[19] Charli XCX, ‘I’ll Never Know’

Charli XCX

We did the ‘Saturday Night’ dance to this cute pelting kitten of a dance-pop frippery. Well, if we’re getting picky I think we did the Macarena, but you know, details. Either way, 18 years on – EIGHTEEN YEARS ON – plundering Whigfield is fair game, or even long overdue. And this is a promotional song for Red Bull so it’s not exactly bearing any standards for purity of art.

In fact, Charli – one of the planet’s leading blogstars – doesn’t even sound as if she’s particularly arsed, coming on like the sulky teenager I’m looking forward to Junior being in (oh God) six years. Blogstar, blogstar. It’s a different stratum of pop, isn’t it? Amazing popstars, loved by daytripping indie boys, barely getting within a whiff of Reggie’s Top 40 cologne. Maybe Charli, Robyn and Solange are just rubbish popstars after all.

Junior’s now moved onto the funky worm and declares ‘I’ll Never Know’ “fabulosa”. It’s everyone else who doesn’t know.

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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.

[3] Robyn, ‘Dancing On My Own’

Robyn

While I appreciate scores of pop fans have crowned this their single of the year, it falls juuuuust short for me. The final two have, in no particular order, a glowing warmth and a hatful of outrageous invention, qualities that just tip the scales. But No.3 isn’t bad place to end up. So what does Robyn have in return? Mad stalking skillz, a hint of menace, a six-note rising/falling synth riff that you could knock out on that rudimentary electronic keyboard you made with your dad in 1982, a bustling buzzy undertone, a classic singalong chorus that invites you to share in her stifling, needy pain, and her well-versed but ever-devastating Swedish sob. Well, that’ll do, won’t it?

Junior’s reaction is, shall we say, gnomic. She dances on her own (yes!), throwing shapes that invoke the malign spectre of Jamiroquai (no!), then sits down to punch starshaped holes in a B&Q receipt. Take that, DIY.

[7] Robyn, ‘Hang With Me’

Robyn

‘Hang With Me’ heralds a new era at Jukebox Junior, with Junior writing down her own comments for the very first time. Hold on to your hats: “She sounds like a princes. Sounds fast.” Let’s make this clear, being compared to a princess (or “princes”) is near enough the shiniest accolade Junior can bestow. Hit!

Or not. Peaking just outside the Top 50, ‘Hang With Me’ is another sorry example of Robyn failing to nail down a UK chart career, even while she releases stone-cold nugget after stone-cold nugget of peerless sad-pop wonder. Is it too clever? Klas Åhlund’s “recklessly, headlessly” is an evocation of abandonment beyond your common-or-garden Pixie Lott, but the fluttering synth-pop is surely irresistible, accessible, mass-appealing – and the heartbreaking rush of the chorus, remembering ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’ while Robyn kisses off in weary style, could bring down governments. Well, hope springs.

[36] Robyn with Kleerup, ‘With Every Heartbeat’

With Every Heartbeat

Christ almighty, this is taking eons. I didn’t really mean to cover the decade in real-time; it’s something to do with taking on too many commitments – you know, work, children…

Anyway, with no space for false promises to speed up the countdown, we move on to Robyn and her chart-topping slice of electro-pop-heartbreak. This has its roots in early 90s house and its cardiac beats with impassioned vocals, when dance synths had some body before trance piped them through a shrill-woofer. Robyn’s performance is effervescent, and ever-so-real, while Kleerup lays off his customary cheese for a few symphonic minutes to allow her the perfect, dignified setting. She has a knack of making the banal sound crucial – take her ‘Dream On’ collaboration with Christian Falk, which would seem trite in another voice – but here subject matter and delivery collide.

Junior says: “And-ah-it-ah-hurts-ah-with-ah-every-ah-heart-ah-beat.” Even Robyn can be mimicked. Junior loves the song, asks for it to be repeated, then asks again the next day. The clarity of Robyn’s vocal is what gives it its appeal, at least for her.

Best bit:
The flutter of dying synths before that breathy chorus.

[6] Röyksopp featuring Robyn, ‘The Girl And The Robot’

Röyksopp get away with being coffee table dance bores because they’re Norwegian. Stick them in the Home Counties, and they’ll be held in the same esteem as Groove Armada, Morcheeba, Apollo christing 440. “Didn’t you make a good record once?” an aging hipster will say. “Yeah, that one on the advert,” will be their chipper reply. “Oh, and the one that Robyn rescued.”

And she does rescue it. This would be a hi-NRG SAW-era Kylie record (OK at the time, but in 2009?) if it wasn’t for the “killingest pop star on the planet” and her ability to make the mundane sound heartbreaking. She could make the Liverpool FC year-end financial figures sound dramatic and devastating. But instead, it’s the story of a poor girl ignored by her cold, workaholic boyfriend. He’s like a robot. He may even be a robot. After all, as well as sounding like 1989 this sounds like The Future. It’s a wormhole.

It’s also the key to unlock Junior’s dynamic array of disco moves, which now appear to include The Robot. Fortunately, she doesn’t look like Peter Crouch. My brother looks like Peter Crouch.

Never know when you’ll return:

2009 Top 20 Singles?

We did this about this time last year, so why change a vaguely popular feature? These are the Top 20 Most Played 2009 Singles on the ever-honest iPod:

[1] Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Zero’
[2] Dananananaykroyd, ‘Black Wax’
[3] The Horrors, ‘Sea Within A Sea’
[4] Passion Pit, ‘The Reeling’
[5] Animal Collective, ‘My Girls’
[6] James Yuill, ‘No Surprise’
[7] Sunny Day Sets Fire, ‘Adrenaline’
[8] TV On The Radio, ‘Dancing Choose’
[9] Frankmusik, ‘Better Off As Two’
[10] Röyksopp featuring Robyn, ‘Girl And The Robot’
[11] Jamie T, ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’
[12] Coldplay, ‘Life In Technicolor ii’
[13] U2, ‘Magnificent’
[14] The Phantom Band, ‘The Howling’
[15] Eg, ‘Broken’
[16] Junior Boys, ‘Hazel’
[17] Lily Allen, ‘The Fear’
[18] Fischerspooner, ‘Supply & Demand’
[19] Saint Etienne, ‘Method Of Modern Love’
[20] Red Light Company, ‘Arts & Crafts’

But will it bear any resemblance to the year-end chart? Be sure to check in 18 or 19 weeks.

[3] Robyn with Kleerup, ‘With Every Heartbeat’

Robyn with Kleerup, ‘With Every Heartbeat’

The Swedish popstress graced the charts before, back in the ‘90s, with ‘Show Me Love’. No, not that one. It did nothing to prepare us for this swooning beauty. What did prepare us was the fact that ‘With Every Heartbeat’ had been hanging around for a good year or two, but let’s gloss over that. It hit No.1 this year, so that’ll sway the arbitrary rules.
 
Sad techno is an occasionally populated genre, yet rarely is it rendered as gorgeously as this. Kleerup provides the synth washes and electric strings, while Robyn drops her standard tough-girl shtick to bare all – emotionally, dirty fans. The building melody is off-the-peg, but delivered with a lump in the throat and when Robyn punctuates every word of the chorus with a caught breath it would be a hard soul to resist. ‘With Every Heartbeat’ is a stunning marker, a genuine sign of a woman who can make the pop world her own. Good old Scandinavia – first Annie, now Robyn… well, first ABBA, then A-ha… then The Cardigans… um, there’s a point here.
 
Well, Junior was delighted to have it on the turntable, and graced the baby doll with a waltz. She likes the shinier side of pop – a weakness of mine too – perhaps she’s been brainwashed. Anyway, that’s two heart-rending tunes in a row. Time for unfettered joy!