I've long ceased to be grumpy about the inherent rip-off involved in the whole "special edition re-release" culture that afflicts the music industry. If coming up with creative ways for people to pay for music they already own is what floats the boat of the labels, who are we as consumers to argue? The one redeeming feature of such stunts is that from time to time they can result in "bonus material" that isn't just filler but one which extends the artist's body of work in exciting new directions. Lady Gaga is a useful case in point, and coincidentally the creator of her material is also responsible for the single that sits on the top of the UK charts this week, a track which is possibly the last thing you would have expected from the artist in question.
Step forward then RedOne who as usual has neatly arranged a namecheck for himself at the start of Start Without You, the track which returns Alexandra Burke to the top of the charts for the first time in almost a year and which gives the former X Factor winner her third Number One single. Taken from the new version of her debut album Overcome, the single the kind of instant party smash hit that you suspect will endure long after even her own career has hit the skids. Start Without You is a Burke single with a difference, a bubbly reggae fusion track which takes as its inspiration the work of Boney M and in particular hits such as 1979 smash Hooray Hooray It's A Holi-Holiday with which Start Without You unashamedly shares a chord sequence and melody. It is to say the least a bold and very different step for the star but one which works a treat. Right from the very start there was little doubt that the single would sweep to Number One and it does so in quite emphatic style with a sale of over 73,000 copies. Replacing fellow X Factor contestant Olly Murs at the top, Burke now claims the 18th X Factor related Number One since the show began in 2004 and joins JLS and Leona Lewis as the only former stars to have topped the charts as many as three times.
Still keeping count? Yes, Start Without You is the 11th different Number One single in as many weeks and the 27th chart-topper of 2010 so far. Making bold predictions is something I should never really do, but is it possible this frantic sequence is about to come to a halt at last?
There is another new entry from an act making what appears to be a radical new direction inside the Top 10, but for that we have to wait a moment as they are beaten to the punch by The Script who charge to Number 5 with their brand new single For The First Time as the second biggest new hit of the week. The Irish band are most famous for their 2008 Number 2 single The Man Who Can't Be Moved, the second of three Top 40 hits lifted from their self-titled debut album which came out the same year. After a short pause to take in the worldwide success they achieved with that release they are now back with new material from new album Science And Faith which arrived in the shops this week. The new track sensibly does little with the established formula and presents the world with exactly what they were expecting, a tender and sweeping rock ballad which treads gently the fine line between developing their sound and staying true to the material that made them so popular in the first place. Some reviewers have dismissed the track as a tiny bit dull, but to play it differently could so easily have gone wrong. A second Top 5 hit for the group is the result and a very welcome one it is too.
I have to feel for the next act we come to. Not only has their grand plan of returning with a jaw-dropping new sound been slightly usurped by the Number One single doing exactly the same this week but they have been outsold at the death by another act who have done exactly the opposite and kept to the path well trodden. A shame really as the arrival of Party Girl at Number 6 could potentially have been one of the best stories of the week.
McFly are the act in question, a group whom I have long argued deserve a far better critical appraisal than they are often afforded, thanks in part to their original marketing as a for the teen girls pop act. In the past they have been rightly blasted for their inconsequential chart performances, clocking up a string of Number One hits which have subsequently failed to defy gravity and which have exited the chart in short order, another problem which has prevented widespread appreciation of their music. Having quit their label in 2008 and gone into business for themselves, the group quickly discovered that without the marketing muscle of a big name company, the path to big hits is harder to navigate. Whilst Lies made a comfortable Top 5 in September that year, subsequent releases from their album Radio Active failed to impress, making their latest chart appearance something of a comeback.
Here is the surprise bit however because Party Girl is barely recognisable as a McFly single. The track eschews almost entirely the surf-rock sound that characterised their early career, jettisoning their usual style in favour of a hard edged dance-pop fusion track, the work of R&B producer Dallas Austin - track that would not sound out of place at a Lady Gaga concert. Imagine the last thing you would expect the group to put their name to and you have this single in a nutshell. Word is that the track is really little more than a bit of grandstanding, the only one from their forthcoming new album Above The Noise performed in this style. Still, if the attention was to draw attention to themselves and for the first time in a long time get people talking about a McFly single then job done. Party Girl is the head-turner it was always supposed to be, their first Top 10 hit for two years but maybe annoyingly not the biggest story of the week.
The second live semi final show of the Sky One series "Must Be The Music" repeats the feat of the first by placing the studio recording of one of the acts featured inside the Top 10. Hard on the heels of Pepper & Piano last week (who fall to Number 21 second week out) arrive Emma's Imagination, the star turn of the show broadcast the weekend before last with a track called This Day which charts at Number 10. Fellow performers Pictures also claim for themselves a Top 40 hit this week with Tears entering at Number 33. The same criticisms of the tactic that we outlined last week remain, the presence of the songs on the chart turning the acts into "winners" before the show has even finished airing, however the huge redeeming feature of the project is that each song performed and released is an original composition by the acts involved. Given a choice of hits such as these, or the sub-karaoke performances of tired old standards by X Factor acts, which would you choose to see on the singles chart?
New at Number 15 is Drummer Boy from Alesha Dixon, the Strictly Come Dancing judge reminding the world of the other reason she is famous with impeccable timing just as the show returns for a new series. Taken from a forthcoming new album, the single matches at a stroke the Number 15 peak of her last hit To Love Again and is all told the sixth Top 20 hit of her solo career.
Two places below at Number 17 is an intriguing oddity, a track which has appeared from pretty much nowhere thanks to an X Factor audition performance to which it is only vaguely related - simply because it seems fans of the track had very little choice.
Bear with me because this is a little complicated. Turn My Swag On was a track original recorded by rapper Soulja Boy Tell'Em and appeared on his 2008 debut album. Released as a single in America (but not here) in 2009, it became a moderate chart success for the star but took on a life of its own long after its Top 20 Hot 100 run thanks to its inherent adaptability. Wikipedia lists countless other acts who took to performing their own freestyle versions of the track, one of which just happens to be Keri Hilson (of Knock You Down fame). As far as British audiences were concerned the track would have languished in cultural obscurity, but for X Factor auditionee Cher Lloyd who last week on the show impressed the judges with a performance of what she announced as the "Keri Hilson" version of Turn My Swag On. Naturally this sparked a rush of interest in the original track - one which couldn't actually be fulfilled as Hilson's rendition is simply not available in the UK. The closest the iTunes store could get was a track from the album Sertified Worldwide released in January by hip-hop producer Greg Street. Track 8 on the album is a "remix" mash-up which combines Soulja Boy's original vocals with those of Keri Hilson to create a spontaneous hybrid duet, and it is this version of the track which charts this week at Number 17 - inspired not by airplay or any kind of promotion but simply due to the work of a 16 year old girl on a talent show audition.
Interest in the track has also prompted a chart placing for the Keri Hilson free original, and so that gives Soulja Boy Tell'Em a Number 48 hit this week, his first chart entry since Kiss Me Thru The Phone made Number 9 in May 2009.
Over on the album chart this week marks the first time since July that Eminem has spent more than a week away from the Number One position. Deposing Katy Perry from the top this time around is Brandon Flowers who proves that his capacity for topping the album chart extends beyond his career as lead singer of The Killers, themselves three-time chart champions. His debut solo offering Flamingo soars to the top, the album home to current Top 20 single Crossfire.
The most impressive album chart move of the week is naturally reserved for The XX, winners of the annual Mercury Music Prize last week, the resultant exposure inevitably giving their sales the shot in the arm that (usually) results. Their self-titled album shoots 16-3, its highest chart placing so far in the 56 weeks it has been on sale. The group also make waves on the singles chart for the very first time, single Islands vaulting the competition to sneak a berth at Number 39, four weeks after it had seemingly initially peaked at Number 58. 2009 winner Speech Debelle must be cursing her luck, her award of the prize 12 months ago resulted in hardly any extra interest for her work, casting doubt on the ability of the annual award to give a leg up to deserving acts. Is it possible that was just a one-off?