That’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs all over, isn’t it? Karen O is specifically cool because she’s gangly. She is the CJ Cregg of rock, the new new wave Racnoss who can carry off dressing like Su Pollard because she doesn’t give a monkey’s, and ‘Sacrilege’ is the alt.rock ‘Like A Prayer’. Praise be!
Solange Knowles is a hipster. Just look at those hips move!
She’s also a great popstar who possibly never will be. That’s all about where you align yourself too – no one ever had No.1s hanging out with of Montreal, Dirty Projectors or Dev Hynes. I met Hynes about four years ago, standing at the back of a We Are Scientists gig. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me he was a friend of the band. Five minutes later he’d disappeared only to burst onto the stage with a grin as wide as his hat, toting an acoustic guitar. That’s what he does, pop up all over the place having a whale of a time and alchemising absolutely zero hits.
In Solange he has a muse for his True Blue instincts and in purely melodic terms it’s working just fine. In fact, in pure pop single terms it’s working just “fantastic” according to Junior 2 and I’m right there with her. ‘Losing You’ is sweetly heartbreaking but so spry it feels like hope. Still, the whoops and clattering beats are just the party happening outside while Solange frets within.
Junior sulks about the strawberry bits in her yoghurt. Somewhere a clock chimes.
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’.
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.
Dance. A cosy embrace melding euphoric 80s New York garage and bright-eyed synth pop, Kylie’s best single – or near as dammit – lowers her gently back onto the dancefloor, where she can get you into the groove without being tricksy or slavishly following trend. There are shimmering parallels with ‘I Believe In You’, another overlooked Minogue masterpiece that brims with generosity and unclothed feeling, and both prove how Kylie soars when she relaxes.
It hurts. I think a part of ‘All The Lovers” broad appeal is our heartfelt wish for Kylie to be happy. Yes, this was written for her, yes, pop is a fiction, but take it at face value and this is a sweeping away of disappointment, betrayal and simple not-up-to-scratchness that leaves her with a tip-top man.
Feel. Well, Junior likes it. She knows the chorus already and has some fairly muddled ideas about Kylie’s place in her narrow pop hierarchy. To the selling point that Uncle Tom reckons Kylie the finest thing since sliced shrimp, she offers this: “I think she’s the best too. But the most is Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud. My Number 3 is Kylie, second is Girls Aloud, but the best is Lady Gaga.” I think we can all get behind that.
Breathe. A sigh of relief that Kylie still has the chops to compete with those youngish pretenders – she’s an old dear, after all. Will she be able to carry off a leotard in 10 years’ time? Do we want to know? Hell yeah.
What makes ‘Get Ur Freak On’ so great? Is it the much-imitated-but-then-truly-original bhangra shake turning hip hop inside out? Is it Timbaland’s beats cutting up sharp enough to slice through Run-D.M.C.’s gold chains? Is it the punctuating “holla”s that stop the record stone dead to let you catch a breather before the nagging resumes at twice the power? Is it hindsight – or even prescience – that Missy and Timbaland have reached their creative peak here and all that’s left are old skool retreads and a steady stream of career revivals for Furtado, Ciccone and whoever’s next? Is it the “hach-TOO” flying in your face? Is it the pie-eyed mix of vocal tics and screams rubbing up against punishing techno twangs that makes you think you’ve stepped into some sci-fi jungle nightmare, shortly before you realise you actually have?
Junior says: “I need more fingers.” She means thumbs; two thumbs up isn’t enough for this, apparently. It is also “good”.
Best bits: “IN YOUR FACE.” Although it’s one big good bit of pop culture, so picking a particular moment might be slightly, erm, reductive.
They shone in bursts, didn’t they, our premier girl group of the turn of the century? Obviously William Orbit loomed large over this, adding pretty flesh to its protoype ‘Frozen’, as Beachmania gripped the nation – but Mel Blatt’s vocal is gorgeous and the harmonies are honey. The quartet worked well together before they all decided they hated one another.
Junior says: “Purray Sho-rez,” reading the cover in impressive Reception class fashion. She gets into its liquid groove and her mum, catching the tail end of it, asks for it to be put on again.
Best bit: As the middle eight slides back into the melting chorus.
When the Pet Shop Boys covered this in their Pandemonium show – Neil Tennant in crown and gown, natch – it fostered the biggest singalong of the night. I’d swear, somewhat insultingly (for whoever), half the audience assumed the song was Tennant and Lowe’s – and wised up too late. Otherwise, I’m not sure there’s a natural overlap between the bands, but the point for me is ‘Viva La Vida’ has fast become an anthem and, I’ll wager, the Noughties hit that will last. At least in the sort of Absolute Radio pantheon that will forever rate Bohemian Rhapsody and Stairway To Heaven the standout peaks of our popular culture.
Obviously I think this is a great record, and while much of that is down to its immediacy and bursting pride, there’s also the question of its surprising birth. After all, X&Y had pretty much clawhammered the joy out of the soul of anyone who listened. It was a flatulent album, stretching its reserves of hot air over a dozen lifeless rhyming-dictionary clods of half-songs. They barely deserved their Brian Eno moment. However, he turned up anyway and has to take a hefty slice of credit for the alert Coldplay that emerged. But credit to Martin and co for actually bothering their arses this time.
Like Doctor Who, this is a family favourite. Actually, Doctor Who’s too scary for Junior. Let’s call this a mainstay of our automobile glee club.
Junior says: “WOAH-OH-OHH-OH-OHHH-OHHH. That’s the best bit.” And probably the only bit not pilfered from Joe Satriani, Cat Stevens, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’… – ah, we’re all the sum of our influences, aren’t we? Whatever cobbles this together, it gets Junior smiling every time. Maybe she’s got some publishing rights too.
Right back on track after Ray Of Light, Madonna shed the pretend hippie skin once more and sunk her teeth into the dancefloor like never before since Vogue. A squirty disco match-up with Mirwais, Music jacks your body. It still sounds as fresh as Michelle Gayle in Grange Hill. Or was she Fly?
Junior says: “Her skin looks lovely,” on the cover, that is. And, “Play it again.”
1985 was Madonna’s annus mirabilis, barely a week passing without a saucy New York dance-pop nugget brightening up the UK charts. She bagged eight Top 5 hits, including bona fide breakthrough ‘Like A Virgin’, ‘Holiday’ recharting 18 months after its initial Top 10 appearance, first No.1 ‘Into The Groove’ and the utterly forgotten ‘Angel’. Try and sing it, go on. So the slutty Material Girl angle was all sewn up; now it was time for the serious artiste.
We’d already had the ever-so-earnest ‘Live To Tell’, but ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ was the big one. A rather less trashy tackling of her Catholic guilt than ‘Like A Virgin’, it was real, honest and oddly – paradoxically – innocent. Dramatic too. ‘Like A Prayer’ would scare the horses, but ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ is the raw truth. Madonna was still fresh and unpredictable and winningly rounded too, not the skin-smeared Terminator we blanch at today.
Taken purely at face value, ‘Papa…’ is an easy singalong, but Junior might just have seen it as an oblique way of telling me to shut up. We can salute creativity like that. We also found the song good for call and response – “Papa preach?” “Papa DON’T preach!”
Pressed on the actual quality of the record, Junior declared it “good.” A future in music journalism awaits.
In some cold sense, Lady GaGa is a fantastic pop star – all glitz and Vegas glamour, ever-changing, seemingly personality-free – yet it’s those very things that make her one big nothing. In my shady day job as editor of a horrifyingly mainstream music site, GaGa is a godsend. She’s full of juicy quotes, decked out in a new flesh-flashing doily every day, selling phenomenal amounts of records and it’s all so… so… boring.
On the other hand, she put on a sterling if robotic show at Glastonbury and ‘Just Dance’, ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’ are the sort of ear-worms that The Saturdays, say, would kill for. I’ve gone with the third single here because – hey! – it’s recent and we’re nothing if not bleeding-edge. ‘Paparazzi’ is a huge great clunking metaphor for slavish empty adoration; just the kind GaGa needs for these 15 minutes.
Is Junior her biggest fan? She shuffles in her seat as she takes the standard eon to eat her cornflakes, but in the end the song merits a shrug. I try to fire some debate: “Do you know what ‘Paparazzi’ means?” “Morris has got one.” Her friend Morris calls his dad “Papa”, you see. Maybe he’s seen him sneak off into the night with his Canon, in hot pursuit of a mini-Madonna in a bubble dress. It’s a living.