Simone Cristicchi- Vorrei Cantare Come Biagio Antonacci

Italian patriotism is a tricky issue. Partly because the country is still a barely 150 year old collaboration of 12 separate tributes that don’t trust each other, and partly because its pop cultural portfolio is somewhat less impressive than that of, say, American Samoa.

I’ve fought this battle before, and, yes, maybe part of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of those who fell off the boat straight into the New World and started with the jiggaboo paisano stereotypes for their new neighbours in order to bring in a few dirty pennies. But even so, you have to realise that Patrizio Buanne, Il Divo, and all the other greaseball-in-a-tux crooners are not Italy. Italy, to me, is the Italy of Valentino Rossi, with his Strokes-hair and Bushwick Bill stature. The Italy of La Passeggiata, of not looking where you’re going whilst driving, of Amaretto Di Saronno, arancini di riso, and Amarcord. The Italy of forgotten late 90s rom-com Roseanna’s Grave, and its punchline “Is the Mayor of New York still Italian?” “Who’d want to stop being Italian?” Italy is a country that’s justifiably proud of its past and traditions, and thanks to Berlusconi, completely unsure of its present and future.

So yeah, Simone Cristicchi. He looks perennial comedy nobody Dominic Holland, or perhaps an even more coked-up James Brown (the publishing irritant, not the funky wife-beater). He’s also come out of absolutely fucking nowhere to achieve near-constant rotation on the Italian music channels with this track. A kind of perfect distillation of why meta-pop is a good idea when done properly, and why it’s totally wasted on pop stars whose charisma invoice requires a barrel of red ink to write.

Why is it meta-pop? The title translates as “I Want To Sing Like Biagio Antonacci”. Who he? Biagio Antonacci was one of the star attractions at the Italian Live 8, and a pretty valid argument for ignoring Italian pop music entirely. A man with a passion for over-singing every note possible, and a back catalogue suited solely to providing backing music for a third-rate pizzeria somewhere in, say, Deptford, or Castle Ashby (see also: Tizianno Ferri, who you may remember from that track he did with Jamelia that was so awful they didn’t even bother to release it).

Simone’s not a big fan. He’s a sarky bastard as well, as he spends the entire song talking about how Antonacci is a wonderful artist, and how great it’d be to sign autographs in the same manner as him, to fill stadiums like him, and how he’s a greater hero than Jim Morrisson, Rambo, and Rocky.

Feel that faux-middle eight done in the Antonacci style. Sure, it’s a trick he stole entirely from “My Band” (central and southern Europe loves it some D-12, and, no, I don’t know why), but the boy has enough charisma to pull it off. He has enough chutzpah to ensure what could have come across like a particularly frustrated day’s worth of blogging set to a beat ends up becoming a “Your Woman” for 2005. Jyoti Mishar’s solitary classic is the best reference for this song anyway, being built as it is on a sample of what sounds like a 1940s slapstick comedy. It gives the whole thing a throw-away feel which meshes perfectly with the Head Stylist sophistication it somehow manages to portray as well.

Seriously, Tyler James would kill for a track like this. Perhaps he should grow a white-boy fro and release “I Want To Sing Like James Blunt”.

By Dom Passantino, associate UK editor for Stylus


Emanuel - The Willing

"I lost my inspiration/Lying in your bed/But you cannot rape the willing/And you taste like self-destruction/I’ll follow where I’m led/But you cannot rape the will-ENNNGGGG!!!"

Yes, I’m well aware that’s shite.

But oh, that’s just a taste of the lyrical glories in this beauty. As you may have guessed, we’re in the ‘depressingly clean-cut emo-mall-punk’ aisle, and the shelves are fucking rammed. You’re excepting a wussy-assed ‘screamo’ bit? Emanuel are going to give you TWO! And you can tell it’s not proper screaming because you can make out all the words!


Seriously, we’re dripping with it. “Get high and try that’s all I really wanna do!” Lead singer boy (he’s called Matt, and should probably be congratulated for heroically avoiding being called Seth or Josh BECAUSE HE DOESN’T HAVE TO FOLLOW YOUR RULES!) seems really fond of that one. He also looks bizarrely similar to Jeffrey Lewis.

“I count the days and watch your fires burn/Just give me time to blow them out”

And the trouble is that there’s a dreadfully catchy and stupidly fun pop song under all of this. Totally predictable, of course, but it’s one of those where everything gets polished and over-planned to such a degree that somehow it miraculously avoids sucking. The electro-siren-buzz-ting that the guitars do marries with the horrendous nasal whelp that is his voice (he sounds even more like you’d expect him to sound than you ever believe), hammering that chorus along, picking out the stresses and bursting them in the eardrums. The slow bit comes in exactly when you’d expect it, but that’s only because it’s exactly where it should be. Yeah, the verses are annoying, and the repetition-with-slight-variation of the lines is obviously nowhere near as clever as he thinks it is and makes you want to nauseate on him, plus also the amount of times he says he’s dyyyy-ing… uck uck uck. But somehow, it’s irresistible. So fake it’s beyond fake, someday you will ache like he aches, assuming you haven’t turned 15 yet.

By William B. Swygart, editor of the UK Singles Jukebox at Stylus


“Hey, don’t falter/ You know we are to be together.”

Ah, summer.

The sky is blue, the sun is shining; glowing, happy people go about their glowing, happy lives, while the rest of us glare at them, sit in the dark watching daytime OC reruns and wallow in our own, imperfect misery. Or something to that effect.

But wait! The sweet Miss Laverne is on hand to take even the most pallid angster and lead them skipping into those daisy fields of summer joy. Hark, how her lilting tones channel every mythical summer haze you ever envisaged! Herald, how the bubbling chords and jaunty chimes surround you with that vision of gleeful love, more evocative than any sepia-toned Coppola flick or Goldin snapshot!

“Small-town dating differs from more urban situations/ In particular if there’s few places to go.”

Then, of course, there’s the reality.

When summer isn’t a Ralph Lauren ad, or even that episode of Hollyoaks, but a long series of days with nothing much but the absence of anything else as their defining features. Hills and dry forest, toes in the stray blast of a garden hose and that sticky heat of melting fruit ices as you shrink back into the garden shade.

Time takes on weight, stretches with a lack of purpose. Actions are minutia, idle to pass the hours. Boys with cars that mean getting the hell out of this place; backseats and air-conditioned movie chills; late nights, damp grass. The slow beat enfolds it all, quiet and real. Her dreamy vocals whisper the truth. Summer in the suburbs.


State of the Union

By the looks of the chart, British pop is dead.

The battle is over. The ‘real music made on real instruments for real people!’ purists have won. Brandishing the Radio 2 playlist in one hand, (as the other fist clutches the 6th form notebook scribbles that make up the modern NME) they’ve purged our music scene of those unholy pop stars with breathtaking ease.

“Synthetic backing tracks?” They sneered superciliously, prodding Geri with their Pitchfork-bookmarked Blackberrys. “Lip-synching?” They cried in disgust, sending poor Javine fleeing for the Eurovision hills. “Artists who don’t even pretend to write their own material?” They roared, as Dannii Minogue, Holly Valance and their Antipodean chum Darren Hayes cowered, unloved in the upper echelons of the chart.

“Get thee gone, damned manifestations of our image-driven, artificial world! Pay no heed to the fact we spend just as much on image consultancy and branding as you! Ignore the cynical focus-grouping we employ to strategise our dominance!

For we, we are REAL. We are AUTHENTIC. We have GUITARS!”

They took Capital FM with a Blunt blow. They seized MTV into their bland Embrace. Only dear Simon and Miquita are safe in their Popworld, but even now the might of those angular guitars advance, intent on enslaving every last post-Chiron beat.

“Hang on,” I hear you cry, “Surely you should rejoice! Celebrate the variety of music flourishing. Diversity. Equality. Democracy in action!”

There may be choice in HMV, but it’s can’t be truly portrayed as the choice of the people. Is Tesco rewarding you with the eighteen varieties of apple to choose from really choice, when it’s they who select the lot with centimetre-specific regulations? Is the music industry rewarding you with choice through the decision between this group of 80’s synth art-rock boys who sound like the Killers, or that group of 80s synth art-rock boys who sound like Franz Ferdinand? Where’s the freedom in that?

People are easily led. Hell, I’m easily led. Flash me the trailer to ‘the Wedding Crashers’ enough times and even I’ll be mysteriously overcome with the urge to watch the Butterscotch Stallion prostrate himself on the alter of bad taste. This fact is the centrifugal force behind every political campaign, every advertising drive – the backbone of capitalist society (Really, think about it. Because you NEED that new car). We choose what is signed, marketed, sent out to CosmoGirl interviews and A-listed on radio; thus it has always been, thus is shall always be. But now, in retreating to unanimously to the relatively safe domain of soaring anthems of middle-class blandness, the labels have ensured a return on their investment. While rockists wet themselves with joy to those pure, dull sounds, I’m left wondering how many ominous Joy Division tribute acts I’ll have to suffer through before we get the innovation back.

It’s now the pop-lover who has the underground taste; Poptimists swapping rare Gwen Stefani remixes, Swedish popstress Robyn the new alternative icon. Internationally, pop is still striding forth: Ciara bringing the bubblecrunk, Rhianna with the reaggeton. Kelly Clarkson sits atop her pedestal after providing the best pop song of the past few years in ‘Since U Been Gone’, as Hillary Duff, Avril, La Lohan et all unleash their river of black eyelinered angst below her. The boundaries keep getting pushed, the heart of pop stays beating merrily to the latest jaunty tune, and I keep dancing.

But Britain? Those guitar acts used to sit alongside traditional, S Club pop fare – they were the cool substitute, the balancing force, Stereophonics bringing their croaking animus to Kylie’s sparkly gold-pant-clad anima – now it’s they who are the mainstream. There is no manufactured music in any meaningful quantity to rebel against – it’s ‘real’ musicians as far as the jaded eye can see. British A&Rs have self-censored to the point of absurdity.

Yes, we have Rachel. Yes, we have Girls Aloud. Yes, there’s Richard X and Xenomania and… Well? The former launched off a consistent hit-making group of the pop band era, the latter were backed by the multi-million audience of a reality TV show. Look around for the continually revolving stable of Top 20 B- and C-listers giving us a couple of pop gems before they recede back into obscurity: there’s none to be found. Charlotte Church gave us one fun single and a lacklustre album. Labels would rather re-release ‘I Predict a Riot’ for the umpteenth time than put money into a new pop act that has an ounce of risk attached to it.

Even the patented electro-pop blueprints that proved so resistant to the rockist purge and now sounding lifeless. ‘So Good’ barely scraped Top 10 status with its perfunctory chilled beats, while as you can tell, ‘Long Hot Summer’ is an underwhelming by-numbers effort that doesn’t even come close to the spine-shivers of ‘No Good Advice’. It’s as if the producers are still clinging to their sound-desks, unsure of any new direction. New Rioisin Murphey. New Goldfrapp. It’s polished, perfect, but I’ve heard it all before.

And then I saw the new Mark Owen video flashing before my eyes. Leaping around in an indie-boy T-shirt, real musicians strumming away in his background, the survivor himself was telling me everything will be alright. Because he believes in the boogie.

Times are changing
Everything will come around
We're just moving in circles, baby
All or nothing
Everything will come around.

Lycra-clad boybands and their synchronised moves rose and fell. We had Steps, we had S Club. Boybands rose and fell again - Diane Warren ballads, suits and all. We had A1 and 5ive; we had the Sugababes and Mysteeq; Busted and the Faders.

This isn’t the end. Pop evolves, it’s in the very fabric of the genre to innovate - pushing the boundaries of sound forward with imagination and a recklessness that Athlete and the Rakes can’t even begin to comprehend. Remember where you were when you first heard those decisive opening notes of ‘Baby One More Time?’ Or how about when Ms Stefani pulled you to the dance-floor with such crazy, infectious power in ‘What Are You Waiting For?’

Pop has risen before, and it will do so again. Until that day arrives, and the grey mundanety of the British charts can crumble away into sparkle and joy, I’ll be here playing Clor as loud as my neighbours will allow.


Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek

"Ransom notes keep falling out your mouth/ Mid-sweet talk/ Newspaper word cut-outs."

Download (File live as of 25/11/05)

I don't know what to say.

It’s not my job to be lost for words. It’s my job to be pithy and adoring, in a multi-syllabic and somewhat sarcastic fashion. With extended metaphors, Lindsay Lohan references and perhaps even a little Swedish thrown in for good measure.

Even when something moves me, I can usually muster a few good paragraphs. The bass line, chord progression; the dip of the vocals, the thrum of a speedy bridge section. But this? This is something more than even I can fit into phrasing.

Because for a moment, I’m no longer jaded, remote. For a moment, there’s nothing but the purity of a sound that transcends my usual existence; something sweet. Something deep. Something other.

There’s a force to this. Swelling, soaring, perfectly poised and playing with my heartstrings as if the sound is wired taut right the way through me; the fall and lifts tumbling along my bloodstream – each lilt a shallow intake of breath, every dive a weight to drag me further down.

Yes, it’s that kind of experience. And if the indierock4eva guys want to get on my case? :shrugs: So be it.


Avril Lavigne - Freak Out

"Walk around with your hands up in the air, like you don't care."

Two things you should probably know before I get into this: I really like the big singles from Busted and I really, really like the big singles from Evanescence. This Avril track, from her sadly-overlooked last album, isn't a big single, but hot damn, it shoulda been, because it sounds like a perfect combination of the two bands previously mentioned.

The first Avril album was always something of a disappointment to me, because the particular sound the Matrix were working there wasn't fully embracing the hard-pop-rock glory they clearly wanted to, and while I understand why--ease the listening public into it etc.--I love that those who followed in their footsteps, including the Matrix themselves, just kept making things sound harder and louder.

So "Freak Out" starts with something gloomy and black and melodic, like Evanescence (harmonics, whee!), and even does the stutter thing they love so much. But then, whoosh, we're into this glorious, bang-your-head-gleefully major-key hook that's so obvious it's like a nice warm hug of distorted guitars, and the verse vocals, while maybe a bit too sullen, can't hide their power-pop glory. (If there's a downside to "Freak Out," it's that there's no guitar solo that just repeats the verse melody, because that would be awesomely fantastic.)

But what the hell is she talking about in the chorus? "Just freak out, let it go"? I'm confused. If you freak out that doesn't seem like a good thing. But aha, she is saying, do not worry about the people who will call you a spaz, just go ahead and go nuts, and "live your life" "put up a fight" etc. etc. empowerment etc. Kind of dubious, but cool! Us spazzes can always use the support.

Oh, oh, plus: acoustic guitar break! Man.

By Mike Barthel, who has a blog and writes for Flagpole and Stylus, and also likes narcoleptic puppies.


Paris Hilton - Screwed (Alex G remix)

"When you need someone just to have a little fun/ I could be the perfect girl for you."

How do I love thee, Paris? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth of your vanity and height
Your vast ego (and heels) can reach, when feeling out of sight
Of public eye, oops! Another porn tape will leak.
I love thee as the zeitgeist starlet of today’s
Celebrity-worshipping need, by red carpet and paparazzi flashlight.
I love the music, breathy strained vocals pitched low and beats strung tight;
I love the lyrics, such cynical metanarration on your lays.
I love all you represent as a transient epitome
Of stardom for its own narcissistic end, not in pursuit of power but to sell
Your self; perpetual sustaining force for US Weekly
Gawker, Page Six too – we follow the trials of Tinkerbell,
Nipple-slips, bruises, all the feuding! – and, if you choose indiscreetly,
A pop career too, I shall but love thee for that as well.


M2M - Everything

“I remember you couldn’t get enough/ You felt it too/ How dare you.”

Ah, the perky strains of post-break-up Scandi pop!

That’s right, he’s gone and left you; sweet lipglossed pout, pastel coloured guitar, neatly boot-cut denim and everything. So whatcha gonna do girl? Dye your hair, hire Max Martin and trash the place? Angst away in dark eyeliner, chanting the mantra of how you’re better off without him as you flirt outrageously with unsuitable men? Or even the last resort: sinking into a sullen pit of praline ice-cream and ANTM re-runs?

None of the above, my dear! You’ve got your Nordic charm and best friend to fall back on. Instead, a rigorous program of reminiscence, poignant wallowing and pleas is called for - especially since its summertime, and all the world is taunting you with their togetherness.

On with the jaunty chords and cutely bubbling late 90s pop production! On with those plaintive reminders of just how much he’s ignoring you! On with the obsessive detail listing, because you’re nothing if not an overdramatic teenage girl, and by god this is the end of your world! And you know that something hurting this badly had better lead to creative genius or financial gain (preferably both), since otherwise, why the hell could we coat it with sugar and put ourselves through it every time?


DaVinChe ft. Katie & Kano - Leave Me Alone

"Sip my Alizé to taste it / Then he's lookin' at me but he's wasted / I try to walk away but he takes hold of my waist / That's one thing I really hate"

I came here with my girls to roll.

It's a classic scene, one played out in clubs up and down the country every weekend. Many of you will have been that girl, the one who discovers that the downside to looking so fabulous that all heads in the club are turned is that you have to spend the rest of the night playing cat-and-mouse with lecherous drunk blokes. Some of you may even have been that boy, the one who's so pissed that he thinks that girl is genuinely into him and who never realises just how close he came to being smacked upside the head.

Grime artists have a knack for perfectly capturing these everyday memes - brief encounters and momentary feelings which are replayed so often that finding yourself in a situation like this feels like being trapped in a situationist loop, being drawn into an act where "all the world's a stage" becomes a nightmare. Still, Katie Pearl (r'n'g diva supreme) and Kano (smoothest grime MC around) make for fantastic players. Katie's haughty and calm, riding the storm of DaVinChe's incredible production (reeling Playstation shoot-'em-up noises, crunching stutterbeats, circling strings) with ease, detaching herself firmly from the commonness of the situation through her Ciara-esque icy dismissal. She provides just the bare bones of the narrative, but evokes an entire mise-en-scène with every line. Kano, meanwhile, abandons his smooth guy persona to butt in on Katie inappropriately, oblivious to the way she's looking down her nose at his drunken attempts to woo her with lame, clichéd chat-up lines. Freeze that frame; replay every Saturday night.

By Alex Macpherson, writer for Plan B and Stylus