Best news this month? Britney Spears is here again, with the second storming single to be released back into the wild from her greatest hits album. It's called 'Do Somethin'; my notes from seeing it on the TV read : "Fucking ROCK! Britney releases 'Do Somethin', dresses up as 80s rock chick whore, world gasps. Hurrah." There's not too much to add to that, really - take the concept of 80s rock chick whore and make music out of it, and you've pretty much got the song. The driving bassline she seems so fond of at the moment is overwhelming in the best of ways, there are lyrics like "Could somebody pass my guitar/so I can act like a star", and slicked all over the song like spilled eyeshadow are those shimmering 80s keyboards that nobody actually managed to get right until about 2003. It's all very good. I'm not denying that she's utterly lost the plot, of course, but if it means we get songs like this, I'm all for it.
The best new thing I've heard so far this month (I bought Britney's greatest hits when it came out) is a real departure for me, but I'm here to find the good amongst the bad and not worry too much about the precise nature of that good, right? It's 'Foolish', the second single from a young man called Tyler James, whose first release 'Why Do I Do' caught my ear as well, in a light easy-listening sort of way. This is far harder to ignore; it is effortlessly stylish, sauntering down the musical road somewhere between swing and pop, and it sounds basically like nothing so much as Prince seducing Joss Stone during a performance of Chicago. It's very, very good. And he's cute, too. Keep an eye out for him, even if it doesn't sound like your thing; it's not my thing, either, but I'm deeply impressed.
I couldn't do the singer/songwriter thing without mentioning Daniel Bedingfield - I know I've already talked about his new single 'Wrap My Words Around You' but it really is the most beautiful new song I've heard in quite a while. It's quiet and subtle and I find the lyrics and harmonies profoundly moving; if you're the kind to be swayed by pretty words, do at least give it a try. I also caught 'Wise Men' by James Blunt, apparently one of 2005's Great White Hopes for Britain; similarly gentle and melodic and faintly influenced by the mid-90s output of Sting, it's also rather good, with a touch of soul that you wouldn't necessarily expect from looking at him. (Since he looks like Beck's weedier, more hopeless cousin.)
It probably wouldn't be a DurAnorak guide if I didn't try to alert your attention to the existence of great songs by constructed pop bands, would it? As I've previously said in passing, Girls Aloud have got another new single out, called 'Wake Me Up' - and, like their songs always are when they remember what they're good at and don't try to do ballads, it's a fantastic, shiny piece of uberpop, complete with inescapably powerful bassline. I love it. There are more-obvious-than-usual bits of 80s influence threaded through it all over the place, from the Planet Earth-like swooping electronic noises to the fact that if you tune out the vocals in the second verse it sounds like 'The Freeze' by Spandau Ballet. And the video is full of cute girls in leathers doing their makeup on motorbikes. It is utterly lacking in any kind of brain activity whatsoever. It's great.
And, to balance things out, we've also got a new single from my favourite boy band, Phixx. I adore Phixx. They're pretty and silly and they never get higher than number 20 in the charts despite producing consistently gorgeous synthesised pop, and they dress up as the Lost Boys and in bondage gear in their videos, and they covered 'Wild Boys', and now they have another honestly beautiful single out called 'Strange Love'. Nothing to do with Depeche Mode though - if anything, it sounds like what would end up being written if you populated the Big Brother house with the members of Spandau Ballet and Take That. But in a really, really good way, trust me.
While I'm talking about good things, rather than just things that have caught my attention, I should give you a headsup about this month's token excellent dance track - 'Winter' by DT8 Project. There's always one truly gorgeous piece of dance music around, frequently obscured by an unfortunate 'reworking' of an 80s classic, but I happened across this and it's the best I've heard in quite a while. It's very beautiful, though being a bit useless with dance music as I am, I couldn't tell you why. 'Attention' by Major Tom isn't half bad, either, though for entirely different reasons.
This month's 'nice video, shame about the song' awards go to two very different artists. If you've been brave enough to watch music TV with (or even near) me lately, you'll probably have heard me squeaking about kittens. This is because Fatboy Slim's video for his new single, a cover of the Steve Miller Band's 'The Joker', is just that - kittens. All kittens, all the time. Kittens in business suits, kittens having catnip trips, a very confused kitten spinning round and round on a record deck pretending to be Norman Cook himself. It's desperately cute, obviously, but the question remains - why on earth would anyone ever want to cover 'The Joker' by the Steve Miller Band? It's one of the most offensively terrible pop songs ever written. Because I like Fatboy Slim, and because I'd rather assume that this is a temporary aberration than think this is a new direction of his, I'm going to alert you to his rather fantastic last single 'It's A Wonderful Night', which was much better (and one of the only good things around at the end of last year).
The award is shared, as I said, and it's shared with a group who are in pain. Lots of pain. Lots and lots and lots of very painful pain. Ladies and gentlemen, they are My Chemical Romance, and their song is 'I'm Not OK', and boy, do they mean it. Lead singer Gerard Way positively hurls himself around a small soundstage forcing out lyrics about honesty and betrayal and photographs taken by some girl's boyfriend and making this face a lot and it's all generally very bad. Except that the video is utterly brilliant, a bitingly witty piece of American high school angst, making 'Teenage Dirtbag' by Wheatus look even more like a failed Marx Brothers routine. And, also, cute angsty goth boys flouncing around in school uniform is never, ever a bad thing.
Moving on, though sticking with guitars because it's hard to find anything else these days, I'd like to briefly talk about Head Automatica, who are something of a small supergroup (involving Glassjaw and the Gorillaz in an unlikely sort of way) making music in the same vein as, but not as good as, The Killers. Their single 'Beating Heart Baby' is engaging in its way, but I point it out more out of a sense that they can do better and when they do it will be great than anything else. This kind of neon art-rock is something we can't seem to get right in Britain, but that America is very good at; it's basically the next logical fashion step forward from Electroclash, which was brought home to me again while watching the video for 'The Good Ones' by The Kills; fluorescent pink paint sliding all over the place through swathes of electrical flex and pools of motor oil, while the song sounded (though I only caught the end of it) like Peaches and David Bowie having relatively filthy sex.
We just can't do that kind of thing in Britain. Art-rock here stops at the level of Franz Ferdinand, a well-dressed tight-lipped eyebrow-raised recommended-daily-irony kind of indie. Most of the time, of course, British indie doesn't even reach this dizzy height, preferring to stay in and murmur dejectedly about not going out to any clubs than to actually go out and strut even the smallest bit of stuff.
Which is why America has The Kills, and we have The Thrills. Every time I see The Thrills on TV, I'm always assailed by a vision of the band, a small slightly bedraggled group of Irish lads, standing forlornly on a dock, watching The Boat that they have Missed sailing off into the sunset. I don't even know what their new single's called; I was too busy watching them wave an optimistic goodbye to the boat they'd just missed and dig their heels in waiting for the next one. I get the sense that they could be wonderful, I just wish I knew in what way; if I had a clue I'd call them up and tell them exactly when the next boat would be leaving and how to make sure they were on it.
A courtesy I most certainly wouldn't extend to The Others, whose single 'Lackey' is so hopelessly (and loudly) indignant about the state of affairs in Britain and the frustration of the rat race that you'd almost think they were attempting to be punks instead of unconvincing indie merchants in suits. And it's just *bad*, this song; it's not only that I think the sentiment is misplaced (because, after all, punk had real things to be angry about, and by the sound of it The Others are basically complaining that office coffee machines don't always work and they're fed up of waiting to use the photocopier) but it's a general failure of a song, making that too-common mistake of message over music. (Just went to remind myself of the lyrics. For christ's sake.)
Which leads me, sort of, to Green Day, who have written 'Minority' again, this time calling it 'Holiday', stopping in the process of ripping themselves off to rip off 'The Passenger' by Iggy Pop as well. Again. I was almost hopeful when I heard 'Boulevard Of Broken Dreams', but alas, it seems it was a temporary fault on the radar and we are now back to normal. And so this roundup ends, not with a bang but with the whimper that ought to be the only noise Billy Jo from Green Day is allowed to make for the next five years.
Things that didn't make it in : 'Bastardo' by Charlotte Hatherley, from the school of music henceforth known as spyinthehaus-music; 'Galvanise' by the Chemical Brothers, not quite interesting enough; anything by Thirteen Senses, since watching them run after Keane trying to velcro themselves to their coattails is painful enough one time round without thinking about it again; 'Dakota' by The Stereophonics because I fucking hate the Stereophonics; 'Caught Up' by Usher, though it's his best song to date; this song because I literally only heard the last two lines of it, though it sounded brilliant.
Thank you, I've been your DurAnorak, today and every day. Any questions?
Edit : Oh my god. Just looked up The Start (who wrote the song linked in my last paragraph); their website has lots of their songs up for listening to (though not, oddly, that one). They're a bit sketchy as yet, but there's the promise here of something absolutely fantastic! Go, go and listen, now.
Heh. All this from accidentally hearing a line and a half at the end of a song. I love how these things find me.