Sunday night's playlist : 

M.I.A. - Born Free
Estelle - Freak

U2 - I Will Follow (Boy)
Gorillaz - Superfast Jellyfish (Plastic Beach)

Kate Nash - Paris (My Best Friend Is You)
Eliza Doolittle - Skinny Genes

Electric Light Orchestra - Sweet Is the Night (Out Of the Blue)
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & Trinity - Save Me (Open)
Kinks - Stormy Sky (Sleepwalker)
Gerry & the Pacemakers - You'll Never Walk Alone

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Beatles - One After 909 (Live at the Cavern Club)
Beatles - All My Loving (With the Beatles)
Beatles - Lovely Rita (Sgt. Peppers)

Two Door Cinema Club - Something Good Can Work (Tourist History)
Polecats - Make a Circuit With Me

Sub Focus ft. Coco - Splash
Snow Patrol ft. Martha Wainwright - Set the Fire To the Third Bar (Eyes Open)
Brian & Michael - Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs

...and this week's UK Top 5 : 

5). Chipmunk ft. Esmee Denters - Until You Were Gone (-2)
4). Diana Vickers - Once (-3)
3). Plan B - She Said (+1)
2). Usher - OMG (non-mover)
1). Roll Deep - Good Times (new)


Huh! A British act tops the chart for the second week running, some old standbys hang on for another week, and last week's new entries just barely manage to stay with us. 

Let's take a look at them : 

Chipmunk's "Until You Were Gone" loses ground this week and drops two spaces to number 5. That's not a surprise; Chippy is beginning to represent the "old school" of grime. The song is catchy enough, sure, but as is usual with so many "crossover" grime songs nowadays, it's the backing vocals that provide the hook. Chipmunk sounds just kind of whiny. Between Chippy and Tinchy, there's been a development of that "sincere" intoning of words that justs sounds overbearing. 

Esmee Denters does the backing here, and she sounds good. Chipmunk is all over the main tune, adding punctuation and even singing along occasionally with the chorus. Doesn't work very well, I'm afraid. Chipmunk gets a 6 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.

Diana Vickers, former X Factor contestant, has the biggest slip of the week, dropping all the way from the top to number 4. And this time, it's maybe not deserved. "Once" is not a bad song at all, and Diana has a distinctive vocal style pitched somewhere between Bjork and a cute little forest animal (not a chipmunk, though). The song has Kelly Clarkson dynamics, and a small hint of Ellie Goulding (although, y'know, not as clever) in it. It's indubitably listenable, and it gets a 7.5 on the scale.

And here's Plan B, moving up a space! He's now regained his peak of number 3 that he set when "She Said" was released a month ago. 

Again, this isn't a surprise, because the song is a grower. At first listening, it just sounds a bit odd, but subsequent spins make it all fall together. 

It's the Plan's singing vocals that cause that first disconnect, because he sounds as if his testicles have crawled up to his liver. After time, though, it starts to sound like a classic soul vocal, on par with Little Anthony and other eunuch-like singers. He throws an authentic-sounding rap in the midst of all, and ends with some great lines. All good. Plan B gets an 8, even after all this time.

Oh. Usher. Still ensconced at number 2 on the British charts, and climbing to number 6 in America. 

There are two good things about the song, and I've mentioned them before :
 - The choral backing, which is a stadium-full of sound (and if you listen close, you can actually hear the crowd at times)
 - The woozy strings, bent just enough to fit fairly unobtrusively into the song. 

Then there's the not-so-great stuff, like the stupid lyrics ("honey got a booty...."). The lecherous main vocals.'s annoying "let the beat rock" intonations. 

I keep wanting to like the song more than I do, but I. Just. Can't. I'm going with a 6 this week.

And look at this : the Roll Deep collective, after more than 8 years in existence, finally gets a number one song!

American translations : Roll Deep is a group of grime artists that have included nearly every major artist of this kind of music, and still has Wiley and Skepta in it. I think there are about 47 of them, and Big Names like Dizzee Rascal got their start with them.

This song, though, is indicative of modern crossover grime, but not the obnoxious kind. It's more of a techno song than anything else, with pumping synths and bleeps and bloops. Different members of Roll Deep take the verses, and there's a monster chorus with female voices. 

Oddly enough, it's a song that also belongs in the "I'm eternally optimistic" school of British pop. It's all about having parties and drinking and having "Good Times" (and that's the title of the song, by the way). Think of it as the British equivalent of BEP's "I Gotta Feeling". It flounces right along, and seems over in no time. And while it doesn't ever really SAY anything, it makes you happy!

I have a worry a bit, though, when grime music becomes indistinguishable from Cascada. 

Oh, well, the song is still a good time : I give it a 7.


Paul Weller - Wake Up the Nation

I really, really liked the last Paul Weller album. That was the double set "22 Dreams", and it was versatile and absorbing for most of its running time. There was nice acoustically oriented stuff, some psychedelia, and irresistable songs like "Sea Spray". I, and other folks like me, considered it a highlight of the Modfather's career. 

So now, after what seems a very short time, we've got "Wake Up the Nation". Many critics are effusive about the album, again saying that Weller's reached his peak.

Not me, though. Not this time. 

The album is a disappointing collage of songs that are rocky in all senses of the word. There's hardly a break in tempo throughout the record, with nearly all songs set to "loud". Weller rarely changes his vocal approach, with a good majority of the record's songs simply vehicles for repeating the title of the tune ad infinitum. Some examples : "Fast Car/Slow Traffic", "Andromeda", and the title track. 

Weller's vocals are a big part of the problem here. He forces himself into a not-very-controlled vibrato for much of the time, and by the time you get three or four tracks in, it just becomes stultifying. This is finally relieved with "Aim High", which is done in a falsetto. The song features spiralling guitars and pianos, occasional strings, and harps. This all makes it interesting musically, but when it's done - one really has no desire to hear it again. Even when the Blood, Sweat, and Tears horns kick in, and one expects Weller to start singing "What goes up . . . ". 

There are a few saving graces. The single "No Tears Left To Cry" is a great old-soul workout, and Weller's vocals take on some authority here. 

Also, most songs are mercifully short, with only a few exceeding the three minute mark. I'd like to say that Weller is economical in his apportionment of riffs, but then I hear a song "Grasp and Still Connect", which repeats the title four times for each chorus. 

The longest track on the record is called "Trees", which sounds a bit rockabilly (it reminds me a little of "Exile"-period Stones. Then it goes through an odd bit with soprano voice backing, crashes into raucousness, and finally returns to the main theme. Again, there's a fair amount to listen to here, but it's not necessarily an experience that leaves the listener ready to do it again. 

And to top it all off, the production on the album is murky and muddy. 

I have a considerable amount of respect for Paul Weller, but this is definitely not his best. It may not be his worst, either, but it's close. 

I'm giving the album a 5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.

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