Apr 18, 2024

Underworld bring light in at Aviva Studios / Factory International

Thirty years after the release of their classic album Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld very much bassed with our head man with two spectacular shows at the weekend. 

The venue was Aviva Studios at Factory International, a triangle-decked super venue on the banks of the River Irwell in Manchester. With the seating pulled out, its main gig space has all of the warehouse vibes you'd hope for an old rave band.

Not that the audience was old. I was expecting to be surrounded by a creaking crowd of ancient clubbers, throwing our zimmer frames up in the air like we just didn't care. But it was surprisingly youthful: a testament to a band that has retained its relevance through Danny Boyle soundtracks, opening Olympic ceremonies and a bunch of fancy National Theatre gubbins.

Their lengthy discography was laid out in big fat bass spasms, from the early Dubnobass stompers to the Aphexian oversharing of 2019's massive Drift series. For the old stuff, Dirty Epic lived up to its name, and King of Snake was as poisonous as ever. Their new stuff was well represented: denver luna sounded beautiful live, and the Detroit-dappled Fen Violet seemed laser-targeted for a Manchester rave.

Karl Hyde chose to remain static in the first half, before going full Tasmanian Devil in the second section of the show. Every smiling mouth-beam of that guy is the personification of the refrain from Two Months Off: "you bring light in, you bring light in...". Oh and Rick Smith was there too. Poor Rick. Bogged down with controlling all of that electronic gear while his wayward disco brother goes ham left right and centre. I hope Rick comes off stage at the end and has a little boogie to himself, as a treat.

Shout out to my gig buddy Ros, who came to the gig as a fan of their soundtrack work and went away a bona-fide Underworld club veteran. We have now nicknamed ourselves the Strawberry Jam Girls, after an Underworld lyric. Big up to the lone guy in the "Dark Train" top who seemed lost in a special kind of bliss. And doff of the hat to White T-Shirt Guy next to me who was well up for hugs and yippees.

Here are those two sets in full. Yes, two sets. There was an interval, like we were at a Gilbert and Sullivan opera or something. Below that is a video of Two Months Off, which sees Underworld doused in sunshine, and captures perfectly the insane dynamics after the four-minute mark.

Low Burn  |  Nylon Strung  |  Trim  |  Dirty Epic  |  Soniamode (Aditya Game Version)  |  Kittens  |  Mmm... Skyscraper, I Love You  |  Juanita 2022  |  Tin There

Jumbo  |  denver luna  |  S T A R  |  Pearl's Girl  |  Dark & Long (Dark Train)  |  Two Months Off  |  Rez / Cowgirl  |  and the colour red  |  Border Country  |  Fen Violet  |  King of Snake  |  Born Slippy NUXX

Further Fats: Mmm Underworld, the world loves you (2012)

Apr 16, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Babylon Zoo comes along and ruins everything

The competition to discover the ultimate 1990s number one single continues. There have been numerous episodes of this series so far, and there are plenty more to come. 206 number one singles to judge in all: one for every bone in the human body.

Let's take a look at the latest collection of bones-- er, I mean, number one singles.

The contenders

Babylon Zoo: Spaceman  |  Celine Dion: My Heart Will Go On  |  Cliff Richard: Saviour's Day  |  Jason Donovan: Any Dream Will Do  |  Mariah Carey: Without You  |  Melanie B featuring Missy Elliott: I Want You Back  |  Olive: You're Not Alone  |  The Prodigy: Breathe  |  Shaggy: Oh Carolina  |  Usher: You Make Me Wanna..

Giving me a haddock

Splice the mainbrace, whatever that is. Let's get rid of my least favourite songs from this batch.

Celine Dion's Titanic warble made me wish I was clinging onto a door in the icy waters of the Atlantic ocean. Pop me in a dingy and plug my ears with haddock: anything to avoid Dion's watery cheese. I have similar feelings about Mariah Carey's Without You, although I have fewer nautical metaphors for that one.

I'm not sure what's more wholesome: Cliff Richard's seasonal tribute to Jesus H Christ, or Jason Donovan's eulogy to a dreamy bible bloke in a gaudy anorak. Either way, the result is the same. Both of these saintly songs make me want to commit acts so heinous, I'd be destined straight for hell. Jumping the queue at Gregg's, popping paper in the bottle bin, still referring to X posts as tweets, that sort of thing.

Beep beep

"How can you beep beep with no keys?" mused Missy Elliott on Melanie B's I Want You Back. Deep philosophy for a track so light on melody. At least Usher's offering had a memorable melody, despite its dubious subject matter of fancying your girlfriend's best mate. Come on, Ush, mate, keep it in your trousers, at least until the end of this blog post.

Oh Carolina was a cover of an old ska hit that Shaggy used to sing rude words to^ when he was a kid. I remember its repetition being a bit annoying when it came out, although it introduced us to a genuine pop superstar. Still... not as annoying as THAT moment when we all realised that, instead of being a falsetto space jam, Babylon Zoo's chart-topper was a miserable dirge that felt like it had been scraped from the netherwheres of someone's grungey underpants. The record label sent me the Babylon Zoo album. It was all awful.

This leaves us with two top tier tracks. Firstly, it's Olive with a track co-written by a bloke from Nightmares On Wax and some fella from Simply Red. Singer Ruth-Ann Boyle went on to feature on several albums by techno-monks Enigma. Best of all, this remains a rare example of a drum 'n' bass track topping the UK charts, and it deserves to go through to this competition's final on that basis alone.

Aaaaargh. Sorry. Just having a Babylon Zoo flashback.

Meanwhile, the Prodigy's Breathe cemented their reputation as one of the biggest break-through dance acts of the decade. A second number one single for them, smashing into the top spot after just one week of record sales. It's probably the coolest track to sample a Thin Lizzy drum beat. Of course this goes through to the final. 

Aaaaaaaaargh! Seriously, I think I have BabZoo reflux. Someone call a vet.

More of the Ultimate 90s numbaaaaaaaargh one

Mar 31, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Keyboard wizards and their Block Rockin' Beats (International)

Hold on to your wig. It's time for the latest episode of Fat Roland Waffles On Aimlessly About 1990s Music Under The Vague Guise Of A Music Competition.

Here are another ten contenders hoping to be crowned as the ultimate 1990s number one single. They are randomly picked from a much longer list of all 206 1990s chart-toppers. Only the most banging and most bleepy tracks will win this competition.

The contenders

Adamski: Killer  |  Beats International: Dub Be Good to Me  |  The Chemical Brothers: Block Rockin' Beats  |  Coolio featuring L.V.: Gangsta's Paradise  |  Jimmy Nail: Ain't No Doubt  |  Oasis: All Around the World  |  Robbie Williams: She's the One / It's Only Us  |  Simply Red: Fairground  |  Take That: Back for Good  |  The Righteous Brothers: Unchained Melody †

Almost all bangers

This is a remarkable rack of big hits. I don't think there is a bad song on this list. Actually, that Oasis song's pretty boring, so let's discard that one straight away. But the others can all claim to be bangers in some way or other.

Having said that, Simply Red is not my cup of tea. It's not even my cup of lukewarm herbal tea with the tea bag still festering in it. And we can eliminate The Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody at this stage too. It's a massive tune, achieving number one status with two different acts in the 1990s, but it's not the bleepy goodness I'm looking for.

Not the ones

I once popped to the North East to do a gig, and in the first pub I went to, some bloke was singing a Jimmy Nail song, as if he was planted there by the North East Tourist Board. Ain't No Doubt is a classic pop song, as is Take That's Back for Good. Iconic tunes, both of them. Not enough for this competition, though. I also suspect if Manchester went to war with Newcastle, Jimmy Nail would beat seven levels of brown ale out of the Take That lads.

The tracks by Coolio and Robbie Williams are each stealing someone else's thunder. Although it's a classic single, Gangsta's Paradise is an inferior take on Stevie Wonder's 1976 original. The Wonder song was revolutionary for using a synthesiser usage: sadly, we're it's the Coolio track we're judging here. And Williams did a pretty straight cover of World Party's far superior She's The One. The fact Williams took the song without Wallinger's blessing is pretty naff. Rest in peace, Karl.

Which leaves us with Adamski, Beats International and the Chemical Brothers.

Not an actual seal

I cannot give enough praise to Killer by Adamski. The keyboard wizard had synthesisers stacked up to the eyeballs, and its clinical waveforms seemed to signal an exciting electronic future. True Adamski heads preferred NRG, but Killer made us kids feel like we could all become bedroom producers. And Seal was really impressive too, even though he wasn't an actual seal.

We have several things to thank Beats International for. A banging tune, obviously. They gave us a post-Housemartins Normal Cook, later to become Fatboy Slim. It gave us the brilliant Dub Pistols-collaborator Lindy Layton. And it gave us graffiti-spraying trip-hopper Req, a key voice in trip hop and lo-fi beats.

And finally, we have Tom and Ed, better known as the Chemical Brothers. Block Rockin' Beats earned the pair a Grammy award, which seems odd considering how dirty that track sounds, and how middle-of-the-road the Grammies tend to be. There's something special about their loops of fury.

I can't decide between Adamski, Beats International and the block-rockin' Chemicals. So it's a joint win for all three. Gold medals all round. Yellow jerseys all round. Chufty badges all round. Delete as appropriate.

Mar 20, 2024

Electronic Sound 111: Steve Strange, Distressed Puce and a load of old bangers

The latest edition of Electronic Sound leads with Rusty Egan and Steve Strange's Blitz club, which helped form the new romantic movement.

Which is handy because it coincides with the launch of my new Fat Roland make-up range. Shades include Distressed Puce, Seeping Pore Blush and Nude Idiot. 

In this issue, you'll also happen across Kim Gordon out of Sonic Youth, some wayward pilgrims called Lost Souls Of Saturn, a mate of Brian Eno called William, a Ninja Tune act that sounds woody and sharp, and a Detroit techno act who may or may not be related to Little Red Riding Hood. Cryptic enough for you?

My 111th column for Electronic Sound turns its focus on "bangers". I've put speech marks around that word like some kind of grandad. I'm currently running a blog series that picks out the greatest bangers of the 1990s, so this column kind of ties in with that. Get ready for full banging mode. 

An excerpt:

Fireworks. Sausages. Old Ford Fiestas. If you’re clever with words like what me is, you’ll recognise these as “bangers”. Fireworks go bang when you put fire on them. Sausages go bang when you don’t fork them with holes. And old Ford Fiestas go bang when you drive them off a cliff. However, I have little interest in careening cars or meat tubes. My favourite kind of “bangers” are massive tunes. Killer beats, wicked synths, mad lyrics, total bangers.... 

Read more by getting the latest issue of Electronic Sound.

Mar 18, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: (G)love (puppet)'s got the world in motion

This is the latest in a long line of terminally dull blog posts about all of the awful music that topped the charts too many years ago to be interesting.

I'm attempting to discover the best UK number one single of the 1990s. Criterion number one: is it a banger? Criterion number two: does it bleep? In other words, does it have electronic music credentials?

There are 206 UK chart-toppers to get through, so can you please shut up so I can get on with it. Here are the latest 10 contenders...

The contenders

2 Unlimited: No Limit  |  Backstreet Boys: I Want It That Way  |  Boyzone: No Matter What  |  Boyzone: Words  |  The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go  |  Eiffel 65: Blue (Da Ba Dee)  |  Englandneworder: World in Motion  |  Mr. Oizo: Flat Beat  |  Spice Girls: Spice Up Your Life  |  UB40: (I Can't Help) Falling in Love With You

Banned bands

If your band name begins with B, you are automatically eliminated. That means Backstreet Boys and Boyzone are out. There has never been a good band beginning with B. Please do not analyse this statement; let's just pretend that it's true. Bombalurina. Bob The Builder. Bluetones. See? Every single one of them, terrible.

Now let's deal with The Clash, the Spice Girls and UB40.


Spice Up Your Life was a good single. The United Colours of Benetton wrapped up in girl power. Just don't pay too much attention to its wanton lyrics.

Which brings us to The Clash and UB40. The latter's take on Elvis's Can't Help Falling in Love takes all the charm of the original and squeezes it into a husk of uninspired pop drudgery. And The Clash's rock plodder is so ploppily plodding, when I first heard it, I thought the entire history of music had suffered one massive seizure. 

The fact that these reached the top of the charts while Transglobal Underground failed to score a single top 75 chart hit should be investigated by the UN immediately. Criminal.

Still. It couldn't get any worse. Could it? Surely not.

It gets worse

Next up is 2 Unlimited's No Limit and Eiffel 65's Blue (Da Ba Dee). Excuse me while I feed my earballs into this woodchipper.

Whenever I mention that I'm into techno, people quote 2 Unlimited at me. "Techno, techno, techno, techno." Right into my face. These people are idiots and do not know the world of The Black Dog and Autechre and the like. I can't allow 2 Unlimited to progress in this competition.

I would have ranted about how stupid Eiffel 65 were, but a couple of years ago David Guetta achieved the mathematically impossible feat of releasing a cover version that was nintey-twelvety trillion-bajillion times worse. Please don't google it: your ears will hate you forever. The Blue song goes in the same bin as 2 Unlimited.

But wait! Just when I thought all hope was lost, we have two genuine bangers.

Doo-bi-doo dee dooo

You've got to hold and flibble, do it at the right time, doo-bi-doo dee dooo, something about getting to the line. You tell 'em, John Barnes. Englandneworder's World in Motion is possibly the best football song of all time. Yes, even better than Pop Will Eat Itself's Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina.

Meanwhile, Mr. Oizo's Flat Beat introduced the world to Flat Eric, that floppy yellow puppet that smoked sausages while nailing business deals. Despite the novelty feel of this 1999 number one single, Quentin 'Oizo' Dupieux has impressive music and film-making pedigree. AND he stopped Eminem's debut single from getting to the top of the charts. That puppet is out of CONTROL.

Both of these songs have electronic music credentials, and they are back-of-the-net bangers. They were hits at opposite ends of the decade, but Englandneworder progress hand-in-hand with Mr. Oizo to the final of this competition.

I bet if you inflated Flat Eric until he nearly burst, he'd make a great football.

Mar 11, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Steel and Spice and some things nice

The fight for the best 1990s number one single continues. (See all the posts here.) This series of hastily-written and ill-thought-through blog posts will decide, once and for all, which 1990s chart topping single is the bestest and bleepiest of the decade.

Each time, I randomly choose ten (or so) singles, then pick one (or so) to go through to a final. Let's finger through the latest buffet of tasty tunes.

The contenders

George Michael: Jesus to a Child  |  George Michael and Elton John: Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me  |  LL Cool J: Ain't Nobody  |  Prince: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World  |  Shakespears Sister: Stay  |  Spice Girls: Say You'll Be There  |  The Tamperer featuring Maya: Feel It  |  Vengaboys: We're Going to Ibiza!  |  Westlife: If I Let You Go  |  U2: The Fly  |  Whitney Houston: I Will Always Love You

Bright balls

Let's start with opening a window to release the guff. George Michael doing Jesus to a Child is about as exciting as Alan Titchmarsh doing I Can Sing A Rainbow. I like a bit of Prince falsetto, but his ballad about beautiful girls was a load of Hallmark slop: "A face to be soft as a flower." Yeah, and balls as bright as begonias. Thanks for that insight, Prince. There's a Westlife single in this list, but I've already forgotten it exists.

The childish party anthem served up by the Vengaboys put me off Ibiza for life. Can you imagine being stuck at a resort with them? I just want to sit on a sun lounger and read my book. Preferably indoors. This would be the most annoying song on this list, but Whitney Houston belting out I Will Always Love You has my ears bleeding. The only positive spin on Whitney's overplayed warble waffle is that it kept Michael Jackson's shmaltzy Heal the World off the top spot.

Medical gloves

The mid-tier songs on this list are... fine. George Michael duetting with Elton John was enough to blow the cobwebs away, and the spiders along with it. LL Cool J's take on Chaka Khan's Ain't Nobody was fairly pedestrian. Meanwhile, Say You'll Be There is one of the better singles by the Spice Girls, heightened by a sci-fi video in which they kidnap men in a desert. Baby Spice wears blue medical gloves. They were definitely putting alien probes up bottoms.

Not feeling it

This list is randomly picked, and the top tier will not always turn out to be both banging and bleepy. Unfortunately, this is the case with this selection.

When it was released, U2's The Fly sent me wild. Steel and leather, and lots of television screens. A glorious U2 period. My one gigging regret is that I never got to see the Zoo TV tour. Despite Brian Eno having his hands on Bono's tiller, it doesn't really fit the bleepy criteria.

Next we have Stay by Shakespears Sister, one of the greatest number one singles of all time. The moral of its video narrative? Don't mess with Siobhan Fahey: she looks terrifying. In a way, its sinister sci-fi tones make it a sister single to Say You'll Be There. In a way.

All this brings us to The Tamperer's take on Can You Feel It by The Jacksons. It's the danciest song of this selection, but it's only a few grades above Vengaboys. I can't get excited about this being the best of this list. The high point of any wedding buffet are always the sausage rolls, but they're just sausage rolls. They'll never win a culinary award. Can You Feel It isn't even the best track called Can You Feel It (step forward Mr Fingers).

So all of this comes to nothing. You may be disappointed, but to quote the aforementioned Mr Fingers track, I am the creator and this is my house. Plenty more to come in this 1990s number one competition. Keep reading.

Mar 4, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Frosty Madge versus the ambient sheep guys

We are in the throes of battle. Not Blur versus Oasis, not City versus United, not Emu versus that green witch woman that kept knocking at the door. This is much more epic. It's the fight to decide the ultimate UK 1990s number one hit single.

The basic criteria for judging the best chart-topper is (a) whether it's a banger and (b) whether it bleeps. Let's enter the arena and check out our musical gladiators.

The contenders

Aqua: Turn Back Time  |  ATB: 9 PM (Till I Come)  |  Chef: Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)  |  The KLF: 3 a.m. Eternal  |  Madonna: Frozen  |  Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody / These Are the Days of Our Lives  |  Right Said Fred: Deeply Dippy  |  Spice Girls: Too Much  |  Take That: Never Forget  |  Take That: Pray

Flushing the poo

It's confession time. I have a plush toy of Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo in my bathroom. Yes, I am a grown adult. So I have fondness for South Park, although if I watched it these days it would probably offend my fragile snowflake sensibilities. In any case, Chef's comical poo song isn't worthy of this competition, so this can be flushed pretty early on.

Sad songs

Two of the tracks make me sad. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody returned to the top of the charts in 1991 following the death of Freddie Mercury. It's a belter of a banger, but it's more of a weepy than a bleepy. And I'm ignoring Right Said Fred on the basis of one of the brothers being a right bell-plop. Which is a shame because Deeply Dippy is their best song.

Next come the all-dominating Spice Girls and Take That. Between them, they had 16 number one hits in the 1990s. The Spices delivered a slinky ballad with Too Much, while the Thats gave us Pray, an efficient ballad, plus Never Forget, their iconic stadium singalong. Never Forget, or Nev Forge as I like to call it, is the dictionary definition of a pop music banger. But none of these shall proceed in this competition, which is unashamedly biased towards electronic music.

A final four

The final four tracks in this selection are notable in different ways. Let's stroke their bleeps one by one.

Scandi candy-poppers Aqua surprised us with Turn Back Time, displaying a melancholic maturity hiding behind their plastic pink prattling. This is a bit of a banger, certainly compared to their previous nonsense, and part of the verse reminds me of Heart by the Pet Shop Boys.

After fooling everyone into thinking religion was sexy, Madonna transformed her identity with Frozen. Electronic music producer William Orbit cast a real, er, ray of light on this stage of Madge's career. I love the idea of Madonna listening to Orbit's Strange Cargo albums and thinking, "yeah, I'm gonna work with this guy".

Everyone got their trance pants in a twist when ATB knocked Vengaboys off the number one spot. ATB chose 9pm as his time after a long day in the studio. In all fairness, that is a late finish, and the local Spar probably shuts at 8, so he can't even get a cheeky Pot Noodle on the way home. Both this and the Madonna record would have won this week. Except for...

All hail Rockman Rock and King Boy D, otherwise known as the KLF, furthermore known as the JAMs. The career of the KLF sounds like a random plot generator gone rogue. Timelords, success manual, stadium house, extreme noise, cash combustion, ice cream van, rambling helpline, Stonehenge destruction, machine gun and ambient sheep. At the pinnacle of all of that is 3am Eternal. Everything that pop music should be about. If you don't believe me, look up their eccentric hooded Top of the Pops performance.

Because the selection was so strong, let's pick two of these tracks to go through to the final of this 1990s chart battle. The KLF are the kings of heavyweight jams, so they go through. As does Madonna and her chilly tune.

Mar 1, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Fat Roland says uh-oh


All is woe. My 1990s number one countdown has gone horribly wrong. I flew too close to the blogging sun, and my feathery quill has burst into flames.

Let me explain.

I am judging every UK number one single of the 1990s to find the most banging and, crucially, the most bleepy chart-topper of the decade. All was going well. Fatboy Slim scored a big fat success, and Enigma chanted their way to victory.

I loaded up my third batch of contenders... and this is where things fell apart. Let's go through this latest list one by one, and you'll see what I mean.

The contenders

B*Witched: Rollercoaster  |  Charles & Eddie: Would I Lie to You?  |  Christina Aguilera: Genie in a Bottle  |  Gary Barlow: Love Won't Wait  |  George Michael: Fastlove  |  Gina G: Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit  |  Iron Maiden: Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter  |  KWS: Please Don't Go  |  Pato Banton featuring Ali and Robin Campbell: Baby Come Back  |  Teletubbies: Teletubbies say Eh-oh!

Not so bewitched

Let's start with B*Witched, the double-denimed Dubliners. Rollercoaster is an insipid Marks & Spencer's Sunday shop of room-temperature pop that clearly got ejected by every act on earth before the B-star crew said "ah well, we'll give it a go".  At least the Charles & Eddie track has some songwriting oomph about itself, although if that guy squeaks "oh year" one more time, I'm going to weep.

What is Christina Aguilera waffling on about? Genies don't come in bottles. Absolute tosh. Let's skip past Gary Barlow. He was meant to be the songwriting talent in Take That, yet his solo career was so unmemorable, I've already forgotten-- oh look, a pony. Where was I? Oh yes. George Michael's Faslove is one of his better tunes, made even better by using the same Forget Me Nots inspiration as Men In Black. But none of this twiddles my tassel.

Music for babies

That Gina G song did pretty well in the Eurovision Song Contest, but let's be honest: it's a babyish tune for babies who suck at being babies. It makes the Vengaboys look like Rachmaninov. Next on the list is Iron Maiden, whose New Year 1991 chart-topper came as a surprise to everyone. A wonderfully stupid and bombastic triumph, but nothing that can be considered as a bleepy track.

This list is in alphabetical order by artist, but I really think it's trolling me. KWS's cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's Please Don't Go is one of the most soulless singles ever. It stayed at number one for a month, preventing SL2, Shut Up And Dance and Kris Kross from topping the charts. I think it may be evil.

Cheesy mediocrity

I thought I had reached rock bottom, but next comes the cheesy reggae mediocrity of Baby Come Back, with Pato Banton having any potential credibility beiged out by the UB40 guys. And then there's the Teletubbies. Four overgrown cuddly toys, who have their stomachs ripped out and replaced with televisions, talk absolute gibberish while a burning, decapitated baby's head laughs at a sentient hoover. No. Thank. You.

That's it. That's the list. Not a single song to recommend. Complete waste of time. Let's hope the next batch throws up something better.

Feb 29, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: A rubbery travesty and something Badd

Britney Spears in school uniform, a monk in a brown habit

I've laid down a gauntlet. What is the best UK number one single of the 1990s? Let's pick up that gauntlet and slap a few more contenders about the face.

The contenders

Britney Spears, ...Baby One More Time  |  Color Me Badd, I Wanna Sex You Up  |  Enigma, Sadeness (Part I)  |  Mr Blobby, Mr Blobby  |  Ricky Martin, Livin' la Vida Loca  |  Spice Girls, Goodbye  |  Spice Girls, Viva Forever  |  Take That, Sure  |  Tasmin Archer, Sleeping Satellite  |  Will Smith, Men in Black

Remember the two criteria for judgement. Is it a banger? Is it bleepy?

Rubbery travesty

I am big and pink and covered in spots, like Mr Blobby. I am clumsy, like Mr Blobby. I talk utter nonsense, just like Mr Blobby. However, this rubbery travesty can shove himself right up his own crinkly bottom. He has no place on this list.

Equally terrible is Color Me Badd and their insistence at sexing people "up". Up where? A dreary r 'n' b dirge for creeps. On the positive side, they're named after a horse. No, really. The horse was called Color Me Bad. The band added an extra D so people didn't get confused.

While we're getting rid of rubbish singles, you might like Ricky Martin's late-90s number one Livin' la Vida Loca, but you're wrong. There are many reasons to admire Martin: there can't be many gay Puerto Ricans as leading lights in pop music. But the song is shash. And annoying. And pants. And also shash. Did I mention annoying?

Hey, Will Smith, I see you sneaking out of the room. Get back here. Men in Black sampling of Forget Me Nots is a clever move, but that's as far as it goes. It doesn't half go on a bit. Let's zap ourselves with a neuralyzer and forget this was ever released.

Viva not quite forever

This brings us to the mid-tier choices in this batch. And they are really mid. Both Spice Girls tracks can be placed at the exact middle of their artistic ouvre. I mean, Goodbye and Viva Forever are fine. FINE. But fine is not good enough for this countdown. Chewits are fine, but I'm not choosing them as my last meal. Actually, that's a bad example. Chewits are amazing. Shower them on me when I get to death row.

Meanwhile, Take That's Sure is one of their poorer number one singles, especially in the light of the two singles that followed this, the blistering Back for Good and the iconic Never Forget. The lesson is: never name your single after a deodorant.

Hunks of monks

This brings us to the final three.

As odes to space exploration go, Tasmin Archer's Sleeping Satellite is up there. It's no Bowie, but what a tune. Turning middle-of-the-road pop music into a bonafide banger, It's got some Madchester-style organ action to boot, which gets it some bleepy bonus points.

If sexy schoolgirls are your thing, then look no further than Britney Spears' breakthrough it ...Baby One More Time. Despite the questionable concept behind the promo video, there's no denying how impressive this was for a debut single. Unfortunately, like much of this randomly-picked list, it doesn't satisfy the bleep factor.

In nomine Christi! Yeah, you heard. The unlikely winner for this batch is a bunch of singing monks. Michael Cretu 's new-age noodlings as Enigma produced this unlikely smash hit. Cretu, who was credited on the single as "Curly M.C", refused to publicise the release, and its Gregorian chant samples got him sued. Instant hit. Beyond the novelty, this is a modern ambient classic, and the album holds up better now than it did then.

Bet you didn't expect the monks to win. There are oodles of other 1990s chart-toppers to come. 

More of the Ultimate 90s number one

Feb 28, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: Should we praise Fatboy Slim like we should?

Yesterday, I announced my quest to discover the best UK number one single of the 1990s. My two main judging criteria were (a) is it a banger? and (b) is it bleepy?

Time to delve into my first randomly-picked noisebag of nineties tunes. Here are the first contenders, including the record label and the date it got to number one.

The contenders

All Saints, Under the Bridge / Lady Marmalade  |  Boyzone, A Different Beat  |  B*Witched, C'est la Vie  |  Deep Blue Something, Breakfast at Tiffany's  |  DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Boom! Shake the Room  |  Fatboy Slim, Praise You  |  Hanson, MMMBop  |  Lou Bega, Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of...)  |  Michael Jackson, Black or White  |  Tori Amos, Professional Widow (It's Got to Be Big)

Harpooning the worst

Let's harpoon some blubber before we've even cast anchor. Lou Bega can get lost, with his mangling of 1940s Cuban instrumental Mambo No. 5. I don't want to know how much he fancies Monica, Erica, Ethel and Ermintrude. 

And apologies to any Friends fans, but I rewatched a load of Friends over lockdown, and it's horribly one-dimensional and depressing. Deep Blue Something are deep blue nothing. 

Oh and no Boyzone. Absolutely no Boyzone.

A black and white decision

That's three of this ten dispatched pretty quickly. Now it gets more difficult. Black or White is Michael Jackson's best single of the 1990s, but that's not saying much. This whole period felt like echoes of his more spectacular past. 

At the other end of the pop careers were All Saints and B*Witched, the first with a questionable cover version and the second with too much denim. 

And that Hanson single was a, er, bop, but have you heard it recently? Utter hogwash.

A Tori victory?

Which leaves us with three genuinely impressive singles. Boom! Shake the Room, Praise You and Professional Widow.

I knew all the lyrics to the Fresh Prince's 1993 hit Boom! Shake the Room. "Pump it up, Prince!" I used to shout before going "tick, tick, tick, tick, boom" and doing a bomb impression with my hands. The track was so joyful, and yet hinted towards a violence that would erupt at the 94th Oscars when Smith tolchocked Chris Rock across the choppers. Rather too banging for my liking.

Next? Fatboy Slim's Praise You topped the charts in early 1999, and was pay-off for Norman Cook's incredible transformation from humble Housemartin into big beat remixer extraordinaire. He brought the Roland TB-303 to the forefront of chart popularism, and even made Cornershop cool. The sample-and-paste simplicity of Praise You had us all dancing around ghetto blasters. 

You may be less aware of Tori Amos's 1997 hit Professional Widow. You could dismiss Amos as kooky, but here was a titanic talent who refused to compromise in an era of uncompromising women: step forward Polly Harvey and Bjork. In a way, it's a shame that the single that topped the UK charts was a Armand van Helden remix, because it reduced her fascinating complexities to vocal fragments. Still. Very much a banger.

Praising the best

Praise You is the best of the batch. It may not have had Christopher Walken defying gravity, as in one of Fatboy Slim's other videos, but it fits my criteria perfectly. It bangs. It bleeps. We're going to go a long, long way together.

I guess Mr Slim moves forward to.. the final? Yes, let's have a final. Plenty more of this to come.

Feb 27, 2024

Ultimate 90s number one: an introduction

What can be said of the 1990s? Blur versus Oasis, war, the rise of grunge, Nelson Mandela meeting the Spice Girls, cults, Dolly the sheep somehow not having a novelty number one hit, the Euro, David Bowie going jungle.

Above all, it was a fascinating decade for music. Rock music got all grubby, and dance music got all aggressive. We didn't think twice about puppets and animated characters topping the charts, or about worshipping boy bands that were closet tax-dodgers or Tories.

So, it is time to decide. What was the best UK number one single of the 1990s?

How hard can it be to find out? All I need to do is listen to all of the number one singles from that decade, then blog about them until I decide what's best.

How will I organise this? I'll do them in batches of ten, randomly picked from a big long list I've copied from the Official Charts website. Other than that list, and listening to the music, there will be no preplanning. It'll be like one of those internet reaction videos, but really slow because it's a blog.

And how will I judge what's best? Firstly, I'll ask the all-important question. Is it a banger? In other words, how well written is the track? Does it poke your ears with a knitting needle? If you played it at a party, would people drop their sausage rolls in amazement?

Secondly, I will judge each track on the basis of this being an an electronic music blog. This will skew things somewhat, but this is an electronic music blog, so them's the rules. Does it have a pleasing bleepiness? Would a robot rock to this? Would it get their antennae in a twist? To be frank, this is going to rule out a lot of number one singles pretty quickly.

So there we go. Batches of ten until I get through all of the 1990s UK number one singles. No particular blog schedule: I'll post updates as and when I get time. By the end of it, I'll have a winner. Probably.

See all of the posts (so far) in this series.

Jan 10, 2024

Dance music has far better lyrics than Liam Gallagher and John Squire

'Just Another Rainbow' is the new song by Liam Gallagher and John Squire. A meeting of musical minds that has Oasis and Stone Roses fans drinking celebratory lager from their bucket hats.

The single is predictable enough. I won't link to the actual song here, in the same way I wouldn't show you a photograph of a turd I'd found in a nearby alleyway. But I can tell you Gallagher sounds like a donkey on a torture rack, while Squire is so unmemorable, I've already forgotten what instrument he plays. Balalaika? Kazoo?

What I wasn't prepared for was how bad the lyrics would be. I wasn't expecting Oscar Wilde, but the lyrics are so banal, I thought the Oxford English Dictionary had glitched and all the good words had fallen out. Here are the main offenders:

"Just another rainbow dripping on my tree."

"Red and orange, yellow and green. blue, indigo, violet. We've crossed a line."

"Just another rainbow paying the bills. Am I your windmill?"

One thing can be certain is that the boys have never seen a rainbow. A rainbow has never offered financial support for my household amenities, never mind been used as a wind-powered turbine. At least they got the colours right, although a true 'bow connoisseur would include infrared and ultraviolet.

This is why dance music is much better than this turgid indie pop. Dance music has a history of innovative lyrics that really speak to the human condition. Its music makers put thought in the message they want to purvey. It is music for intelligent people.

I'm almost reluctant to do this, because I don't want to shame Liam and John. But here are list of the most insightful dance music lyrics of all time. Next time, lads, put your guitars down and don your raving gloves. You may learn a thing or two.,,

Black Box: Everybody Everybody – "(Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody) Oh, everybody (Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody) Everybody, oh everybody. (Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody) Everybody."

DJ Snake: Get Low – "Get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, get low, get get get low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low."

Fatboy Slim: The Rockafeller Skank – "Bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, 'bout, funk, funk, funk, funk, funk, funk, bro, bro, bro, bro, bro." 

Roni Size: Brown Paper Bag – "Step step step step step step step step step step, p-p-paper paper paper paper paper, mmmmmmmmmmmm."

Duck Sauce: Barbra Streisand – "Oo-oo who-oo-oo whooo-oo oo-oo, oo-oo who-oo-oo whooo-oo oo-oo, oo-oo who-oo-oo whooo-oo, Barbra Streisand."

No wait, hold on. These are way to repetitive. I need something more insightful. Lyrics with real thought. Proper deep thinking as if they were written by Albert Einstein or Lorraine Kelly or something. Right. Here we go...

Prodigy: Memphis Belles – "Lick it once, lick it twice, c'mon, put that sh*t on ice."

Calvin Harris: The Girls – "I like them black girls, I like them white girls, I like them Asian girls, I like them mixed-race girls [etc etc etc]"

Scooter: Friends Turbo – "Can you tell me, how do I get off the bus?"

Ye gods, who ARE these monsters? This is going horribly wrong. Excuse me while I dig into my Warp Records collection. There must be something intelligent in those old purple twelve-inches. Intelligent techno and all that. Ah, here we are...


Tricky Disco: Tricky Disco – "Tricky disco."

I give up.

Pictured: A hyperfuturistic digital 3D rendering of Liam Gallagher

Jan 5, 2024

On the Slipmat with Saturn: a Gorillaz-inspired microstory

I found the following text in my blog drafts. It was an attempt at a picture story, a little micro-fiction slash thought poem, with added pretty pics. The images are taken from the video for Saturnz Barz by Gorillaz, which came out when I wrote this piece seven years ago. Time to finally publish it.

On the Slipmat with Saturn

I was browsing someone else's record collection. Leafing through the seven-inches, flipping them to check the b-sides. You only really know someone by the quality of their b-sides.

There was still something thrilling about placing the record over the spindle. The satisfying 'clump' as the disc settles onto the slipmat. A physical experience before a single note has hit you.

The needle travelled the grooves as the music played. A seemingly endless spiral. Satisfaction in ever-decreasing circles. My mind wandered more freely than that. Lost in eddies and twirls, beyond geometry. 

"You like it when my record goes round, huh?" The fifty-foot worm appeared from nowhere. It seemed flattered. A kindred spirit, connected in musical taste if not in anatomy. I handled it well. My screams were in tune with the music.

How we listened. Let the bass shake us. We jumped between tracks together, hand and tentacle on stylus. Our minds found a rhythm. We travelled to space. Rockets and planets and nebula, playing music in the infinite vacuum with my huge bendy friend.

You can plan your days. Play the music you want to listen to. But sometimes the needle doesn't go the way you want it to. Life can become the b-side. You will know this has happened when you find yourself travelling along a different kind of spiral.

Me and the worm. And the satisfying 'clump' as a new record begins.

Pictured: A hyperfuturistic digital 3D rendering of the worm from the Gorillaz video