First off, I feel I should inform you, the readers of this blog, that I have been accepted into the University of Westminster’s study abroad programme for Spring 2010 which means one of two things will occur: I will update this blog even less frequently than I already do (which might actually be impossible) or adapt this blog to include more topics than reviews, like say what studying in London is like and other related things. I haven’t decide what approach I’m going to take, but given how infrequently I write in this blog, most of you probably wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t update. So anyway, onto the main topic of today’s blog: The worthiness of pop music and two reviews (that show how pop music is worthy of consideration by music snobs.)
There is something to be said for good sugar pop (as a fellow radio colleague called it). As I’ve said in the past, writing a good hit-worthy pop song is not easy task, something that far too many people don’t seem to appreciate.* However so much of sugar pop is disregarded as fluff while more “artistic” bands and artists are lauded over while the writers of pop songs are ignored and pop stars left for rehab (or worse.) Every once in while though, sugar pop should be, or at least deserves to be, reviewed and treated the same way its more respected musical categories are treated.
When Life in Cartoon was released in 2007, I had no idea it had been released. I had never heard “Grace Kelly” (or for that matter “Relax (Take It Easy)”) and was quick to hop on the bandwagon of slagging off Mika for the pleasure of making fun of someone who was in competition with my favourite band, Kaiser Chiefs. So when I stumbled upon the fact that Mika had released a new album and single I saw an opportune moment to take up the mockery once again on my radio show (since that’s what I do and most of the original mockery had occurred well before I had a radio show.) I stuck “We Are Golden” towards the end my show and didn’t really bother to give it a listen. [It should be noted that in the previous weeks and months I had given my self unto the wonderful joy that is brought about when listening to Barry Manilow, Queen, and the Scissor Sisters** so my state of mind was in a good place to accept what I’m going to describe next. It’s amazing what listening to the Scissor Sisters repeatedly will do to one’s point of view.] In the course of broadcasting my show and subsequently having actually listen to “We Are Golden” I found out something about Mika: He knows how to write a really infectious pop song. A trained musician (with some of that training having happened at the Royal College of Music) Mika knows how to effortlessly incorporate the musical trickery of the Western European tradition into the format of your standard pop song. But what’s slightly more impressive (at least in my mind) is his further incorporation of his falsetto range, which he manages to do without falling into the Darkness trap of using it just for shits and giggles or as some odd way of showing off (something can’t be said for his first album, which does sometimes fall into that trap more than once.) The best sugar pop sound effortless and simple while being actually much more complex on the page. The Boy Who Knew Too Much, the majority of which was written by Mika, does just that while also showing the kind of musical growth you would expect of an artist who is so clearly influenced by glam rock and elector/glam pop***.
Recommended Tracks: The whole damn thing except for maybe “I See You.” But even that’s tentative, so just the whole damn thing.
The self-titled debut album from British techno pop group La Roux starts off promisingly enough. The first half of the album sounds like a throwback to the early 80’s when drum machines and synthesizers ruled the airwaves**** but with enough gloss to show that it was written and recording in the 00’s. Although a clear line could be made between between La Roux and many of the early new wave band what makes La Roux distinctive, at least for the first half of the album, is Elly Jackson’s vocals. While in many of the songs Ms. Jackson tends to let herself settle into her breathy upper range, the moments when she goes back into the lower part of her range (which in my opinion is the stronger part) a needed grittiness is added to the songs. Unfortunately after “I’m Not You’re Toy” the album lapses into a repetitive cycle of broken hearts and thin textured techno beats. With time and more maturity La Roux could quite possibly be an excellent band. La Roux defintely shows that the band has that potential and it’s a good album. It’s just not brilliant.
Recommended Tracks: “Tigerlily,” “Bulletproof,” “I’m Not You’re Toy,” “Armour Love.”
Album Grades: The Boy Who Knew Too Much: B+; La Roux: C+
*When I told my theory professor what I’m planning on studying next semester there was a glint of disappointment before he said “okay” and changed the subject. This is an example of not appreciating pop music enough. Also this whole footnote esque thing is a crossover from the entries in the WMWC blog. It’s also just how my brain works normally, so get use to seeing these.
**I’m not trying to assert that these three are in any way related. They’re all just very dramatic and bombastic. I would never equate Queen to Barry Manilow, I’m not thick.
***I don’t think glam pop is an actual pop music sub-category, but it’s the best descriptor I could come up with for most of the music heard on The Boy Who Knew Too Much. However if its, go me!
****Ultravox is what I’m thinking of. And yes, they didn’t rule the American airwaves, but La Roux isn’t from the US, so that’s okay.