Archives for September 2010

Tinie Tempah ft. Eric Turner - 'Written In The Stars'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:37 UK time, Thursday, 30 September 2010

Tinie Tempah

Little word of advice. Do NOT pay special attention to the way Eric Turner sings in this song. In particular, try really hard NOT to focus on the way he breathes. The way he gasps and gags in between every line - particular after "seasons come and go" - could, to some ears, be considered monumentally distracting. And once you've spotted it, it could possibly ruin your enjoyment of the song as a whole.

Not that there's anything wrong with his singy bits, I might add. That epic, power-ballad howl acts as an angelic counterpoint to Tinie's grubby snicker. Eric is all heart and brain and lofty ambitions about fate and destiny, while Tinie is all groin and lizard-throat and funny-bone and elbow-in-the-ribs, and sharp tongue.

Between them, they make a perfectly-rounded and human whole.

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Kylie - 'Get Outta My Way'

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Fraser McAlpine | 14:42 UK time, Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Kylie

There are times when it seems like the whole field of dancey pop music (or poppy dance music, it's a strangely ill-defined field) consists of nothing but reflections, refractions and reinterpretations of one song - 'Music Sounds Better With You' by Stardust.

This is nothing to complain about, of course. Even after all these years - 12, to be precise - 'Music Sounds Better With You' casts a powerful spell in a way that a lot of the other filter-disco astonishments that followed in its wake, and the stuff that came before it, could never quite match.

It's almost as if producers are constantly attempting to strike out in fresh, bold new directions with their music, but somehow find themselves in familiar territory as soon as they realise that in order to do the job right, hey're going to need euphoric, strident chords, and a four-to-the-floor bass drum, and a sense of swooshy motion, as if you've just been picked up by Superman and taken for a speedy tour of the world.

There really is no better way to say what that song says, you see. Or at least, not one that has been found as yet.

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Labrinth - 'Let The Sunshine'

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:54 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

Labrinth

Some songs contain a perfect sense of time and place. You can listen to them on a bus in the rain, in a ditch in the snow, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and they'll always sound like a moonlit jog, or a moshpit in the middle of a hot festival afternoon.

This song, for example, has the sense of woozy dislocation that comes from having stayed up too late having a brilliant time - maybe even all night - and then trying to function the next day. You're still you, you've got the endorphins whooshing around your system from all the fun you've been having, but your mind has yet to connect with the world at large and you can't really get it together to say anything, in case your throat falls out.

You could be making toast, you could be brushing your teeth or walking to the shops, but somehow reality feels different to the way it normally does. The sun feels wrong on your skin, there's a buzzing behind your eyes, you are powerfully aware of your own body and the moaning, sagging weight of it.

And worst of all, everyone else seems to be totally fine.

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Charice ft. Iyaz - 'Pyramid'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:40 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

Charice

Ladies and gentlemen, people who have not been paying attention, sceptics and believers alike, I give you, the female Justin Bieber!

OK, the hair is different, and the voices don't quite match up - he's more Mickey Mouse with a sore throat, and she's more junior Beyonce - but what they do share, apart from extreme youth, is the strange experience of being massively popular on YouTube, and managing to turn this into success in the wider world of entertainment.

Here's how it worked. Five years ago Charice appeared on a TV talent show in the Phillipines. She did OK, reaching the final, and then the Top 3. Clips of her performances were put on YouTube, then lots and lots of people watched them.

A couple of years later, she appeared on another TV show, this time in South Korea. And then the performances from that were put on YouTube and lots and lots of people watched them too.

After this, it all gets a bit showbiz. American TV chat shows started to get her on, then UK TV shows like Paul O'Grady, and all the while the video clip pile is growing and more and more people are watching her do her thing. Until eventually there's a flurry of ridiculous celebrity names and international acclaim: Oprah, Celine, Bocelli, Alvin and the Chipmunks...and now she's even managed to nab a role in the next series of Glee.

Katie, Cheryl, Robbie, you are going to have to UP your GAME if you wanna compete with that little lot.

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Bruno Mars - 'Just The Way You Are'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:18 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Bruno Mars

Sorry, I can't seem to get my thoughts in order today. I should really have written this a while ago, but instead I find...I...er... Hmm? Oh right, right...

See, I'm trying as hard as I can, but something keeps pulling at the edges of my ability to focus...on...whaaaat...I'mmmm....sorry, what? Oh yes! I was just saying. Try as I might, I can't seem to get it together to concentrate on the job of making words and sentences out of what happens when this song is playing because...because...it's...just...

Does anyone else find Bruno Mars to be an unsettlingly handsome man? I don't necessarily mean that he's hot, that's kind of a matter of personal taste, far more than whether someone counts as handsome or not, but c'mon, look at that picture! He's just...so...so...

Bear with me, I'm just gonna tape something over that bit of my monitor.

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Danny Byrd ft. I-Kay - 'Ill Behaviour'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:46 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Danny Byrd

Oh HELLO! This is a bit more like it.

Clearly the world of drum and bass is a broad church. There is room for doomy, scary things, there is room for bright, sparkly things, and there is room for lively, geezerish things. If I had to express a preference - and let's be clear, this is a REVIEW on a BLOG, that's opinion times personal equals probably won't see things the way everyone else does - it would be for the sparkly/geezer end of things, rather than the doomy/scary.

And this is because, for me, dancing is not about pulling an angry face. It's about letting all that stuff go, and surrendering to the healing, improving qualities of dynamic, uplifting music. It's about sound pummelling the base of my neck like a masseur, beating the cares of the world out and lifting me up and out of the mire.

Throw in a bunch of stuff about pestilence and horror, and I'm back to worrying again.

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Scissor Sisters - 'Any Which Way'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:03 UK time, Sunday, 19 September 2010

Scissor Sisters

Gentle reader, I do not know about you, but I for one am SHOCKED and APPALLED that the state of modern popular music should come to this. How, in all good conscience, can we allow our nation's youth to leave the house of an evening, knowing that they are going to be exposed to this utter filth, and worse, use it as a soundtrack to an evening of dancing, and laughing, as if it is the most natural thing in the world?

Should we all sit idly by, while a song which is this unashamedly lascivious and riotously obsessed with matters of a sexual nature sits mocking us in the music purchasing retail outlets of this fair and decent land? Or the music purchasing retail outlets of this unfair and occasionally unpleasant cyberspaceland? Should we ignore the barely-coded messages, hidden within its intoxicating grooves, and just hope they won't cause untold devastation to the moral fibre of the entire WORLD?

I mean LISTEN TO IT! It's...it's...DIRTY!

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Nicki Minaj - 'Your Love'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:24 UK time, Saturday, 18 September 2010

Nicki Minaj

It must be murder being a songwriter these days. You've got ten squintillion other would-be tunesmiths all chasing the same tiny drip of inspiration, you've got an audience who have proven time and again that they can be distracted by almost anything, and you've got one topic which you ignore at your peril - love, obv - but which has been raked over more times than the strands of hair in Homer Simpson's combover.

Props then, to Nicki, for *cough* Minajing to come up with something new-ish to say on the topic, while still borrowing heavily from other people's work.

In case you're struggling to place it, that "doobee-doobee-DO-do-do...aaAAaah!" sample is taken from Annie Lennox's 'No More I Love Yous', a brief meditation on the frustrating and terrifying things which can happen when you let your guard down.

Nicki's version of events is very different. She's got hard evidence that it might just all be worth it after all.

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Manic Street Preachers - '(It's Not War) Just The End of Love'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:29 UK time, Friday, 17 September 2010

Manic Street Preachers

Sometimes art and life are too contradictory to fully process, as an observer.

In the same week that Manic Street Preachers make their return to the UK charts with a song which sonically owes a lot to their Imperial Period - the 'Everything Must Go' album, released after the disappearance of their lyricist/guitarist Richey Edwards - extracts from a new novel appear on the internet. It's called 'Richard', it's been written by Ben Myers, and it tries to capture Richey's internal monologue during the band's early career, and therefore tell his side of a very sad story.

Had the book been written a couple of years ago, when the Manics put together 'Journal For Plague Lovers' - an album based on unused Richey lyrics - it would have at least been timely. Now it just seems pointed and a little insensitive that the two things are around at the same time.

Having read the serialised chapter in the NME, all I can add to the debate is to say that I hope Mr Myers had a lot of fun writing it.

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Iyaz - 'So Big'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:10 UK time, Thursday, 16 September 2010

Iyaz

Romance is clearly a very subjective thing. Some people like to feel like the world has been stopped from spinning, clocks have been silenced, howler monkeys corked and all dog poo vaporised forever, just for them. Others prefer a quiet night in with a decent film and a stack of toffee popcorn.

So a song which tries to win over a potential new girlfriend just by insisting that there will be spending and enjoyment of equal or larger value to the size of the love on offer, with the proviso that the love in question is itself of significant volume, just to give a decent estimate of scale...well it's not going to please everyone.

People who don't like equations are going to be put right off, for starters.

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Maroon 5 - 'Misery'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:15 UK time, Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Things I quite like about Maroon 5:

1: The way they seem to suggest that pop music is Real Man's Work, by making so many of their songs a bit pneumatic and muscley, and playing them as if they are lifting weights. And by having dirty videos.

2: The marked influence of Michael Jackson upon their music, without having to over-use the tremulous vocal quiver or go "HEE-hee!" or "DAH!" at the end of every line.

3: They are fundamentally Good At Music.

Things I do not like about Maroon 5:

1: The tunes, even though some of them are good, do not match up to the amount of cocky Adam Levine is.

2: Good At Music can be awfully dreary at times.

3: See point two, and underline it. Several times.

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Pendulum - 'The Island (Part 1)'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:59 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

GCSE Music students! People with too much time on their hands! I have a project for you.

We are going to recreate Pendulum's latest song, without using any musical instruments at all, and there's every chance we'll do a better job of it than they have.

And we're doing this because someone's got to put the spark of human life back into it. Outside of the live drum and bass arena, where Pendulum make a lot more sense, this is just a slightly pompous, Basshuntery stab at a conventional dance anthem. It's got everything a dance anthem would have - the drums filter in and out, there's a build-up and a breakdown, and a big refrain which repeats often - but sonically it's all too preset and freeze-dried, and way too cheesy to be convincing, unless you were trying to write a national anthem for bees.

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Ke$ha - 'Take It Off'

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:05 UK time, Monday, 13 September 2010

Kesha

So, it's finally getting an official release after weeks in the charts. Are you ever slightly suspiciuous about why certain songs exist, and what they are trying to do? Do you ever wonder whether they're attempting to truly nail a feeling that most of us have experienced, or would like to experience, or if they're just trying to cross as many items off a To-Do list as possible?

I ask this because there are a moments in this particular song when it becomees transparently clear that her job is not so much to get a party started as to annoy the parents of unruly teenage children. The idea being that you are far more likely to want to buy something that your parents disapprove of, because that is the way pop music has always worked in the past. Nothing is more guaranteed to distract a young mind like your dad tutting and switching the radio off whenever a song comes on.

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Linkin Park - 'The Catalyst'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:19 UK time, Sunday, 12 September 2010

Linkin Park

See? It's not just terrifying dinosaurs who evolve into pretty birds, scowling rock bands can do it too!

Although, to be honest, we're not quite at the full peacock phase yet. This is more of a triceratops with feathers. It still carries a lot of recogniseable features which make its family history easy to identify, but they're buried under an unsettlingly new coat, all the better to re-appreciate their singular charms and strange angles.

For example, Chester Bennington is still a very ferocious presence on his songs, isn't he? I mean, Mike Shinoda can huff with the best of them, but Chester is something else. Even when the band are reaching out for a new sound to wrap themselves around, he's still there with that paper-shredding voice of his, huffing up a storm and generally acting like a very stressed man who has lost his last fiver and found a dog poo in his slippers.

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Emma's Imagination - 'Focus'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:51 UK time, Saturday, 11 September 2010

Emma's Imagination

OK, here's the deal. For every TV-related chart entry that gets into the Top 10, I'm gonna throw a review their way* - they're clearly doing SOMETHING right after all - and then crowbar in a few words for some other songs that don't quite have the same level of promotional oomph. That way we're neither snarking unduly at these performers who are new to the public eye, or leaving out other acts who deserve a bit of coverage.

This then, is this week's Pepper and Piano: a song which is being bought in some quantity after an appearance on This Must Be The Music. It's probably important to say that this isn't the only song to appear on the show in the last seven days, so even though there's an element of well-of-course-it's-going-to-chart to proceedings, Emma Gillespie has done better than her fellow contestants (and a LOT of seasoned pop stars) because she has a beautiful voice and a very nice song.

It doesn't START like a very nice song, mind. There are a lot of guitar minstrels out there who know how to throw a couple of plangent chords together and moan like Stevie Nicks. What they don't always have is the ability to freeze time around a massively distracting pop hook - in this case it's the "bay-bay-bay-bay-bay-bay-bay-bay-bay-bay-BAY-beh" bit. It's not an easy trick to pull off, cos you need the right idea, the right setting for it, and the right voice to deliver it.

But if you get it right, you don't need to have Dizzee Rascal nodding at you to get through to people. Although clearly it helps.

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Foals - 'Spanish Sahara'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:16 UK time, Friday, 10 September 2010

Foals

A little absence can be a powerful thing.

If you imagine the Top 40 to be a constant party where everyone's having a great time all the time, apart from the occasional sobbing diva on the stairs and angry shouting men fighting in the street outside, this song doesn't really fit in. Unless your idea of a good night out involves a moment where the four horsemen of the apocalypse burst through the wall in immaculate 3-D slow-motion, and bring everything to a crashing halt. Where there was hubbub, there is nothing but icy quiet. Not the mere absence of noise, the kind of bruised calm you get when the air is electrified, and something awful is just about to happen, the kind of quiet you get just before a lightning strike.

And then, in a quiet voice that seems to come from everywhere at once, Pestilence wetly informs all the club bunnies and disco dudes that their time on Earth, fleeting as it was, has now come to an abrupt halt.

It is less of a song, in this context, and more of a full stop.

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Die Antwoord - 'Enter The Ninja'

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Fraser McAlpine | 16:03 UK time, Thursday, 9 September 2010

Die Antwoord

Stop giggling! Stoppit! Ninja - Die Antwoord's scaryfaced rapper - does NOT look like the kind of man who will take kindly to the idea that his breakthrough moment, his one chance to settle the score with all the haters, is in ANY WAY COMICAL. This is SERIOUS BUSINESS! I MEAN IT! STOP LAUGHING! Clearly what he has to say is coming straight from the heart, and it is cruel to mock someone when they are speaking honestly.

Although, if you take into account that his real name is Watkin Tudor Jones, that he's been involved in South African hip hop for years, under various different names, and he will be 36 years old in October and rapping as if he's a hot-headed, super-violent young mega-thug, maybe 'honestly' is the wrong word to use.

I dunno if it's the accent, but there's an uncanny sonic resemblance between Ninja here and Jonah from BBC Three's high school comedy Summer Heights High. If you've not seen it, Jonah's a 13-year-old with a rough background, and he just wants to be a rapper and breakdancer when he grows up. He can't stop himself from swearing and he's a bit of a thug, but only because he wants a bit of attention. He is played by Chris Lilley, who will be 36 in November.

Which does beg the question...is this a gag? Are Die Antwoord essentially Grumpy Lookin' Chain. And if they are, does it matter?

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Stromae - 'Alors On Danse'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:57 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Stromae

Cards on the table, for a while there I wasn't gonna bother reviewing this at all. Not because there's anything wrong with it, you understand. It is, after all made up of a truly monolithic synth riff, the kind of thing you could build a sonic Stonehenge out of. And then adorned with a silly wheezily cheesy 'n cheap saxophone sample: you can't tell me they paid a real sax player to make his cherished horn sound like that. 

The ace in the hole is the brilliantly bored-sounding Belgian voice intoning the title, and a few choice observations about the point of our measly existance, over the top. Even his most engaged and exciteable moment, the drunken "la-la" refrain, is riddled with a sneer made up of pure "oh MUST I?"

What, I ask you, is there not to love about that?

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Robyn - 'Hang With Me'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:54 UK time, Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Robyn

It's always great when a song comes with a little bit of room in it, a little space to play around in. It doesn't have to be much, just the sense that there is something incomplete in what you are listening to, something that you have to fill in for yourself.

That's not to say everything has to sound unfinished, just that you don't have to either explain or repeat every single impulse that went into making the song. You also don't have to make everything childishly simple. Clear is good, but if you leave some of your thoughts unfinished, and let everyone else finish them for you, it's almost like a conversation.

This is a perfect example. A fairly straightforward early-days relationship song about trust, from the perspective of someone who's a bit too tightly buttoned-up to let her defences down. She'd like to, but she's not going to.

It's also a song which raises questions left and right, and refuses to answer a single one of them.

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Example - 'Last Ones Standing'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:39 UK time, Monday, 6 September 2010

Example

We've all got friends for whom pop music is not a big thing. They might feel they're above it, or too old to get excited about it nowadays, as if the ears suddenly turn to cardboard once you're past a certain age. They still well up if a song has been used appropriately in a TV drama or a film, and they'll be up on the dance-floor with everyone else if the situation demands it, but otherwise it's not an abiding passion.

I also have friends like this, and we've never really felt the need to discuss or debate the issue. I'm into music, they're into cricket or literature or toast or whatever and that's just the way it is. However, recently there's been a change. Two of my non-music friends, entirely independently of each other, recently admitted to being rather partial to the songs of Example. They didn't even really know who he was, they just heard some tunes and decided they liked them.

Now, from a sample group of this size it is not possible to draw scientifically significant conclusions, but if it was, would that not rather suggest that Example's sonic stylings are stronger than normal music? Strong enough to break past years of indifference and avoidance?

Or would it just mean that he literally makes music for people who do not like music?

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The Script - 'For The First Time'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:34 UK time, Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Script

Ah poor old the Script. How tough it must be to find yourself the million-plus-selling band whose light, if you took it out of the musical firmament, would be replaced by the overspill from all the other similar stars, before it had even properly been extinguished. The cash might help lessen the blow for a while, of course, but the fact remains we don't NEED them, there are other people who can do the job just as well.

Oh sure, they can rock a mid-tempo grown-up pop song, they can throw some hip hop delivery into their songwriting mix, and they can emote gruffly like nobody's business, but when you get right down to brass tacks, they're just a grizzled Keane, with him out of the Courteeners scatting his way through the Bon Jovi songbook over the top.

And it's no use singing about how times are hard, Mr Danny, I haven't even STARTED yet.

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Justin Bieber - 'U Smile'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:47 UK time, Saturday, 4 September 2010

If nothing else, the existence of Justin Bieber has been a useful lightening rod to draw out crazy people from all walks of life and encourage them to make their presence known across the internet.

I'm not talking about his fans, you understand, it's perfectly rational to be massively into a good-looking pop star, especially if you're young and he seems to be singing directly to you in an inviting way. No, the people I mean are those who would seek to destroy Justin and his work, via the medium of saying hateful things while hiding behind a fake name.

There's been no end of it. It's like you're not really at one with the modern web world if you can't express where you stand. Battle lines have been drawn and everything.

Last month, for example, there was a minor kerfuffle around this song, because a musician called Shamantis edited it so that it was 800-times slower, turning it from a cute, '50s-style pop song into a startling half-hour ambient epic.

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Mark Ronson & The Business Intl ft. Kyle Falconer & Spank Rock - 'The Bike Song'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:57 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

Pop music often searches to find the eternal in the everyday. Songs attempt to freeze time around one emotional moment - I haven't got enough money! I wish I could wish on a falling star! Girls are sexy! - and to make sure it's communicated to as many people as possible, it'll often take place in the most mundane of locations: a street, the house you grew up in, a nightclub.

It's partly because gems often shine brighter when placed against a dull background, and partly a way to bring extra reality to the situation, so it feels truer. In the same way that we all tend to sit up and take a bit more notice of a film that says that it is based on a true story.

This is why it's a good idea to write a song with a bike in it. It's not just a fun hook to hang a lyric from, it speaks to our inner child. Most of us have ridden a bike, right? Well this sings to the part of us that yearns for a simpler life, free of boring distractions.

In fact (drumroll) it's not just a pop song, it's an integral part of the cycle of life (TISH!).

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Pepper & Piano - 'You Took My Heart'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:38 UK time, Thursday, 2 September 2010

Pepper & Piano

True fact: This song made Fearne Cotton cry. Out of her EYES, dammit!

It all happened on the Sky 1 sort-of-like-the-X-Factor-but-the-judges-are-all-off-Later-With-Jools musical talent show Must Be The Music. You all know the setup by now. Three judges, a big audition arena show, a presenter backstage talking to the acts before they go on. Two girls walk up to Fearne, who is basically the 'Dermot' in this situation. One is called Katie Pepper and the other is called Emma, she plays the piano, hence the name. They are from Manchester and they are excited and nervous.

Emma reveals she has had some troubles in her life, and that making music with Katie has helped her pull herself together. They then take to the stage. Then The Magic happens:

Instead of performing an off-key version of an Alicia Keys song, or even a bland re-write of an even blander recent pop ballad, Emma strikes up some dour chords, and then Katie opens her mouth and sings up a great big bruise. A massive black-eye of a song. An 'Everybody Hurts' where literally everybody hurts.

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McFly - 'Party Girl'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:32 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

McFly

How much YOWSA! can a single campaign sustain without causing serious injury? First the revelation came that the occasionally slightly doughy, occasionally skinny McFly boys have been spending some SERIOUS time in the gym, to the extent that they're all now super-buff. They chose to reveal this fact by - how else? - posing nude on the cover of Attitude magazine.

It was, and is, quite an eye-catching image. Grown women have been known to spend a LOT of time examining this picture with a thoughtful look on their eyes. Grown men too. It's that kind of a picture. And that's before anyone knew there was a sexy vampire video too.

Then there's the shock revelation that they've incorporated those saturated club synths into their pop-rock sound, courtesy of Dallas Austin, who produced their new album. I say 'shock' as if the idea of a pop band using an established pop noise in their pop music was actually a shocking thing, knowing full well it's really not. But nevertheless, it's an unexpected sonic innovation, especially as they're not being used to push the band into Enter Shikari / Pendulum dance-rock territory.

There's even talk of a Taio Cruz-penned McFly single coming soon. I know!

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