Archives for October 2010

An Ugly Chat With Siva From The Wanted

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:07 UK time, Saturday, 30 October 2010

There now follows a transcript of a conversation between myself and Siva from out of the Wanted. In preparing myself for the rigours of this most challenging of conversations, I had been listening to the band's album on repeat for most of the day, and had become more than a little intrigued by a song called 'Let's Get Ugly', which samples the theme music to a famous old cowboy film.

This seemed like quite a strident move by such a young pop act, and something which they should definitely be congratulated for doing. So, y'know, that's what I did.

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Roll Deep ft. Alesha Dixon - 'Take Control'

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Fraser McAlpine | 14:10 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

Roll Deep

Look at this picture. eleven men, one Roll Deep. Do you know what that says to me? It says here are eleven fellas who probably spend quite a lot of time queuing in order to do their job, or waiting to have another go, once theirs has finished. They might cover it up with an arm in the air or two, a walk from one side of the stage to the other, a moody stare into the crowd, some bouncy high-fives, and a certain amount of joining in at the end of each line, but when you get right down to it, it's all just queueing.

And to make matters worse, sometimes the queue is barged by a singer. Someone who isn't actually even IN Roll Deep. They've be brought in on chorus duties, taking precious rhyme time away from people who've been in the queue for ages, actually. It's not fair, just because they can provide some melodic light relief from all of that truth-spitting, that they get to stroll right to the front. That's basically added an extra thirty seconds of arm waving and an agreeable "yeah yeah" or two, right there.

So don't be surprised if you notice that some of the more backgroundy Deepers are subtly shooting daggers at Alesha during her bits. They're only worried that they won't get a go on the mic.

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Nadine - 'Insatiable'

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:21 UK time, Thursday, 28 October 2010

Nadine

So, the tabloid hooey that it would be uncharitable to mention in relation to this song can be summarised thus:

Nadine's song is out a week later than Cheryl's. It is like Blur vs Oasis all over again.


Nadine's album is out a week later than Cheryl's. It is like Take That vs East 17 all over again.

Nadine and the other Aloud girls might not be getting on as well as they would like you to believe. It is like Robbie vs Take That all over again.

Nadine might not do as well with her solo album as Cheryl will with hers. This is possibly because one of these women is a key part of a hugely popular weekly TV talent show, and is currently enjoying national treasure status, and the other has yet to prove that she can break out of the constraints of being Nadine from out of Girls Aloud. It is like Sabrina Washington vs Alesha Dixon all over again.

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Nelly - 'Just A Dream'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:07 UK time, Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Nelly

Are you feeling alright? Everything OK in your world at the moment? Nothing troubling you too much, I hope? I mean sure, we're all getting a bit blue now the summer is properly over and the days are getting shorter. The clocks go back this weekend and it's easy to let your thoughts turn to bleak topics, now the sun isn't providing such an eternal supply of that seratonin we all need to keep emotions on an even keel.

But otherwise, you're basically doing alright, yes?

I only ask because there are so many hits around which aim to offer some kind of reassurance or helpful advice in times of stress; Bruno Mars, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth, wearers of hearts on sleeves to a man. And you're the people who are buying their songs.

And now here's Nelly, a man whose most notable hits to date have largely been concerned with going out and clubbing and looking at girls and being hot. And what's he suddenly decided to sing about? Sloppy love stuff. Sad sloppy love stuff about losing someone and feeling the void and wondering what the point of everything is.

Hell, even CLUBBING has lost its appeal now. In a NELLY SONG. WHAT IS GOING ON, WORLD?

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Cheryl Cole - 'Promise This'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:01 UK time, Sunday, 24 October 2010

Cheryl Cole

Some people are very good at leading lives in which things happen. Not always nice things, but things nevertheless. Good things, bad things, some amazing, some terrible, all in a fairly constant stream of constant upheaval which, if you could just stop and examine one thing at a time, would be the stuff of family legend.

Taken all at once, and the patience of friends and relatives starts to wear thin. It's almost as if they think you're doing it on purpose.

"You've WHAT?", they'll splutter, "you've seperated AND got malaria AND recorded a new album AND been a judge on the X Factor AND been at the centre of a huge tabloid row about your choices as a judge AND made a video as a ballerina AND had a bit of an argument with your boss about something AND started divorce proceedings..? Don't you ever take a day off? I'm exhausted just LISTING all that stuff!"

Such is the life of Cheryl Cole/Tweedy. And if it has led her to make some interesting song decisions, well that's all grist to the mill too.

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Rihanna - 'Only Girl (In The World)'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:44 UK time, Saturday, 23 October 2010

Rihanna

Did anyone else have to suppress an involuntary shudder on first hearing this song? Did it worry anyone? Was anyone else's immediate reaction to wonder where we are going with this imperious pop music thing, and exactly how much haughty, snarling distain you can cram into on three-minute pop song without it causing gas embolisms among the weak-hearted and poorly? I know mine was.

It's not the fault of this song alone, but for some reason, recend developments in popular sound have pushed the humble pop song into scarily intense areas, and the long term health effects have yet to be fully explored. I mean listen to the pneumatic hiss at the heart of this song. Try and endure the pumping thrust without getting winded. There is simply too much pressure being stuffed into our ears, with too much brutal force. Heads are going to blow, you mark my words.

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Devlin ft. Yasmin - 'Runaway'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:36 UK time, Friday, 22 October 2010

Devlin

I'll admit to feeling a little sceptical about this fella at first. For all that it was only supposed to be a calling-card, 'Brainwashed' didn't really showcase Devlin's story-telling skills, and apart from a couple of sharp one-liners, it wasn't clear why exactly he was as good as he said he was.

Now I know. It's because he can come up with a line like "burning rubber over gravel until we see the English channel" in the middle of a song like this. A song which is - musically at least - not that startling. Just another four-chord churnaround based loosely on those Pachelbel changes N-Dubz used for 'We Dance On'.

But given the benefit of Dev's precision wordplay, and his urgent delivery, it's transformed into something darkly optimistic, quietly brilliant, and poetic in a really unpoetic way.

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Diana Vickers - 'My Wicked Heart'

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:53 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

Oh THERE it is! That's what you lot were all banging on about when you said Diana was a different kind of reality TV contestant from the usual mob! Cos to be frank, I was starting to wonder if you were talking about someone else. I mean X Factor contestants are usually determined and passionate and all of that, but rarely quite as dogged and sure as this one, and what's more, her struggles seem to have paid off.

That Diana Vickers has a solo career at all is some kind of triumph of her determined square-peggery in an industry which often demands their pegs to be not only round, but small enough to slip through the template hole without touching the side. She put her first single out long after the buzz around her X Factor appearances had passed. She put her second out, and it didn't seem to do quite as well as the first. This is usually the point at which the story of an X Factor pop star fizzles out.

But not our Diana, oh no...

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Jay Sean ft. Nicki Minaj - '2012 (It Ain't The End)'

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Fraser McAlpine | 14:24 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Jay Sean and Nicki Minaj

If I was involved in the organisation of the next Olympic Games, I'd be finding this song a bit worrying. I mean all this banging on about 2012 being the end of the world. Do they know something we don't? And if they do, and the world IS going to stop in just 26 short months (or thereabouts, the mystical predictions claim it'll happen on December 21st), wouldn't that make a sporting tournament feel a bit redundant? Even a really big one?

OK, there's a certain thrill to being the last gold medallist ever, I spose. But it would pale pretty rapidly if, during the discus or the high-diving final, the planet suddenly stopped spinng and we all fell off.

You'd feel fairly foolish running up to anyone and waving your medal in their face, given the circumstances. And they would be too busy screaming and trying to hug a loved one to pay much attention. So let's hope it's all fooey.

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Katy Perry - 'Firework'

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:53 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Katy Perry

What is up with Katy Perry's sense of timing? First she releases an album and a single on the same day, undermining the chart position of one with the success of the other; and now she's jumpstarted the release of this, the third single to be taken from that self-same album, by appearing on the X Factor and FORCING people to go out and buy it in droves, before the video is even FINISHED!

Now she's heading up the charts, as you would expect - the X Factor is quite a big show for promoting music, y'know - and the single's official release date isn't until November 15th. That's a MONTH from now.

I suggest we all ignore the song for the next few weeks. Just pretend it isn't there, no matter how hard Katy bellows in our ears. She has to sit back and wait for our attention, at the appropriate moment. She made the appointment in the first place, so we are just going to very calmly keep it, and not let her interrupt herself for once. She has to learn not to go off half-cocked.

You can go ahead and insert your own joke here, if you like.

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The Wanted - 'Heart Vacancy'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:09 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010

The Wanted

I like the Wanted. I like that they're a boyband at a time when boybands are supposed to be dead in the water. I like that the boyband they are most closely modelled on is the Take That of nowadays, which means they're also modelled on recent Boyzone, but have skipped past the dinner jackets and mountain-standing of Westlife, AND the rippling torsos and pneumatics of JLS.

Most of all, I like that they've been working with songwriters who aren't afraid to throw a few clever ideas into the mix, like that amazing "pieces/peace is" pun in All Time Low. What I'm not so sold on is this, their second single.

For starters, it suffers from being over-familiar before it's even finished playing, because it's yet another pop song which takes a fragment of melody and repeats it over a turnaround of doomy chords. For all that people like to claim that music is astonishing because there's an infinite variety of musical ideas, this one trick does seem to keep coming back with depressing regularity.

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N-Dubz - 'Best Behaviour'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:08 UK time, Sunday, 17 October 2010

N-Dubz

The first and most important thing to say about this is that it's impressive the way the director of the video to this song has used clothing to really capture Dappy's fragile mental state. Or at least, the mental state of Dappy as he presents himself in the song, which isn't necessarily the same thing.

He's been squashed flat by the touring lifestyle, he's so battered that he's not sure which way is up, and to illustrate this, the director has chosen to film the video in a glamorous island airfield location, with the band standing in front of a private jet...and he's put Dappy in shorts.

Tulisa's wearing a nice dress, Fazer's got his dark ensemble together, with a silk scarf hanging from his belt, and Dappy looks like he's forgotten to get dressed.

It's not often you see a male pop star in shorts, is it? And definitely not a combination of shorts, a vest, one of those high-school letterman jackets, and shoes with no socks. As an illustration of a man who is sorely in need of someone special in his life - if only to suggest that there's a time for shorts and a time to dress like the pop star you really are - it's pretty perfect.

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Eliza Doolittle - 'Rollerblades'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:22 UK time, Saturday, 16 October 2010

Eliza Doolittle

For an emotion we all yearn to feel, as much as we possibly can, light-hearted skippyfun can be very, very troublesome to capture in popular music. Too much sugar, as we all know, rots the teeth, and makes people feel sick. So it's often a good idea to leaven it with a bit of sourness, just to cleanse the palate.

It's a tough balance to strike though. Too much sour is even worse than too much sweet, cos it curdles the whole confection. Ideally, you'd want a song something like this, something which seems to be full of sunlight and happysighs; something which tumbles through your mind like a carrier bag lifted into the afternoon sky by a gentle breeze.

Unfortunately, the lighter and happier you sound, the more you risk annoying people, rather than carrying them along with your infectious giddiness, so it needs to also have some great big clumping clown feet, just to keep it from disappearing in a puff of twee.

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Duck Sauce - 'Barbra Streisand'

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:46 UK time, Friday, 15 October 2010

Duck Sauce

I'm conducting an experiment. This is a fun song, isn't it? And that's something which pretty much everyone can agree on, right? It's close to being a universally upbeat piece of music, which has been widely praised on the internet and elsewhere for being a great tonic: a cast-iron rocket-powered lift from bad thoughts and a devastatingly effective endorphin tickler.

It's got one of those circular dumb/brilliant refrains that people just love to sing - even if they hate themselves for doing it - it's got the disco euphoria, and it's got a man saying "Barbra Streisand" in a dramatic voice at seemingly random intervals. It's basically happy in a can, assuming you've taken your mp3 player or CD, or a speaker, and, y'know, put it in a can.

Naturally, the scope of the song's potency will need to be put to the test. So what I propose is a kind of emotional barrage, where we examine whether it's possible to break a really bad mood with a really happy song. And ChartBlog being a pretty underfunded laboratory, the only subject I have to work on is myself.

Clipboards at the ready? Let's science!

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Joe McElderry's Ambitions - A Five Minute Chat

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Fraser McAlpine | 11:14 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

Joe McElderry

Did anyone else spot the huge conceptual joke going on at the heart of Joe McElderry's comeback single? To have an X Factor winner releasing his first song outside of the safe glow of his victory, and for that song to have a chorus which goes "ambitions are already starting to fade"? Amazing.

If you thought the song was written on Joe's behalf, you'd have to conclude that someone is trying to warn him to enjoy his time in the limelight while it lasts. Someone like STEVE BROOKSTEIN!

Actually, it wasn't written for him, and in fact, if you're from Norway, you'll already be more than familiar with the song, as performed by Donkeyboy. It was at No.1 in your charts last year. No.1 for THIRTEEN WEEKS. Can you imagine? In terms of obvious song choice, that's like the winner of the Norwegian X Factor doing a 'We No Speak Americano', if that song had stayed at No.1 for twelve more weeks than it did.

Of course, the McElderry version is slightly faster than the original, all the better to hurry the listener towards that lovely chorus. They've made a special feature of it, as Syco acts often do, by making it so much louder than the verses. That's the production equivalent of putting big neon arrows on either side, with a sign saying "Astonishing Chorus Here!".

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The Ting Tings - 'Hands'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:17 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Ting Tings

In the YouTube comments under the official video for this song, a commenter called Kelly (and then a lot of numbers) has reacted to the good news that the Ting Tings are releasing a new song with the following comment: "I know what I could do with two hands..."

It's not clear if this is meant as a threat or an offer of a passionate embrace with either Katie or Jules (or both, you never know), but whatever action is being suggested, it's an extreme one, coming from the kind of strong emotional reaction that this band often seems to provoke in a lot of people.

Their previous singles - 'That's Not My Name', 'Great DJ', the one about shutting up, the one about walking, the other one - were brilliantly bratty, attention-grabbing, day-glo sorts of things. The kind of songs which irritate as many people as they enthrall, which is entirely the way all good pop music should work.

But the thing about brilliant brats is they have an annoying tendency to grow up.

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Pixie Lott - 'Broken Arrow'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:36 UK time, Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pixie Lott

There is no reason why you should be, because the run-up to the release of this song as a proper single has been lengthy to say the least, but IF you are coming at this for the first time, can I make one small recommendation which will hugely improve your experience?

Ignore the vocal trickery: all the rasp and "aaaowww" and hiccuping. Just let it wash over you. If you find yourself clearing your throat while listening, or wondering if you should cottonbud your ears out, it's probably just Pixie trying to emote the lyrics a bit too hard, and that can be distracting. So just try and concentrate on the lyrics for a bit.

It's not too hard to do, there's a nice backwash of clockwork piano and whooshy noises at the beginning, and when the fuzz bass and choir kick in, she's pretty much singing normally again.

Also, once you've let those hoots and squeaks slip by, they're basically gone forever. Second listen, third listen, you won't even notice any more.

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Professor Green - 'Monster'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:04 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

Professor Green

Oh now this IS interesting. A Professor Green song which is not largely dependent on a sample from an older hit song, a chance for him to stand on his own two feet and put something which is wholly new out there into the world, now that he's got a bit of a platform to stand on and a LOT of people are listening. Here's the song which is designed to firmly cement the Prof in everyone's mind as a force for good in the world of music. Here's the song which says he can do it on his own. Here's the song which...well...does anyone else feel like something is missing?

I can't quite put my finger on what it is, either. I mean the Prof is the Prof innee? You either like that evil pixie voice of his or you don't. And if you're at all offended by his one-liners - the Peter Andre one is a particular favourite of mine - you'll have been just as irked by 'Just Be Good To Green'. But I'm not and I wasn't.

And it's not the lack of Lily Allen which is the root of the problem either. She did bring a fantastic face-slapping counterpoint to his daft bragging, but I think we're all old enough and clever enough to deal with someone showing off, aren't we?

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Magnetic Man ft. Katy B - 'Perfect Stranger'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:33 UK time, Saturday, 9 October 2010

When we are all old, and in our dotage, meeting for afternoon socials with a cup of space tea and some laser snaps, we won't be listening to the stuff old people listen to now. It might seem like an obvious point, but today's pensioners will have fond memories of Acker Bilk and Alma Cogan, ours will be Biffy Clyro and Britney Spears...and Katy B.

Oh sure, by then she'll have changed her name to Katherine Beesly (or something similar), and she'll be in the House of Lords - Lady B of Dubstepfordshire, taking her seat alongside Lady Gaga and Lord Professor of Greenwich - but we'll remember her because of delicious songs like this.

"Hey Keisha!", we'll croak across the gravitables, "turn up the radio. THAT'S more like it. You can't beat a good breakbeat, can you?"

"You're not wrong, Jordan", will come the reply, "this was the first dance at our wedding you know. The DJ made it last for half an hour..."

"Aye, they had proper remixers in those days. Not like the rubbish you get now. Sme of them can't even crossfade properly."

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Swedish House Mafia vs. Tinie Tempah - 'Miami 2 Ibiza'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:39 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010

Swedish House Mafia

Interesting use of the word 'versus' in the title there, don't you think? I mean if it's a battle we're talking about, if we absolutely HAVE to pick a winner, while acknowledging that both sides have put up a spirited fight, well there's only one choice, isn't there?

I mean yes, once we're past Tinie's first sleazy verse, and into the full raining glory of the Maf's immersive house jolly-up, it's a wonderful place to be. Euphoric and mournful at the same time, and hitting the pleasure receptors in the feet and mind with equal force.

BUT they've had to pull out all the stops, then invent some more stops to pull out, and go around town finding 'Stop' signs to pull out of the ACTUAL GROUND in order to match the devastating effect of what is basically just a man talking.

Yes, he's talking in a very entertaining way, but still. In terms of effort put in and effect taken out, Tinie wins hands down.

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Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow - 'Shame'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:43 UK time, Thursday, 7 October 2010

Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow

"Words come easy, when they're true"

That, right there, is the reason why this song is reviewproof. To cast any kind of opinion on this thing, which is a very public hug between two men who used to be in a pop band together, but have spent 15 or so years travelling very different paths, would be like complaining about someone's grammar while they're in the middle of a marriage proposal.

Yes, you get points for detail, but you lose them all back again, and more, for missing what is actually going on.

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Kings Of Leon - 'Radioactive'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:22 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Kings Of Leon

The story so far: scratchy rock dawgies Kings of Leon find their career has taken an unexpected yoink into stadium territory, thanks mainly to a song that they weren't even sure made any sense when it was first written. Sex on WHAAT!? My WHAAT is on fire!?

While they are clearly the men for the job, the idea of becoming defined by that one massive pop song in their arsenal, instead of the solid collection of other good songs that surround it, sits uncomfortably with the band's homegrown, family ethos. Sudden success is cool, but it can't last forever, and so you can't let it turn your head, or you'll end up lost and far from home.

So, in the recording of their fifth album, they've made the decision to scale things back, to keep away from writing astonishingly popular hit singles - which they totally could do, right, if they WANTED - and to focus on their roots.

The question is, if people really like the results, does that mean they've failed?

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Cee-Lo Green - 'Forget You'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:49 UK time, Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Cee Lo Green

Let's get the big thing out of the way first. This isn't really called 'Forget You'. It's called something far ruder. 'Forget You' is the version of the song you can play on the radio/to your gran. It's a song about telling someone to get the hecking chuff out of your face, forever more, and the most effective way of getting that point across is to uncork a bottle of swears.

This is because when you really want someone to go away because you cannot bear the sight of them, you WANT to be offensive. Sparing their finer feelings from the coarseness of your tongue is not a priority. It's not Cee-Lo's fault there's a lack of truly combative mild swear words he could have used instead.

It does, however, leave him with a problem. 'Forget You', in its original incarnation, is a brilliant song. A palpable hit. But a hit that you can't broadcast. Trouble is, editing out the offending word spoils the melody, and changing it entirely runs the risk of making the whole thing weird.

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The Saturdays ft. Flo Rida - 'Higher'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:23 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

The Saturdays

Mollie, Frankie and company exist within quite a strange push-me pull-you existence at the moment, don't you think?

It's impossible to get a handle on quite what is going on - whether they're hitting a firm, purposeful stride or passing their peak - because there's a constant stream of incontrovertible facts* which support either argument, and it seems you're not allowed to just shrug and let them get on with it.

To make matters even more confusing, the facts seem to be arriving in alternating waves, like a game of Good News, Bad News.

It goes something like this:

Bad news! 'Missing You' isn't a very good song. Everyone knows it, and they talk about it on the internet.

Good news! Actually it gets a lot better with repeated listens, and has managed to linger in the Top 40 for a period which chart experts refer to as "flipping ages".

Bad news! 'Headlines' isn't really an album. It's an EP which has been padded out with old album tracks and singles.

Good news! There are some nice new songs on it. Two, to be precise: 'Higher' and 'Died in Your Eyes'. All the girls need to do is whack one of those out as a single, and all will be well!

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Wombats - 'Tokyo (Vampires And Wolves)'

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Fraser McAlpine | 17:02 UK time, Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Wombats

There are times when taking the things that clever people say on face value is a dangerous game.

Take this song. We all know that Matt Murphy is a smart man, with an keen eye for the wry, so it's a toss-up as to whether this is supposed to be a parody of all the songs bands write about the existential horrors of life on the road, or actually one of those songs bands write about the existential horrors of life on the road, only one with a keener-than-usual sense of self-awareness, written by a man with a knack for jamming up happy pop tunes with sad lyrics.

Or it could just be a genuine song about feeling dehumanised by the rigours of life in a touring pop band, and wanting to return to the one great night out that made it all seem worthwhile.

Or all of these things. Or none of these things.

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Enrique Iglesias ft. Nicole Scherzinger - 'Heartbeat'

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Fraser McAlpine | 12:30 UK time, Friday, 1 October 2010

Enrique Iglesias

You're familiar with the fable about the sun and the wind, right? The one where they have a bet about which of the two of them is the more powerful, and they choose to prove their mettle by trying to get a man's cloak off.

If you're not sure, it goes like this: the wind blows hard and long, trying to prise the cloack from the man's clutching hands, but he pulls it tightly around himself, to keep warm. In the end, it's the sun that wins the day, by beaming down upon the man with such warmth that he has to take his cloak off, cos he's all hot and bothered.

There is something of that story to this song. Rather than huff and puff about doing sexy stuff all night long, as if love is an olympic sport, Enrique and Nicole coo gently to each other. Instead of groaning and rasping, they sing, sweetly. And instead of making huge claims about the astonishing things they are capable of in a bedroom, they simply and calmly explore a few different ways to express that it is nice to feel so connected to someone, that you can feel your pulse integrate with theirs.

Not that I'm getting hot and bothered, you understand. It's only a story.

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