Isn't it great when things happen the way they are supposed to? Such as, for example, on the singles chart this Easter weekend when an artist long-touted as the next big thing suddenly fulfils that potential. British hip-hop soul girl Estelle Swaray's first brush with fame came back in 2004 when she released her album The 18th Day, a record which drew a string of well-deserved positive reviews in its wake. Singles 1980 and Free became Top 20 hits, but by the time third single Go Gone barely sneaked a Top 40 place in early 2005, the shine was starting to wear off. For all the hype and breathless music press prose about how she was a major and exciting new talent, the majority of the record buying public remained apparently unconvinced. The axe from V2 records came shortly afterwards.
Just for a change though, this wasn't the end of the story. Three years down the line Estelle has a new deal with Atlantic records and a brand new album, the forthcoming Shine, which features contributions and production from the likes of John Legend, Wyclef Jean, Mark Ronson and a host of other stellar names. The message here is loud and clear - far too many people have faith in Estelle to watch her flop again.
In spite of this, she almost did. Her big comeback single Wait A Minute (Just A Touch) was released in November last year but was by and large ignored by radio and TV and ultimately the public themselves. It makes the success of second single American Boy all the more of a delight, for in total contrast the single has shot to the top of the chart in its first full week on download sales alone. Produced by will.i.am, the single is a glorious collision of hip-hop, disco and cheeky British soul girl attitude, a combination which appears to be working on the far side of the Atlantic as well as at home. The single is also a further triumph for guest star Kanye West whose bridging rap is an integral part of the track. American Boy becomes his second Number One hit single inside the last year, following Stronger which had a two-week run at the top last August.
The arrival of Estelle at the top of the singles charts also has the rather unexpected effect of overshadowing what would in most normal circumstances be the biggest chart news of the week - namely the arrival of a brand new Madonna single. 4 Minutes is the opening offering from Madge's brand new album, Hard Candy her first new music since 2005's Confessions On A Dance Floor. Her unerring ability to attract the hottest producers of the moment to work with her has for once led her to tread the obvious path, hence the presence of Pharrell Williams and Timbaland at the controls of her latest opus, the latter taking the helm for its lead single. Like a moth to a lightbulb, of course, no Timbaland project is complete without Justin Timberlake lending a hand somewhere along the way and so 4 Minutes has the honour of being only the second single in history to feature Madonna duetting with another artist. It is with a wry irony we note that the only other chart duet which Madonna has put her name to was Me Against The Music a single by Timberlake's former squeeze Britney Spears.
As for the single itself, well, the more we wait for signs that the most successful female artist in history is on the wane, the more she appears to remain evergreen. Madonna plugs herself neatly into the usual Timbaland formula but with the production having a suitably epic weight to it, as befits the '4 minutes to save the world' theme of the lyrics. Madonna's first chart single since Jump in November 2006, even just as a download it effortlessly adds to her ever impressive 24 year tally of Top 10 singles. What happens next will be interesting as with exception of career low point Bedtime Stories, every one of her post-stardom album releases has seen its premier single go Top 3 or better. 4 Minutes doesn't become a physical single for almost another month, hitting the stores on April 14th, so keep your fingers crossed it continues its momentum. This, of course, isn't necessarily a foregone conclusion - most acts would naturally kill for a Number 7 entry first week out, but this is the first new Madonna single for three years and it hasn't breached the Top 5. Does it really have the ability to progress? [I'm going with 'yes' here].
Also new to the Top 10 are the newly physical Girls Aloud with Can't Speak French which rises 16-9. Ignoring the brief Top 75 entry of Theme To St Trinians which sneaked to Number 51 as an album cut in the new year, this is the followup to Call The Shots which peaked at Number 3 in early December but which is proving to be one of their biggest selling and most enduring singles to date, this week clinging on at Number 46 in its 18th week on the chart. Only their debut Sound Of The Underground had a longer chart run, spending 21 weeks in the best sellers list overall. The new single picks up where the old one left off, a brooding yet somehow irritatingly catchy pop record that is as much the product of the wild imaginations of producers Xenomania as it is the vocal skills of the girls themselves. I go lukewarm on Girls Aloud from time to time, sometimes frustrated that they release some singles that don't quite live up to the high standards they set themselves, but the longer they continue to make records the more they reinforce their ultimate legacy as one of the most consistent and inspired pop acts of the decade.
In a quiet week overall for new singles, the next highest new entry arrives at Number 20, Get Over It marking the return to the chart of the Guillemots. Heralding the release of second album Red, the single at a stroke becomes their biggest hit to date and in truth quite deservedly so. With a melody propelled by a haunting Moog riff, the track walks the line between indie cool and out and out singalong pop record in a manner which all but screams "instant classic". Trust me, if Get Over It was the new Girls Aloud single people would be falling over themselves to shout about how good it was. Don't be put off just because it is by a band you might have barely heard of.
Falling into the "future hits" category is Black & Gold, the debut chart single for LA-based singer and songwriters Sam Sparro. Like Lenny Kravitz with keyboards, the Number 23 hit mixes his yowling vocals with a dark electronic backing, a combination which makes for an absorbing but incredibly rewarding musical experience. Black & Gold is shooting up the singles chart on the strength of its online performance, the single not officially released until April 7th. The prospect of it nestling in the Top 5 by the time that date arrives is an incredibly delicious one.
Also set for an April 7th release but on the chart already is Love Like This, a brand new single from Natasha Bedingfield which features a guest vocal turn from Sean Kingston (who badly needed another hit single). The track was one of several to be added to her 2007 album N.B. for its American release and so effectively appears here as a single exclusive, hence its already impressive showing online which has translated into a Number 27 entry. As bright and sunny as it is, like most Natasha Bedingfield singles, you will either love it or hate it and such divisive qualities will inevitably count against it in the long run. Nonetheless, of her six previous singles only one has missed the Top 10 and if this single doesn't at least match the Number 12 peak of I Bruise Easily, I for one will be rather surprised.
As for the singles that hit the shops in physical form this week, their chart performances have ranged from the satisfactory to the indifferent. Utah Saints moved 9-8 yet were outsold by download only singles from Estelle, Flo Rida and Madonna; Girls Aloud as we have seen moved 16-9 in the best performance of the week; Panic At The Disco actually fell back a place to Number 14 with Nine In The Afternoon whilst the Sugababes remained locked at Number 15 with Denial. Next week's release schedule sees Low from Flo Rida hit the shops, but as a Number 6 hit it hardly needs the boost, Run from Gnarls Barkley which has crept to Number 32 as a download and finally my own favourite With You from Chris Brown which badly does need some help, drifting 14-17 this week in an outrageous display of poor taste from the singles buying public. What, can't I have an opinion sometimes?