This week's Official UK Singles Chart
[Presenting the debut of one of the more notable bunch of pop superstars of their age, but also the act who would take Week 1 marketing to quite astonishing new heights as time went by]. Ladies and gentlemen, the proof we were looking for is finally with us. Throw away all your old boy band templates, for we have a new one to play with - one that works a treat. Said template is the one invented for Busted, taking the sound of an American skate-rock band and fitting it to a bunch of British boys who can then write songs about teachers, first dates and the like. This model has helped to make the aforementioned threesome into the hottest pop act of the last 12 months and now they are joined by a band in exactly the same mould who appear to be on their way to a similar level of success.
Newcomers McFly actually have more in common with Busted than just their sound, sharing the same management team and even having family links and some mutual pre-fame members. In a similar fashion their musical credentials are hammered home, they genuinely do perform together as a band and contribute to the writing of their songs - often a recipe for disaster when the thorny question of creative control comes up (and it will) but for the moment a good sign that the industry is tired of marketing good looking puppets. As for their debut single, well it is catchy in all the right places, the kind of record you would expect Green Day to have made had they grown up as the Beatles. It is also, of course, an easy Number One single to mark their debut (something which even Busted were unable to manage) and a good basis for a further run of hits this year. Oh yes, and they are indeed named after the Back To The Future films (also spookily referenced by Busted on Year 3000) - just in case you were wondering.
The second biggest new hit of the week is the second US Number One hit in succession to make it big on these shores. Although it hasn't topped the charts like the Usher single, Slow Jamz by Twista nonetheless makes a huge splash as it arrives in the UK. An incredibly appealing rap single, name-checking just about every soul and R&B legend going it possesses that little extra something that gives it an appeal beyond the usual hardcore rap audience. Slow Jamz is produced by none other than Kanye West who made his own chart debut as a performer last week with Through The Wire. Believe it or not, he will be back later as well.
Whilst we are speaking of templates and formulas for pop groups, it seems an opportune moment to cast our minds back to the final quarter of 1999. With the Spice Girls on hiatus at the time and All Saints taking forever to record a new album, there was a gap in the market for a new kind of girl group. No less than three stepped up to the plate. Thunderbugs took teen pop and fused them with stateside rock harmonies, had one hit and one flop before vanishing. Hepburn were cooler, with a more credible sound but they lasted no more than a handful of hits before being caught up in a dispute between their label and retailers and saw their final sure fire hit single perform poorly. Most exciting of all though were Atomic Kitten, three Liverpool lasses assembled by former OMD frontman Andy McCluskey. He would write the songs and produce the records, and they would become stars. It didn't quite work out like that, however. As good as spunky disco tunes such as Right Now and I Want Your Love were, they sneaked into the Top 10 and out again without causing much of a splash. Fourth single Follow Me coincided with the release of their debut album, the single made Number 20, the album bombed and that seemed to be it.
However this was back in the days when record companies had a little more patience and a fifth single was scheduled for early 2001, slushy ballad Whole Again. In the weeks building up to its release and as the girls promoted it everywhere they could, their most charismatic member Kerry Katona announced she was pregnant by boyfriend Bryan McFadden from Westlife and would be leaving the band after the promotional schedule was over. This moment of pop star copulation catapulted the girls onto the front pages and sent the single to Number One. Suddenly the Kittens were on fire. The rest is history, Kerry married Bryan and went on to a TV career, Atomic Kitten recruited Jenny Frost from failed Eurovision starlets Precious and embarked on a run of hits using the mid-tempo Whole Again as a template. Three Number One hits and eight successive Top 10 hits (plus the odd baby) later the girls have elected to call time on their career together for the moment, performing a final set of concerts and now bowing out with this swan song single. Someone Like Me is a stripped to the bone piano-led production written by Liz herself and one which bodes well for the solo career she is clearly being groomed for. As a special bonus, the single also features a re-recorded version of Right Now, the song that began it all four and a half years ago. They claim they are not splitting for good and this is just a year out to give them a chance to work apart for a bit. If they come back after this it will be a mistake. Go out on a high girls and thanks for the hits, even if deep down I still preferred the Mark I version.
Next up are the Pet Shop Boys, here following up last November's hit Miracles which performed a miracle of its own by reaching Number 10. Tennant and Lowe's problem remains the same, that they have been in the game for so long now that they have turned from two mature musicians making epic electronic pop hits into two middle aged blokes desperately attempting to stay in touch with musical trends. Sometimes it works perfectly, at other times it is car crash music. As for where Flamboyant fits, I'm not totally sure. I stated last week that it is the best Pet Shop Boys single for an age and that it certainly is. That said, a killer pop hit it most certainly isn't. Not a bad Pet Shop Boys single by any means then (and they have had a few) but amongst the current crop of chart hits it sounds oddly out of place and very, well, 80s. Flamboyant fails by a narrow margin to give them a second straight Top 10 single (a feat they have not managed for seven years). At some point, the full 80s nostalgia trip will kick in big time but as Phixx have demonstrated, it is taking time for people to buy into this (unlike say the 70s fad that hit us in the early 1990s). In conclusion, then, regard this as a good PSBs single that lacks the certain something that would give the duo a long overdue smash. The good news is that it keeps hopes alive that they still have what it takes to produce one, and for that reason alone their singles releases are something to be anticipated.
Just outside the Top 20 are the band who have already given us one of the more remarkable singles of the year. The Scissor Sisters' manic rendition of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb was truly a delight, a Number 10 single and one which marked them out as 2004s quirky band to watch. Happily, they don't disappoint with this second release, Take Your Mama a track that sounds delightfully like a duel between Elton John and Billy Joel circa 1975. It would have been so disappointing if their first original material was lacking but this most certainly isn't, a bizarre song that suggests the way to get over a broken heart is to get your mother drunk. Yes, it is a song that presses multiple buttons by both entertaining and disturbing at the same time and possibly for that reason alone it is nothing less than a joy. The release of the single appears to have had a beneficial effect on sales of their album which climbs into the Top 10 for the first time since its release this week.
Next to play is Alicia Keys, here with the follow-up to You Don't Know My Name which made a slightly disappointing Number 19 when released in time for the Christmas rush back in December. This second single release from her current album The Diary Of at least creeps in one place higher but a mainstream success this single If I Ain't Got You sadly isn't.
What is more frustrating? Being a Basement Jaxx fan or being Basement Jaxx themselves? After all the album Kish Kash has picked up its fair share of good reviews, is loaded with special guest stars and yet so far has not managed to spawn a massive crossover hit. January's Good Luck made Number 12 of course which was at least an improvement on the Dizzee Rascal-starring Lucky Star which was a Number 23 hit back in November. Now it is time to wheel out the big guns so here is Plug It In featuring vocals from none other than JC Chasez of 'NSync. Well, so much for the star power theory as this single limps into the chart once again outside the Top 20. It is not that Basement Jaxx - producers lest we forget of some of the best club hits of the turn of the decade - are making bad records, just ones that are frustratingly hard to shift in large numbers.
There is a happier story to tell down at Number 30 as no less a star than Norah Jones gets her first ever Top 40 hit. Ravi Shankar's daughter released her first album Come Away With Me just over two years ago and over the next 20 months saw it grow from a niche market into a major worldwide smash. One thing it did not produce, however, was chart hits. She came closest twice with Don't Know Why which made Number 59 in May 2002 and then Number 67 back in September last year when it came complete with some rather ill-advised dance mixes. Now with her second album Feels Like Home riding high in the Top 10 Norah Jones makes that all important singles breakthrough, albeit some way down the chart with Sunrise [her one and only Top 40 hit single in this country, for shame]. Something tells me that if you are still waiting for the current crop of easy listening albums chart stars to have singles hits, your hopes best rest on the likes of Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. I somehow can't see giving Norah Jones a Top 10 hit being all that high on the agenda for Blue Note records.
At Number 35 you can chalk up a third concurrent chart hit for Kanye West, this his second as an actual performer. Yes, the Sean Paul of 2004 nails his ubiquity to the wall by appearing on Dilated Peoples' This Way which creeps into the chart this week. This is the first hit single for the group since Worst Comes To Worst made Number 29 in February 2002 and is taken from their third album Neighbourhood Watch.
To bring up the rear this week, an oddly low new entry for the legendary Simply Red (who let us not forget were chart contemporaries of the Pet Shop Boys back in the 1980s). The third single from the album in the space of a year, maybe we shouldn't be too shocked that it hasn't made quite the impact of the others but even so, this is a rather startling come down given that the Christmas hit You Make Me Feel Brand New made Number 7. Regrettably at Number 40 Home will go down as the lowest charting Simply Red single since You Got It missed the Top 40 altogether, that release reaching Number 46 in October 1989.
So battle is joined at the top then. Will McFly push beyond the hype and grab a second week at the top or is the appeal of The Rasmus just too hard to resist? Oh yes, and Pop Idol Michelle has a new single out as well - but that one isn't so good.