Random jukebox – Heaven 17

Heaven 17 were, of course, capable of being very good when they wanted to be, and one of their best songs during their short commercial peak was this, Let Me Go.

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Erasure – Other People’s Songs

I think it’s fair to say that Erasure were having a bit of an identity crisis fifteen years ago. Their “guitar” album Loveboat had been an abject failure, and pop generally seemed to be in a bit of a decline. Andy Bell had always threatened to do a cover versions album, which might have made a degree of sense and certainly couldn’t have been any worse than the solo efforts he did release. When it did appear, Vince Clarke had decided to take part as well, and the whole thing ended up smelling more than a little of lousy cash-in.

Other People’s Songs opens with Peter Gabriel‘s Solsbury Hill, a respectable opening track and lead single which adds little to the original other than some cheesy instrumentation and flamboyant vocals. It’s good, but it’s not great.

The strength here is, of course, in the songs themselves. Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime is a great song – one of the best on here, actually – and of course Erasure were, at this stage, still more than competent enough to make a great track out of a catchy song. Especially when the instrumentation didn’t get too cheesy, as it had a little on the first track. The only slight disappointment is that this doesn’t remotely echo Baby D‘s brilliantly manic version of this song from just a few years earlier, although some of the vocal effects do go some way towards making up for that.

There are always the songs that don’t work quite as well – Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) remains a great and catchy song, but it’s hardly an Erasure song, and frankly it made a pretty lousy second single.

And then there are the ones that fail completely – what on earth is Everyday supposed to be? If you want to be really kind to it, maybe it’s a fun reminder of the early days of Yazoo and Erasure, with a fun monophonic synth line and soulful vocals. If you don’t, it’s just plain drivel.

Fortunately, most of the tracks here are mercifully short, and as the equally dreadful When Will I See You Again and the marginally better Walking in the Rain pass you by, you might find yourself starting to lose the will to live.

What you can say here is that there’s always a good song somewhere nearby, and this time it’s the adorable True Love Ways. As with earlier songs, part of the reason it works so well is that the synths are toned down a little here, and this turns out to actually be up to the standard that you might expect from Erasure.

But for every up, there’s always a big down, and Ebb Tide returns us to their earlier form. And again, some of the songs have just been done better by others – Can’t Help Falling in Love is passable, but it’s hardly UB40, and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was done much better by The Human League.

Of course, Erasure had done plenty of cover versions before, most notably of Abba, and some of them had been very good indeed, and so there was inevitably going to be a moment of absolute greatness on here, but Goodnight is still something of a surprise – it’s so good, in fact, that it overshadows pretty much everything else that Erasure released between 2000 and 2011.

Then they go and spoil it all with Video Killed the Radio Star, which is so objectively bad that I won’t say any more than that.

Ultimately, it has to be said – Other People’s Songs is largely awful. It’s actually bad enough that it’s difficult to fathom how nobody noticed while it was being recorded. Sure, there’s no shortage of great, catchy songs, but most of them would have been better left in their original form, without the awful 8-bit synth sounds that Vince Clarke seemed to be so keen on during this period. On the whole, this one is best avoided.

If that inspired you to track this album down, you can find it here and at all major retailers.

Retro chart for stowaways – 24 January 2004

Here are the top ten singles from fourteen years ago this week:

  1. Liberty X – Everybody Cries
  2. Sugababes – Too Lost in You
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Miracles
  4. Girls Aloud – Jump
  5. Martin L. Gore – Loverman
  6. Madonna – Love Profusion
  7. Goldfrapp – Twist
  8. Dave Gahan – Bottle Living
  9. Kylie Minogue – Slow
  10. Sugababes – Hole in the Head

BRIT Awards 2018 – Nominations

Revealed a week or so, here are the nominees for the 2018 BRIT Awards!

British Artist Video of the Year

  • Anne-Marie – Ciao Adios
  • Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell Williams / Katy Perry / Big Sean – Feels
  • Clean Bandit feat. Zara Larsson – Symphony
  • Dua Lipa – New Rules
  • Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
  • Harry Styles – Sign of the Times
  • Jonas Blue feat. William Singe – Mama
  • Liam Payne feat. Quavo – Strip That Down
  • Little Mix – Touch
  • ZAYN and Taylor Swift – I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker Soundtrack)

British Breakthrough Act

  • Dave
  • Dua Lipa
  • J Hus
  • Loyle Carner
  • Sampha

Critics’ Choice Award

For reasons that have never been entirely obvious to me, we already know the winner, and which will be presented by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.

  • Jorja Smith
  • Mabel
  • Stefflon Don

The winner is Jorja Smith.

British Male Solo Artist

  • Ed Sheeran
  • Liam Gallagher
  • Loyle Carner
  • Rag ‘N’ Bone Man
  • Stormzy

International Group

Or the “we’re short on ideas so let’s just nominate Foo Fighters again” award.

  • Arcade Fire
  • Foo Fighters
  • Haim
  • The Killers
  • LCD Soundsystem

International Female Solo Artist

Or the “we’re short on ideas so let’s just nominate Björk again” award.

  • Alicia Keys
  • Björk
  • Lorde
  • Pink
  • Taylor Swift

International Male Solo Artist

  • Beck
  • Childish Gambino
  • DJ Khaled
  • Drake
  • Kendrick Lamar

MasterCard British Album of the Year

I wonder why Visa have never taken over sponsorship of this one.

  • Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa
  • Ed Sheeran – ÷
  • J Hus – Common Sense
  • Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – Human
  • Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

British Single

  • Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell Williams / Katy Perry / Big Sean – Feels
  • Clean Bandit feat. Zara Larsson – Symphony
  • Dua Lipa – New Rules
  • Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
  • J Hus – Did You See
  • Jax Jones feat. Raye – You Don’t Know Me
  • Jonas Blue feat. William Singe – Mama
  • Liam Payne feat. Quavo – Strip That Down
  • Little Mix – Touch
  • Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – Human

British Group

  • Gorillaz
  • London Grammar
  • Royal Blood
  • Wolf Alice
  • The xx

British Female Solo Artist

  • Dua Lipa
  • Jessie Ware
  • Kate Tempest
  • Laura Marling
  • Paloma Faith

British Producer of the Year

Another award that normally goes under the radar, because it’s not as glitzy or exciting as any of the others – the British Producer of the Year for 2018 will be Steve Mac.

The awards ceremony is on 21st February – join us a little after to find out who won!

Propellerheads – Decksandrumsandrockandroll

Propellerheads burst onto the lower reaches of the UK chart at the end of 1996 with Take California, scoring their most significant hit the following year with David Arnold‘s help on their version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They were a short-lived duo – Decksandrumsandrockandroll was their only full-length album release – but they were ambitious collaborators, and did manage something of an impact during their brief stay on the charts.

The album opens with the first hit Take California, a long and repetitive piece built around a fairly uninspiring sample. Then next is Velvet Pants – I hadn’t realised until listening this time around that I actually own the US version, which has a slightly different track listing to the UK one, so a track is missing here. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. As with the first track, it drags somewhat, but there’s a pleasant feel all the way through.

Better? might be a short track, but it’s far from a filler – it’s a sweet little jazzy track that fits nicely in between the bigger pieces. The UK version of the album then gets Oh Yeah? while the US version introduces De La Soul in a collaboration that seems to have been manned by Prince of all people – 360° (Oh Yeah?) is next, as an undemanding De La Soul vocal appears over the original track.

Oh, then Shirley Bassey turns up, delivering the vocal on the 1997 hit History Repeating. You can tell that Propellerheads are clearly big James Bond fans, and possibly for the first time on this album, it’s really rather brilliant

This is not so true for Winning Style or Bang On!, the latter sounding like early-90s era Moby when he was having one of his less creative days. But this is, broadly, a hip hop album, and so the short beatboxing of A Number of Microphones is appropriate, although not entirely welcome.

Finally, we get the hit single, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in glorious nine-and-a-half minute form. It’s huge, and absolutely every bit as good as the original. This is pretty much what Propellerheads their fifteen minutes of fame, and deservedly so. Anything else is going to feel like filler, and so pleasant though the gentle acid of Bigger? may be, it feels a little bit pointless too. Cominagetcha is nice enough too, but seems a little drifty and directionless.

Spybreak! was another single, which snuck in at the bottom end of the top 40 in 1997. Again, it’s far from bad, but it’s nothing particularly special, and it also owes a lot to the preceding single Take California. I’m starting to wonder now why I liked this album – it seems very bland now.

Sure enough, Jungle Brothers turn up for the closing track You Want it Back, and it’s nothing special either. Two decades on, this is, sadly, a rather disappointing effort all round.

The version of Decksandrumsandrockandroll that was reviewed is still available from the US version of Amazon here.