Katy Perry’s “Bon Appétit” – “House-pop parfait with a cold, tart centre”

bon appetitForget fresh – Katy Perry’s “Bon Appétit” is practically antiseptic. That kitsch title comes with her signature lowbrow wink, but this electropop parfait has a cold, tart centre. Hackneyed ‘food-as-vagina’ puns are deadpanned in an alluring whisper. Eurodance synths stabs come thin and quick, and prick like a needle.

One of the song’s bigger risks may be the inclusion of hip-hop trio Migos. Following the streaming monster “Bad and Boujee”, Quavo, Takeoff and Offset are hot property, but their off-colour remarks about gay rapper iLoveMakonnen should raise brows – particularly as Katy’s own supposed brushes with bigotry have recently emerged.  

The good news is that Perry and Migos seem to be on the same prog-pop wavelength. She certainly makes them feel at home, with the house beat dropping into chill trap for a mercurial four-part verse. Speaking of drops, producer Max Martin lands a doozy for Katy’s base but velcro-like chorus: “Got me spread like a buffet / Bon appétit, baby!

Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times” is a shaky six-minute pose

harry styles

For millennials, the past two years have been a crash course in uncertainty. Will the EU crumble? Should we ready our outfits for #nuclearholocaust? Go vox popping and you’ll find there’s only one thing the youth know for sure: Harry Styles will be a superstar.

Flanked by millions of fans and fêted by the media, Styles’ success is a rare inevitability. The One Direction heartthrob could afford to tear up the rulebook, but debut single “Sign of the Times” doesn’t even dog-ear a page for fear of creasing a holy text.

‘Sources’ were keen to cite David Bowie’s influence, apparent in the sense that he too had a Y chromosome and was known to sing over piano. At best, the song recalls Robbie Williams’ chest-puffing balladry – at worst, it’s a shaky six-minute pose.

Styles’ falsetto cuts through the neutered guitars and crashing drums, but strains to add meaning. Only a truly privileged artist can scream “We’ve got to get away!” while digging their heels into the safest sound imaginable. Now that’s a sign of the times.

Zara Larsson’s So Good: “Promising newcomer falls at the final hurdle”

zara larsson copy

Zara Larsson and Rihanna share more than a cadence that’s catnip for radio.

Just like the Barbadian superstar circa 2006, Larsson holds immense promise, yet her international debut is at best a benign vessel for a half-dozen plastic-wrapped hits.

Last summer’s “Lush Life” is still a sticky party-starter with more choruses than sense. It’s also the best thing on So Good by far, and prefacing it with the feeble “What They Say”, a #motivational Instagram post set to music, is a telling cop-out.

A flexible singer, Larsson slings hooks like a sailor aboard everything from moody electro (MNEK duet “Never Forget You”), to schoolyard hip hop (“Ain’t My Fault”), to vogueing dance-pop (“I Would Like”). Aside from some killer singles, only “TG4M”’s dreamy tropical lilt really adds to her CV.

There’s never been a bigger gulf between title and song than on “Make That Money Girl”. That sassy name, along with the teenager’s unabashed feminism, suggests a banger for the ages, but its funereal beat is more befitting a documentary about sweatshop slavery.

Larsson has everything it takes to go A-list, but too often, So Good overlooks the spunky musicality that put her on the map. Drippy ballads like “Only You” and “One Mississippi” actively drain her charisma, and could be fronted by any Rihanna-lite ingenue.

Thank goodness then for Clean Bandit’s “Symphony” – a feel-good smash and vocal showcase that’s bought Team Larsson time to plan a crucial next move.

5.5/10

Grab some tissues and watch Clean Bandit’s self-directed “Symphony” clip below.

 

Charli XCX’s “Number 1 Angel” mixtape – “Trashy, but never throwaway”

charli xcx number 1 angel

Click here to listen to Number 1 Angel 

In another life, Charli XCX is the sixth Spice Girl. Hits like “I Love It” and “Fancy” prove her knack for bolshy ear candy, but on her new mixtape, Charli carries the torch for girl power into pop’s underbelly, and she wants you to follow.

A stopgap between 2016’s Vroom Vroom EP and a third LP due later this year, Number 1 Angel continues Charli’s work with electro avant gardists PC Music. The London label hybridise squeaky-clean IDM and 90s eurodance silliness, sharing serious chemistry with the singer’s stereo-booming hooks.

The music is almost rebellious for its glitchy hyperpop, oft-filtered vocals, and all-female features, but there are some piquant crossovers.

“3AM (Pull Up)” is cheerleader dancehall with a heartbroken twist, and prime single material. A guesting bolsters the mixtape’s feminist credentials with an affirming middle-8, prompting the song’s glorious you-go-girl attitude to snowball in the final chorus: “It’s 3AM and you are calling / Go fuck yourself, don’t say you’re sorry!”.

“Emotional” harks back to “Boom Clap” with a big, windswept topline – although producer A. G. Cook does add chop suey backing vocals in the name of experimentation.

Charli’s cohorts are a diverse lot. Up-and-comers Starrah and RAYE bring feel-good aspiration to the stonking future bass of “Dreamer”, while MySpace relic Uffie spits a bouncy MIA impression over plastic-reggae joint “Baby Girl”. CupcakKe’s ribald raps ensure “Lipgloss” is an appropriately lip-smacking tribute to cunnilingus.

The most vital union has undoubtedly been between Charli and PC Music, yet she’s inclusive, even stuttering “Do you wanna roll with me?” during one ecstatic, Aqua-on-crack assault. Across Number 1 Angel’s 35 minutes, Charli emerges as an auteur and ultimate gal pal – and really, no true 90s bitch would turn her down.

9.5/10

The PC Music movement stalls with Cashmere Cat’s “Love Incredible”

camila-cabello
“Love Incredible” isn’t just a drum roll for Fifth Harmony dropout Camila Cabello’s solo launch. It’s a big moment too for co-producer SOPHIE of PC Music – the London record label and EDM subgenre hoping to turn hipster hype into mainstream success.

Were an algorithm set to merge popular vocal tics into one bankable voice, Cabello’s soprano might be the end result. Even live, she sounds reedy, processed, and very 2017, making her a canny match for SOPHIE’s wry, bug-eyed hyperpop.

Adrift in Cashmere Cat’s monochrome alt-R&B, Cabello unravels the swooning hooks and big-ish chorus with ease. A strange, yawning outro hints at PC Music’s novel aesthetic, but it’s a fleeting concession to the blogosphere on an otherwise trendy single.

Ed Sheeran – Divide: “Listless balladry and boundless opportunism”

ed-sheeran-divide

If only Ed Sheeran could produce an album that split opinion. Despite commercial success being a given for the Suffolk-raised singer’s third LP, the erroneously-titled Divide is about as edgy as a sausage roll.

The pandering doesn’t even end with a base-covering single campaign that made a smart play for Radio 1 (catchy “Cheap Thrills” knock-off “Shape of You”) and 2 (“Castle On The Hill”). Divide isn’t afraid to exploit cultural generalisations in order to connect.

Opener “Eraser” is a self-pitying take on drinking like a twenty-something. Here and elsewhere, Ed romanticises his humility. He’s a Grammy-winning everyman “without a nine-to-five job or a uni degree”, singing to millions in “the same old jeans”. It’s pure department store fodder, so perhaps a fan will pick him up a pair.

Even worse is “Galway Girl”, combining flavourless Irish trad and noughties boyband melodies to soundtrack a one night stand with a fiery Celtic waif. Any pop chorus beginning with “She played the fiddle in an Irish band” should by right lead to a filthy couplet about handjobs, but Ed shows no ambition beyond reaping marketing royalties from Ireland’s tourism board.

Banality is occasionally swapped for bitterness, as on the unlikely highlight “New Man”. Underneath the slick acoustic-pop is a mean-spirited sketch of an ex’s metrosexual lover, right down to his plucked eyebrows and bleached arsehole. Ed’s observations border on bigotry, but hey, at least it’s interesting, right?

A wet mass of listless balladry and boundless opportunism, Divide shirks any duty to say something new, and will no doubt achieve homeric sales throughout the year. When Britain’s biggest popstar sings “Love can change the world, but what do I know?”, the modesty is hard to stomach. Ed Sheeran knows exactly what he’s doing.

03/10

Lorde is all go on “Green Light”

lorde-lol-x

Feels so scary getting old…Lorde sang on her artfully blasé 2012 debut Pure Heroine. She was 16 then, but life doesn’t sound any easier on new single “Green Light”.

The titular metaphor refers to the moment one feels freed from a bad breakup. In a hushed yet haughty preamble, Lorde taunts an unfaithful ex with flat, self-indulgent barbs: “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.

When flapping synths circle Lorde’s voice, the song finally bottles the brooding, youthful valour that made her a household name, only to pour it over a delicate house-piano riff.

Troubled thoughts stack up, even as “Green Light” flings itself into skirt-twirling euphoria. Lorde’s assiduous phrasing isn’t a natural fit for house music, but every bellow of “I wish I could get my things, and just let go” casts a long, upsetting shadow.

A last-minute surge of handclaps, scuzzy guitar, and reverb-drenched chants make this an ideal progression from Pure Heroine’s electro-chamber pop. Anyone older than Lorde knows adulthood isn’t that scary, but for now, her growing pains are our gain.