Well, this is new. The music industry's self-imposed new year slumber is normally over by now, the market flooded with new releases from the acts destined to be the headline makers of the first quarterly sales report of the year. Here we are however in the middle of February and still the charts are merely ticking over, rather than exploding in a flurry of activity.
For those in search of new music, it is a frustrating period. For many of the incumbent acts however it is a different story. The absence of big new releases means that the biggest sellers remain existing singles, ones that have been in the market for a number of weeks. They are free to lodge themselves in the minds of the wider public - wider than those who normally pay attention to the sales listings. In short, given the charts the chance to perform a role they have not done for many years - serve as an advert for the best songs of the moment.
At the very top, LMC's Take Me To The Clouds Above holds firm for a second week. LMC are actually the three men who run All Around The World records and for a while now have been looking for the chance to make hits for themselves rather than licence potential new hits from Europe (which has at the very least proved to be a very lucrative tactic for the small label). Take Me To The Clouds Above is actually not their idea at all, rather it is based on a bootleg by the Mash Up Kids which was circulating last summer. LMC replaced the house beats of the original with a more laid back trance rhythm and set about clearing the samples. When they could not licence Whitney Houston's original vocals, Rachel MacFarlane was called in to re-voice it - resulting in the hit you hear today. Interestingly enough part of the single package is a "Mash Up Kids Remix" which is actually the Swedish original with the MacFarlane vocal track grafted over the top. Rob Johnson told me most of that in a mail this week, so thanks, Rob.
Just below, the Top 3 has an oddly familiar look to it. Kelis holds firm at Number 2 with Milkshake - the fourth straight week the single has occupied this position. The last two singles to spend four consecutive weeks at Number 2 were in fact singles which were holding steady after having already topped the charts - Shaggy's It Wasn't Me from 2001 and The Outhere Brothers' Don't Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) in 1995. In fact it has been almost ten years since any Number 2 single spent at least four weeks at the top - All 4 One's I Swear had an astonishing seven week run in the runners up slot in the summer of 1994, locked in place the entire time behind Wet Wet Wet's Love Is All Around.
Meanwhile, the incredible run of Outkast's Hey Ya continues as the single (released and having first peaked before Christmas remember) ascends one place to become a Top 3 hit for the first time - a full 13 weeks after it first arrived on the chart. This is the slowest climb by any chart single since Toploader's Dancing In The Moonlight took 14 weeks to reach its peak position of Number 7 back in 2001.
The Boogie Pimps are experiencing a similar kind of pinball effect, Somebody To Love reversing its decline to boogie its way back into the Top 5 this week. Now five weeks old, the single has moved 5-5-3-6-5.
The biggest new hit of the week, and indeed the only record to penetrate the Top 10 this week is Blazin' Squad's Here 4 One. This single is the follow-up to their Number 2 hit Flip Reverse and maintains their 100% strike rate of Top 10 hits, this being their sixth single in all.
Just outside the Top 10 the startling reversals continue. Ozzy and Kelly are back up to Number 11 with Changes, their pre-Christmas chart-topper having dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time last week. The biggest shock of the week, however, is just four places below them.
Katie Melua's debut single The Closest Thing To Crazy hit the chart in mid-December, a brave time to launch a brand new act on the public but as it turns out a rather clever one. Thanks to the incessant promotion of her by Radio 2 presenter Terry Wogan her popularity has steadily grown by word of mouth, the net result being the ascension of her album Call Off The Search to the top of the charts, where it remains this week. In the meantime, the single Closest Thing To Crazy has been loitering around the Top 40. For some reason, her publicity machine has been boasting that the single hit Number 3 when first released, an error which has been repeated in many places. In fact, the track hit Number 10 prior to the festive season and since then has moved 10-14-17-17-22-23-24-24-25 and now rebounds spectacularly to Number 15, its highest chart position since the week before Christmas. Could it be that those who were advertising it as a Top 3 hit were demonstrating remarkable foresight?
So what of the rest of the new single releases of the week? Well Blazin' Squad aside, none can do anything of note. New entry number 2 belongs to Funeral For A Friend who at the very least are being consistent in their chart performances. The band had two hits in 2003, Juneau which made Number 19 and She Drove Me To Daytime Television which was a Number 20 hit back in October. They open their 2004 account with a sparkling single that equals their best to date with a Number 19 entry.
At Number 21 is C'mon C'mon by the Von Bondies, the group who have already managed their share of headlines thanks to a certain backstage fight with Jack White of the White Stripes. Happily, now we can take proper stock of their music, first of all with this debut single and then with their debut album Pawn Shoppe Heart which hits the shops next week.
[You will notice a sudden profusion of more 'mature tastes' guitar based acts on the UK charts during this period. This is no coincidence. The pop-loving generation had more or less abandoned CD singles by now, in favour of file sharing networks and then ultimately the nascent digital download market which was starting its first tentative steps at this time. Physical singles were steadily becoming the preserve of students and up, and the charts shifted to reflecting their tastes whilst the industry contemplated ever-slumping sales figures and wondered what the heck they were going to do about it].
For the second week running the Top 40 plays host to an 80s legend guest starring on a brand new dance hit. Last week Chrissie Hynde, this week no less a figure than the Cure's Robert Smith who performs a vocal take on Junior Jack's Number 25 entry Da Hype. This is Junior Jack's first chart entry since E Samba hit Number 34 back in September last year and it, in fact, has the honour of becoming his biggest hit to date, eclipsing the Number 29 peak of Thrill Me from March 2002.
As if to emphasise the topsy-turvy nature of the singles market this week, no less than five new singles make their debut between 31 and 40, although sadly none are likely to find themselves racing up the chart in weeks to come. Biggest of these, however, is the long awaited return of The Stranglers. Veterans of the immediate post-punk era, the group have been absent from the Top 40 since January 1991, their last hit being a remixed version of Always The Sun which was released to promote a Hits collection. Not that they have been quiet ever since of course, their last album proper being released in 1997 but chart singles appear to have been hard to come by. Their new album Norfolk Coast is released on February 16th and from the rave reviews (and the quality of this new single) it seems that 2004 is set to be their comeback year.
Elsewhere new entries from Obie Trice and Brand New barely register on the critical radar but there will be many smiles greeting Simple Kid's Number 38 entry with Truck On. The singer-songwriter spent most of the last year steadily building up a profile, scoring his first chart hit in September with The Average Man (a Number 72 entry). Whilst this minor Top 40 entry still isn't going to set the world on fire it gives him something to build on for the next release.
Six months after Satisfaction became the club (and video!) sensation of the summer, Benny Benassi finally releases a follow-up hit.. and six months on pretty much nobody cares. Not that this is any great loss really, although I'm saving the tears for the likes of John Squire and the surely soon to be massive Plumb who suffer that most frustrating fate - just missing out on a Top 40 place in one of the quietest and weirdest February charts for years.
Let us look to next week then. Releases from Fatman Scoop, Ronan Keating, So Solid Crew, The Stereophonics and The Strokes? That will do nicely. Bring it.