I find his lyrics a little twee for my liking, but he’s connecting with people and writing personal and sometimes well observed songs. Little Things is a rather sweet love song, essentially addressed to the listener about how, although 1D understand that there are things she doesn’t like about herself (like ‘the crinkles by her eyes’ – that’ll be one of Harry’s girlfriends then), but that “all these little things add up to you”. It’s nicely put, if not especially deep and anonymously sung, and it will have the fanbase swooning, and frankly given that most weeks this column is soundtracked by identikit dance beats it’s nice to hear an acoustic guitar, even though, again, there’s nothing terribly inspired about how it’s being used.

Sometimes it’s twee to the point of irritation, or even comedy (“I’m joining up the dots with the freckles on your cheeks” Well stop it, I suspect your girlfriend doesn’t want you drawing on her face [looks up who sings this bit] Zayn), but the only moment it really annoyed me was when the lyrics came very close to quoting my favourite Tori Amos song, Winter (“you never love yourself half as much as i love you”), at that point, even though it’s not actively unpleasant, I want THIS song to be over so I can go and play Winter for the thousandth time. Otherwise it’s just very blah, it sat there inoffensively for three and a half minutes, I tolerated it, I wrote about it, I’ll never think about it again now.

Does Pop Music Suck this week? On the whole this is fine, it’s not for me, but there are MUCH worse records and MUCH worse messages the audience it is designed for could be listening to. I am, to my surprise and, I would imagine to yours, going to have to say No, on balance.

Coming Soon: In 2013 Does Pop Music Suck? will also be covering the No1. albums of each week

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Mini Reviews: Lana Del Rey: Born to Die – The Paradise Edition

I confess, I didn’t finish this album, I got to one particular song on the second disc, laughed so hard I almost fell over, and decided that I couldn’t possibly take anything Lana Del Rey sang seriously ever again. It was one line that did it. One line so awful, so unusually ugly, so fucking stupid that it may rank with “I’m serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer” and “I don’t want to see a ghost, that’s the sight that I fear most, I’d rather have a piece of toast and watch the evening news” among the dumbest lyrics I’ve ever heard. The song is Cola (Pussy), and it begins with the line “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola”. REALLY, Lana? Well, okay, but that’s information I think I’m only interested in first hand, and now I can’t listen to any of your songs without thinking about that line and laughing.

Not that this is only issue with Born to Die. Like everyone else, I was taken with Video Games when it came out; it’s a very unusual song in today’s pop market, and there is an evocative quality to the lyrics. It’s a song that creates a mood and tells a story, and as you listen it’s almost like watching a mini movie, the problem is that nothing on the rest of the album really matches up to it, and Del Rey never really changes things up, so this (lengthy) record gets stuck in a single groove.

The sultry persona that Lana Del Rey established on Video Games worked well enough for that song, but with fifteen tracks on the regular album, and another eight added for the Paradise Edition, it soon begins to feel overworked and, more damagingly, conspicuously false. I suspect that whatever order the tracks came in I would be saying much the same thing here, but by the end of Video Games (the album’s fourth track), I began to get very bored of the limited subjects and the single tone that Born to Die strikes. It’s going for a sultry darkness; like a lurid 50’s melodrama in song, perhaps, but too often it just feels like parody.

Some of Del Ray’s lyrics are just awful. None manages to scrape the bottom of the barrel quite to the degree that Cola does, but Lolita‘s “Kiss me in the P.A.R.K. Park tonight” and the incredibly laboured sexiness of Off to the Races (which, like a few of the tracks, seems to be about Del Rey being sexually under the thumb of a creepy older man) are especially bad.

The vocals are decent, and while the instrumentation is rather samey none of the playing is bad, but Lana Del Rey (or rather Elizabeth Grant) seems hamstrung by her persona, stuck in a single gear and clearly struggling to find many subjects to address within this persona. It’s working for her commercially, and hats off to her for doing something so different and finding a way to make it viable in commercial terms, but frankly I was bored early on, and heard nothing to change that as the album went on.

Sam Inglis

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