Saturday, 13 December 2014

ARIA you ready - 2014 in review

I've not seriously followed the charts since 1999, a year that gave us the future classic Baby, One More Time and some unholy gash like Mambo #5 and Believe by Cher - the song that set vocal effects back a decade. It was a good time to stop caring, and 15 years later is as good a time as any to go back and pay attention again.

On that note I've gone back and listened to the 13 number one singles on the ARIA charts during 2014 so you don't have to. Unlucky for some, quite possibly me as I'm expecting them to be all complete rubbish - which conveniently ignores that no matter what era you grew up in and hold dear that the #1's were probably shithouse then too.

I'm not entirely sure how the charts work these days, but I'm told that it involves a mix of physical and digital sales - which is a long way from the days when you'd go to Brashs on Burke Road, Camberwell and peruse the cassingles but whatever. I'm surprised they haven't added streaming yet, but I'm sure it will go from its own chart to part of the mainstream countdown before long.

It didn't seem like a lot of #1's compared to last year's 18 but given that there were only 14 in 1990 and just nine in that extraordinarily ropey 1999 then it's not unreasonable - the difference was that it seems now songs are more likely to have multiple reigns at the top than just putting in a six week stint then plummeting out of the top 40. I'm not entirely comfortable with this, but I'm not exactly the music purchasing public am I? In fact I'm so far out of the key demographic that I sat here listening with headphones in so nobody would know what I was up to.

Pharrell Williams - Happy (Weeks commencing 6 January to 3 February, 17 February to 24 March, 7 April)

We open on what I presume will end up as the largest selling single of the year, and one that you could only have missed if you'd spent the entire year collecting guano on the Galapagos Islands. It seems almost pointless to include the video given how ubiquitous it was through the first six months of 2014.

Calling your song "Happy" is like calling it "Please like me", but it obviously takes more than a few generic postive messages to rack up 550 million YouTube views and the support of the Filipino prison population. The overall package delivers the goods, but you have to wonder if highly skilled music ninjas like Pharrell write songs like this out of the goodness of their own heart or because they're exploiting their knowledge about what will cause the entire world to dance like a gibbon and line their pockets with gold.

If this was part of a conspiracy then more power to him, because elements like telling people to clap along might have come straight out of the "how to have a hit single" manual but thousands of people every year are trying to write songs which dangle the world on a string like this and 99.9% of them fail miserably. On the other hand this is the sort of thing that will be played on Gold 104 in 2040 when the 60's, 70's and 80's have been traded to 3MP and Magic 1278's entire audience has died.

As shithouse a musical year it's been for me (and more on that in a later post) I wouldn't rate this amongst my favourite songs or go out of my way to listen to it, but as overplayed as even though familiarity eventually bred contempt and the inevitable backlash there is absolutely no doubt that was A. Good. Song and that Williams provided value for the enormous amounts of money he'd have made from it. Now for the slop.

A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera - Say Something (w/c 10 February)

The moment this started I realised that I have heard it before but tuned out immediately because it seemed best suited as music to slash your wrists to. That's by no means an instant disqualification for a song, but does the world really need another song for people looking wistfully out the window in the rain while pondering lost love. Couldn't they just do it Against All Odds by Phil Collins like people in the 80's? Perhaps not, but this royal flush certainly isn't the answer.

It went to #1, so depressed teenagers and jilted lovers must have gone wobbly for it at the time, but if I ever have to listen to it in full again I will do so from a fully drawn bath with a toaster in hand. Using the content of the video against the song is cheating, but even the earnest piano playing of the bloke at the start made me want to give up on this whole project. And that's before we even got to "old man loses wife" storyline. The whole thing is outrageous schmaltz.

It's the weediest performance by a male vocalist since the glory days of Hootie & The Blowfish, and even the presence of former hornbag and now aspiring torch singer Aguilera can't rescue it. There is no doubt this will be played ad nauseum at funerals over the next few years, and the upside for the dead is that they won't be able to hear it.

5 Seconds of Summer - She Looks So Perfect (31 March)

I know this lot by reputation only, a homemade One Direction who are causing various states of undress in girls far too young for that sort of thing (Pete Townsend has apparently offered to come over and get involved) and are in the process of making outrageous amounts of money.

This song's got all the bases of the target market covered, the New Radicals style "adults don't understand us" whinging (with the benefit of not being performed by a 29 year old man), lingering looks into the camera from Tank Top, T-Shirt and Madden Brothers Range Now On Sale at K-Mart so all the girls can think they might be the one and an opening few seconds that sounds like it was lifted straight out of a McDonalds ad. And cash registers everywhere did explode.

When the chorus came on I realised that I had heard this in the background about 500 times this year and had never once considered that it was done by anybody but Americans. Obviously the song and accompanying video are a naked grab at the lucrative US market but they've done a great job of hiding that they're not from Omaha, Nebraska. Anybody who's been paying attention in Australia (e.g. not me) would have known otherwise, but this tactic is quite rightly following the money.

Whether or not going full USA is to blame (and I've never heard any of their other songs so I can't compare) it does indeed provide an extremely catchy chorus, and overall a pleasant enough song to listen to. It's hardly fair to compare it to that Aguilera garbage above, but at least this won't make people run onto freeways (or 'highways' at 5SOS would no doubt call them) after listening. Will it be remembered in five years when they've split up and gone solo? Probably not, but it will bring the house down when it opens their 2024 reunion concert.

If you've only got a minute spare pretty much everything this has to offer is on show in the first 60 seconds, but I would declare it to be Completely Inoffensive Pop Music. There's no point hanging around for the rest of the song, but stay tuned to the video for the bit where everyone gets their clothes off because there is something for pretty much every taste (except Townsend) before the end. Maybe don't watch it on a train though.

Sheppard - Geronimo (14 April to 28 April)

This is one of only two entries on this list where I'd neither heard of the artist or song beforehand, but I'm not sure that Sheppard would be all that concerned considering they've been around the world racking up sales out of their arse without my help. Oddly enough about five seconds after I finished listening to this song I heard coming from the TV in the other room and rushed out to find that it was also the music to a Subway ad.

God only knows when the last time two Australian artists topped the singles charts in a row, but at least this lot aren't pretending to be Americans. It is quite a 'nice' song, and I could probably listen to it again. There's certainly nothing offensive about it, and if you're into that sort of thing the chorus would be good for yelling out, but it's not my cup of tea. I'm not sure what is these days, but this is all a bit Triple J Unearthed jangly and falsetto. What I will say is that if Coldplay had written this - and it sounds a bit like they should be involved - it would have sold 250 million copies.

It doesn't pass the Gold 2040 test, but is a far sight better than most of the slurry that has reached #1 in the last decade. According to Wikipedia it's the first #1 song ever recorded in Brisbane, which is either a fun fact or somebody taking advantage of anonymous editing to pissfart around.

Ed Sheeran - Sing (5 May) 

Blimey, it's Pharrell again. At this point you could probably release a single called Pharrell which has absolutely no involvement whatsoever from the man himself and you'd at least sneak into the top 40 based on downloads alone before anybody notices. In fact you and I should probably do that right now.

I'm sure Ed is a lovely guy (until somebody sends me a tabloid report of him kicking a tramp in the face), and he will make more money than I do in a year by breakfast but I just can't get interested in him. At least this song is less of a dirge about heroin addicted prostitutes and has a bit more life to it, but he's music's equivalent of John Cena, I can understand why he's popular but can't bring myself to participate.

Against the odds I quite enjoyed the first minute and a half of this before he started plucking his guitar and 'rapping' (am I showing my age?) which briefly sends it off the rails. Still, it's nice to see (as demonstrated in the video), that he's moved his focus from struggling sex workers on the street to "make it rain" style American strip clubs. That's progress. The subject of his first big song is probably dead in a laneway but he's moved onto hoovering gear off the buttocks of an Amazon. History is written by the winners.

I'm still waiting for Pharrell to show up 2m30s in, I know he turns up somewhere because the YouTube preview pic provided a special guest star spoiler. Oh, and there he is at 2m34s, contributing a few random slogans. That's all you need from him and you're straight in at #1 these days. He literally does nothing else except giving Ed the rub for American audiences by pointing to him in the video but that was obviously enough to put him on top here as well.

Other than the need to get some Pharrell pointing time into the clip Ed just goes around in circles for the last minute, so you can probably chop it back to 2.30 if you're programming a radio station and the news is coming up but overall it wasn't a bad package. The difference between his jangly falsetto and that of the Brisbane effort above was clearly that Ed's track has had a shitload of Hollywood fairy dust poured over it. Otherwise I'm not convinced they're all too far away from each.

On a related note I'm deeply suspicious of Ed's YouTube video descriptions where it's written as if he's uploaded it himself. I know they're trying to cultivate a man of the people image where he's Twitter mates with Warney but bollocks he's sitting there typing in "Here's my official music video for 'Sing' featuring the talented Pharrell Williams" himself.

Justice Crew - Que Sera (12 May to 7 July)

As with Pharrell's zillion singing single you can't just rely on catchphrases to get you to the top, but once you've got the sort of profile which means the radio will play your songs no matter what then it seems eminently sensible to me that you'd open the Big Book of Cliches, find one that nobody has put into song before then sit back and watch your bank account multiply several times over.

"At the end of the day, some you win, some you don't" is the ultimate motherhood statement, but once you hear this song you realise that it's such an obviously crowd pleasing line that it's criminal nobody else has used it in the past. It's another one that will be top of the Tobin Brothers charts, but will be significantly less painful for the survivors than that poodle haired ponce and his piano.

I'm sure I heard this on an ad for Winners and Losers at some point during the year, and it's telling that the opening line is what was used and not the standard chart-friendly hip-hop wankfest that it turns into after 30 seconds. That's when it lost me, but it's by no means a terrible song - just all tip and no iceberg. Luckily for them it's the tip that causes people to download (surely nobody's actually buying physical singles these days) and thus a commercial winner was born. I'd personally say 'no thanks' but the chart nerd in me (1988-1999) is happy enough to see this in the list of all time #1 singles.

The Madden Brothers - We Are Done (14 July to 21 July)

Unfamiliar with their career as Blink 182-lite 'punk rockers' I prefer my Madden Brothers for KFC ads and getting busted with gear in their hotel room. Perhaps my limited exposure to Good Charlotte (one song) led me to expect something else here, somebody with at least some token balls - not Chris Isaak in a warehouse with a backwards hat.

Good on them for trying something different but this has the twanging guitar sound of 1992 and a distinct lack of oomph. This is, like so many others from this year, inoffensive and as I trudged through it without enough interest to generate either love or hate it actually made me pine for a song like that piano fiasco about that I could really despise. I just there for 3m37s of twanging waiting for something else to happen. Other than a white-robed choir showing up and dancing about in the traditional manner it never did.

As pointed out by one sage person in the YouTube comments "They're worth millions, how much are you worth?" but the old "how many games have you played?" argument is always a total farce. None of us have ever voted on legislation before but it doesn't stop everyone from hanging shit on politicians 365 days a year.

Paloma Faith - Only Love Can Hurt Like This (28 July to 4 August)

Somebody's got to fill in for Adele while she's taking a break, and Paloma's here to meet all your wistful songstress needs. We'd all had enough of Adele after being force fed Someone Like You for months on end, but I think she did a far better job of this sort of thing than Paloma who sounds like she's doing a James Bond theme song out of the side her neck a'la Popeye.

There's a fair bit of softcore rutting in the video though in you're into that sort of thing, and that will probably be enough to keep you involved for the first two minutes before she unexpectedly switches gear and starts singing what I would call (in an unpopular way I'm sure) as "properly" instead of sounding like she's got somebody standing on her windpipe. Business picks up from there, but still don't we get this exact type of song about five times a year? There's no way anybody's still playing this in 2016 let alone 2040.

Meghan Trainor - All About That Bass (11 August to 25 August, 22 September)

I came up with the idea for this post yesterday afternoon after listening to Nova for 30 minutes in the car. Usually I'd avoid FM like the plague but sometimes you've got to be a reasonable husband and not subject your beloved to ABC Newsradio's live coverage of the Senate.

On that drive I was introduced to this song for the first time, having never heard of it or Meghan in my life despite it being #1 four months ago. Until that moment, somewhere between Rye and Portsea, I thought that 1998's Addicted To Bass featuring that bird who has never been heard from again was my most hated most hated song referencing frequency tones, but suddenly a new contender has emerged.

I'll put the video, which I'm sure is being deliberately post-modern by presenting a 'club' song in what looks like the offices of Fashion Police, to one side and concentrate on the track itself which is - I'm pleased to say for the sake of this list - pure white-hot horror. Right off the bat Meaghan is keen to let you know she's got a larger than average caboose and is loving it. I didn't realise this yesterday and I still hated the track.

Yay body empowerment and flaunting your assets but this is presented in such an irritating twee fashion that it falls well short of it's clear goal of being this decade's feminine response to Baby Got Back and instead represents squeaky, cynically written junk which is quickly headed to the Jill Sobule Memorial Graveyard for Novelty Ladysongs. Never again I beg of you.

Taylor Swift - Shake It Off (1 September to 15 September)

Now, in case you think I'm just being a bitter old crank I would like to point out that this is an absolute screamer and by some distance my favourite of all the #1's of the year. I'd probably have lost interest had I heard it at any time before yesterday when it was no doubt being flogged 27 times on every radio station in the country up to an including Radio National, but with the benefit of it all being new to me I think it's ace.

If you've already got a high profile putting the word "shake" in your song title brings the chances of it being a top five hit into about $1.01, but for once the best bits are actually what passes for verses in 2014 rather than the chorus. The random mid-song 'rap' (oh dear, there we go again) brings the whole thing to a screaming halt for a few precious seconds, but I've got no doubt that there are people in nightclubs singing along to that bit for word-for-word so what do I know?

I put it to you that Taylor is the only artist on this list other than Pharrell who will be getting played at Doncaster Over 28's in 15 years time, and that this is what they'll be dropping at midnight to encourage a room full of today's 18 year olds (yes, you will be old like me eventually) to get busy in a dark corner before retreating to the carpark to continue the fun.

This song has the same sort of timeless vibe as 90% of the Justin Timberlake solo songs or the early Lady Gaga ones before she started wearing meat and I am confident in declaring in a future classic. It not only passes the Gold 2040 test, it practically sets it. Sounds big, is big.

The Veronicas - You Ruin Me (29 September to 13 October)

The what? Who knew The Veronicas were still an going concern. Are Madison Avenue coming back too? It seems they're still plowing the same territory as they were the last time around - friends are good, men (formerly boys) are yuck etc.. but that's how you sell 'records' (old) so good luck to them. The difference now is that it's sensitive piano ballardry rather than girlpower high fives in a variety of colourful costumes.

This makes a far better fist of the torch-song than anything Christina Aguilera has been involved with this year (if ever) but as highly technically proficient as the whole thing appears to be it's all a bit bland for my liking.

Ed Sheeran - Thinking Out Loud (20 October to 17 November)

Speaking of bland "Here's my official video for 'Thinking Out Loud', I learnt to dance!" says 'Ed' in the YouTube description, and it does what it says on the packet. In fact this couldn't suggest "do your first wedding dance to this" any more stridently unless it had subliminal messages and Blurred Lines style slogans flashing across the screen in the middle of the video.

It would be easy to assume that Ed's second #1 of the year was as the direct result of his appearance at the AFL Grand Final on 27 September, but considering an entire nation went to the kitchen to get chips when Tom Jones wasn't on I'm not sure it really helped. Did he sing this at the MCG? Who would know, other than that brief diversion into Hollywood earlier in the year all his songs sound exactly the same.

Unless you have actually just tied the knot, are intending to very soon or are shedding a tear at thwarted love there is very little in this song for you but while it might not be a solid gold classic it will be on high rotation at SmoothFM until it's the last song ever heard as a meteor hits the earth. I don't love it, I'm not sure I even like it but I can't bring myself to hate it. Not sure it really needed to go five minutes though, there would have to be a furious radio edit which omits at least two minutes.

Taylor Swift - Blank Space (24 November to the end of time)

A title which would appropriately describe what you'd be seeing here if I'd had to write about my knowledge of this song before today. On first listen it's not got anywhere near the outrageous thump of her other track, but it's still another win in a career defining hot-streak that has probably left her atop the rankings of all solo female artists (Meghan Trainor is currently in 2.4 millionth place). Apparently she's the first woman in history to replace herself at the top of the US singles charts, which is huge when you consider the likes of Madonna and... err.. Shania Twain (?) who have had similar 'best in the world' runs of various durations.

What I like about this is that while the lyrics are clearly dripping with cynicism it doesn't get in the way of the big sound. When you're rolling in it like she is you can obviously afford the best of everything, but compared to some of the songs above it sounds as if it's been rolled out of a Hollywood movie set, not recorded on an iPhone in somebody's basement.

Does it pass the Gold 2040 test? Does it what, this will be on the top line with Timberlake when I'm old and grey. I personally prefer her other song for the novelty aspects but this is what 'pop' music should be, not some git plinking away at a piano on a darkened stage making us all want to stick our head in a vat of toxic waste.

Taylor Swift, whoever you are, thanks for saving chart music in 2014.

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