Friday, December 18, 2009

You have one decade to impress me

Okay, popular music. You and I haven't really seen eye to eye since the late 80s, and let's be honest, we've hardly been on speaking terms in the 21st century. But this seems to be a time for reflection, so for a few hours let's call a truce, and you can set forth the best reasons why popular music of the 00s is worth my time. And for my part, I will listen and write spontaneous snarky comments. Deal? Okay then!

The first installment of this super-exciting feature comprises the 50 best tracks of the decade, as compiled by the staff of Pitchfork back in August. Because apparently that's when the decade ended. They actually have a list of 500, but Jesus, I'm not that interested.
How do they compile these things, anyway? I like to picture them in a low-ceilinged room, a big whiteboard at one end, and they're all sitting round with their shirt sleeves rolled up, chewing gum, like they're trying to solve the Zodiac case.

50 Basement Jaxx "Romeo" (2001)
Hey, this is a fun way to start. Stomp, stomp, stomp. This had everyone up on the dance floor, yes? I think the take-home message here is - and I may be wrong - that he used to be her Romeo. Until... what? He thought she was dead, and then pissed off back to Mantua?

49 Sufjan Stevens "Chicago" (2005)
Well, this is wonderful, but I knew that already. Hey, I was one of the first... uh... million... on the Sufjan bandwagon. I love the bigger-than-it-actually-is production here. And "Come on feel the Illinoise" is one of the great punning album titles, up there with Kirsty McColl's "Electric Landlady" and "Al Green was my valet".

48 Panda Bear "Bro's" (2006)
What?! This damn thing is 12 and a half minutes long! That's like four or five pop songs from the sixties. Hey, wait a second, this is a pop song from the sixties. Nice to see Brian Wilson still working. Jesus, it goes on a bit, doesn't it? Naw, I'm being mean. The production on this is fantastic. Well, presumably the production is the point. Aside: what if the band Bros had a song called "Panda Bear"? Would it be any good?

47 Burial "Archangel" (2007)
A big slice of atmosphere. Speaks of empty streets at two in the morning, not many streetlights, the occasional car passing quietly beneath the window, and there's nothing on the fucking telly. And she's not here. Very impressive in its way, but I wonder how much my life would have to change for this to speak directly to me.

46 Robyn [ft. Kleerup] "With Every Heartbeat" (2007)
This had an unappetising beginning, but it grew on me. Probably coming after the Burial track it seemed too poppy. But there's more depth to it than first impressions indicated. I never wondered what would happen if Kate Bush and Jean-Michel Jarre teamed up to write a disco song, but now I know.

45 Hot Chip "Over and Over" (2005)
It's certainly catchy, in an insistent sort of way. A good pop song, I suppose; the sort of pop song you get from a band that isn't a pop band. If you follow me. But is it as good as ? and the Mysterians' "96 Tears"?

44 Franz Ferdinand "Take Me Out" (2004)
Bang, bang, bangity-bang. The constant pounding of this song has always done my head in. The massive slowdown near the start is a good idea, but no, I find this one irritating I'm afraid. Have you ever wondered if Alex Kapranos spends much of his time wishing he could be like David Watts? No? Me neither.

43 UGK [ft. Outkast] "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)" (2007)
Impressive exhortatory opening from André 3000 (yes, of course I had to look that one up) but then the other rappers come in and... sigh. I feel soiled. Tristan und Isolde it ain't.

Time out. You know what? This list has been progressing steadily downhill since Sufjan at 49. Come on, people! Get it together!

42 Battles "Atlas" (2007)
Ah yes, this is more like it. Nice funky drum intro, and then - huh? A rhino impersonating Marilyn Manson? A smurf? Wha............ This is awesome. And then after a couple of minutes we increase the swagger. Oh yes. Gene Hunt is going to kick your head in. "People won't be people when they hear this sound". I am not a people anymore! This. Is. More like it.

41 TV on the Radio "Staring at the Sun" (2004)
A touch of sweet harmony, and then... erm, is this Flight of the Conchords, I ask myself rhetorically for a few moments. No, this isn't doing much for me. It's more like the blueprint of a good song rather than a good song itself. Sorry.

40 The Avalanches "Since I Left You" (2000)
Pastiche? Parody? Homage? This is music you hear from far away and it reminds you of something, and you wait for it to get to the recognisable bit. But it never does. It just keeps going, and you keep thinking, "no, hang on... there must be a bit coming up that'll make me go Ah yes! Of course!". But there isn't. It just seems so... pointless.

39 Modest Mouse "Float On" (2004)
INXS! Sorry, that was the very first thing that came into my head, after like a second or two. And now it's... Talking Heads! Kind of. Not really. No. I don't believe these people either. Oh dear! First Franz Ferdinand, then TV On The Radio, and now Modest Mouse. I don't want to say they're insincere, but to my ears there's something calculated about the music. They sound like they're making music because they can, not because they must.

38 T.I. "What You Know" (2006)
Yeah, pretty catchy. But... you know... more Bentleys 'n' bitches. I don't suppose there's any hope that T.I. means none of it?

37 Kylie Minogue "Can't Get You Out of My Head" (2001)
Theoretically, this is rubbish. Theoretically. I mean, there's almost nothing there. But there you go, timeless classic, etc, and we haven't even mentioned the video yet. Actually, you know what you should do, you should listen to Patrick and Eugene's fantastic ska version of this. You won't get that out of your head either.

36 Sigur Rós "Svefn-G-Englar" (2000)
Beautiful, ethereal soundscape - with Sigur Rós, should I be surprised? Although to be honest, after about 5 minutes I was - not bored, just wondering whether I was going to get much more out of it. In the end, yes, I did, but it does bring to mind the difficult question about ambient and minimalist music - how does the composer know the right moment to finish?

35 Animal Collective "Fireworks" (2007)
This seems like two fairly decent ideas - the instruments and the vocals - crammed together for no especially good reason except that the same people came up with both of them. I am wholly unmoved by this one.

34 M.I.A. "Galang" (2003)
Whereas this is a whole bunch of fairly decent ideas that all enhance each other. Good, catchy stuff - smart pop music for the global village.

33 Spoon "The Way We Get By" (2003)
The instrumental combination here makes it very seventies, but the singer's a bit more growly than they used to be. Yeah, I quite like this.

32 Amerie "1 Thing" (2005)
The trick here is the catchy chorus, one of those pseudo-perpetual motion machines that doesn't necessarily have a logical end - it could go on for ever, if they chose to. But it ends soon enough - for what purpose? To start up again; and again, and again, and again. It's irresistible, really. You've got to admire the songwriter for taking a half-idea and just running with it.

31 Jay-Z [ft. UGK] "Big Pimpin'" (2000)
OK, Pitchfork, can you find me a hip-hop song that doesn't involve pimpin'? In fairness, this one's got a good beat to it, and Jay Z's rapping is impressive for what it is. But, guys, I don't give a rat's ass.

30 The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" (2003)
Hey wow, this has an actual guitar solo! How quaint! It's like rock music still exists! So far, most of what I've heard has reminded me of something from the past - no harm in that - but the lyrics here sound very old indeed. In fact, lyrically this is one of the few impressive songs so far.

29 Hot Chip "Boy From School" (2006)
More Hot Chip, eh? They must be good then. This one's all very mellow, but I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it. Feel sad? Dance? Both? God, there's an unappealing prospect for all concerned.

28 Antony and the Johnsons "Hope There's Someone" (2005)
OK, now I feel sad. This is beautiful - somehow the quivering, slurry voice is perfect - but I wish it didn't go haywire. I guess I see what they're trying to do, but I don't think the song really needs a climax, or if it does, it doesn't need this one. But the first couple of minutes are wonderful.

27 Clipse "Grindin'" (2002)
That apostrophe makes me pause before I listen. Will there be ho's? Yes, although it takes a minute and a half before they show up. But mostly this is about drug dealing. I spent a bit of time on this one, reading reviews 'n shit, trying to make sense of it. So I guess they're against drug dealers, yes? But why then does the song sound exactly like what you would imagine a song glorifying drug dealers would sound like? Is there a Poe's Law for hip-hop?

26 Justin Timberlake [ft. T.I.] "My Love" (2006)
Hahahaha. I pause this one after 35 seconds to reflect quietly on the opening words, "If I wrote you a symphony/Just to say how much you mean to me/What would you do?" Presumably her answer would depend on whether he stuck with traditional sonata form for the first movement, or went the Sibelius route of taking melodic fragments and gradually transforming them. But let's end this digression and return to Justin, who is... oh Jesus. Toes in the sand?? You soppy git. No wonder T.I. fancies his chances with her.

25 Rihanna [ft. Jay-Z] "Umbrella" (2007)
Quite an old-fashioned song, when you think about it. You've got your central metaphorical conceit, viz, the collapsible rain shield, and you've got your basic romantic sentiment. I mean, you can imagine Fred and/or Ginger singing words like these. Fred could do the Jay-Z part, I suppose. This song was pretty much unavoidable at the time, but somehow I pretty much avoided it. That's how tuned in to popular music I am.

24 Radiohead "Everything in Its Right Place" (2000)
Liked it at the time; still like it. This was the time when Radiohead forsook for ever the chance the be the next U2. For some reason I'm wondering what the band would sound like if Thom Yorke were replaced with Rick Astley. It's worth a shot, surely?

23 Daft Punk "Digital Love" (2001)
You will need: a little musical hook from The Rockford Files theme; the ability to sound like The Buggles and, if necessary, ELO. Hey presto! There are only 22 songs better than yours in the whole decade.

22 LCD Soundsystem "Someone Great" (2007)
Why did they decide on the name "LCD Soundsystem"? Probably because the name "Shitty Knock-off of Early Depeche Mode" was already taken. Sorry. But come on, LCD Soundsystem! You were right after Daft Punk! How hard would it have been to sound a lot better?

21 Kelly Clarkson "Since U Been Gone" (2005)
The editor in me reaches slowly for his pistol. The environmentalist in me raises a conciliatory hand and points out that spelling "you", or indeed "you've", with only one letter saves a lot of ink and computer energy and will ultimately put an end to global warming. You are in my bad books already, Kelly. Be very careful. And... go. Oh! Right, I know this one. Or rather, I recognise the rather excitable chorus. The song ends. I've forgotten the rest of it already.

Another time out! What the hell's going on here? The list is starting to turn into an argument against popular music. We're now entering the top 20. So far, 50-41 has been on balance better than 40-31, which on balance is better than 30-21. I am fearful.

This thrilling adventure to be resumed.... soon!

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