Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Patterns of Pop

I've been listening the hell out of the new Lily Allen album and pondering pop music, or least the weird little anglophile-centric corner I frequent. I warn in advance, this is all tangents below.

* British people doing fake country has improved greatly since Kyle Minogue's "Cowboy Style," which is one of the strangest songs ever written. It seems to shoot for half-Country half-Bollywood and achieves neither. It's kind of awesome or terrible, (I remain undecided), but it's certainly not very cowboy style. Lily's "Not Fair" isn't going to get played at any square dances, but it incorporates elements of country seamlessly and still sounds like a Lily Allen song.

* There have to be hundreds of "DJ Play That Song" variants at this point. Madonna, Rhianna, J. Lo, Kylie, Robbie Williams and plenty that I can't think of have all had one of those "Please keep playing this song because I like dancing" songs. And yet I somehow imagine a compilation of these would be torture. There's a certain one-note-ness to all these songs that would make me want to listen to anything else after four or five of them. Points go to Robbie, though, for "Rock DJ," one of the stranger videos ever made.

*The easiest cop-out musical elements for ballads these days seem to be acoustic guitars or slow overblown slow r 'n' b. There have got to be better, more interesting ways to construct ballads. Why can't there be a "Drop It Likes Hot" of ballads? "Cry Me A River" is a good start.

* Conversely, and unsurprisingly, faux-new wave seems to be the go to element of uptempo tracks, and with the exception of Gwen Stafani and Pink, this is generally a pretty good thing (this video is a PG-13 parody of something very NSFW).

* Pop albums should absolutely be shorter. As you can tell from the three thoughts above, too often pop music feels like a series of boxes that need to be ticketed. Break-up song? Check. Back together song? Check. Boudoir jam? Yup. "Hey DJ" song? Of course. Sure, pop music is commerce, but I think Beyonce's poorly executed split-album was actually a step in the right direction. But let's take it further. I'd love to see pop groups just put out their six best songs each year, in digital form. Then every few years, bundle it all together with some bonus tracks for good measure.

*Xenomania are the best hit-makers in the world right now. Not only have they been the people behind the curtain for Girls Aloud (as I look through You Tube, I think most of their videos are kind of crap), but they're collaborations with Saint Ettienne show how great uptempo dance music can also be mature and clever. "Action" is about as good a song as has ever been written.

* Similarly important, and with perhaps a broader reach are Timbaland and Missy. Imagine for a second Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake without Tim's work on their last albums. Nelly would still be working on "Fly Like A Bird Part 2." And I think JT's album could have potentially been a career killer. Think I exagerate? I watched five minutes of his live show when it was broadcast on HBO, and it was all pointless vamping. His album would have sounded like a D'Angelo album without the actually, y'know, talent.

* I still don't know if I like or hate Max Martin. He's like the wind now, and I don't know how he writes so many songs, but for the dozens of terrible Backstreet Boys songs, there are still gems like this.

* Goldfrapp is proof that great pop can be influenced from the wings. Plenty of people have ripped off Goldfrapp's sound for good (Rachel Stephens) or for ill (Christina Aguilera). Pop music operates like the major political parties and although it will still bulldoze toward the middle ground, sometimes fringe groups can influence the proceedings, and Goldfrapp is like the Green Party ... in a good way.

* A Pet Shop Boys curated festival would be fantastic (or even one by Erlend Oye).

* Lyrics can still matter. Lily Allen is proof of this, and much of Robbie Williams's remaining charm is in how brutally honest he is.

* Alan Braxe and Fred Falke should remix everything.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I feel like the more self aware a song is, the less I like it. "Hey DJ" songs are part of these, as well as any song referring to it's own features, like the beat or sound in general or whatever.

This one time my radio said "take it to the chorus," and then the chorus to the song I was listening to inextricably began.

Also, it would be neat if, when in concert, these pop stars would give shout outs to their sound engineers. Just sayin'.