[17] Little Scream, ‘Love As A Weapon’

little-scream-2016

I’m listening to The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep… (that’ll do) for the whateverth time this year. Still don’t quite get the decision to end with two acoustic ballads. Every time I play it, I expect it to make some kind of sense to see out one of the most fidgety pop albums of the last 30 years in such a one-note way, but I’m not there yet. I’ll try to make this sound relevant in a minute.

“Is this Prince?” asks J2. She’s got a point. Clipped funk, falsetto and a knack for addictive pop make ‘Love As A Weapon’ very Purple, even if it feels more eager to please than he ever was. “Is it a man or a lady?” she adds. Clearly, Laurel Sprengelmeyer begs the same questions as Prince too. If Bowie managed to write his own epitaph this year, at least Prince got to hang around in spirit, and not just here. He’s embedded in that sprawling 1975 double as well, nestled alongside Duran Duran of every period from 1981 to 2004.

Perhaps we should recoil from referencing heritage artists whenever we listen to new stuff, but if the current breed can’t help doing it themselves, what can you do? It doesn’t bother me.

J1 shrugs. “Meh.”

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The Saturdays, ‘Notorious’

The Saturdays

In the leading pack of life’s crushing disappointments is the discovery that the default hottest girl group in the land’s new single is not a cover of Duran Duran’s brilliantly lumpenly funky quasi-career-killer. Mollie could’ve done a “No-“, then Rochelle could’ve done a “No-“, then Frankie, Una and the other one could’ve joined reedy forces on “NOTORIOUS”, and it could’ve all descended into Chic meets the Sex Pistols meets Red Hot Chili Peppers chaos. Just look at what you could’ve won.

Instead, “My résumé says I’m a bad girl”. It’s no “Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?”, is it? Where it pulls it out of the fire though is with the fruity electro pulse and vocals put through the ringer – it’s mechanised. The Saturdays are only bad girls, notorious, because they’ve been programmed to be so. It’s svengali’d by computer, a Space Odyssey Malcolm McLaren. Not a terribly wholesome, erm, whole but a functional thrill.

It’s brought here by mistake, the lucky conjunction of the girls appearing on So You Think You Can Dance? and Junior and I happening to be watching it. While I continued my ongoing study of career trajectories of girl groups, Junior copied every single dance move they made. One beat behind, but accurately. Recent clips from Rihanna and Lady Gaga have got me in a panic about just how knowing young girls can get. They sponge it up. Normally – to the odd sulky “awww” – I’d switch over, but there’s little overtly sexualised about The Saturdays’ robotic choreography. Thin end of the wedge though.

Katy B, ‘Broken Record’

Katy B

Not her greatest single but her latest single – and we’re all about the new here at Jukebox Junior. Notwithstanding 90% of the time, when we’re offering well-worn observations about Duran Duran. Katy B speaks to us though, managing to be both pop and cosily innovative, her debut album a uniformly good collection of memorable songs and intriguing beats. It sounds an easy formula, but it’s all too rare that an artist scores that eureka. Robyn failed the test on any of last year’s Body Talks. She did. I don’t know if Miss B racks up the high points to match, but – like I say – uniformly good.

Junior bobs obediently, then perks right up for ‘Lights On’ straight after; “I like this one better.” That’s OK though, isn’t it? ‘Lights On’ is the better whole, but the pattering rush into ‘Broken Record”s final chorus is pretty ace. Like most of the album, it jacks your body whether you let it or not.

Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’

Born This Way

The litmus test of any new pop record is the opinion of a little girl who already loves the artist unreservedly and will brook no criticism.

So, into this treacherous arena went ‘Born This Way’, and first we gauged recognition: “Is it Lady Gaga?” One hurdle cleared. Further responses to Stefani’s hi-NRG dambuster included bouncing up and down from Junior (five-and-a-half), Junior 2 (two-and-eleven-twelfths) and Junior 3 (a week shy of one) – confirming Gaga’s all-ages appeal – and an unprompted round of applause at the finish.

Then the question we’ve all avoided. Yes, determined to mark ‘Born This Way’’s place in the Gaga pantheon, I asked which was better, this or ‘Bad Romance’.

“Both.”

All that without mentioning ‘Express Yourself’. Unjaded by the past, unworried that all the pop tunes might have been done and everything’s now just a swish rejig, Junior doesn’t hear Madonna in this. Nor does she catch a whisper of ‘Rio’, or Jesus Jones’s ‘International Bright Young Thing’ or even Maxine Nightingale’s ‘Right Back Where We Started From’.

Come to that, she didn’t spot a Joe Satriani noodle recast in ‘Viva La Vida’, nor a short refrain from an 18-minute Cat Stevens song in the same. Because no one really knew them and they weren’t really there.

And she doesn’t fret that Lady Gaga’s courting of the gay audience might be a hard-nosed ploy. Perhaps she knows Gaga’s got plenty of ground there anyway, or perhaps she knows Gaga’s still got some way to go and it’s all fair game. After all, my brother still belongs to Kylie.

Whatever could go through Junior’s head, she takes ‘Born This Way’ on its own immediate terms; a fiery, anthemic, infectious jolt. Let’s all do that.

[10] Duran Duran, ‘Notorious’

Our budding Lester Bangs in the backseat admits, “I liked David Bowie better.” And, well, that’s the sane response, isn’t it? She does clap along to the first few bars, but interest soon wanes as if we’re acting out Duran Duran’s career in microcosm. Five minutes later they’re releasing Public Enemy covers and Junior is into Suede.

This is where Duran Duran put their “We want to sound like Chic crossed with the Sex Pistols” money where their mouth was, and came out sounding like, erm, Hipsway. But credit where it’s due, it has some funk and a nicely rearranged ‘Union Of The Snake’ chorus, and full marks for actually trying. With Andy Taylor jettisoned, they no longer needed to pull shoddy rock shapes and could get on with working that groove.

It’s just a pity no one cared anymore.

Don’t monkey with my business:

[18] Duran Duran, ‘Girls On Film’

Duran Duran

You could hear this coming a mile off: must have been Simon Le Bon’s room-clearing tones, or John Taylor’s sinuous bass, or Nick Rhodes’ brassy synth stabs – or the glaring fact I’ve mentioned them twice in as many posts.

Andy Taylor’s guitar is very new-wave choppy, but the setting is pure New Romantic, quintessential ‘80s. While they may be callow youths straight outta Birmingham, nothing’s going to stop Duran Duran imagining themselves swamped with cash and supermodels – they’ve seen the future and it’s all “See ya later, impossibly unattainable glamorous lady”. And, by golly, that’s exactly what the future was.

It’s a bit gauche, what with Le Bon’s trademark nonsense – “The diving man’s coming up for air ‘cos the crowd all love pulling dolly by the hair” – and the schoolboy’s holy grail that is the Night Version video, but ‘Girls On Film’ is bold, punchy and fuelled by staying power. The world was being tastefully arranged on a plate for this band, and it was time, perhaps, for their own “gear” vocab like some Fab teen faves before them. Junior is here to oblige: she smartly declares the song “faiaiayson”, “wacks” and “coloration” while sporting an expression that dares me to tell her she’s coining new adjectives. Well, she is – and maybe they’re apt.

[19] Japan, ‘Quiet Life’

Japan

Quiet Life was the first LP I bought. Sure, there were a couple of cassette albums before that – both by Duran Duran, naturally – but this was my first 12” vinyl breakout, along with Dexys Midnight Runners’ Searching For The Young Soul Rebels in the WH Smith bargain racks. It was March 1983, four years after its release, nicely in keeping with Japan’s own idiosyncratic chronology. You see, I bought it on the strength of their superb cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, which has just come out as a single – also four years after the event. And then there’s this, into the singles chart with a bullet, two years after its first appearance. They can’t have known if they were coming or going. In 1983 they were going.

Straddling Japan’s lurch from glam to Orient-obsessed electro-artpop, ‘Quiet Life’ veers in to the sound of helicopter blades – at least it sounds that way to me, and Junior agrees – and David Sylvian moans about – what? The break-up of the band, years before it happened? The changing state of the nation? His transitional football team? He was to take the quiet life to extremes afterwards, pootling around in the margins, crafting barely penetrable avant-pop, but still he carries on. So Junior identifies the blades, spots the handclaps, and sways to the slides, clips and ticks in the back of the car.

[20] Tom Tom Club, ‘Genius Of Love’

Tom Tom Club

This is a hindsight Top 20, taking place a year before I started buying my own records and making my own tapes and obsessing over Duran Duran and the Top 40. 1981 was the year my sister began to record the chart rundown, introducing me to the wild sounds of Landscape and, erm, Alvin Stardust. Up to this point, all I knew were Beatles and Boney Ms, ABBAs and Brotherhoods Of Man. Now we had a dead Beatle and a declining, rended ABBA.

Partners in rhythm Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were no longer satisfied with merely pushing the very corners of rock’s envelopes in Talking Heads’ engine room – or perhaps David Byrne and Brian Eno left no elbow room – and Tom Tom Club was the joyous diversion. Mixing funk, bags of funk, with pop, rap and world music, they revealed a sunnier side nowhere brighter than on the glorious ‘Genius Of Love’. It’s a tribute to a spiffing boyfriend wrapped up in loyal dedication to their funky forebears, and in a nice piece of symmetry has become one of the most sampled records – seized upon by trailblazers from Grandmaster Flash to, yes, Mariah Carey.

‘Genius Of Love’ locks into a groove, but Junior ain’t for dancin’. Apparently her baby sister “doesn’t want me to,” which is an impressive bit of inter-sibling communication – and we thought all they did was laugh at each other. But what does she think of the song? “I don’t like it; it makes me sad.” I’ve got it all wrong.

[1] Blur, ‘Girls & Boys’

Oh. Seems they did stand a chance after all.

From baggy also-rans via Kinksian chroniclers of rubbish modern life to standard-bearers of a New England, Blur came back an unexpected success in ’94. The game had seemed up, but ‘Girls & Boys’ was shot through with a new lease of life. For me, the trick wasn’t sustained over the whole Parklife album – although legions will disagree – with nothing repeating the pure pop bounce and sneering conviction of this curtain-raiser. It sounds like early Duran Duran (yeah, that is a good thing), yet bolstered further by its punk-funk credibility and cheery dismissal of Club 18-30 culture.

A dunderheaded chorus, too, which has stick-on appeal for the younger listener. Junior’s up to speed by the second airing, and shows off an interesting dance where the legs stand stock-straight and still while the upper body wigs out. It’s all a bit mid-‘60s Top Of The Pops.

News just in: The 2008 Top 20 Singles countdown will start tomorrow, one-a-weekday until Christmas Eve. It has an extra feature too. Gosh, I’m all a-flutter.

[10] Duran Duran, ‘Rio’

Junior stood at the coffee table, directly in front of the stereo, bobbing up and down. She fair resembled a Duranie from all those years ago, missing only the baggy trousers tucked into pixie boots, the hair sprayed outwards ‘til it was replacing the ozone layer let alone ripping through it, and the bulldozer-applied make-up. Give her five years.

This is the title track of the first album I owned, no half-shares with big sis, and it was the first song on the tape I took away to school, to play on one of those flat players with the speaker at the top. I had a single earpiece for private listening. Yes, I was at the vanguard of the hi-fi revolution.

What I’m saying is it’s a formative record for me. It’s why I wear a headband with my pastel suit, and blather interminable bullshit about cherry ice cream and how much birthdays and pretty views mean to me.

And it still has muscle and depth of sound, an odd contrast with the more cutting edge likes of Rockers Revenge. The cool dates faster than the naff.