Happy 5th Birthday The Loving Kind/Memory Of You

It’s been a while. I know I shouldn’t have kept you waiting. But I’m here now.

I do love a good musical reference, if you know the song you get a bonus cookie to go along with the humble pie I have here. It’s been two months since I last updated and I’m not trying to make excuses but going from working on average 17 hours a week to 40+ hours has taken its toll – not to mention Christmas and work experience (full post on that soon, promise!) taking up what free time I have. Anyway, it’s Saturday night and I’m here eating sweets and drinking Fizzy Tooth Rot Max, what better time to talk about the sugary sparkling goodness that is pop music.

Over  the festive period, the music channels love to remind us all of the godawful songs we’ve bought in Decembers gone by – Cascada’s cover of ‘Last Christmas’, ‘Bob the Builder’, ‘Proper Crimbo’, the original ‘Last Christmas’ and yes, the Almighty Girls Aloud‘s ‘tepid’ (I’m being nice) cover of ‘See the Day’.

Being reminded of this song’s existence prompted me to list the Girls Aloud singles in order of best to worst because… why not, I’m a nerd. It was a tough decision over whether ‘See the Day’ or the ‘Walk This Way’ cover with the Sugababes got the dubious honour of worst single (the latter ‘won’) but best single.. that was easy.

‘Sound of the Underground’? Incredible but overrated. ‘Jump’? Great fun, best cover single but nah. ‘Love Machine’? Very good but it annoys me when people say that’s all GA are. ‘Biology’? Not mistaking it. ‘Sexy! No No No…’? VERY close but no. ‘Untouchable’? The album version is my favourite song of all time. The radio mix… no.

My favourite single has got to be:

The Loving Kind

Look at that release date. Now look at the date on your screen. Don’t you feel old now? I know I do.

IT’S FIVE YEARS SINCE THE LOVING KIND WAS RELEASED.

If you don’t remember it, then here it is:

So why do I find this song so fantastic?

Well, it’s a three-way collaboration between three of my favourite entities (for lack of a better word) in pop: the girls on vocals, once again perfect production by Xenomania – who have produced 90% of their output and are the reason GA aren’t another Atomic Kitten – and as the Wikipedia box states, co-written with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.

It’s the bloody Pet Shop Boys darling

Some critics wrote this song isn’t as good as an AloudShopBoysmania collaboration could be, whereas others derided it for sounding like a weaker ‘Call the Shots’. I disagree entirely. All parties are at the top of their game here. The girls all get a good share of delivering wistful vocals, with Sarah taking the lead (a rare treat) and Nicola delivering the desperation of her part perfectly. The song wasn’t written for them (but for the Boys own Xenomania produced album, the excellent Yes) but they pull off beautiful Tennant lyrics such as the opening “Sometimes, I watch your when you’re sleeping, I wonder what you’re feeling”. The songwriting captures that horrid feeling when you just know that the romance is fading away. Xenomania are in their element of melancholic electronic and the production is typically layered, such a the faint ‘woahhhh-ohhhhh’s in the background and whooses that lead from one segment to the next. The arrangement isn’t all over the place as something like ‘Biology’, but the  “I’d do anything” part sounds like it would be the middle 8 of a more straightforward song, yet here it’s post-first chorus, keeping the energy going before that wonderful drop into the downtrodden “rush hour of another day” moment.

The Loving Kind video 1

The video is also fantastic, something that can’t really be said for many of the Aloud’s efforts. It’s got a minimalist colour scheme of white, black and red and is wonderfully arty. The girls are in these glass boxes, either looking all sad, doing turns, stretches, pouts and poses (as you do in pop videos) or smashing up old photos and chucking flowers all over the place. It’s pretty simple and sounds dull on paper but the visuals and editing are fantastic. I l-o-v-e (reference!) the bit at the start of the final chorus, where it cuts to each girl all doing the same arms stretched head shaking movement then drop to the floor and back up again.

And also, don’t the girls look stunning?

So many Cheryls! It's like a heterosexual man's dream.

So many Cheryls! It’s like a heterosexual man’s dream.

There's only one Queen Nuhdeen!

There’s only one Queen Nuhdeen!

No pun here, just reiterating how the endless reflections look fantastic.

No pun here, just reiterating how the endless reflections look fantastic.

So yeah, fantastic song, brilliant video, the team-up being the thing of pop nerd’s dreams. But that’s not (just) why I adore ‘The Loving Kind‘ so much. I’d always enjoyed Girls Aloud‘s music on the same level I enjoyed most chart stuff before I really listened to music more in-depth. Catchy stuff, knew the choruses and most of the words (whatever anything in ‘Love Machine’ means), happy to dance to at a party. But then ‘The Promise’ came along and I thought “this is something pretty special”, and a lot of people thought so too, it hit Number One and so did the album Out Of Control. And then I saw ‘The Loving Kind’ video and fell in love. I dipped into some of the album tracks from that album, and never turned back. As I wrote about before, Girls Aloud musically opened my eyes (ears) to a lot more musically, and were my gateway into an online pop community. ‘The Loving Kind’ is where it all started.

Which is a shame that it’s not a massive hit. It was the girls 20th (not counting ‘St. Trinian’s Theme’, sadly counting ‘Walk This Way’) consecutive top 10 – an incredible feat, specially as once an album is out, the singles don’t really do the numbers anymore. It’s in the top ten best selling songs of theirs according to those MTV count down shows and was on the music channels and radio a fair bit when it was out. But it’s not really stuck in many memories five years on (I’m still dumbfounded its been that long) and that’s sadly because it was massively overshadowed by its predecessor. In fact, it may not have even been a Top 10 hit at all (it landed exactly at #10) if it wasn’t for hardcore fans:

Didn’t help that all the promo the girls did for the song was before Christmas. They scraped by this time, but Untouchable wasn’t so fortunate.

Despite it not being critically or commercially Girls Aloud’s crowning glory, I still treasure this song deeply 5 years to the day after it was released as a single. Of course, fans will know it isn’t the only Aloud song released on 12th January 2009…

One of the reasons I love Girls Aloud (and risk sounding like a total hipster) is that their B-sides are all kinds of incredible. Not just their singles (unlike a lot of artists), not just their album tracks (like most artists) but the songs they only put out on CD (remember those?) or vinyl (your parents remember those?). Before 2012 and the bonus disc of their greatest hits TEN, you had to buy a 50 quid limited edition boxset to get this song on disc and therefore; legally onto your iPod. It added to the cult feel on the song, and it really is a fan favourite. In a poll to decide the album tracks and B-sides for the TEN bonus disc, this song was the runaway winner and with good reason.

From the opening stop-start synth lines, to Kimberley’s vocodered, echoey first verse “Late at night I dream I’m falling into love again, twenty five electric angels are dancing in the rain” this track oozes dark and moody, with ethereal qualities Ellie Goulding could only dream of (sorry housemate Jade!). Like ‘The Loving Kind’, it’s full on Melancholic Electronic (if I ever made an album, it’d be called that) but in a much more dancier way. Typically nonsense but intriguing lyrics (“paradise with ice cream skies”, “wondering if sheep count us when they can’t sleep at night” only make sense to songwriter Miranda Cooper), incredibly busy but pin-sharp production and gorgeous solos from only Kimberley and Nicola, the two who are usually seen as the background members of the group by the general public, come together perfectly. It’s so perfect that when Nicola released a solo version, with exactly the same instrumental and just her singing all the vocals, it wasn’t right. Kimberley’s deeper voice opening the song sets the mood, and the contrast between there vocals as the second verse goes into the bridge is one of my favourite bits. I appreciate Nicola for trying to please the fanbase, but don’t mess with perfection.

Even though it adds to the less commercial, more pop-cult feel of the track, I do find it a bit of a shame that song wasn’t given single treatment. It would’ve been a joy to hear in clubs, especially with so much dance pop focused solely on the same old getting drunk and putting your hands up stuff I tired of ages ago. But at the same time it’s cool, in a weird way, to have this incredible piece of music that almost ‘belongs’ to a certain group of people: dedicated pop and Girls Aloud fans.

Five years ago I was just getting into this group and discovering their flawless catalogue, with the promise (reference!) of 3 new albums following a brief hiatus exciting me no end. As we all know, that hiatus lasted 3 years with four new songs (three of them just as wonderful as I was waiting for, and the other being ‘Beautiful ‘Cause You Love Me’) and a tour that wasn’t a farewell tour but was a farewell tour. Obviously they never would have performed ‘Memory of You’, being a HITS tour but I am GUTTED that ‘The Loving Kind’ wasn’t performed. I know it wasn’t their biggest hit and apparently Nicola doesn’t like it very much but to me, of all their singles, it was the most special of all.

If the legacy of these songs amounts to nothing but the following video, then that’s fine:

Happy Fifth Birthday, The Loving Kind and Memory of You.

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So, August…

So August came and went in a bit of a blur, so much so I barely blogged at all (sorry!). So I thought I’d do a reflective post on Things I’ve Been Doing. Admittedly I’ve not done anything as exciting as gone to the MTV VMAs and got everyone talking about my foam finger (I could write an entire essay about Miley Cyrus but in short: she’s not doing anything worse than I’ve seen on many nights out, but she is trying too hard and getting on my goat a bit) but I’m sure I will spice things up with a few pictures and (attempts at) puns.

Most of my time this month has been spent commuting to and from Cardiff for work. I’ve got an enjoyable job and its digging me out of my student debt but obviously it’s not where I want to be in my life. And as graduates know, very few leave Uni and walk into a career. The media especially requires you to know the right people, be in the right place at the right time and/or get shed loads of experience.

Luckily for me and a few of my fellow graduates, this weekend we have gotten some of the latter and it’s been invaluable.

L-R: Leah Coombs, Gwyneth Jane Humphreys, Laura Emily Harris, myself, Jack Perry and Alex Tisley.

We’ve all spent the last few days at Snetterton Race Course up in Norwich for the Citroen 24 Hour 2CV Race. As you can tell by our funky uniforms we were the official media team for the whole race. For us this meant we had to man the Twitter, set up and fix the cameras around the race course as well as vision mix and maintain the online live stream. With the race being 24 hours we each got a chance to try our hand at everything multiple times, and get a few hours sleep. Except for Jack and Leah, who endured the full 24 hours with less pit stops than the cars themselves.

Our office for the race. Surprisingly at the point this photo was taken only one tube of Pringles was open.

Our office for the race. Surprisingly at the point this photo was taken only one tube of Pringles was open.

The event wasn’t as intricate or large as Formula 1, but the experience is very similar (I’d imagine).  Carrying around the roaming camera in the pits we had to be totally aware of our surroundings: what cars were in the pits, who was about come in or leave and where you shouldn’t walk unless you want to get run over. As the audio was handled separately by the radio team and their commentators, we had to try and catch the action on the camera as it was being spoken about. We had walkie-talkies to communicate with the director/vision mixer and at the start found it difficult to communicate, with all the noise of the vehicles and other people around. We learned as we went on to communicate direction using short and to-the-point phrases and assume the camera we were carrying was live all the time.

An example of some of the tweets I made whilst manning the official social media page

An example of some of the tweets I made whilst manning the official social media page

Once we worked out this system, and worked out the rhythm of vision mixing the process ran pretty smoothly. Sure, every now and then one of the cameras would decide to not work (it wouldn’t be a proper live broadcast unless something technological failed) and the amount of sugar and snacks I’ve consumed is disgraceful but it was a fantastic experience and, as the first piece of media work I’ve done since University, I’ve been reminded just why I want to be in this industry. It’s a thrill. And the race was pretty exciting too!

I've discovered a passion for motor racing

I’ve discovered a passion for motor racing

Apart from that, there’s not really much to write about what I’ve got upto, so I might quickly whizz through some music and film reviewsopinions.

Music: apart from Miley Cyrus, August saw (and heard) the return of megastars Lady Gaga and Katy Perry with the lead singles from their third albums. Both are all right I guess, ‘Roar’ is probably the better song but ‘Applause’ is more interesting, if only for some of the lyrics and that accent on the verses. First singles are usually pretty safe, predictable options in today’s overly cautious Top 40 music scene, and I’m hoping there are some genuine classics to come from both. As we move into the last few months of the year, loads of albums are released hoping to be scooped up in the Christmas buying rush. The first one of those is obviously Janelle Monae, who has been pretty much on repeat in anticipation over the last month.

This has also come to my attention recently, and anyone who knows me is well are of my… gripes with the original.  (NSFW)

I’m not sure what’s better: this parody or the comments on the web from men who find watching this uncomfortable. So much irony here I could use it get rid of all the creases in my clothes forever.

Films: I’ve been TERRIBLE with going to the cinema this last month; literally only seeing two films. And no, neither of them were One Direction: This Is Us.

Both The Wolverine and Elysium were, in my opinion, strong solid 7 out of 10 movies. Great films wrapped up in good ones, with their potential just hindered by a few things. The Wolverine starts off as a slow, character piece with a gorgeous setting in Japan and a fantastic set-piece atop a bullet train with physics being thrown out the window. I was actually reminded of one of my favourite films of all time, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children; both have that Japanese sensibility, a mix of realism and stylisation, similar pacing and focus on lonely warriors afflicted with symptoms that cause them to collapse at inopportune moments. But whereas the over-the-top action felt in place in Advent Children, and the set-pieces outdid themselves each time, The Wolverine’s final third just descended into silliness for me, with a gigantic CGI samurai robot. There wasn’t much tension in that fight either, with shots of a character waking up from being knocked out and noticing a weapon they could thrown ruining any element of surprise. The teaser trailer has me very stoked for next year’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past, which is clearly 20th Century Fox‘s answer to Marvel’s The Avengers. Let’s hope its just as awesome but I’ve probably memorised every line of last year’s epic nerdfest and I’m insatiable for more.

(speaking of Insatiable, Queen Nadine Coyle annoucned she’s having a baby!)

Back to films and onto Elysium which, like the Pet Shop Boys album with the same title released last year, wrapped up some social commentary (the film about class divide and capitalism, the album about ageing and fame) in a package that’s easily enjoyable, but leaves you wanting more. I’m guessing that’s what you’d find if you looked up the word in the dictionary.

Oh.

Oh.

Unlike most people I’ve talked to, I had no problem with Jodie Foster at all. In fact, she was one of my favourite aspects of the film. My beef was with Sharlto Copley. He was one of the best things about the incredible District 9 but here, I can’t take him seriously as a villain. I can see what he was going for but I never found him creepy, or intimidating – just a large ham criminally out of place.

Continuing on the theme of enjoying things but finding them a bit disappointing (I am so middle aged…) I’ve been playing a lot of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch which has sucked up a fair bit of my time. It’s got that irresistable JRPG hook of ‘just one more thing to do before I stop’  but like Level-5‘s previous games Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King and Rogue Galaxy I find as the game goes on it gets too repetitive and its becoming a bit of a slog. The combat is frustrating at times with ridiculous AI and the story I’m not really into.

It is VERY pretty though. I’m a sucker for Studio Ghibli and being able to have a Totoro lookalike on the team is pretty awesome.

I will say though, I’ve pretty much not used a guide at all so far which I’ve purposefully tried to do after realising I’m potentially ruining gaming experiences but using them too much during my first playthrough. Sure there’s a great in-game encyclopaedia and a lot of hand-holding with very little thinking involved for a lot of puzzles, but I’m choosing my own monster team and one of their two final evolutions based on gut feeling, rather than guides and what other people online tell me to. I could go into a LOT more detail but I’m saving this for either a full blog post once I finish the game or get a YouTube channel with one of my friends off the ground.

Eyes on this space, guys. Eyes on this space.

For now, I’m going to sleep some more and recover from the weekend. Comments, likes, follows etc. are all greatly appreciated and have a lovely September. I promise to post more! Joe

The Saturdays ‘Gentleman’ Review

So yes, The Saturdays. They started off being put together by Girls Aloud‘s record label, supporting GA on the Tangled Up Tour 2008. They released their first album Chasing Lights whilst the Aloud were at their peak. Then, the Almighty Aloud went on a year hiatus that lasted three. During that hiatus, The Sats could’ve become huge. But they just sort of… meandered around, fussing about with removing an ‘underperforming’ album off iTunes then releasing an overpriced EP with songs from that deleted album on it. They brushed close to the top spot on the singles charts a few times, coming VERY close by collaborating with Xenomania, the masterminds behind the Aloud only to follow it up with an album that truly underperformed. Then, on the week Queen Nudheen Coyle and company announced their heartbreaking split, the Two From S Club Juniors and company FINALLY hit #1 with ‘What About Us’, a terrible auto tuned mess with fake Rihanna style accents and… Sean Paul.

What I’m trying to say is, The Saturdays have always been entwined with Girls Aloud. They were clearly put together to keep us going during those cold, cold years of enduring Cheryl Cole’s solo career. And as I said above, they did OK. But now, we are entering the POST-ALOUD years of pop. Following that #1, is it time for The Saturdays to flourish?

Hmmmmmm, probably not. Their reality show Chasing The Saturdays didn’t make huge waves in here or America. Manufactured bands don’t always last that long – JLS have called it quits after five years. Una has already had a baby and now Rochelle and Frankie (the ones who were in S Club Juniors) are expecting as well. So the group’s upcoming album The Chase may prove to be their swansong.

So, following a poor lead single, can ‘Gentleman’ raise expectations?

Basically, yes. Before I get to the inevitable Aloud comparisons, which in this song are more apparent than normal, there is another comparison to make. To this:

Thankfully the songs sound nothing alike. The girls have ditched the electronic club trend for something more proper left-field. Ie: rapping. Little Mix and Stooshe are both bringing back the 90’s R&B girlband sound, and this does sound a bit like the latter’s debut ‘Love Me’ but what I find it has most in common with is GA’s Tangled Up album track ‘Control of the Knife’. There’s a cool, speedy reggae-pop beat during the verses and lots of white girl attitude where men are put in their place.

The lyrics too, play with innuendo in the way the Aloud used to (its still hard typing about the Aloud in past-tense) especially during the chorus: “Cause most dudes just hit it and quit it/And then they wonder why most girls just spit it”. Naughty, if not Super Naughty (‘All Fired Up’ reference). And whilst I don’t agree with their choices of men in the breakdown, I’m going to have fun trying to memorise that bit.

So in short, its zippy, catchy, full of attitude, a little bit left field and the best thing I think The Saturdays have done for a LONG time. I’ve complained the bands songs have been too generic and trend-chasing but this could be a turnaround. So far the hit/miss ratio of singles for this album is 50/50, so if half of The Chase is as good as this, that half will be happily on rotation on my iPod playlist.