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: 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 What is a Mandolin?

A wise person once asked, “Where is my mind?” I often find myself coming back to this question as a reference point during the day because I know where my mind is physically, however there are times when certain acts of stupidity make me question whether it is really there at all.

You must remember to question everything. Nothing is for certain anymore. If you’d have told me fifteen years ago that I would have a tiny device in my pocket that could download cute videos of cats walking around like human beings at any time during the day I would have laughed right in your face. YOUR. FACE.

Do you know what a mandolin is? If you think it’s a stringed instrument in the lute family then you’d be so wrong I would have to stand on a precipice and tell the world. This is actually what a mandolin is:

It is a small, thin chocolate bar from across the sea, from a world where other chocolate bars clearly don’t exist. Quite what music shops have been selling all these years is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they have all been misspelling it all these years and those instruments of 6, 8 and 12 strings are, in fact, mendolins or mandolines, or possibly something else. If the decision were up to me, I believe a mandoloin would be an excellent name.

Faced with the possibility that all those times I have been getting mandolins all wrong, I have therefore proposed two outcomes to this predicament:

  1. I will write, perform and record a song using the aforementioned chocolate mandolin;
  2. I will eat one of these other “mandolins” you find in music stores.

It is the only way to find balance and harmony between these two vastly different things with the same name. If I am only half successful then the whole thing will be a total loss. If I can achieve both then the sun will come out and there will be a tomorrow to look forward to.

Wish me luck.

Avatar Report from Brighton

This week I have been to Brighton, another seaside town, where large numbers of people who like red things best have gathered for a conference about what it would be like if people who like red things are in charge of everybody. Some of them seem to be under the impression that they already are. Others are arguing about what sort of people who like red things should be in charge of the people who like red things and whether some of the people who like red things like red things more than some of the other people.

As before, I have decided that it’s important I should share my findings of this place with the magnificent readership of the Beans. I learned three things in Brighton.

First, I learned that sand can be really big. Brighton beach is made of sand so big that it’s basically pebbles. Like, each grain is properly pebble sized. I’ve heard it said that they actually are pebbles, but that’s clearly silly because beaches are made of sand.

Second, Brighton is full of very attractive people. Everyone in Brighton is not just beautiful but also very cool, in a sort of unintimidating and effortless way. I feared that I would not fit in with this sort of demographic and feared being rounded up by the police and removed from the town on account of my decidedly ordinary appearance. In the end my boss cut my trip short and redeployed me back to London two days early, which I think was just a cover for the fact that he’d got word from the authorities that I would be exiled if I didn’t leave of my own accord.

The third thing I learned is that you can get a machine that automatically makes pancakes at the push of a button. I know because there was one at breakfast in my hotel.

I was so amazed that I made a video of it, which I have presented here for your enjoyment. The video is soundtracked with an excerpt from the 1996 hit song “Coco Jambo” by Mr President.

You’re welcome.

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 Garforth takes its place in the history of rave

You might think that our humble home town of Garforth has a very low key history that starts with coal mining and ends with the time Tesco moved into the old Safeway’s. The people living there might have enjoyed listening to music but it has no famous musicians. Nearby Kippax can claim The Music as their own local band, but Garforth remains quiet. There is absolutely no way it could have played a role in the Eurodance scene of the mid-1990s.

Well, I am about to blow that idea right out of the water, because it turns out that Garforth played a very central role in mid-90s rave music. It happened right next to the Old George. Don’t believe me? I will explain. Let’s talk about N-Trance. (And if you don’t want to talk about N-Trance, that’s a shame, because we’re going to.)

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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 The wisdom of Des’ree

Recently I was in the car and found myself listening to Life by Des’ree. This undoubtedly counts as one of the low points in an otherwise happy life.

This is a song of many profound and moving lyrics. Take this heartfelt couplet from the first verse, for example:

I’m afraid of the dark,
Especially when I’m in a park

And what about this jubilant ending?

I’ll take you up on a dare,
Anytime, anywhere
Name the place, I’ll be there,
Bungee jumping, I don’t care!

This song was, of course, the trigger for Des’ree’s family to get her a rhyming dictionary because she was clearly struggling for ideas. But the best lyric of them all has to be:

I don’t want to see a ghost,
It’s a sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
And watch the evening news

That makes a lot of sense to me. I like toast a lot and would rather have a piece of toast than do many other things.

What would you rather have a piece of toast than do?