Avatar Four Word Reviews: Footprints

Whenever a little CD-sized padded envelope arrives in my postbox, it’s like a time capsule. Where will we go? Terrible cartoon cover versions of the 90s? Forgotten Gospel from the 60s? Or perhaps, like today, we’ll find ourselves transported to a world I’d almost forgotten: the very early 2000s, and a branch of pop music that I mostly tuned out was big in the charts. It was heavily RnB influenced and it gave us “No Scrubs” and Gwen Stefani’s second wind and lots of songs with hi-hat and a whole, horrendous wave of misogyny, from “Thong Song” to “Hot In Herrrre”. And, at the lighter, poppier end of this best-forgotten spectrum, it gave us Australian soap star Holly Valance, and her 2002 album Footprints.

The lead single and the most memorable thing to come off this album was “Kiss Kiss”, a cover version of a song that had been big in the Middle East already, and which was sort of interesting because it had that RnB sound but it also had lots of floaty, Disney’s Aladdin-style fantasy-Arabia instrumentation. It also had a weird kissy sound as its chorus line instead of words, which was a bit embarassing.

If you thought “Kiss Kiss” was a pretty brazen “come and get it” song for a 19-year-old to be singing then you should hear the rest of the album. Put aside the bang-on-trend production – which I am happy to do, that trend being 16 years old and not something I cared for even at the time – and you appear to have an album conceived and directed by male middle-aged record company execs with their trousers around their ankles excitedly working out what they can get a 19-year-old girl to sing without it actually being pornography. And I might be getting old but I was starting to find it creepy by about track 5.

Anyway: let’s see the shape of this thing.

Track Title Word 1 Word 2 Word 3 Word 4
1 Kiss Kiss Kisses instead of words
2 Tuck Your Shirt In Detailed dress code pop
3 Down Boy Quick yet queerly quiet
4 City Ain’t Big Enough Desperate to be TLC
5 Cocktails and Parties Smugly not seducing husbands
6 Whoop “Kiss Kiss”, but “Whoop”
7 Hush Now Eternal meets Leg Jazz
8 All in the Mind “Massive explosion, magic emotion”
9 Harder They Come It’s no Jimmy Cliff
10 Help Me Help You Helplessly slushy twinkly bobbins
11 Naughty Girl Breathily dubious sexiness attempt
12 Connect 2000s RnB harpsichord action
13 Send My Best Sensual acoustic guitar finale

Track 2 is, like “Kiss Kiss”, very Middle Easty, and I wondered whether the whole album would be like that, but the answer is no, it’s just those two tracks. The other 11 could be Eternal, Destiny’s Child, TLC or maybe Cleopatra songs if you weren’t listening too closely. It’s been produced to death, all twinkles and vocoders, and a lot of songs have that stuttery effect in the bridge where it sounds like the song is skipping in time with the beat. You’d know it if you heard it. All those songs did it in those days.

And it really is all very sexual. Here’s some of the lyrics I scribbled down, though this list could have been much, much longer. I don’t need to go into the insinuations that “Harder They Come” is making.

  • “I can be your fantasy, give you what you want”
  • “Keep you up all night”
  • “I’m proud to arouse”
  • “I’m a naughty girl, I can dance what you want me to dance”

In summary, my favourite thing is that, because it was made in 2002, it’s an “enhanced” CD featuring the videos to “Kiss Kiss” and “Down Boy”, and a special feature about the making of them. I didn’t watch them, obviously. I’d heard enough of this by the time I reached the end of track 13. I’d just forgotten that video extras on CDs used to be a thing and it made me feel a bit nostalgic for a few minutes. My least favourite thing about this album is that I’m not sure whether listening to it means I have to go on some kind of register now.

Avatar Four Word Reviews: Eyes of Innocence

Do you remember the 1980s? Do you like 1980s music? Are you keen to hear all the many sounds of 80s pop music on a single album? Yes, yes, yes and yes: the album for you is Eyes of Innocence, the 1984 debut from Miami Sound Machine, better known as Gloria Estefan plus her husband and some guys who would be quickly forgotten about as her solo career took off. Me? I like some 80s music, yes, but I generally don’t require all of it to be performed on a single album by a single band. And yet that is what I got when the postman pushed this through my door.

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Avatar Four Word Reviews: Double Wide

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to just read these reviews, never having heard the music I’m reviewing. Sometimes I wonder if a casual reader would believe that I actually do listen to the whole album in its entirety before writing one. But I do, and that is why I have very mixed feelings when another CD-shaped package mysteriously arrives in my postbox. Sometimes the contents of that package are familiar to me and maybe even borderline palatable, like when Sade emerged from her Jiffy bag. Other times I find myself facing up to an album like Double Wide by Uncle Kracker.

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Avatar Four Word Reviews: Christmas with Mahalia

It’s been the hottest April since records began, or something, with temperatures up to 28°C here in the tropical south last week. The flowers are out in force, bees are buzzing around and the sky is a clear, vivid blue. With all that in mind, then, I am unable to explain why this might be a good time to review Christmas with Mahalia, a 1968 album featuring ten gospel versions of Christmas songs with rich orchestral and choral accompaniment. But evidently it is a good time, because here we are.

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Avatar Four Word Reviews: Doing it My Way

It’s been a long time since we last dipped our toes into the chilly water of Four Word Reviews – seven months, in fact. That’s largely because the mysterious supply of terrible CDs has been slowing down lately. Still, there’s one here now, and that is an album that’s ten years old this month: Doing it My Way by the 2006 X Factor runner-up Ray Quinn.

There’s not much to say about this album – as we will see – for the simple reason that it’s an album of swing cover versions. It contains exactly the songs you would expect and they’ve all been recorded and performed in exactly the same way as all the hundreds of other albums like this that have been churned out over the years. Everyone from Robbie Williams to Jason Manford has had a pop at it, and they all basically sound like this.

In this specific case, Ray Quinn was all of 19 years old when he came second (second!) in the X Factor, and he was whisked away to Los Angeles to record this album at Capitol Records Tower, in the very studio where Frank Sinatra belted out some of these songs in a more genuine way many years before. I read that on Wikipedia and it might be the single most depressing thing about the whole album. Wait, no, this is: it was a gold-selling album in 2007 and Ray Quinn became the first artist to score a number 1 album without ever releasing a single.

Track Title Word 1 Word 2 Word 3 Word 4
1 Ain’t That a Kick in the Head Literally no opinions here
2 Fly Me to the Moon Weirdly flutey and arhythmic
3 My Way Limper than Frank’s Way
4 That’s Life Violently offensive Hammond organ
5 Mack the Knife Robbie sang it better
6 Smile Tuned this one out
7 The Way You Look Tonight Urgh. Creepy crooning crescendo
8 Summer Wind Generic swing sung generically
9 What a Wonderful World Is this even “swing”?
10 Mr. Bojangles OK song made tedious
11 New York, New York No York No York

It’s quite hard to have an opinion about this album because it’s all songs you’ve heard a hundred times before sung in exactly the way you’ve heard them sung a hundred times before. It offers nothing new. You have to listen pretty hard to work out it’s this generic singing guy and not one of the thousands of other blokes with halfway decent voices who have chosen to tread this heavily congested road. It lacks any sincerity. A 19 year old can’t really sing “My Way” and hope to make you think they mean it, not that this particular 19 year old sounds much like he’s trying. Some of the more upbeat and jazzy numbers have been made quieter and less jazzy for some reason. It’s a big, brass-heavy sigh of a record.

In summary, my favourite thing about this album was that I could sometimes forget it was this X Factor guy singing it and let it wash over me like it was literally any other album of identical-sounding swing covers. My least favourite thing was “New York, New York” being turned into a sort of stodgy, plodding recital. Even I give that song more welly if I sing along to it.

Avatar Four Word Reviews: Bugs & Friends Sing the Beatles

1995 is a fertile year for the albums that randomly arrive in the post without any indication of their provenance. That year has already brought us The Lone Ranger and It’s Time. Now it brings us a third forgotten horror, Bugs & Friends Sing the Beatles, subtitled “The Furry Four Sing Their Fab Four Favourites!”.

Bugs & Friends Sing the Beatles

I have to be honest, I don’t really know where to start. I loved Looney Tunes cartoons when I was a kid. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were my favourites, and Disney could absolutely do one. So I had a small glimmer of hope that there might be something entertaining about this. Then I put the CD in and – in a Four Word Reviews first – I genuinely had to pause it at the end of the first track to try and gather my thoughts and steel my nerves to get through the rest.

I don’t even know what’s worst. Is it that they’ve taken on brilliant, beautiful songs and wilfully converted them into vehicles for terrible puns on other Beatles song names and cartoon fights with lots of sound effects? Is it the fact that almost every song breaks down in the middle into a spoken-word sketch of some kind? Is it that even when they’re not talking, they mostly speak the lyrics in “funny” voices or respond to them in some way? Is it the patronising Indian accent in “Fool on the Hill” when Elmer Fudd is asking his swami for spiritual guidance?

Actually, no, I do know what’s the worst and it’s none of those. It’s that you’re not even listening to Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and Taz. You’re listening to four bad impressions of Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and Taz and they are slowly battering eleven Beatles songs into an early grave. Taz doesn’t really matter because he’s not in it much, but his character isn’t really meant to speak. Elmer’s voice is wobbly and cracked and sounds awful when singing. Daffy is vaguely convincing until he does his catchphrase “woohoo!” and then the actor loses the character a bit. And Bugs is… well, I don’t know who Bugs is, but he’s not Bugs Bunny. It’s not convincing at all. He doesn’t even speak in the right register. I have never missed Mel Blanc so badly.

Track Title Word 1 Word 2 Word 3 Word 4
1 She Loves You She wouldn’t love this
2 The Fool on the Hill Elmer Fudd’s harrowing vocal
3 Birthday Includes reference to Laserdiscs
4 Hello Goodbye Joyless Bugs/ Daffy argument
5 With a Little Help From My Friends Elmer bludgeons another classic
6 It Won’t Be Long It was too long
7 Yesterday Daffy Duck singing “suddenly”
8 Penny Lane Oh god I can’t
9 Help! Yosemite Sam’s unwelcome debut
10 Can’t Buy Me Love No no no no
11 The Long and Winding Road Featuring Roadrunner “meep meeps”

The jokes are bad. The sketches are bad. The scripted-to-death ad libs are bad. The changes to the lyrics are bad. The way they shoehorn other Beatles song titles into their jokes is beyond bad. The instrumental version of “The Long and Winding Road” that featured only backing vocals and Roadrunner – “the long and winding road MEEP MEEP that leads to your door” – was painful. But I think worst of all is that I listened to the album and it made me realise what brilliantly written songs these are and how sad it was to hear them being taken for granted and pillaged for cheap laughs that mostly don’t land by people without even half the talent of the original songwriters. It’s a horrible parody of brilliant music by people doing a horrible pastiche of a brilliant voiceover artist. There’s no joke at the end of this paragraph. It’s just really sad.

In all, this was among the worst things I’ve ever listened to, though still not as bad as “To The Extreme” by Vanilla Ice which is the worst thing that has ever happened to me and will never be matched. My favourite thing about this album was Daffy Duck singing “suddenly!” in Yesterday. My least favourite thing was basically everything else.

Avatar Four Word Reviews: Love Situation

I’m getting used to terrible albums mysteriously landing on my doormat now. I don’t know who sends them or why, but they keep on coming. Normally I’ve heard of the people involved – Vanilla Ice, Clock, that sort of thing, but I have to say I’ve never heard of Gary Wilmot before. I’ve searched the internet to no avail. He’s a complete unknown.

Still, here it is, a forgotten 80s classic: Love Situation by Gary Wilmot.

Gary Wilmot - Love Situation

The feeling I normally get while listening to music for these Four Word Reviews is that I struggle to care about the music I’m hearing, but this album was an interesting first, because I got the distinct feeling that Gary Wilmot didn’t care either. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an entire album of music in which none of the participants show any sign of giving a damn about the music they’re mechanically churning out.

Of the 12 tracks here, four are cover versions. The eight original songs are without exception awful, with the sort of lyrics that slowly and deliberately tell you exactly what the song is about so there’s no space for imagination or subtlety, but it’s not clear whether Mr Wilmot thought that he could genuinely improve on the four songs he covers or whether he’s just using them as a way to avoid having to write any more drivel. In any case, all four are disasters.

In terms of the music, it sounds like someone listened to “A Winter’s Tale” by David Essex and decided to make a whole album like that. There’s almost no sound on the whole CD that is not made by one of the instrument settings on a Yamaha keyboard, though there is a bit of Carpenters-style subdued electric guitar once or twice that’s turned right down so it doesn’t get you too excited. Several of the songs fade out over the course of thirty seconds or more, sometimes from the middle of a chorus, which gives the impression that the producer has had enough and is trying to wrap it up early.

Track Title Word 1 Word 2 Word 3 Word 4
1 Love Situation Dreading eleven more tracks
2 On the Way to a Dream Synth clarinet and sadness
3 Unchained Melody Uninteresting rendition, unmitigated failure
4 And Now She’s Gone Allegedly emotional breakup ballad
5 Take My Breath Away Masterclass in slaughtering songs
6 Star Without a Soul “Raggy Dolls” backing vocal
7 Wind Beneath My Wings Emotionlessly plodding through dross
8 Expectation Road Overwrought ballad about loneliness
9 I Won’t Forget You Not even Gary cares
10 Against All Odds Nobody asked for this
11 Danny You’re a Loser China Crisis with crooning
12 There’s Only Room for the Good Girls Unsuccessfully channeling Billy Joel

Interestingly, after ten solid tracks of slow, quiet, bored-sounding crooning, the last two tracks suddenly pick up the pace, like a direct reversal of all those albums that have ten tracks of lively good stuff and then a couple of slow half-baked songs tacked on the end. Both of them are crap, but Danny You’re a Loser is almost the first appearance of any sort of beat, which is at least a welcome change if not actually pleasant listening, while There’s Only Room for the Good Girls might be a terrible song and a transparent pastiche of Billy Joel but is at least not more mushy, apathetic muttering over dreary keyboards. If they were the first two tracks you’d misguidedly think there was some hope for the album, so in that sense at least it is kinder to put them at the end.

In short, my favourite thing about this album is that it took four songs I already knew and didn’t like, and showed me how it would be possible to make them much worse, so that next time I hear any of them I can at least appreciate the fact that the originals are competently performed and that the singer seems to give a toss about them. My least favourite thing is that I still have no idea who Gary Wilmot is.

Avatar Four Word Reviews: Dead Letters

Last time we met here in the Album Review Auditorium, I had just suffered the ordeal of To The Extreme by Vanilla Ice. This time I have been listening to Dead Letters, the 2003 album by the Finnish sort-of rock band The Rasmus, and I’m a bit concerned that this review is not going to be like the other Four Word Reviews for two reasons. The first is that this album is not quite in the same league of shameful horror as most of the albums that have landed on my doormat over the last year. The second is that, having listened to Vanilla Ice in the recent past, nothing I hear for a long time will seem particularly bad. I think that’s why I’m not particularly down on this album. I thought it was sort of OK.

Dead Letters

I mean, let’s not go crazy here. I wouldn’t choose to listen to it again and I’m certainly not going to be singing along to it in the car. But with the likes of Vanilla Ice and Clock, I would seriously consider never listening to any music ever again if I thought it was the only way to avoid a second listen to those albums. This album is just a bit of a shrug by comparison.

Here’s what I didn’t know until I listened to the whole of this. I didn’t know The Rasmus are Finnish and I didn’t know they were still touring now. (I Googled them.) I didn’t realise – perhaps because, when I was used to hearing them on the radio back in 2004, I didn’t really know much about this kind of music – that their style is basically a sort of Europop version of emo. I didn’t know that I would remember their second single, Guilty, when I heard it. (I didn’t honestly remember they had a second single.)

Mostly this is power-pop emo with blasting guitars and tortured, needy lyrics. Some of them play on the band’s northern European origins – there’s definitely a mention of the Northern Lights in there for no especially good reason. Most of them have a delightful, endearing self-pity that suggests this lot came hot on the heels of nu-metal or whatever Lincoln Biscuit called themselves. There’s not a great deal to tell most of the songs apart.

I was lucky enough to be sent the extended album with three bonus tracks, so while most people only get ten songs on Dead Letters, ending in the festival of depression that is Funeral Song, I was able to enjoy a further three songs that were broadly the same as the first ten.

Track Title Word 1 Word 2 Word 3 Word 4
1 First Day of My Life Remarkably emotional Scandinavian rock
2 In the Shadows Honestly don’t mind this
3 Still Standing Entering needy emo territory
4 In My Life Van Halen meets Busted
5 Time to Burn Attempts metal. Still emo.
6 Guilty Extensive “woahs” and “yeahs”
7 Not Like the Other Girls Kettle boiling, missed this
8 The One I Love Shouty angst and guitars
9 Back in the Picture It’s more power emo
10 Funeral Song Dreary slow overworked pap
11 F-f-f-falling More of the s-s-s-same
12 If You Ever Harmonies glitter this turd
13 What Ever Jiggy tortured emo finale

I think in summary, I would describe this album as “not horrendous”. In the Shadows is an OK pop song that I don’t mind hearing every now and then if it happens to come on the radio. The rest of these songs are just songs I’m not very interested in. Like I say, my opinion may be skewed by To The Extreme and perhaps that means Vanilla Ice has ruined me as far as slagging off bad music goes. But for now I can’t lie about the fact that listening to this was reasonably tolerable.

My favourite thing about this album is the quote on the inside of the sleeve that explains at some length and in oddly academic language what a dead letter is. It’s in quotation marks but not attributed to anyone, so I choose to assume it’s just lifted from Wikipedia. My least favourite thing is that two of the tracks on this album have the same title as much better songs by other bands. One is “In My Life”, which goes without saying; the other is “If You Ever”, and the fact that I would rate a collaboration by Gabrielle and East 17 more highly than this says a lot about track 12.

I think we can all look forward with baited breath to Gary Wilmot, appearing in this slot next month. I for one have never heard of him.