Edit : ~posts~ ~looks at post~ Ye gods. Um, if you've got a spare half hour, anyway. *ahem* I seem to have got carried away. Oh well, was seriously fun to write.
Good old Muse. While the rest of British and American rock heads almost without exception towards dirty, slightly self-conscious 70s cool (step forward Jet and Razorlight), Matt Bellamy and his band are still happily parachuting through the night skies of epic indie, making their own orchestral manoeuvres in the dark. Their new single 'Butterflies & Hurricaines' is an extravagance of broken emotion on a grander scale than anything of theirs I've heard before, and brought home to me yet again what consummate musicians Muse really are.
Speaking of consummate musicians, is it just me, or are Franz Ferdinand strong contenders for Best Band In The World Right Now? New song 'Michael', though not quite as good as was 'Matinee' (which I think they'll have difficulty beating), is completely extraordinary, and reinforces my belief that Franz Ferdinand are some kind of mutant synthesis of everything that has ever been good about British guitar music. Plus it has truly excellent lyrics; it is 'Boys Keep Swinging' for 2004. The image of the very pretty Alexander Kapranos singing "Michael, you’re the boy with the leather hips...Beautiful boys on a beautiful dancefloor, Michael, you're dancing like a beautiful dance whore" is one that it will take a while to shift.
Also in the world of Young Men With Guitars, I feel it's worth mentioning The Rasmus, although most of you will already be aware of them. It's been out for a while, but 'Guilty' never fails to cheer me up – it just rocks so *hard*, in a rather sweet 'we want to be a black metal band when we grow up' kind of way. And The Rasmus's spiritual Auntie Ville Valo (and HIM) has a new single coming up as well – 'And Love Said No' – which is more like their earlier work that I liked so much, and reassuringly distant from the substandard nu-metal they've been producing recently.
Sharing Kerrang! TV with these boys are Velvet Revolver; a work of art crafted from leather and fishnet and leopardprint and grease and glitter and eyeliner and heroin and broken glass and Big Fucking Guitars and the tattered remains of Slash's dignity. Fronted by the gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots, their first single 'Slither' was astoundingly good, but their second, 'Fall To Pieces', is less so, suffering from November Rain Syndrome in places and lacking in opportunities to showcase Scott's voice. But never mind eh – I'm told that their album 'Contraband' is a big shiny mess of everything that was right about rock in the 80s, and I can well believe it. Besides, Scott Weiland is gorgeous. Did I mention that?
Everyone's favourite Jesus-fronted American rockers Nickelback have turned up again as well, annoying me in the process by having a really good song, but making the same glaring mistake as poor Puddle Of Mudd made in 'Control' – again, not a bad song until the bit where the singer launched into "I love the way you look at me, I love the way you smack my ass". Given that 'Figured You Out' has the alarmingly similar "I like your pants around your feet, and I like the dirt that's on your knees", it's possible to infer that American rock groups have some kind of problem writing lyrics about sex. Except that Nickelback redeem themselves by going on to sing "And I love your lack of self respect while you're passed out on the deck, I love my hands around your neck", which is almost convincing.
Elsewhere, also playing guitars but in a far more heartfelt and introspective and downright British way, are Keane. I've been a bit unfair to Keane, because they're one of those bands who the NME like to call 'the new x' and who say things like "we never thought this would happen to us" and get nominated for every songwriting prize this side of Alabama. But their new single 'Bedshaped' is gorgeous, if a little overblown in places (there are synthesised choirs, for god's sake), and actually, the rest of their songs aren't that bad either - they sound like what Haven ought to have been like. 'Bedshaped' is particularly good, though, and the video – a claymation tale of homelessness and goblins – is well worth watching.
I must just stop to mention the alarming number of Ian Brown clones that seem to be surfacing all over the place – I put the monkey man's name in bold because actually he's got a new single out as well, which is good in that way that you never expect Ian Brown to be. But the clones are the real issue, and a way ahead of the rest of them is the frontman of new band Kasabian. I'd like to say they're great but I keep being distracted from listening to their song 'LSF' by staring at the lead singer wondering how anyone can grow up looking that much like Ian Brown without developing some kind of complex; in fact he has grown up looking that much like Ian Brown and formed a band who soung vaguely like The Stone Roses. Tomorrow, the world.
Time to leave Kerrang! and The Amp and the like, forsaking their cigarette-burned pool tables for the more glamorous, mirrored corridors of pop. I know I've mentioned Darren Hayes before, but I’m going to do it again because I keep hearing 'Popular' and it really is a truly excellent song, self-parodying in a way I'm surprised he can get away with, backed by deceptively simple electro music and with a video in which he cavorts around Madame Tussaud's in a particularly inspired bit of showmanship.
To accompany this, I have unexpectedly discovered a fairly extraordinary song by a woman called Annie. The song's called 'Chewing Gum' and the only way I can describe it is to say that it sounds like someone has taken the entirety of 1983, put it in a blender and made a record with the results. There are sparkling synthesisers that remind me of The Human League; the lyrics are intentionally tacky in a Bananarama, Toni Basil sort of way, but vocally with a harder edge like Blondie, or...oh, just listen to it. Really, listen to it. It's come out of nowhere and it's awfully good. Also, the chorus goes "Oh no, oh no, you've got it all wrong – you think you're chocolate but you're chewing gum", which I think is marvellous. Go and listen to it.
Something else that surprised me recently was the discovery of a boyband I not only appreciate but have really warmed to - V. They manage to combine having a damn good time, being really rather cute, being able to sing and having good songs to prove it with, in a way that no other boyband has done or even tried to do since A1. And like A1 they've made a bid for fame with an 80s cover – in this case an entirely harmless, acceptable cover of the Jacksons' 'Can You Feel It' – but it was their last single, 'Hip To Hip', which actually caught my ear. Even if it is just that they're clearly enjoying themselves and they're just so adorable – they can't dance for toffee, though I bet they'd try – they've got something.
And I'll tell you who else has got something: Girls Aloud. You just wouldn't have expected it – I didn't – from a band formed on Popstars : The Rivals, but they've proved with song after song that they not only have a very good team behind them but that they're brilliant performers who know just what to do with everything they're given, and how to make it their own. 'Love Machine', their new single, is every bit as good as 'The Show' was, and indeed as everything else they've released has been, and my *god* is it catchy. I don't mind having it in my head, though – apart from anything else, it mentions pie. Pie! :)
While I’m on the subject of girl groups, and before I head off into talking about what's bad, I suppose I'd better talk about The 411. With Beyonce leading the way for R&B in a truly stunning style, the space in music that used to be held by Destiny's Child is currently empty, and I think The 411 might well have a shot at filling it. Their first single, 'On My Knees', was actually much better than their current one, 'Dumb', but they've got the requisite style and flair, and they've got that old Eternal trick of having one white girl who makes up for her skin colour by wearing enormous jewellery and tiny skirts, and if they're writing their own songs then they're pretty good at it.
Oh, and speaking of writing your own songs – I'm still championing Busted. Their single '3am' is floating around Smash Hits TV at the moment and it's just lovely. Which is more than I can say for McFly, who are trying *so hard* to be The Monkees and failing so spectacularly.
Which starts me off on what *isn't* good. Lest you think I am deaf or blind to the truly appalling dross that passes for music on some of the channels, let me reassure you by stopping to point out the worst of what's currently out there.
There's something very offensive about Natasha Bedingfield. Not in that she's the sister of pop hamster Daniel Bedingfield and freely admits that her career is only having any success because of him. Not in that she wears clothes that should come with a government health warning and has a voice like paint stripper. Just in that her second single, 'These Words', is such obvious, unmitigated crap that I'm fairly sure even she wouldn’t bother to defend it. It's the equivalent
Of the teenager
Who does this with his undistinguished prose
And claims to
Be writing poetry.
And it got to number one. Some weeks, I hate this country.
What else is bad? Surprisingly, Fatboy Slim's new single 'Slash Dot Dash', in which he conclusively demonstrates how it's possible for even the most cutting edge of songs and videos to miss the boat entirely by about three years. I used to believe the boy Cook could do no wrong, but apparently he can.
I want to talk about 3 Of A Kind but I can't quite bring myself to - their single 'Babycakes' has just about been and gone in any case and lord knows I hope they won't follow it up with anything. But they are categorically the lowest that UK Garage could possibly sink.
The real crowning glory of bad, though, is that - well. Remember that awful pop chart duel on which I was commenting a couple of months ago? Eamon and Frankie with their subtle, haunting expressions of amatory misadventure, '(Fuck You)I Don't Want You Back' and 'Fuck You Right Back'?
They've spawned a trend.
I know. It's a horrible thought, isn't it? Naturally they couldn't spawn a trend in anything good, so the awful truth is that one of the decade's most anodyne and dreadful number ones, 'I Don't Wanna Know' by Mario Winans (set over 'Boadicea' by Enya, as if that were a new idea) has now been answered back. By Shola Ama, who really should know better, singing for The Pirates in a song embarrassingly badly titled 'You Should Really Know'. Yes, she sings it along to the same tune, like Frankie did with Eamon, hence the forced title. The lyrics are here. Appalling.
Never mind eh. It'll probably get to number one, but you don't have to listen to it, and I don't mind if the song they play after it is as good as any of the ones I've namechecked in this post.