Tuesday, 28 August 2007

I Got Them 12-bar Blues

The earworm is a dangerous beast. That irritating tune off the radio that infiltrates your brain's defences, lodging itself in there? That's an earworm. It's usually 12 bars of middle-of-the-road pop; something which bypasses your taste sensors completely, but is so insanely catchy, can cause what music scientists are calling H.I.M: Hook-Induced Mania.

The one driving me slowly mental at the moment is Newton Faulkner's Dream Catch Me. Caution is advised when a man's name is more interesting than his songs. And especially when his large frame, combats and ginger dreds mean he should be thrashing the drums for a ska punk band like Reel Big Fish, not writing cliche-ridden, lowest-common-denominator "songs" for the Radio 2 playlist.

It's the 12-bar chorus that gets me: "dreeeeeeeeam catch meeeeeeee, catch me when I fall, or else I won't come back at all." Do you know how many artists have used the lyrics "catch me when I fall"? It's a very common sentiment, obviously. Reality-strumpet Kelly Clarkson, sister-of-a-singer Ashlee Simpson, Nomadic Swede Daniel Cage and Norwegian poppet Maria Arredondo - musicians of fine pedigree, I think you'll agree - have all recently released variations on the theme.
Maria Arrendondo's tune contains such lyrical gems as "ooh I need someone to hold me/I need someone to take my hand/Who's always by my side/To shower me with pride". That's school poetry competition standard, is it not? 2 writers, 1 rhyming dictionary, 10 minutes, job done. Not a lot of thought's gone into that, really, has it?

Contrast these repititious Crimes Against Music with great new singer-songwriters like Joanne Newsom and the difference is clear. Hers are albums you can listen to over and over, without the music getting stale, old, or irritating; there's great depth of songwriting in the fey indie style, nicely layered, punchy, and memorable; imagine Belle & Sebastian if they broke cover, put down their woodwind instruments for a minute, and had a steak to beef themselves up.

But Newton Faulkner, everything wonderful, memorable or beautiful in his song, you can get in the first two listens. Any more than that, and the song bullies its way into your cerebral cortex like a football fan stoving your head in with a plastic chair. And there it resides, until you cut off your ears, or smash the radio. Violence is the only answer to such wholehearted mediocrity.

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