By definition pop music is “commercial popular music, in particular accessible, tuneful music of a kind popular since the 1950s and sometimes contrasted with rock, soul, or other forms of popular music.” (Credit to the trusty dictionary on my MacBook.) For an actual audible example of commercial, tuneful pop music in 2010 look no further than Little Boots’ debut album Hands. The entire album is so obviously moulded to achieve commercial pop success – but does it have what it takes to be popular?
Given that Hands has already been out in the UK since June 2009, we have it’s success there to use as a yardstick. Little Boots, aka Victoria Hesketh (once of Dead Disco), was the winner of the BBC Sound Of 2009 critics poll, and her debut album was hotly anticipated and peaked with an opening chart position at number 5, before sliding down to #40 a week later and was out of the charts completely by the end of a fortnight. The media hype lulled and Little Boots’ blip on people’s musical radars had faded as eyes were diverted to other artists, most notably Florence and The Machine who Little Boots had beaten in the BBC ’09 poll. Florence’s debut album Lungs made it to the top of the charts, and some 35 weeks since it’s July release is still riding high and currently sitting at number 5 in the charts as I write this. Little Boots’ album has been certified gold in the UK (100,000 sales) but that success has been overshadowed by the runaway phenomenon of Florence and The Machine whose debut record has so far went platinum three times (300,000 x 3).
Track by track, Hands makes a strong start, kicking off with her first single “New In Town”, and continues along an upwards incline with “Stuck On Repeat” which is Kylie Minoque-esque in the simplicity of its vocal hook. The fifth track “Remedy” is a blend of disco kitsch and Ibiza club – its fun, and really with that driving hand-clap beat and “hey” samples you should hate it, but this cheese is good. On the negative side, there are tracks that teeter on being pure filler, like “Meddle” and “Click”, while “Ghost” is a bit of a failed oddity.
Hands is easy to listen to and like. What we have here is an album that is undeniably contrived, but enjoyably so, and, as I said in my opening paragraph, straight from the mould – and this is the point; Hands offers eleven tracks of highly polished synthpop music, but none of it breaks the mould, sounding modern but not new or groundbreaking. Little Boots has some 80’s influences going on with her debut album, but that is pretty much to be expected from any artist with a keyboard, and aside from the cameo by Phil Oakey of The Human League’s on “Symmetryy”, most of this record sounds bang up to date. Hands is contrived but better than the average cut n’ paste pop music that fills the airwaves; a calculated use of sound.
Hands reaches North America with much less anticipation and fanfare than it’s UK release – it’s a different ball game over here, and I’d fancy Little Boots’ about to enjoy a different kind of success, and with her current tour across US and Canada she has the opportunity to showcase her music to an audience removed from most the hype and hyperboles of the trend-setting British music press.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice