What is pop music? I could slag it off and say it is nothing more than music for mass consumption, but then I would be degrading such greats as Bobby Darin, Sade, The Carpenters, Erasure, Madonna, and Eurythmics. I could say the pop only means what is “most” selling at the moment, but that would only belittle the work of artists pursuing a specific sound or genre like grunge or synthpop. At the end of it all, I guess “pop” as a genre, at least to me, is music that concentrates on hooking the audience with catchy rhythms, keeps to the standard structure of music most of the time (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, catchy music inserted, chorus, chorus), and a melody and lyrics that are easy to remember, understand, and rarely stirs controversy. This style of music has been stagnant for years now. Between boy and girl bands that lack any real pop credibility and rubbish created by producers (not musicians/artists), there has not been many pop artists out there that could make waves on charts, and yet have the ability to craft ingenious music that is both artistic and yet catchy for mass consumption. Pop essentially laid dead, but then Little Boots came around, and if anyone is going to save pop from the mundane, it is Little Boots. With her release of “Hands” (8 June 2009 in the UK, only available as import in the US till 2010), this is arguably the most infectious album of the year and has become my guilty pleasure.
Born Victoria Hesketh, Little Boots has stated David Bowie, Gary Numan, Kate Bush, and everything on the Radio 1 play list as influences. But whether directly or indirectly, you hear some of the best of the pop world in her music, from Erasure to Goldfrapp. Essentially an electro pop artist, there is no catchy, repetitive, or filler music on this album. She does not recreate the old synthpop of the 80s or the electronica of the 90s; she does not follow the same vein of contemporary electro pop artists like Cut Copy or Empire of the Sun. Instead, she has taken the elements she likes the most from each era of electronic music, discarded the rest, and used every trick in the book to record an album catchy, universal, and yet personal.
The album opens with “New in Town” (which I posted the video for earlier - link). Nice, pulsating electro effects, catchy chorus (“I’m gonna take you out tonight, I’m gonna make you feel alright; I don’t have a lot of money, but we’ll be fine. No, I don’t have a penny but I’ll show you a good time” – great pop stuff, ha?), and a beat that just makes you want to dance. This is followed by “Earthquake” – pretty friggin’ amazing. The need to dance and move about continues, as the music takes a turn for a more sophisticated style of electronic music. Philip Oakey (of Human League fame) joins for a duet, “Symmetry.” Want pop credibility, Oakey is it. With the Human League, he has the distinct honor of being part of the only synthpop act to reach the #1 position twice on both sides of the Atlantic. But this is not “Don’t You Want Me.” This is more driving, dare I say more infectious, with both singing, “Only you can make me feel complete” – a line that might make me gag in another song, delivered ingeniously.
Reading down the credits for collaborators and co-song writers is like reading down a list of all “hip” composers and producers working with many famous artists currently on high rotation on the radio. However, you do not hear Lady Gaga or other chart toppers on this album; Little Boots is able to exert and control her own sound. There is no attempt at recreation or rehash. I can really point to any song on this album as an exemplar of well crafted and unique pop music. Whether it is the erratic “Ghosts” or the sensual “Click,” Little Boots delivers incredibly written songs without grand standing, production gimmicks, or mundanely boring stadium/arena ready feel that we have become accustomed to in recent years. My only complaint is that I think that the US is getting the short end of the stick not getting a domestic release till next year, but the few extra bucks on the import is more than worth it. With that said, now starts my faffing, as I take yet another listen to this album.
1. New in Town
3. Stuck on Repeat
9. Symmetry – duet with Philip Oakley
10. Tune into My Heart
11. Hearts Collide
12. No Brakes
13. Hands – hidden track
Keep up with Little Boots at her homepage and MySpace.
Here is a live performance/interview of “New in Town” on the NMETV YouTube Channel.