Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Disaster Artist - Movie Review

The Room – one of the ultimate so bad it’s good films. A product where nearly every failing can be put upon lead actor, writer, producer and director (and executive producer) Tommy Wiseau, an individual who may or may not be human with his broken accent and bizarre leaps in logic, The Room has become infamously enjoyable thanks to its abundance of plot holes, atrocious acting (especially from Tommy) and despairingly bad yet hilarious and quotable dialogue. Wiseau has sullied it a bit by claiming that he always meant for the film to be a comedy – but only a bit, as the film remains an awesome cult classic to this day. In 2013 Greg Sestero, who played the character of Mark in the film, wrote a confessional book The Disaster Artist, delving into greater detail about the production of The Room – the production was just as crazy as you’d expect for a film created by a man like Wiseau and the book as a result was absolutely hilarious as you learnt about ridiculous facts about the film’s production (did you know that the filming for the “Oh, hai Mark!” line took 3 hours to film?). And now we’ve come full circle, a film adaptation of the book that chronicled the film. And in a bizarre twist of fate it’s getting awards buzz. Strange things happen in this world.

The Disaster Artist chronicles Sestero (Dave Franco) as he attempts to make it big as an actor. At an acting class one night he is introduced to Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and in spite of his bizarre mannerisms and clear lack of acting talent Greg is won over by Tommy’s passion and fearlessness on the stage. Striking up a friendship, the two move to Los Angeles in order to pursue their dreams further and when both of them get one rejection too many Greg comes up with the idea that they create their own movie. This inspires Tommy to create The Room, a passion project that he decides to star as the lead as, which ends up becoming a trainwreck of bad decisions from writing to production; Greg must work his way through the clearly dreadful script and Tommy’s dire acting and directing skills in his desire for fame.

The most notable aspect of The Disaster Artist is that it’s consistently hilarious; the film scarcely takes any breaks from acknowledging the sheer ridiculousness of The Room and the utterly bizarre nature of Tommy Wiseau’s mind with most of the humour utterly mining the most ridiculous moments of the film and its messy production to great effect – you’ll often be asking yourself whether or not these events were actually real because of how insane they get at times but all the way through you’ll be laughing at the decisions made in the script and production of the room. On the subject of scripts, the movie works well as an adaptation of the book as it picks out the craziest of the production stories and recreates them lovingly, though the film is far more streamlined as many elements are left out; the introduction of Steven, a character who replaced another character at the last second when the actor had to leave production early (if you wondering why they didn’t shoot all his scenes first the answer is Tommy) is left out, whilst Greg breaking up with his girlfriend Amber (Alison Brie) is glossed over in a line near the end and doesn’t have the same impact as the book, where it occurred mid-production and Tommy used it as a new part for the script. Furthermore the storytelling is far more linear than the book – whilst the book goes back and forth between the production of The Room and Greg and Tommy meeting (alternating between these story beats for each chapter) the film tells the story in chronological order, and almost as a consequence Tommy’s possible past isn’t told. This more linear storytelling works more for the film though and it still acts as a strong adaptation of the book – however, it would have been nice to have seen more of these crazy moments be adapted especially given that the movie is quite short, running not long past 100 minutes and feeling even shorter than that at times.

As is the norm with biopics the crucial element of the film is its cast and the whole film is just brilliant in this regard, especially from Franco as Tommy. He gets all of the mannerisms of Wiseau absolutely dead on – his voice, his movements, all his little inflections, they’re all done perfectly and he really disappears into the role at times. He’s crucial in exposing all the aspects of Tommy and making you feel everything for him – you laugh at him (when he’s doing his terrible acting and making ridiculous decisions on the production), you hate him (when he becomes a dictatorial primadonna who snaps at anybody who disagrees with his vision – see the toecurling moment when he humiliates Juliette Danielle (Ari Graynor), the actress who plays Lisa, during their sex scene for having a pimple on her body) and you feel sorry for him (when he almost has the self-aware moments that he is a failure in his acting, best exemplified when a producer played by Judd Apatow tells him he’s never going to make it in Hollywood). You really see all sides of this almost tragic man thanks to Franco and it helps create an affectionate spirit to the film. His brother Dave has a far less showy part as Greg but he still pulls it off well, capturing the desperation of wanting to be a star and seeing a friendship turn sour very well and still having a number of funny moments. The rest of the cast are all brilliant, especially with the actors playing the cast of The Room; in particular Josh Hutcherson as Phillip Haldiman, the actor playing the somewhat mentally challenged Denny, and Jacki Weaver as Carolyn Minnett, who plays Claudette, Lisa’s mother who has a strange case of breast cancer that never factors into the rest of the film, are dead on casting choices. This all comes together when the film recreates scenes from The Room and the cast nails all the terrible acting and all the best lines (“What a story, Mark!”, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”, “Everybody betray me, I’m fed up with this world!”, “Hai doggie!”) in a sequence that’s a blast to witness.

The Disaster Artist is a glorious tribute to the production of the best worst movies of all time, where you get the sense that as much as the filmmakers enjoy mocking the film they also deeply appreciate its contribution to the world of cinema. All the way through it’s a laugh riot as you just wonder how everything just went downhill for this film and just how Wiseau managed to approve so many terrible decisions. The cast are all dead on, with James Franco as Tommy being pitch perfect, and as an adaptation of the book it works rather faithfully, though it could have benefitted from a longer run time to squeeze in more moments of hilarity left out from the book. Though it will most benefit those who have seen The Room and/or read the book, The Disaster Artist is overall an incredibly funny and insightful journey into this amazingly bad film.

The Disaster Artist – directed by James Franco, screenplay by Scott Neustadted and Michael H. Weber, produced by Franco, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Vince Jolivette and James Weaver, starring Franco, Dave Franco, Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson and Jacki Weaver. A New Line Cinema/Good Universe/Point Grey Pictures production, an A24/Warner Bros. film

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Friday, 24 November 2017

Paddington 2 - Movie Review

Paddington, the 2014 live action adaptation of the Michael Bond books, was a film that had a lot of apprehension swirling around it pre-release. In particular there was a dreadful first trailer featuring a scene with Paddington in the bathroom and engaging in some gross toilet humour which made the film look worryingly like many other horrendous live-action adaptation of children’s properties such as Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs. Imagine the shock then when Paddington turned out to be an absolutely marvellous children’s film, a funny, perfectly cast, warm-hearted and thoroughly British adventure that felt true to the spirit of the books through and through and was utterly worthy of bearing the name of the little bear from Darkest Peru. Of course a sequel would be fired up and the pressure was on to match the sheer success of the first film.

Paddington 2 picks up on the titular bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he’s happily settled in in London with the Brown family – father Henry (Hugh Boneville), mother Mary (Sally Hawkins), children Jonathan and Judy (Samuel Joselin and Madeline Harris) and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters). When he spots a special pop-up book in the antiques shop run by his friend Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent) he decides to start working odd jobs in order to buy it for the 100th birthday of his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton). But the book is suddenly stolen and Paddington is apprehended for the crime and sent off to prison. Now it’s up for the Brown family to help Paddington clear his name and find the real culprit, the narcissistic faded actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant).

The main reason why the first Paddington worked so well was because of the wonderful innocent charm and joyfully heartwarming nature that it created as a result of the character. And this element returns in full flow in this sequel – the movie radiates joy and fun from every pore of its being to the point where almost every scene is a whimsical and upbeat ride. One of the key attributes of the character of Paddington is that he often makes mistakes and is somewhat naïve but he always means well and manages to bring out the better side of people through his actions. The film really hammers home that aspect of his character – take for instance his time in jail where he manages to turn around dreaded safecracker Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) by giving him a newfound passion for marmalade, which in turn allows for the prison to become a brighter and happier place. The optimism of this little bear really works as it allows for Paddington 2 to be a gleeful bit of hopeful escapism all the way – there are a few sad moments but they’re balanced well with the cheerfulness and heartwarming moments of the rest of the film.

It also helps that the film is once again very funny in a rather absurdist and so wonderfully British kind of way – the script mixes together enjoyably dry and witty dialogue, often provided best through the uptight Mr. Brown and the sarcastic Mrs. Bird, and gleefully silly slapstick – we see the latter best in Paddington’s initial search for a job where he attempts to be a cleaner at a barbershop which leads to him inadvertently cutting a man’s hair. This mixture of humour manages to give something for every member of the audience, especially when some of the gags and little character moments set up early come back later in the film, and there’s no obnoxious crude toilet humour floating around in the film. Visually the film is once again a treat, with Framestore’s animation on Paddington being top notch and realistic whilst the colourful aesthetic in the sets always makes the film feel lively and bright. And the top British cast all are fantastic once again. Ben Whishaw is excellent as the voice of Paddington, balancing out his youthful naiveté and quaint British politeness splendidly. Boneville and Hawkins resume their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Brown with the same wonderful charm that they did in the first film, with their characters still keeping their enjoyable traits, with Mr. Brown still being somewhat stuffy and serious and Mrs. Brown still being rather more odd minded, with the two balancing each other out well. The rest of the returning faces, including Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi, all resume their parts well and Gleeson provides his gruff tones to make Knuckles McGinty a well-balanced character, grumpy and a bit scary at times but with a hidden heart of gold. Stealing the show however is Hugh Grant as the villainous Phoenix Buchanan; he’s vain and unable to work with other people and Grant manages to capture the more egotistical side of actors with lots of charm and humour, whilst his use of accents and disguises are fantastic throughout the film. Though he’s more comical and less sinister than Nicole Kidman’s taxidermist Millicent from the previous instalment, he’s no less enjoyable to watch due to all of his very funny characteristics.

Paddington 2 had a lot riding on it, with the first being such a surprise hit, and it’s a delight to say that it surpasses all those expectations and then some to become another wonderfully charming and delightfully British film. All of the aspects that were so good in the first film – the humour, the visual effects, the cast and the heart – are all back and are used to an even greater degree, which overall helps this instalment to match, and at some points even exceed, the original Paddington. The pressure’s on for a third outing but with the team having proved themselves as being marvellous with the character twice over the franchise is likely in the safest of hands.

Paddington 2 – directed by Paul King, written by King and Simon Farnaby, produced by David Heyman, starring Hugh Boneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi and Hugh Grant, with the voices of Ben Whishaw and Imelda Staunton. A Heyday Films production, a StudioCanal film

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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Justice League - Movie Review

The DC Extended Universe hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. Man of Steel was mediocre. Batman v. Superman was dreadful. Suicide Squad was diabolical. Only this year’s Wonder Woman showed signs of promise for Warner Bros and DC in their attempts to create a cinematic universe to rival Marvel. As such it’s quite natural to look at Justice League with a degree of worry, especially once you consider all the mad scrambling that had to be done to try and salvage the film after the disastrous reception to Batman v. Superman, with Warner Bros. mandating that the film have a much lighter tone and be under 2 hours long following complaints over the dour tone and general bloatedness of the franchise. The departure of director Zack Snyder as a result of his daughters’ tragic suicide and the entrance of the much lighter Joss Whedon to direct reshoots and write new scenes is also worrying due to the fear of tonal conflicts in the movie. But the trailers for Justice League have shown far more promise than before and indicated a warmer and lighter side to these DC characters that gave the impression that it would be a far more enjoyable film than the first few entries of this cinematic universe. So have DC managed to carry on with the mojo they found with Wonder Woman?

In Justice League the world is mourning following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), with crime skyrocketing in his absence. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), fuelled with a new sense of hope following Superman’s sacrifice, devises the idea to assemble a team of superpowered beings to be ready to fight crime when the opportunity arises. When that opportunity arises in the form of the return of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a being who desires to assemble three Mother Boxes which will allow him to reshape the Earth into his image, Bruce and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) must attempt to recruit three individuals, enhanced cyborg Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), the super-fast Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), who can control the seas, and get them to come together in order to fight off Steppenwolf and bring hope back to the world.

Batman v. Superman faced the issue of having so much content stuffed into one movie, with multiple plots jostling for the screen time and some ultimately getting lost in the shuffle. That isn’t as big an issue with Justice League as most of the character arcs feel completed and connected in many way. But that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t frantically scrambling around trying to get to the end in a hurry, leading to the movie feeling like an assault at times with little room to breathe; the 2 hour mandate from Warner Bros. hurts the movie in this instance as characters get thrown at you wildly all throughout and there’s little chance to take it all in before some more people get bought to your attention. Not helping is the inconsistent tone of the whole affair thanks to the sudden change in directors during reshoots (reports claim that 15-20% of the film was directed by Whedon). The film can’t quite decide whether or not it wants to go for grand, epic and serious, or lighter and a bit more comedic; it tries to do both but subsequently comes out as conflicted in its aims – the reasons for this are understandable but still detrimental to the final product.

Meanwhile the action is overall a bit rough, with many scenes of Snyder’s ADD influenced directing cutting through to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes; in particular an early battle featuring Steppenwolf taking on the Amazons is littered with quick cuts and CGI infused mumbo jumbo that makes it hard to care about what’s happening – the film gets better as it goes along, with the final action sequence being genuinely fun, but there are still signs of Snyder’s directorial issues in the mix throughout. And speaking of CGI the visual effects are shockingly bad; there are many instances where you can tell that CGI was used to create landscapes and buildings (the panning shot of Themiscyra is the worst offender), Steppenwolf looks like he stepped out of a PlayStation 3 game and Superman’s jawline is very goofy thanks to the need to remove Henry Cavill’s mustache (which he grew for Mission: Impossible 6 and legally couldn’t shave off – hope it’s all worth it…). Considering that Justice League has a budget of $300 million (no, that figure isn’t an exaggeration – it’s literally the second most expensive movie of all time), it’s stunning how bad some of the visual effects are. The real bright spark of the movie though are the characters themselves, with most of them being solid overall – the exceptions are Steppenwolf, who’s a really generic doomsday villain with his character and plans (although Hinds does voice him rather well), and The Flash, who seems to be angled as the Spider-Man of the group but comes across as irritating thanks to a bevy of bad faux-hipsterish and unfunny dialogue and a smug performance from Miller. But everyone else is solid overall – Affleck and Gadot have proven their mettle in these roles before and continue their mojo, Ray Fisher brings a stoic yet enjoyable charm as Cyborg and the supporting actors, such as Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, all fill their parts well even if they aren’t that large (and Simmons also doesn’t yell once – for shame). The standout character however is Aquaman – he’s been the butt of so many jokes since his Super Friends days and his image from that show of being a useless goof are all shedded as he manages to be a total badass in both looks and actions. Jason Momoa proved to be the perfect choice for the character as he infuses the character with such a fun streak in his performance – the only real problem is that his screentime is far smaller than that of the other members of the League, though hopefully, like was the case with Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman, he’ll get to shine more in his solo movie next year.

Justice League is not a terrible movie – it’s a real couple of steps forward for the DC Cinematic Universe and doesn’t wallow in the pretentious and dour nature that Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman suffered from; there are moments of real fun in the film. However, there are still a lot of issues, predominantly as a result of the two directors issue; though the events leading to this change of hands are understandable it leaves the film in a strange limbo, making it feel hesitant as to whether it wants to go fully into the lighter or darker direction. Though the majority of the heroes are strong, they can’t quite compensate for the rushed storyline, crappy villain and stunningly bad effects that bring the film down a peg and really shows off its troubled production and studio mandated nature. Again, it’s not bad and it shows real signs of improvement but that’s ultimately not enough to save it from being merely ‘meh’.

Justice League – directed by Zack Snyder, story by Snyder and Chris Terrio, screenplay by Terrio and Joss Whedon, produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns, starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Amy Adams,  Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen and J.K. Simmons. A DC Films/RatPac Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/Cruel and Unusual Films production, a Warner Bros. film

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Sunday, 5 November 2017

Every Single UK Number 1 Single (1980-2009) - 1997

So we hit a bit of a milestone last time with 1996 ( being the year of my birth - that means that from hereon out all of the following songs I talk about will be of those that got to number 1 in my lifetime. Let's move on to 1997 and I would grab some snacks and a drink because this is going to be a long one. Like, a ridiculously long one. I decided not to split this into two after all because I felt it needed to be kept together but the consequence of that is that this one is going to be a big read. But it's worth it I reckon, especially once we get halfway through the year - don't want to blow my own horn too much but the second half of this countdown (the last ten singles I cover, to be specific) is, in my opinion, the best stuff that I've written yet.

So let's blow this joint!

  • Professional Widow (Armand’s Star Trunk Funkin’ Mix) – Tori Amos – 1 week, January 12th to January 18th

Tori Amos generally isn’t my bag; I’ve never been able to get into her mixture of alternative rock and baroque pop and many of her songs sound like obnoxious attempts at being shocking and avant-garde. Indeed, the original rendition of Professional Widow from her third album Boys for Pele really isn’t a very enjoyable listening experience, a clanking cacophony of harpsichords and drums that sound like that just shouldn’t be put together – it sounds more like a bad demo than an actual recording of a song. So it comes as a great surprise to me that the song was salvaged by making it an exciting dance tune – courtesy of DJ Armand van Helden, a remix of Professional Widow was released as a double A-side to Hey Jupiter and became a smash to the point where it got reissued on its own in December 1996 and flew to the top spot in January.

And it’s not a surprise to see how this song managed to give the otherwise rather uncommercial Tori Amos her only trip to the number one spot. Armand’s working of the song is incredibly well produced, relying on a funky drum machine line coupled up with a groovy bassline that adds a dark nature to Professional Widow, especially when accompanied the whooshing sounds that punctuate much of the song that give the song a greatly infectious nature. Notably this remix focuses only upon certain lines of the original song and repeats them continuously to create a haunting yet danceable atmosphere to the song – in particular the slightly sped up usage of the line “It’s gotta be big” works well with the stark nature of this remix. The song strips away its bassline for a moment to give Tori a true moment in the limelight for vocals and it works well within the grand picture, her voice sounding more palatable in this minimalistic manner and giving Professional Widow even more of a darker atmosphere. Though I wouldn’t be running back to give Tori Amos’ discography another run-through this is still a fantastic dance song and proof of the skills of Armand van Helden in creating a glorious remix that’s far superior to the original.

  • Your Woman – White Town – 1 week, January 19th to January 25th

Jyoti Mishra became another one of the big one-hit wonders of the 1990s with this track, a haunting dance song that would briefly give his project White Town a taste of success in this year but wouldn’t be enough to sustain a career for him. As a dance song Your Woman really works well; it’s another number that has a haunting nature to it right from the start with the main trumpet line, which sounds eerily similar to The Imperial March from Star Wars, which goes alongside the rather gloomy main piano line in the verses and the funky sounding keyboards leading into the chorus to create a song that’s full of atmosphere and intrigue, yet still has a fun upbeat quality to it that makes it a good dance number. The intrigue is made even more so by the vocals of Mishra; he has a very androgynous quality to his vocals, which makes you wonder whether or not he’s singing the lyrics from the perspective of a man or a woman, which adds an aura of mystery to the meaning of the song. He’s not particularly powerful and his vocals do get drowned out by the thumping music but Mishra does do well to prop up the somewhat desperate and haunting atmosphere of Your Woman. This all combines to create a really effective dance song that’s both upbeat and haunting at the same time and Mishra’s vocals do wonders to make it a song of mystery.

  • Beetlebum – Blur – 1 week, January 26th to February 1st

Blur were tiring of Britpop when it came time to follow up The Great Escape. Guitarist Graham Coxon had been getting into American alternative rock bands, most notably Pavement, and Damon Albarn began to enjoy it too, deciding to use their style as a basis for their next album. The result was that we got the awesomeness of their self-titled album, with some of the heaviest songs of their discography, such as M.O.R., Death of a Party and their biggest hit in America, the grungy Song 2.

Lead single Beetlebum isn’t the best song on the record but it is a strong sign of the direction that the band were heading towards as well as being a solid number in its own right. The beginning of the song makes it immediately apparent where Blur stand now; the guitar riffs strums along at a much harder tone than any previous songs by the band and its more downbeat key makes Beetlebum a much darker beast. Albarn’s vocals similarly have a much more atmospheric bent to them, sounding less gleeful than before as he delivers the lyrics, which work very well with the spirit of the song. Whilst not amazing he still manages to deliver a very good performance that contributes to the grim yet still exciting aura of Beetlebum. The song overall has a serene yet scary quality to it, which makes sense given the lyrics were inspired by Albarn taking heroin with then girlfriend Justine Frischmann from Elastica; we can especially see this in the middle eight where Albarn sings in falsetto right before Coxon’s guitars go into a beautifully heavy overdrive. Beetlebum therefore ushers in the new era of Blur very well, showing how a quintessentially British band could adapt to a more American style of rock music and demonstrating their skills in crafting a brilliantly atmospheric number.

  • Ain’t Nobody – LL Cool J – 1 week, February 2nd to February 8th

LL Cool J had been dropping beats for quite some time (his first album Radio was released in 1985) with some top notch rap songs but only now did he get himself a number one in Britain – and a lot of that is thanks to a pair of cartoon teenage heavy metal loving morons. I refer of course to Beavis and Butt-Head, the Mike Judge creations who would cause havoc and violence in their community as well as watching, and heavily mocking, music videos in a series that became a staple for MTV in the 90s (remember when they were still relevant? I don’t because I wasn’t born when that was the case). 1996 saw the duo star in their first feature film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, and the soundtrack was naturally a strong one, featuring contributions from Ozzy Osbourne, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Isaac Hayes, as well as none other than Englebert Humperdinck performing the classic Lesbian Seagull (and no, that’s not a song they created just for the film; the number dates back to 1979!).

LL’s contribution to the soundtrack was an interpolation of the song Ain’t Nobody, originally performed by Chakha Khan and Rufus. And he does rather well; his flow has always been rather strong and it comes through nicely on this smooth love song. He manages to work his way through all the sexual invitations of the lyrics with a deft certainty to his tone, making you believe that he can really seduce the pants off a lady and that he’d be a wonderful man beneath the sheets. There’s a fear that the song could come across as overly crude and a bit juvenile with the innuendos featured in the lyrics (“I'm exploring your body and your erogenous zones, like a black tiger caged up, 'til you come home”) and under a lesser rapper it would have collapsed but LL is strong enough to make them work and gives them a smooth edge. This is made even more so with the song’s music being enjoyably funky with a warm bassline and keyboard parts, adding to the aura of seductiveness on the track. The use of the original Ain’t Nobody for the chorus also works well, as it adds to the sexual invitations by making it show that the ladies that LL has been making love to appreciate his fine work. This isn’t the finest work that LL Cool J has ever done but it’s a very enjoyable rap love song that oozes seductive charm and demonstrates his skills in flow and delivery.

  • Discotheque – U2 – 1 week, February 9th to February 15th

Is this the point in my whole writing career where any sort of credibility I had flies straight out of the window, never to return? Because I genuinely really enjoy Discotheque by U2.

Pop, the ninth studio album by U2, isn’t popular to say the least. A frequent contender for the title of the most disliked album by the band, many fans dislike it for being too heavily influenced on dance music and sounding rushed, a result of a troubled production that lead to the band scrambling to release it so as to meet the already scheduled dates for the PopMart tour. The band themselves have even expressed their distaste for the final product and not only have rearranged many of the songs from the album for subsequent compilation albums and the like but also made the conscious decision to return to their more stripped down rock approach in the turn of the new millennium (but more on that later). Personally I can agree on a few of these criticisms of the album and I definitely wouldn’t put it in my U2 top 5. But so many of the songs on this record just strike a fine chord to me and show how great the band could be with their more dance-influenced sound; Please, Mofo, Staring at the Sun, Gone and, yes, Discotheque.

Beginning with the opening violins moving into the heavily distorted guitar chords provided The Edge, Discotheque is a song that wallows in a dark sense of claustrophobia but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bono’s vocals have a frightened quality to them, helped by the multitude of vocal effects including reverb that adds to the eerie atmosphere of the track. In particular his high pitched vocals following the first chorus soar as they help to make Discotheque a song that’s surprisingly dark but in a good way – it makes you feel as though you’re trapped in the night club and you don’t know what to do. In spite of the song’s dark qualities it still manages to have qualities of a thumping good dance song; the drums from Larry Mullen Jr pound along whilst the subtleties of the textured and multi-layered guitars in the song really give Discotheque an aura of chilling excitement – I particularly love the moment following the first chorus where the drums stop for a moment and a fabulous sounding techno guitar line runs underneath Bono’s cries before the drums enter in again quietly – it’s moments like that that really makes me appreciate the construction of Discotheque. It does end on a weak note, crashing towards the finishing line with the obnoxious “Boom” lines and a point where it seems like it’s naturally going to end but keeps going, but to me Discotheque is still a great song, a dark yet still exciting track with a wonderful pounding rhythm and a lot of nice little subtleties in the production work to make it enjoyable.

Now that I’ve torched any credibility I had (Editor: as if you had in the first place!), let’s move onto a song that I think we can all agree is a classic.

  • Don’t Speak – No Doubt – 3 weeks, February 16th to March 8th

No Doubt were one of the most enjoyable alternative rock bands of the 90s, blending together glorious guitar tunes with an edge of ska whilst Gwen Stefani’s vocals managed to really propel them up into meteoric awesomeness. In 1995 they dropped their magnum opus, Tragic Kingdom, a towering record with more punk and grunge influences that produced many an awesome number, including Just a Girl and Spiderwebs. But it was this track, a slow and melancholy ballad concerning the breakup of Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal, that cemented No Doubt’s legacy; it’s the song that set the airplay record number 1 in America (and today is still second only behind Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls), topping the radio charts for 16 weeks (which would have been an easy number 1 on the Billboard charts had their system included airplay as part of the sales figures by this point).

The success of Don’t Speak is richly deserved. Right away the song conveys a rich sense of sadness, with its melancholy guitar line and the reflective haunting vocals from Stefani, contemplating how the relationship is ending and how she doesn’t want to properly process the breakup. We can see this particularly in the chorus, where the drums kick in and the song becomes even sadder in its sound – Gwen doesn’t want to hear that the relationship is over because of all the pain that it would bring to realise that the love of the couple is at an end. She effectively delivers that sad vulnerability with a helping of strong resolve to make this a very emotional song, especially in the final chorus where her vocals go into overdrive. As such, Don’t Speak is a fantastic breakup song, one that is full of sadness without being dour and has a strength to it that feels genuine in the face of bitterness. It’s an excellent case for the popularity and success of No Doubt in the 90s and though it is a little atypical of their style it stands as being arguably the greatest number that the band have created.

  • Mama/Who Do You Think You Are – Spice Girls – 3 weeks, March 9th to March 29th

Writing a song about an older family member can be rather hard to do well. If done wrong then you get an utter load of treacly bollocks that your relatives could take as a sign that you hate them if you but it for them – we only need to remember There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma as evidence of that. As such you would be forgiven for looking at a song like Mama with some levels of trepidation, but you shouldn’t fear too much. Firstly this is by the Spice Girls and we’ve seen three times before how great they were at crafting little pieces of pop gold. Secondly, and more importantly, is that Mama is more reflective and rounded than other family adoration songs – the lyrics of the verses relate to the fact that kids are genuinely pretty shitty to their mums and that sometimes they know best. It’s apologetic at many times, and though the lyrics of the chorus are a bit syrupy they don’t detract from the fact that Mama is significantly more mature than other songs written about older family members. Musically it’s a solid number, with the guitars having lovely warm tones to go along with the themes of the song and the string accompaniments provide a nice backing. And of course, there’s the vocals, which are great as per usual for the Spice Girls; Emma and Mel B provide sweet subtle tones for the verses and Mel C provides a nice anchor for the pre-chorus and middle eight, whilst all five of them have a fine harmony together for the chorus. Though the choir that underpins the repeated final choruses is a bit much and makes the song drag a little, it doesn’t prevent Mama from being a solid ballad from the Spice Girls; it’s the weakest of the singles from Spice but still a good song, a damn sight better than a song that deals you’re your older relatives has the right to be.

Who Do You Think You Are meanwhile is an absolute classic, no doubt about it, and rivals Say You’ll Be There for the title of the first album’s best single. An exciting disco styled track, it kicks off big with a slick guitar groove and an enjoyable blast from the trumpet section, setting the stage for the song to be a fun one, and indeed the song never runs out of energy throughout its runtime. The vocals are strong again and even if the alternating between lines that the girls do – Geri and Emma on the first verse, Victoria and Mel B on the second verse – is a little silly they set an enjoyable atmosphere and all the girls do very well delivering the lyrics that warn of the pitfalls of life as a superstar whilst never losing the upbeat fun that the music presents. The superstar of the record once again is Mel C though, providing a gleefully energetic performance on the pre-chorus as well as bringing the song home with her work over the fade-out. This helps to make Who Do You Think You Are a greatly enjoyable track that demonstrated how the Spice Girls could comfortably step into more varied styles of music and pull it off without losing any of their quintessential charm.

  • Block Rockin’ Beats – The Chemical Brothers – 1 week, March 30th to April 5th

The Chemical Brothers are back, sans Noel Gallagher but not leaving any of their flair for creating a big beat dance record with him. Block Rockin’ Beats is less of an intense and heavy psychedelic trip than their previous number one, instead having a more funky backbone with the opening bassline creating an awesome atmosphere before the drums crash in, having a lightness to them that manages to merge to make them exciting but not overbearing – further on into the song they go through some absolutely awesome fills that make them sound as though they were recorded live and feel absolutely electric. The song takes itself down a somewhat more heavy path with the entrance of an awesome sounding keyboard that has the sound qualities of a squealing guitar reverb, which when mixed by the Chemical Brothers make for an absolutely awesome noise. And there are still some psychedelic influences present in this number, most notably at around three and a half minutes in where the song slows down with what sounds like a record being played backwards being the only thing to cover the awesome bassline. Though it’s nearly five minutes it’s a song that doesn’t wear out its welcome and it shows off the true mastery of Rowlands and Simons in creating a song that works as a fine fusion of dance, hard rock and psychedelia.

  • I Believe I Can Fly – R. Kelly – 3 weeks, April 6th to April 26th

The last time we saw R. Kelly he was writing a terribly slow and sappy ballad in the form of You Are Not Alone by Michael Jackson. And fittingly the first number one that he achieved as a singer in the UK was another terribly slow and sappy ballad. In fact I Believe I Can Fly bears such a great resemblance to You Are Not Alone that it’s frankly comical and shows how Kelly only has one mode when it comes to writing ballads. Both songs start off with a needless intro that tries to be grandiose but falls flat when you consider the rest of the song that’s approaching, both plod along at a snail’s pace (in fact, according to Song BPM the two songs have the exact same beats per minute!), both have a bit of a build-up section before the chorus, both have choruses that reach for epic but come up short because of the sluggish nature of the rest of the song and, of course, there’s the obligatory truck driver’s gear change and multiple repeats of the chorus with a large backing chorus (though I Believe I Can Fly, in a radical deviation, only changes key once!). This makes I Believe I Can Fly a dull song to listen to, mainly because it’s so derivative of a song that’s already incredibly yawn-inducing. Kelly’s vocals are at least a little enjoyable in a so bad it’s good way as he’s clearly straining to hit the high notes in the song, which gives his vocals a certain sense of enjoyable hamminess to them, most notably in the last chorus where he attempts to hold the long notes and sounds as though he’s passing a kidney stone. Coupled with the very generic “believe in yourself and you’ll do it!” sentiments of the lyrics the song becomes almost laughable at times in its misguided ambition. But when the most interesting fact about the song is that it somehow originated from the terrible Michael Jordan-Looney Tunes crossover film Space Jam (look at the single’s album cover and you’ll witness the strange sight of Bugs Bunny trying to look intimidating) it speaks a tonne about how weak I Believe I Can Fly is, a plodding ballad that has visions of grandeur but does not have the energy, lyrics or vocal performance to pull it off. It’s a bit better than You Are Not Alone but that is not a high bar to clear. And speaking of the King of Pop...

  • Blood on the Dance Floor – Michael Jackson – 1 week, April 27th to May 3rd

Perhaps it was because of the fact that it coupled a brand new album with a greatest hits. Perhaps it was because his private life had begun to shadow his music. Or perhaps it was because the majority of the songs on it were total arse. But History: Past, Present and Future Book I was a bit of a sales let-down for Michael Jackson (albeit still gaining the kind of sales that many bands could only dream of). To drum up more excitement, Jackson created a remix album named Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix, with 8 new renditions of songs from History (not many of which are massive improvements on the originals, although the title track has a rather strong uptempo mix) and five new songs. These new songs were easily more exciting than anything from History thanks to a darker quality that almost had elements of Trent Reznor’s music. Leading the way was the title track, the final time Jackson went to number 1 in Britain, and it’s a strong number. It’s obvious that this track was a left over from the Dangerous album – it’s co-written by Teddy Riley and is a return to the new jack swing style utilised on that record. But since Dangerous was a great album that call back is only a good thing for Blood on the Dance Floor and it pounds along in fine style right from the get go with the pulsating drums, keyboards and guitar line setting the mood for a dark yet exciting number. Jackson’s vocals have a dark, almost growling, aura to them in the verses, which suit the lyrics about a woman attempting to seduce Jacko before stabbing him to death. This shows that he could still be an exciting and awesome vocalist even though his material generally got weaker, with his vocals on the bridge standing out in particular. Overall Blood on the Dance Floor stands as the best song Jackson did since Dangerous – it invokes that fun dance style that made Dangerous so enjoyable and it’s also got that paranoid edge to it that manages to make this a thrilling record (no pun intended).

  • Love Won’t Wait – Gary Barlow – 1 week, May 4th to May 10th

In an attempt to pick his career up after the absolutely leaden Forever Love, the next move that Gary Barlow made was to record a song rejected by Madonna. Written by Ms. Ciccone and songwriter Shep Pettibone, Love Won’t Wait was intended for the follow up to her 1992 album Erotica but was left off due to her wanting to explore different paths for her music. From Gary Barlow’s rendition it’s obvious why she chose to not record the song – it’s a mediocre paint-by-the-numbers upbeat love song that consistently stays bland throughout despite its aspirations to be a big dance song. Barlow isn’t awful here but he’s also not particularly exciting, with far less charisma and presence than he did with the best songs of Take That, and his attempts to go for a grand soaring vocal, most notably in the bridge, don’t work in his favour as he sounds strained by the material. Musically it’s also a very beige number, with the keyboards and drum machines being on total autopilot and sounding as though they were created in mere seconds, especially since they seem drowned out by the vocals. Overall, Love Won’t Wait is a better song than Forever Love – it’s less offensively bland – but it’s still a damning image of Gary Barlow’s solo career and is yet another case of why he would lose ground to Robbie Williams by the end of the year.

  • You’re Not Alone – Olive – 2 weeks, May 11th to May 24th

Olive stands as one of the few groups to hit the top spot in the trip hop genre, the mixture of hip-hop and electronic music most famously done by Portishead and Massive Attack. Like those groups Olive do well in blending the two genres together, leading to You’re Not Alone to be a strong and surprisingly soulful number. Starting out quietly with some light beeps and a few bits of distortion, we then have vocalist Ruth-Ann Boyle entering in, delivering a great performance with her voice have a sultry tone to it as she sells the lyrics about trying to get her partner to be with her and reminding them that they’re not alone. The chorus meanwhile is great with her vocals being underscored with swirling synthesisers that create an atmosphere of restrained excitement that helps to make the song that much more subtly beautiful. Same thing goes for when the drum machines enter in on the second verse, accompanied by a light bass, which creates a warm ambiance that suits You’re Not Alone very well. It does perhaps run a little long, feeling somewhat bloated by the three and a half minute point when there’s still about a minute left in the song, but You’re Not Alone is a strong trip-hop song that has a very well-orchestrated melody and strong vocals to make it upbeat and exciting whilst also quiet and thoughtful in equal measures.

  • I Wanna Be the Only One – Eternal and BeBe Winans – 1 week, May 25th to May 31st

Eternal may not have been the biggest girl group in Britain during the 90s but they had managed to have quite a bit of success with their upbeat music that blended upbeat R&B tunes with elements of soul. Their biggest success came with a collaboration with another R&B singer, BeBe Winans, and it’s a solid snapshot of why they had good success. I Wanna Be the Only One immediately gets you with its funky beat alongside the horns and a solid vocal harmony from the girls. The vocals from the girls have a soft and warm quality all throughout – there are times where they go for a slightly louder and more powerful performance but for the most part they have a sense of subtlety and soulfulness to their vocals. BeBe meanwhile is a bit louder in his delivery but is no less good, having the strength in his lungs with a fine vocal range to him. The male and female voices therefore complement each other very well in the duet in the chorus. This adds up to a warm and enjoyable R&B song, with some fine elements of gospel in the ending, even if there are multiple truck drivers gear changes that are very cheesy. Eternal and Winans both work well together and help make I Wanna Be the Only One a fine number.

  • MMMBop – Hanson – 3 weeks, June 1st to June 21st

Having already burnt my reputation to a crisp in reviewing Discotheque, I will move swiftly on to declare another likely unpopular opinion that’ll lead to me becoming a pariah in the music criticism scene – I think MMMBop isn’t a bad song. Come at me with the torches and pitchforks!

However, I do understand why people don’t like this song. Child singers are obviously very hit and miss – for every young Michael Jackson there’s at least two or three Little Jimmy Osmonds – and the chorus of this song is made up mostly of gibberish and I can agree that it’s a bit dumb. But for me the song just kind of works in a fun upbeat pop kind of way. Taylor Hanson’s voice isn’t the best but it’s decent, fitting the teen pop spirit that MMMBop delivers, with his big brother Isaac providing a fine support on the backing vocals. They work well with the upbeat music of the song, which has an enjoyable pop rock vibe to it and has an infectious sense of positivity to it, showing off that though the brothers aren’t amazing they’re still pretty skilled especially given that they were all young – drummer and youngest brother Zac was 11 at the time, for reference. And then there are the lyrics – the main problem is the chorus, which is dumb through the repeated gibberish, but the verses aren’t bad. Ultimately, I get why people would find MMMBop annoying but I can’t help but enjoy it – the boys are generally quite charming and the whole song has a fun pop rock spirit to it that makes it impossible for me to hate.

  • I’ll Be Missing You – Puff Daddy and Faith Evans with 112 – 3 weeks, June 22nd to July 12th/3 weeks, July 20th to August 9th

Sometimes genre changers can come along with tragedy and that seemed to be the case with popular rap music with the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., pioneers of gangsta rap and the faces of the violent West vs. East rivalry in hip-hop. Following the death the music in general got a lot lighter, perhaps to offset the fact that two of the biggest faces of the music about gang warfare and killing people were gone. And I’ll Be Missing You is a good sign of this shift into the lighter side of hip-hop, aiming to be more of an emotionally touching tribute to the fallen Biggie Smalls.

I say “aim to” as I’ll Be Missing You fails at being emotionally dark and sad and instead is a maudlin and sappy number that feels underserving of being a tribute to Biggie. This mainly comes down to the fact that it suffers from that dangerous “never speak ill of the dead” mentality which leads to the song being a sugary whitewashing of Biggie’s character. Obviously nobody deserves to die so young in such a violent manner, but Biggie was no saint and had a history of violence and the song just glosses over that fact in order to make a dirgy funeral rap track – lyrics like “It's kinda hard with you not around, know you in heaven smilin' down, watchin' us while we pray for you, every day we pray for you” just feel too sugary and don’t feel earnt for the man. The spoken lines from Diddy only makes this worse as it makes I’ll Be Missing You obnoxious in how much it deifies Biggie to a ridiculous extent. It’s ultimately the biggest issue that kills the track but there are more problems, most notably with Diddy himself. He has a very feeble rap flow, feeling awkward and stilted, like he’s giving a very awkward eulogy at Biggie’s funeral (which effectively is what this song is). He is overshadowed a thousand times over by Faith Evans, Biggie’s former spouse, who has a lovely soulful voice for the chorus but can’t make up for the shortcomings of both Diddy and 112, who sings on the bridge and sounds weak and surprisingly muted in his part. And of course, there’s the music – the song samples Every Breath You Take by The Police, which makes me think that Diddy hadn’t properly listened to the original song. The fact that he’s sampling, and directly referencing through the lyrics in the chorus, a song that’s all about a stalker turns I’ll Be Missing You from an attempt at being heartwarming into sounding surprisingly creepy. Like Diddy is going to sneak back to Biggie’s gravestone in the middle of the night, dig up his corpse, take it home and use it as some bizarre altar of worship kind of creepy. These all serve to torpedo I’ll Be Missing You and takes it from what could have been a fittingly dark tribute to a slushy and unintentionally creepy dirge that only shows the weaknesses in Diddy’s flow and songwriting.

  • D’You Know What I Mean? – Oasis – 1 week, July 13th to July 19th

It’s fair to say that by 1997 Oasis were on top of the world and then some, with their first two albums receiving mass praise and huge sales figures. This meant that the pressure wasn’t even on for their third studio album – absolutely everybody in the country was going to be buying it right away and praising it to the high heavens no matter what it was like. And indeed, when it was released on August 21st it not only received rave reviews but managed to shift over 660,000 copies in its opening sales week – even though it only had three days of sales due to being released on a Thursday (which as somebody pointed out online was GCSE results day in Britain - smart thinking, Creation Records!) it managed to swipe the record of the fastest selling album in Britain (and even though 25 by Adele eventually took that crown Oasis still holds that record for a group). The nation literally belonged to the Gallagher brothers as the hype for the band became unreal…

But then people actually sat down and listened to Be Here Now. And they realised that it wasn’t nearly as good as their first two albums. After a monstrous first fortnight the album’s sales started to slow dramatically. Melody Maker reported that in 1999 Be Here Now had the ignominious record of being the album that was most sold to second-hand record shops. And all those critics who showered it with praise first time around went back to assess the album and came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t good enough. Even Noel himself has stated his disappointment with how the album.

And it’s hard not to call all of those criticisms of Be Here Now fair. Whilst the album contained a few classic tracks – My Big Mouth, Stand by Me, Don’t Go Away – the record primarily consisted of tracks that were overproduced to all hell, incredibly loud with a severe lack of dynamic range and, most notably of all, too damn long. I like longer songs quite a lot of the time but these songs just felt long for the sake of being long. All of these signs could be signposted quite clearly with the release of the album’s first single D’You Know What I Mean?, one of the longest singles to ever reach number one in Britain. The song kicks off in a ridiculously overindulgent fashion – helicopters, Morse code, multiple layers of guitar and even a drum track looped and slowed down from Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. just assault your eardrums, leading to near exhaustion in the first minute of this eight minute song. Getting into the verses, the song almost seems like a parody of Oasis – Liam gives an OK vocal performance, far from his best and it seems like his snarling has been turned up to eleven along with everything else, whilst the lyrics truly seem as though they’ve been plucked out of a hat (along with the Beatles references, with The Fool on the Hill and I Feel Fine being randomly chucked into the song). The chorus too, which goes for anthemic, merely seems bewildering with its chorus: “All my people, right here, right now, d’you know what I mean?” Well, no we don’t Noel/Liam, because you’re not bloody well telling us! And, like much the rest of the album, length is the killing factor of D’You Know What I Mean?; though it follows a standard intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-outro format, you’d swear it verges stupidly far off course from that structure as it clunks along – the second verse feels extraneous as all hell and the chorus repeats itself too many times, whilst the outro goes on for a full minute featuring nothing but repeated guitar distortions – one or two of those were cool but for a full minute? Gets annoying quickly.

In their five star review of Be Here Now, Q described the album as being “cocaine set to music”. They were right – except that’s not a positive thing. Overindulgent and overlong, it clearly symbolised the beginning of the end for Oasis – and D’You Know What I Mean? demonstrates all the problems that would bog down the album early on. How nobody twigged that this album was going to be a mess from this track is frankly beyond me. Maybe everyone was doing the same coke that the Gallagher brothers were on.

  • Men in Black – Will Smith – 4 weeks, August 10th to September 6th

Independence Day had managed to give him a huge boost in his film career but it was truly Men in Black where Will Smith became the top draw for the summer box office. The very fun sci-fi comedy romp managed to be sold primarily on the huge star power of him and co-star Tommy Lee Jones trading quips among the backdrop of the big crazy alien action, showing how Smith could really open a movie with his name and charm. With Smith’s music career not in the rear view mirror by this point it was natural that he would record a tie-in song to the film and so we get this, a song that effectively acts as a trailer to the film and in some ways acts as the 90s equivalent to the Ghostbusters theme song. If there’s something extra-terrestrial in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?

Men in Black pretty much runs down all of the basic facets of the movie within its lyrics – there’s a company of guys who wear snazzy black suits and Ray Ban sunglasses who protect the Earth against the scum of the universe but will happily neuralyze you if they think you’ve found out too much. This is where we see the amusing sample of Forget Me Nots by Patrice Rushen come in (its second appearance in a number one in eighteen months) – instead of “I want you to remember” we get “They won’t let you remember”. Pretty funny, honestly. Aside from that Men in Black is a decent number, with a fine funky hip-hop beat and a solid performance from Smith (though he does sound more restrained than the last time we saw him with Boom! Shake the Room). Ultimately it’s hard to not see Men in Black as only really enjoyable as a film tie-in and not greatly exciting otherwise – and I harbour a personal grudge against this song for holding off the absolute epic that is Tubthumping by Chumbawamba from the top spot (what I wouldn’t give to review that song, it’d easily be the song of the year for me if it got to the top!). But it works fairly well in that context and is fun enough to remain engaging.

  • The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve – 1 week, September 7th to September 13th

In hindsight it’s easy to see Urban Hymns as being the final hurrah for Britpop. Oasis had just dropped a total clanger onto the British public, Blur were making it obvious that they were fed up with Britpop and wanted to do other things and the Spice Girls had become the brand new face of British music. Britpop was ending and most of the bands were beginning to fade away or end completely. Not even The Verve were exempt from this Britpop slump – despite the album’s glorious success tensions between lead singer Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe, as well as the notorious legal issues of their hit Bitter Sweet Symphony, led to the band disbanding before the new millennium rolled around.

This all gives The Drugs Don’t Work, already intended to be a sad song, an even gloomier vibe to it (which was assisted further by the external factors that were going on in the nation at the same time that this made it to the top spot, but more on that on the next entry). Unfortunately it’s less the kind of gloomy that leads to a heart-wrenching performance and more like Eeyore, basically sounding like a moan at the whole world. The song does hint at subdued beauty with its intro, consisting of a soft and lovely strummed guitar and string arrangements. But Ashcroft ruins the mood immediately with his vocal presence – he has a very flat quality to his voice that could be melded well into a grander anthemic rocker (see Come On from Urban Hymns) but becomes insufferable when you hear him try to sell an emotional ballad; unlike something like Bitter Sweet Symphony where he tries to go for some soaring notes he’s merely in dull mode throughout the whole song. This sadly has the effect of making The Drugs Don’t Work maudlin in quality, which is a shame because the rest of the band are doing their hardest to make the song work, creating a swirling atmosphere with the strummed guitars of McCabe and Simon Tong which pairs up nicely with the strings. As such, the song could have been much more sad and beautiful had it been delivered by a more capable vocalist. But no, we have Richard Ashcroft in the driver’s seat, and as such the song is just a dirge.

  • Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight – Elton John – 5 weeks, September 14th to October 18th, biggest selling single of all time in the UK

There was perhaps no greater death of a public figure in the 90s then that of Diana, Princess of Wales. Killed in a car crash in Paris on August 31st 1997 (I should point out that my family and I were actually in France on that day – conspiracy theorists, do your work!), her death caused an utterly unprecedented amount of grief that I seriously doubt will occur again with a future royal death. Misery at her death was so great that the suicide rate increased by 17% a month after her funeral and naturally a fair amount of backlash started to mount, with some people (Noel Gallagher being a public example) being, perhaps reasonably, fed up at the ludicrous coverage of her death and the public’s reactions. But the public more than won out in the end – her funeral was viewed by 31.5 million people in the UK alone and an estimated 2.5 billion globally.

One of the main events of the funeral was a performance from Elton John, who had been a great friend of the princess. In grief, he asked Bernie Taupin to rewrite the lyrics to his 70s hit Candle in the Wind, a song dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, to make them about Diana. He performed it at the funeral on the Saturday and then released it as a single one week later. And we all know how the rest of the story goes – it broke the record for biggest first day for a single (over 650,000 copies, which took it to number one for the week in just a day), then the biggest week and eventually the biggest selling single in the UK of all time, with nearly 5 million copies sold. Worldwide it was just as big a sensation and blossomed to a staggering 33 million copies, being the biggest selling single since the chart system began (that old chestnut, White Christmas, stands in its way for the all time crown). And I can guarantee you this – everybody in the UK who bought a copy of the single listened to it as a sign of mourning… and then proceeded to never listen to it again from 1998 onwards.

The original Candle in the Wind isn’t my favourite Elton John song by a long shot but it still is a solid number, a lament to a fallen icon of cinema made even sadder by the fact that Elton never got to meet her (“Well, I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid”). To say the 97 version is inferior is giving the song far too much credit – it’s a sappy dirge of a number that seems as though it was made to be as inoffensive as possible, which is made incredibly obvious by the new lyrics. The original Candle in the Wind had a tone of regret at not meeting his idol, with some anger at some point at the way she was manipulated by the powers around her. The new version doesn’t do anything as exciting and instead becomes a sludgy funeral number made up of the stock grief responses of the British public, which manages to make this new version much less personal, an astounding feat given that Elton had never met Marilyn and was a good friend of Diana. From the opening lines we see the change to the impersonal; instead of “Goodbye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all” we get “Goodbye England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts”. Not only is this far more sappy in nature but it’s far more of a populist statement, almost feeling as though Elton is singing the song as though he never knew Diana at all. The whole song carries on in this vein, painting out Diana as nothing more but this absolutely wonderful saint of a person who could do nothing wrong. The most interesting moment comes from an odd choice of lyrics by Taupin, as in the chorus he sings “And your footsteps will always fall here along England’s greenest hills”, a reference to William Blake’s poem Jerusalem – a poem that mused the possibilities of living without a monarchy! Particularly damning however is the absence of the lyrics “Even when you died, the press still hounded you”, which would have greatly fit in with the Diana story about national grief and the role of the paparazzi in her death – instead we have the sludgy “And even though we try, the truth brings us to tears”. Elton’s vocals can’t even pull the song up – 97 is missing the younger spark of the original, a man who was deeply regretful and bitter at never meeting his idol. Here he sounds more nervous and restrained which leads to a much duller performance – but it’s appropriate for the much duller lyrics of this new version.

Twenty years after Diana’s death and this song’s record-breaking success Candle in the Wind 1997 is now no longer a song – rather it’s a statistic thanks to its massive chart success and a symbol of how mass grief can manifest itself. I call it a statistic because we no longer see this song played on radio stations, as it falls behind the original in radio popularity despite being perhaps more known than the original. John himself hasn’t helped this – he’s not put it on any of his greatest hits albums and won’t play it live unless William or Harry ask him too. And listening to it it’s not hard to see why – it’s got far less of an edge to it and is far sappier and Elton sounds less exciting than he did on the original. It will never fail to blow my mind that he managed to write a more haunting and personal tribute to a woman he never met than he did for a woman who he knew.

Oh, there’s another A-side on this single? Alright, let’s quickly chat about this one. Something About the Way You Look Tonight is a track as odd as Candle in the Wind 1997 – it is technically the biggest selling single of all time but it’s been far overshadowed in that statistic by its funeral dirge brother (to the point that it managed to be a 0 point answer for Elton John’s singles in Pointless) and yet subsequently has become the track more played on radio and in Elton’s discography following Diana’s death. Overall it’s an OK track, not one of Elton’s best but certainly better than the other half of this record. It’s got a slow and warm gospel feel to it, with a nice piano tone accompanied by some solid guitar and a good harmony of female singers in the background, whilst the lyrics are pretty decent love song stuff. Elton’s vocals aren’t the best however as there are many points, especially in the chorus, where it sounds like his vocals are croaking as he tries to reach the highest notes. This wouldn’t bother the top 20 of Elton’s oeuvre but it’s still a pretty solid ballad.

  • Spice Up Your Life – Spice Girls – 1 week, October 19th to October 25th

There was no more appropriate title for the second album by the Spice Girls than Spiceworld. I guess they could have called it The Spice Girls Are Beaming into Your Brain Every Hour of Every Day but that likely would have been less catchy. Indeed, by autumn of 1997 the Spice Girls had conquered the world, to the point where the Blade Runner-esque music video to Spice Up Your Life seemed more like reality than fiction. Wannabe had made it to the top spot on the US charts and Spice followed suit when it was released there in February. Numerous companies had come to the girls asking them to advertise – everything from Polaroid to Pepsi came endorsed by the Spice Girls. And they announced that they would be making a jump into the world of film with Spice World: The Movie, a picture inspired by A Hard Day’s Night and packed with British celebrities aplenty. Everything seemed to be glorious for Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty.

But were the wheels on the Spice Bus (you know, the one in the film that’s adorned with a big Union Jack, has the interior capacity of a Tardis and is driven by Meat Loaf – yes, I’ve seen Spice World, what of it?) turning too quickly? Not long after the release of Spiceworld the girls would fire their manager Simon Fuller, which indicated that serious issues were starting to flare in the group. And in a survey in October two thirds of the British public expressed opinion that the Spice Girls were overexposed as a result of all their marketing efforts. All of this seemed to signpost that the tides were going to change against the Spice Girls in due course – but for now they remained on top of the world with their fifth consecutive single to get to number one, Spice Up Your Life.

In some ways you can almost see Spice Up Your Life as being the girls’ equivalent to D’You Know What I Mean? (albeit far shorter). It’s the sound of a group who know that they’re on top of the globe and are doing what they bloody well feel like, even if it’s not the most well advised move to make. And yeah, this is the most ill-advised single that the girls had put out to this point, a clattering and clanking track that aims to be a fun upbeat Latin based dance party song but ends up falling down due to being overstuffed. The main issue with the song is with the girls themselves – though the vocals as a collective aren’t bad, the collective aspect is really a detriment as none of them manage to stand out, being more of an obnoxious hive mind of vocals than anything. The exception to this is – who else? – Mel C, who at least gets a bit of emphasis on the song’s chorus, but even then her contribution is less stellar as it has been on previous Spice Girls singles. Furthermore the lyrics are particularly ridiculous this time around, especially on the second verse which rambles on in strange directions, and the bridge where they simply name dances and shriek annoyingly. This all contributes to what is easily their worst single release to date, an overstuffed and surprisingly obnoxious track that doesn’t really give the girls the chance to show off the skills that we know that they have and tries so hard to be upbeat and fun but only ends up being headache inducing instead.

  • Barbie Girl – Aqua – 4 weeks, October 26th to November 22nd

The bane of existence for every young boy (and probably some of the girls too) who went to a primary school disco in the late 90s and early 2000s, Barbie Girl may be one of the most irritating and frustratingly inescapable pieces of music phenomenon of the decade, a song that mixes obnoxiously tinny Europop with annoying vocals and lyrics. Some pseudo-intellectuals may claim that Barbie Girl is lyrical genius, a satire on both consumer products and the perception of women; there are likely many up-their-own-arse critics who have dubbed this song some sort of feminist masterpiece. To those people I say “Piss off and be pretentious somewhere else”. If those aspects of lyrical genius existed in Barbie Girl they’re simply irrelevant because of the fact that the song is a complete musical nuisance, most notably with the vocals from Lene Nystrøm and René Dif playing the Barbie and Ken roles. Lene’s vocals are horrendously squeaky as she infects the entire song with her very childish sounding vocals, which hits its worst parts with the “Oooo-ooo-ooh” parts that form part of the song’s bridge and sounds like a jackhammer to the eardrums. René meanwhile seems hilariously ill-suited to the role of Ken as he sounds like a man who smoked about two dozen cigarettes before he stepped into the recording booth and as a result sounds just as annoying as Lene. The music meanwhile is stock Europop fare, trudging along loudly and obnoxiously in its attempts to be gleeful and upbeat. Worst of all is the fact that Barbie Girl is a weapons grade ear-worm; just reading the phrase “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world” will likely get the banal sing-a-long tune stuck in your head all day. Overall this song seems confused – lyrically it seems to aim to be a satire of sorts on the Barbie products (getting to the point where Mattel sued the band for alleged defamation of the name – before they subsequently used it in a Barbie advert of their own, go figure) but musically it feels exactly like the same manufactured sort of pap that’s marketed squarely at little girls as the dolls themselves. This conflicting points make Barbie Girl confused, but it’s easy to see that above all else the song’s biggest flaw is the fact that it’s incredibly annoying. And no attempt at philosophical wankery over its “true” meaning can help it.

  • Perfect Day – Various Artists – 2 weeks, November 23rd to December 6th/1 week, January 4th 1998 to January 10th 1998

It’s interesting to see that one of the better British charity records didn’t actually begin as a charity record. This cover of the Lou Reed classic originally started its life as an advertisement – Reed himself and a starry and diverse line up of musicians including Bono, David Bowie, Elton John, Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris, Boyzone and Tom Jones among many others appeared to sing the song to advertise the BBC’s music coverage, encouraging people to keep paying the license fee in order to fund the diverse music radio stations. Desire for a physical copy of the track lead to the song being released in November, associating itself with the Children in Need charity telethon that the Beeb does every November. And it flew off the shelf, gave many artists (Reed included) their first and only appearances on a UK number one and even managed to be so popular that it returned to the top in the first week of 1998.

Clearly with Perfect Day the advert was better than the song itself – the main issue that the song has as its own entity is the fact that with many different musicians in numerous different genres there was bound to be whiplash as one artist moves into another. For instance, we have the really rough transition from the worn out but fine country voice of Tammy Wynette going into the low pitched and grumpy sounding Shane McGowan. It doesn’t help that a lot of the time most of the artists only have half a line of the song – you sometimes expect more from a certain singer only to have them interrupted rudely by the next one. Early on, for instance, Bono’s line is taken over quite abruptly by Skye Edwards in a transition that feels very jarring, whilst Laurie Anderson fills in Joan Armatrading’s sentence in the coda to a strange effect. Also, this might just be but the song kind of skimps over the whole heavy metal side of music – how cool would it be to have someone like Lemmy or even Bruce Dickinson on this track? But those flaws can be overlooked by the fact that Perfect Day manages to overwhelm you with so much musical talent – there’s lots of musicians here and they all give it their all, with the exception of Reed himself who creaks through his opening lines with little regard for staying in tune or musical cadence. Not every musician is brilliant with going all the way – McGowan is annoying and there’s an unintentionally hilarious bit by Huey Morgan from Fun Lovin’ Criminals (“Someone good… yeah!”) – and obviously your mileage may vary depending on how much you like these artists (I for one would prefer it if Boyzone didn’t touch this track with a ten foot pole). But most of the rest of the team are great by playing themselves up – Ian Broudie from the Lightning Seeds sounds more Scouse than ever (“It’s SOOTCH a perfect day!”), Dr. John delivers an effectively bluesy style (“Oh, such a POIFECT day!”) and Tom Jones and Heather Small carry their large ham style to get to the end of the song (“YOU’RE GONNA REAAAAAAAAP JUST WHAAAAAAAT YOU SOWWW!”). The standouts though are David Bowie, who delivers his sultry and sphinx like performance to perfection, Emmylou Harris, who sounds beautiful on her part, and Suede’s Brett Anderson who starts the song’s coda with an effectively beautiful and seductive menace. All the musicians are on it too, especially saxophonist Courtney Pine who delivers on the songs solo. And… it’s Perfect Day – the song’s just lovely in its lyrics and musical content. So choosing a great song gives this rendition more points in its favour.

So yeah – despite some flaws I’d say that Perfect Day has enough strong performances of an already classic song that I can say that it’s worth the license fee. Too bad the next song on the chart is from the BBC as well and is so horrendous that it’ll make you want to take that license fee and shove it up the controller’s arse.

  • Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh! – Teletubbies – 2 weeks, December 7th to December 20th

I was absolutely raring to tear this song apart from the moment I began this countdown. I was ready to absolutely murder the BBC for foisting upon us these dreadful TV creations onto our screens and helping them reach the top of the charts. And I was more than ready to ask Britain what the fuck they were thinking – but then all of a sudden a horrifying thought entered my mind. When I was a very young child I was one of the many fans of Teletubbies. Embarrassing to admit now, I know, but true nonetheless. And this got me thinking – what if my parents had bought me this single? Kids are bratty creatures and will demand from their parents until they’re too tired to refuse – and this does apply to everybody when they were children; me, you, my sister, my parents, everyone – and so it may have been the case that my parents’ hard earned cash contributed to this song’s seven digit sales figures in the UK. What if I had held some responsibility for sending one of the worst songs ever to top the charts to the pole position?

Thankfully, my parents let me know that no, they did not buy the single for me or my sister. With this I let out a big sigh of relief, thankful that none of our family had contributed to this song’s success – but still, Mum and Dad, why the fuck did you let me watch Teletubbies in the first place?

You know that idea that the best kids TV has enough to satisfy both kids and adults? Teletubbies doesn’t do that. Created by Ragdoll Productions, the show premiered in 1997 and had no bones about the fact that this was for the tiniest of tots, a show with lots of bright colours, slow excuses for storylines and four big huggable creatures who talked in gibberish and fell over a lot. It pretty much is the standard definition of a show that you stick your kids in front of because it’ll keep them quiet for twenty minutes whilst you read the paper – indeed, that’s the reason my mum gave for why she allowed me to watch it when I was young and impressionable. Yes, I was indeed a fan of the series, having a number of videos and even asking for, but not receiving, one of the dolls for Christmas. Of course by the time I got to primary school I would strongly deny I was ever a fan of them and would join in on rude renditions of the theme song. But for a few years it had me, like it did with so many young children across the globe.

Teletubbies was controversial from the start. Many expressed concern that the baby talk done by the titular characters would have a negative effect on their children’s speaking habits. And there was a bizarre controversy in the States where a preacher accused Tinky-Winky of being a homosexual (which only creates the strange idea of the Teletubbies having sex – I don’t need to picture Po putting her tinky-winky into Dipsy’s laa-laa, thank you very much). But that didn’t matter with the target demographic (and beyond – this show is remarkably popular with students for obvious reasons) as VHS tapes and toys flew off the shelves. So what better to do than consolidate your popularity by taking a stab at pop superstardom? Take a wild fucking guess at who masterminded this track. Simon Cowell seemed to notice that the chart battles were expanding out of record shops and into supermarkets and shops like Woolworths where far more unassuming customers would walk through nearly every day. So he signed the Teletubbies up and out came their single, possibly the first aimed solely at toddlers, and it became a quick phenomenon. It may have even been the Christmas number one had it been released a couple of weeks later.

Obviously I don’t need to tell any of you that Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh! is beyond diabolical. It’s an extended version of the TV show theme song and takes that from rather annoying into downright insufferable as it bloats to three and a half minutes. Right away you have all the horrific elements of the TV show theme – the laughter and cries from the nightmarish baby in the sun, the annoyingly patronising male voiceover and the Teletubbies themselves. Stinky-Winky, Dipstick, Blah-Blah and Poo repeat their names and say “Eh-oh!” as their main contribution to the track – and then they start to gibber on and on and on throughout the rest of the song with their horrifically annoying babbling voices. There’s an almost dogwhistle tone of annoyance to the voices of these characters and you’ll never want to hear them ever again when this song is done. The chorus, which is an unfortunately massive earworm, just keeps getting repeated on and on, only trying to get more and more stuck in your cranium. And the song tries to spice itself up by throwing in two nursery rhymes right out of the blue – Baa Baa Black Sheep is “performed” by a chorus of mechanical sheep with the Teletubbies themselves contributing in the most annoying fashion over the top, whilst an irritating received pronunciation voice (which is delivered by talking flowers in the video – have I mentioned that this show was popular with students?) reads off Mary Mary Quite Contrary as the music slows down for some bizarre reason – before we get the Teletubbies intoning in like the demonic slaves from hell they are with “AGAIN! AGAIN!” before the main chorus burst back in again with, of all things, a truck driver’s gear change. This is even before we get into the music of the song – though the musical instrument style from the show itself isn’t awful, on the record this is one of the cheapest sounding songs to ever top the charts as the guitars, keyboards and drum machines sound like they were taken straight from the shittiest computer in the studio’s recording office and slammed together with no thought whatsoever. The song sounds so cheap that it makes Robson and Jerome sound like fucking Dream Theater. And, as with the song’s closing credits, we end with slow piano notes and more of the hell baby cooing as the song mercifully comes to an end.

It’s easy to see how this song came to be not just a number one but a million seller – as I mentioned the chart wars were expanding their horizons out of the record shops and into places where more casual buyers inhabited, and placing a tempting single in front of parents of little toerags who liked the show was an genius marketing move by Cowell. But of course none of it excuses just how horrendous the actual song itself is, a pandering piece of fluff that goes on for what feels like an eternity and is filled to the brim with annoying voices and one of the cheapest backing tracks to grace a UK number one single. Do not excuse this song by saying it was just made for young kids either – they deserve so much better than both the show and the record and can be capable of shows and songs with much better characters, writing and overall moral lessons. But no, it was this show that became a sensation and got a number one single. For shame, parents of Great Britain.

  • Too MuchSpice Girls – 2 weeks, December 21st to January 3rd

You may be forgiven for thinking that we’re ending the year on a bit of an anti-climactic note – after the absolute venom I spewed at Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!, Too Much is a bit of a welcome reprieve as it manages to do the decent thing and not be annoying. And I’m glad that it managed to hold off that monstrosity from the Christmas number one position. Having said that, however, Too Much is easily the least interesting single that the Spice Girls released thus far, and also the dullest on Spiceworld (I can confirm – I listened to all of Spiceworld to determine this – it also confirms that Spice Up Your Life is the LP’s worst track). It isn’t bad, just far less inspired than the rest of their fare, being a slow R&B tinged ballad that just kind of plods along without much deviation or any real shift into excitement – even the brief trumpet solo can’t rescue this song from the unmemorable. None of the girls do badly here with the vocals – Mel C is again the standout with some nice vocal improvisations – but again it’s not their best work and they don’t feel like they’re breaking out thanks to the plodding instrumental track. Ultimately I get the feeling that this song was released as a single because of the fact that it’s a ballad and it was trying to repeat the trick of 2 Become 1 where the slow jam won the Christmas charts. The result though is that it overshadows more deserving single releases from the album like Move Over, Denying and Never Give Up on the Good Times, and it means that it was number 1 whilst the far superior Stop, their next single release and the contender for their best song, became their first single to get stuck at the number 2 position. Hell, if you want a ballad so bad why not push Viva Forever forward? (I won’t give away too much but it’s a lovely song that sounds quite similar to the style of 2 Become 1). Just anything but this – of the ten single releases by the Spice Girls this is by far the dullest.

FINAL THOUGHTS – What a mental year. It can’t be denied that this year was one of the biggest for sales figures, with five singles all crashing past the million mark in sales figures and two number twos surpassing that figure pretty swiftly (Torn by Natalie Imbruglia and a song that’s coming up in the 1998 countdown). But did all that sales quantity lead to quality? I can say that this is easily the biggest case of a year of two halves that I’ve seen yet – the first half of the year was for the most part excellent, with some classics by No Doubt, Blur, Chemical Brothers and Spice Girls filling the top spots. Sure there a few weaker tracks but they were generally dwarfed by the high quality of the majority of the tracks that were number one at the start of the year. Note I said the start of the year however – once the halfway point of the year came that’s when we got the crap coming in. A trio of boring funeral dirges, a Britpop band going sour, an annoying Europop song and spawns from hell. When not even the Spice Girls are pulling you up you’re know you’re in a bad spot. Worse still is that of the eight number ones that were in the top ten biggest selling singles of the year, seven of them came from this end of the year. Overall, this wasn’t the worst year I’ve seen, not by a LONG shot, and the great first half save things. But goddamn, what a travesty that last half of the year was.

    • BEST SONGDon’t Speak
    • WORST SONGTeletubbies Say Eh-Oh!

    And that's the end! I hope you enjoyed this one and didn't find it too long - I know I had a real fun time doing this one despite all the crap songs and as mentioned I reckon that some of this can be considered my finest material that I've written. As per the norm, if you want to see more from me, like my Facebook page ( and head over to my Patreon to give me some money if you really liked this. ( Got some movie reviews (and a trip to Berlin) coming up in the next few weeks, so I'll be trying to get 1998 by the end of November/start of December. See you around!