Friday, 17 April 2009

A Hand Reaching Out In The Darkness: The UK Top Ten, 12 April 2009

Before I go on to talk about the top ten of April 12, 2009 - the best chart that has been heard in some time - I want to talk a little about how I decide if I will purchase something - an album in this case - or not.

There are not one but three places to consider inside yourself while making a decision - the head, the heart and the guts. The head, upon seeing the album, will tell you useful things like if it is too expensive, in good/bad condition, and whether you own the darn thing already. All the answers here being satisfactory, the decision baton goes to the heart. How do you feel about the musician(s)? Does the music hit you right there? Does it give you energy and cheer you up? (I realize there are some who want music that does other things - but the heart wants some emotional connection beyond 'solid craftsmanship.') The heart being pleased, we next go to the ultimate judge - your guts (aka the 'small still voice', intuition, etc.) Sometimes you can have an instinctive reaction to a song/album/artist that goes beyond any rational reaction, straight into the profound center of music itself; chances are, that is your gut reaction.

What is the most gratifying thing, of course, is if the head, heart and guts all agree - as I find they do with this chart, a chart that defies any head-heavy sourpurses and those dreaded rockists (poptimists I see they now call themselves) - an all-pop list that appropriately emphasizes and revives New Pop, 28 years after it so colorfully & shinily emerged from various corners to brighten and reassure over a generation ago.

To the chart! From the bottom to the top:

10. "Love Story" Taylor Swift

"This love is difficult but it's real."

Love as an act of defiance; as something worth fighting for, worth believing in, even on the outskirts of town. Love is far more than ballgowns. Romeo and Juliet get a happy ending at last, the Scarlet Letter is ripped off and thrown away...

9. "Right Round" Flo Rida feat. Kesha

"Ain't nothing more beautiful to be found"

Another kind of defiance is to give in to what is 'wrong' - a man and a woman become oblivious to the rest of the world (cf. the Surrealist film wherein the couple are inseparable, surrounded by a crowd trying to pull them apart). They are dizzy with desire, with pleasure, and if he's losing his money - well, it was his decision to go out, to get down (in all meanings and senses) in the first place. She is beautiful; she is beauty, and he is helpless, though not hapless. He's out of control and unlike "Low" he is not just a taker, so to speak, but a giver as well...

8. "Shake It" Metro Station

"When you touch her like this, she goes like that!"

Here the joys of physical interaction (if I can put it that way) are more innocent, more excitable. They are getting to know each other, how they feel, how they act & especially how they react to each other. The polite coolness that was there at first is starting to melt, warming up to a more pleasurable soft breath on the cheek, as they dance. They both shake it in joy and freedom, knowing they are falling in love and happy just to be together.

7. "Halo" Beyonce

"I ain't never gonna shut you out"

Here, the walls come tumbling down - love as a religious (not just physical) experience, her Other is an angel, her "saving grace." This song points to the BIGNESS of this chart - that love is about danger, surrender and joy, yes, but it is also about seeing the divinity in another person - loving their soul as well as their body...

6. "Love Sex Magic" Ciara & Justin Timberlake

"You know that I can make you believe..."

Ciara and Justin do tricks, conjuring up magic out of seemingly nothing; they know they are falling in love, but are a little more grown up than the kids in "Shake It" - they know "tricks you've never seen" and they are the star-crossed lovers in the crowd, snapping to the beat of "Nasty" and upping the antes as they slink and slide around. It is exactly what you want from them, and damn sexy, too...

5. "Don't Upset The Rhythm" The Noisettes

"You know we won't compromise, so let me show you something superbeautiful."

The first time I heard this, I danced! That is a greater commentary than any other I could write, but what a celebration of the need and will to dance, no matter what. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had the G20 protestors, instead of marching, had had a Notting Hill-type carnival, complete with soundtrucks and DJs...hmmmm...

4. "In For The Kill" La Roux

"How far can you send emotions?"

If there is one thing some folks hate, it's a song that shows a young woman's self-determination. La Roux is "hoping you'll understand" her need, but she is not apologetic, hysterical or half-hearted. And it's not a love song (I think...) either. Score one for 1981 drama, for a welcome dose of warm rationalism...

3. "Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny)" Pussycat Dolls & AR Rahman

"There's an ocean in my heart, I will never be the same."

And so we jump from the private thrills of one woman to, crucially, a public celebration of a long-destined relationship. He is the reason she believes, that she breathes; this is clearly a more intense love than any we have encountered on the list so far, a love that has the force of history itself behind it. That this is celebrated in public adds to the happiness and warmth incredibly, a whole community moved enough to rejoice in one couple's destiny is astonishing indeed. (And feel the BIGNESS of it all, again!)

2. "Poker Face" Lady GaGa

"Check this hand 'cause I'm marvelous."

Here we have another self-determined woman, one who relishes the game, the chase, the bluffing and revealing of feelings - sure, she's a tough cookie, but she is going to stun him and leave him wanting more - sure, she says she's not about kissing or hugging, but how much do we really believe a woman who wears a mask? Her claims for being unreadable are so many promises; the real self is there, one day she's got to show emotions or else what good is hiding them for?

1. "I'm Not Alone" Calvin Harris

"If I see a light flashing
Could this mean that I’m coming home

As great as these songs have been - and I would, if I were rating them, give them high marks indeed - this one is at the top, not just of the chart but in my own thoughts. In order to explain how it was that I cried when I heard it made #1 that early Easter evening, I have to go back a few weeks...* some of you know, I collapsed one night in mid-March, and had to stay in hospital for nearly a week. Hospitals are an odd combination of the utterly personal and impersonal; being an emergency patient, I experienced just about everything you can experience in such a place, shorn of nearly all possessions and utterly dependent on a whole system of smaller systems to bring me back to some reasonable semblance of health and happiness (my dear husband, Marcello, helped a great deal on both counts; I doubt if I would be half as well as I am now without him).

I must have heard this song while in that early stage of recovery, the week just before spring arived; but it was too quiet for me to grasp what he was saying/singing. (I should also add that before my collapse, I fell in love with a song by Defender called "Bliss" - M magically found the Hed Kandi compilation that has it (Served Chilled 59) while I was in hospital. I cannot imagine Calvin Harris not knowing this song and its utterly FREEING feeling.)

"I'm Not Alone," as some of its detractors have noted, is no ordinary song. (These are the grumpy types who want verse/chorus/verse. HAH) What Harris does here is conjure jp an all-too-likely scenario of late nights, sacrifice, trying to remain strong, and then...he's on the floor and feet are coming through the door...

This song, at this most extreme moment, then opens up like no other - the sun comes out and that heavenly riff begins, one that shines and warms and...well, you can imagine my reaction to such HOW DID HE KNOW lyrics and then comes just that little bit more - if on "Dance Wiv Me" he sounded a bit like Terry Hall (in a good way, I hasten to add), here after this divine intervention he sounds like himself, of course, but also like...Scott Walker (particularly when he sings "coming home...") To say that this song gratifies my head, heart and guts is a gross understatement - it does all this and more (when I heard it yesterday I felt it from my head to my toes; it gave me energy, just as surely as the hospital gave me blood and oxygen on that first night). That this is an unorthodox song is the entire piont of it; this is no ordinary experience.

Nor, I can guess, is it a solitary one. As "I'm Not Alone" plainly states, none of us is alone, and in times ("Hard times!" as the Human League said, back in '81) like these, that is the overwhelming message, even above those of love, sex and self-determination. People who snub this are using their head far more than their heart, I'm afraid; but the tremendous response to it (which looks to be continuing) mean they are, as far as I can tell, in the minority. For me (and Marcello), this solid all-pop top ten shows the virtues of the democratic process as opposed to the narrow, aristocratic channels that reject what pop can do at its greatest moments - give warmth, comfort and compassion on a day signifying rebirth.

*When I was with Marcello for Easter 2007, we were moved to cry by another chart - not the current one at the time, but one from 1978 that was broadcast on Pick of the Pops.