Musical McCool - Week 3 (Jan 15, 2021)
Hi guys, welcome back to The Social Tune! My name is Fionn, and welcome back to a brand new edition of Musical McCool!
And for our big story, we don't even have time for a proper preamble, let's just need to dive right into:
The Top 10
Have to admit, I was not expecting this. Sure, it was huge across the world, breaking Spotify's record for the most streams of a non-Christmas song in a day... only to do it again just a few days later!
In other words, it shouldn't really be all that surprising that we have a new song debuting at number 1: driver's license by Olivia Rodrigo! And honestly, right now, I'm not sure what really has the momentum to beat it! Nobody was expecting this newcomer to the Top 10, and everyone's too curious right now to really be playing anything else. It's absolutely dominant in streaming, its YouTube is steadily growing, and it's slowly getting picked up by the radio, who still aren't sure how the Hell this snuck up on them! More on the song itself a bit later, but suffice to say, it's an interesting arrival, for sure!
Now, with that surprise smash out of the way, it kinda leaves everything else reeling in its wake. For starters, Paradise by MEDUZA & Dermott Kennedy relinquished its number 1 spot way earlier than expected to move down to number 2. And while its radio is strong, unless streaming picks up, there is a chance it'll have to get used to that fact.
Now, our next 2 songs somehow managed to hold their positions, which means The Business by Tiësto is still at number 3, but that's more due to the drop-off of one particular song which we'll get to in a sec.
Because first, sadly, this also meant Kid Laroi's Without You also managed to hold its spot at number 4. General public, you really like this for some reason... WHY?!
And that means, yes, Afterglow by Ed Sheeran dropped down to number 5. I mean it makes sense, it wasn't built to be huge, and maybe it'll still rack up just enough points to make my year-end, but it looks like this is a non-starter. Shame.
Now, another song that dropped down a spot was Anyone by Justin Bieber to number 6, but I actually expect that to rebound, especially since the radio is already starting to love this song, even more than Holy.
Next, Get Out My Head by Shane Codd went down to number 7, but much like Bieber, I expect it to rebound next week. At least I hope so, I still really like this song!
Then in another big surprise, Good Days by SZA actually cracks the top 10 at number 8 off its debut last week. I'm a little shocked by that, but I know she has a big audience here, it does make sense. Can't say I see it lasting long though, the radio doesn't know what to do with it. Whatever, it's still a decent song, I don't mind it being here.
At number 9, Sweet Melody by Little Mix, still holding relatively strong amidst the chaos.
And finally, it's Whoopty by CJ, the song that people seem to have incredibly strong feelings on either way, yet which just leaves me shrugging at how okay it is. Still, we need a bit of variety with all the pop here, so it's still welcome, for now.
Top 50: The Punished and the New
Now, on top of Olivia Rodrigo's smash debut, this week was also a notable cooldown after the invasion of 2020 last week. The biggest story is probably Dermot Kennedy's Giants finally being forced out of the top 10 to number 12, and I honestly expect it to keep plummeting from here. In a similar fashion, most of our debuts from last week dropped hard, with Central Cee's Loading dropping to 42, and No Time For Tears by Little Mix and Nathan Dawe just COLLAPSING to Number 50 (my God). On the other hand, most of our 2020 hits actually only dropped by a couple of spots, with the only surprises being Holy with Chance dropping all the way down to 47 and Monster with Shawn Mendes dropping down to 30; guess neither of them got the boost from Bieber's Anyone that I was expecting. On the flip side, Joel Corry and MNEK's Head & Heart actually rose up a spot to 19, great news there! In sadder news though, our sole re-entry was James Arthur's Train Wreck, a fitting title for a song I was sick of over 3 years ago!
Still, considering the fact that we have a bunch of new entries climbing up, there's no telling where most of these will be in a week or 2, so let's forget the old for the moment and welcome the new, starting with:
Title: drivers license by Olivia Rodrigo
Now, for those not in the know, Olivia Rodrigo's not a complete nobody. She's been a recurring star on Disney's Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series... yes, that mouthful really is the full title! And this song was reportedly written about her co-star on the latter, Joshua Bassett. Now, the rumours of them dating are just that, rumours, which I feel is worth pointing out considering she's 17 and he's 20, which means this could potentially be kinda creepy.
However, taking the song at face value, it's about Olivia lamenting over her break-up while driving around in her car, having only recently got her driver's license, and sad about the fact that she can't share this special moment they talked about for so long with him. That's actually pretty original for a lyrical twist on a break-up song, and the fact that I was seeing comparisons to Lorde going into it made me... well, a bit skeptical, but still curious. And after listening to it a few times... oh wow, this is good... REALLY good!
The atmospheric, warbling production, that starts out so subtle with the reverberating bass over that single piano note, which then builds, and grows with the chilly synths, the subtle handclaps that come in on the second verse, and finally the multitracked vocals that join in on the third one, it makes for a really effective crescendo! Yet it also knows to keep our singer's struggle at the centre, as she's placed at the front of the mix, and the instrumental peels back on the final hook to its barest components, leaving Olivia to mournfully deliver the final lines. Speaking of whom, while she may not really be an amazing singer in terms of range, Olivia's voice has the tremor and the vulnerability to it that is needed for a song like this, it allows you to connect to her emotionally! This producer, Dan Nigro, worked on Carly Rae Jepsen's E-MO-TION amongst others, so he clearly knows what sort of production tends to work best for his performers, and this is no exception, as he balances the mix to flatter her vocals and enhance them, as opposed to overshadowing her. If anything, the vocal production reminds me less of Lorde here and more of St Vincent, albeit not quite as refined, and that is HIGH praise!
So yeah, solid songwriting, great production, a heartfelt vocalist, this is all right up my alley! This is one of those songs I can see really growing on me with time, and I am honestly delighted to see it top the charts. Can't deny I was somewhat skeptical, but very happy to have been proven wrong, because this is pretty fucking great!
Title: Save Your Tears by The Weeknd
Right, this song, one of the favourites off of After Hours for many... but not really for me. To me, this one always fell into a similar camp as Heartless, as I do get the appeal, and the quality is there, but I just personally feel there were better songs around it and that it didn't quite measure up.
Now, don't get me wrong, that bass guitar is nice, and the synth line that serves as the main hook is undeniable, it's one of the catchiest things I heard all of last year! And the lyrics are pretty good too, as The Weeknd describes a scenario where he left this girl and made her cry, and then came to the realisation that he was an idiot and begs to have her back, so that she can save her tears for another day. It's not particularly romantic, but it's not really played that way either, he realises that he's being unreasonable here.
I think my main issue comes down to the inconsistent tone of the song. With the layer of vocal filters, The Weeknd isn't really set up to be all that interesting here, as he doesn't project much in the way of emotion. That doesn't really work for a song where you're taking a big swing to win someone back. And if that were intentional, as a song where he clearly knows he doesn't deserve her, that would be one thing, but Abel honestly doesn't project much conflict either. Instead, he plays it very safe, very low-key, and while this retro throwback usually clicks due to an overwhelming energy from the main performer, the absence of that here just leaves you with a very okay 80s throwback. It doesn't excite me like In Your Eyes or Blinding Lights, it doesn't hit me like Alone Again or Hardest To Love, it just falls into the pretty-but-disposable portion of the album. Still a good song, just not particularly exceptional.
Title: Best Friend by Saweetie (Ft. Doja Cat)
Oooh boy... Ok look, I have no issue with this type of song on principle. If Saweetie and Doja want to team up and make a song about being the best of friends, that's their prerogative. Sure, in the music industry, these type of songs don't usually age well, in the same way couples making music don't know how soon after the fact they're going to break up, but hey, I guess the stakes are lower in this case, and besides, when have 2 rappers ever fallen out? ...
Anyway, this is a song where the 2 ladies trade bars to make an anthem to being best friends. And in fairness, I could see this working very well for a huge audience. It's targeted at girls to sing along to with their besties, it's clearly not meant for me. That said, I can't say it's all that special. The lines don't stand out all that much, the beat is decent, but doesn't knock quite as hard as it could for this type of club anthem, and it takes more of an empowering tone over being actually affectionate.
In other words, this feels less like it's a song for your ride-or-die, and more like it'll be for friends who'll hang out for a few weeks, gush about how much they love each other, and then never see each other again. And it really shouldn't feel that way, right? Saweetie even highlights how long they've been together, and I'm sorry, but I just don't buy it. Their chemistry is fine, but the tone of the song is more centered around flexing and self-empowerment, which kinda takes the heart out of it.
I dunno, maybe I'm just the sentimental idiot for wanting something more personal, but there's a lack of detail to this that I simply can't get behind. Fine for what it is, I guess, but again, just not for me. I guarantee you that I'll forget about this in a week.
Title: All I Want by Olivia Rodrigo
Yep, off of the strength of drivers license, we got a second Olivia Rodrigo song in the top 40. This is actually one that was released in early 2020, which is only gaining traction now because people are curious what Olivia did before this.
And I will say, this isn't bad at all. Olivia actually shows off some decent pipes here that weren't as obvious on drivers license, and while the girl-with-a-piano song is overdone to Hell, this one does have some touches of cymbals, drums and strings to add some real heft to the mix... which is kind of a double-edged sword. Yes, on the one hand it does indeed add a bit of variety to the formula, but does it fit with the style? The songwriting is about her being mistreated by guys in various ways and feeling very conflicted about them, saying she's done, but realising that she's still singing songs about them. So, she starts to wonder why she constantly falls for the wrong guys, and if her expectations are unreasonably high, which leads to her final conclusion: at the end of the day, all she's got is herself, and shouldn't that be enough? It's actually a pretty cutting song about questioning why you would base your own self-worth on somebody else, and her performance conveys it really well.
I really like the fact that a Disney pawn is analysing her own childhood and why she places so much value on such base things. Gotta say though, I think the production gets in her way. The instrumentation is intended to elevate those feelings, but it just feels like it's trying to compete with her. Also, the song is very short, and with how much the lyrics hooked me, I was hoping she would go into more detail, maybe dive a little further and uncover a few more layers, this could have gone toe-to-toe with drivers license! Sadly it falls short, but I still see the potential for greatness here. Glad to see she seems to be moving in that direction, and who knows, maybe she'll release an acoustic version of this in the future, because I still really like this song!
Title: Love Not War by Jason Derulo & Nuka
Eyyy Jason is back, with yet another forgettable dance song. I can't lie, his output from this latest album has not been all that impressive, and not just because of his big hit from last year. The fact is, between this and Take You Dancing, I'm realising that his hooks aren't really there the same way they usually are. Say what you will about Derulo, but love him or hate him, his hooks are usually insanely catchy! Here though, it appears to once again be built off of a cheap horn line (hopefully not stolen this time), and Jason pleading with a girl to make love instead of war. Now, funny enough, the writing kinda works for me here. He frames it as a song where all the money in the world isn't enough to save his failing relationship, simply because he hasn't worked on it hard enough. So while the chorus is pretty clumsy, I do at least appreciate the content. It's very awkward to sing along to, and the horn line is nowhere near as distinctive as on the Jawsh 685 song, but it doesn't sound terrible, and I can't say I dislike this.
That said, this is the kind of song I will forget about in record time, nothing about it stands out to me. I dunno, I still kinda like Jason Derulo more than most, but I don't see his career lasting if he doesn't start picking out better singles. Just saying.
Title: Chemtrails Over The Country Club by Lana Del Rey
Welp... time to give my 2 cents on Lana Del Rey: I don't like her. I know, I've said it before, but I'm sure there are a few of you who've never seen me talk about one of her albums, and suffice to say, I think she's one of the most pretentious artists of our time. Yes, I get that she has a wide appeal, but both in her sound and her lyrics, the main tone I get from her is existential boredom, and I'm sorry, there's only so much of that I can really take before I think you're just being a disaffected asshole. There's a difference between being smart and insightful, and acting that way to seem more interesting than you really are.
Now in fairness, her listless production at least seems to have improved these past few years. Love is still probably the best thing she's ever released, and even her last album Norman Fucking Rockwell had some high points to it that I did enjoy. However, just like everybody else, I did a double-take when I saw this title. I mean... if she was serious, this is a conspiracy theory that has been debunked many times over. If not, she's being a troll, which to me reeks of bad habits resurfacing. For the record, she hasn't given a straight answer about this, which leaves me to speculate. And so no, I don't think she believes this. I think she used that title to garner attention because once again, she's baiting us all into listening to her music.
Now, that may seem cynical, but if you want cynicism, just look at this song. Sure, the production is fine; it's a return to the poised minimalism of her last album, which at least means it sounds okay. My issue is the lyrics, where she seems to be indulging conspiracy theories. More specifically, she and her lover are happy and content, as they contemplate God under the chemtrails over the country club. The imagery she invokes implies that this is a song between 2 rich people of some privilege, with mentions of suburbia and white picket fences... oh I'm sorry, white picket chemtrails! Basically, it appears to be a song about being forced to conform to society by chemtrails, forced into your neat little pocket where you don't have time to be sad or depressed, because the chemicals in your system are telling you what makes you happy.
This just really rubs me the wrong way! There are ways of being populist, and of saying that a white picket fence isn't for everyone (see IDLES' entire last album), but why oh why would you bring chemtrails into it?! If this song and just been a critique of suburban society, it would have been basic and boring, but it wouldn't have been irritating the way this is. As it is, can't say I'm too happy this is here, and compared to a far younger, less experienced singer-songwriter like Olivia Rodrigo, Lana proves exactly why her disaffected nihilism is so goddamn boring!
Finally, let's take a look at the home front... and boy, things are pretty busy here too. Lots of turnover, with several returning entries like Birdsong by Emma Langford at number 11, and Holy Show by Pillow Queens at number 13 to name just a couple.
Now, some things are unsurprising, as Paradise held on to its number 1 spot to the surprise of nobody, with Plugged In Fresstyle by Fumez The Engineer right alongside it at number 2. Don't particularly see either of these moving anytime soon. I was a bit surprised to see that Lyra only slipped down one spot to number 4, but she is a critical darling and New Day is awesome, so I'm not complaining! Nor about the fact that Still by Niall Horan is at number 7, maintaining some really solid momentum!
In more mixed news though, we have 4 new entries, 2 of which are in the top 10! Which means we still have a fair bit more to do, so let's go!
Title: Whatcha Gonna Do When You Leave School by Tom O'Brien & Eamon O'Ceallaigh
Right, to start off, this is a song by 2 guys from Longford, both in their 50s. It's a song about fretting about what you want to do after you leave school, and all the worries, insecurities, and even pressures from those around you that comes with that. It's actually pretty sharply written and detailed, and I like the fact that the conclusion they come to is "I don't know, I don't care, please leave me the fuck alone and stop asking so I can figure it out myself!" It's surprisingly in-touch with a lot of teens for 2 men who've been around for so long.
The instrumentation also surprised me a fair bit here, with the galloping groove and touches of bass, flutes and harmonica behind the frenetic guitars. It makes for a very tumultuous mix which our 2 singers can occasionally get lost in, sure, but that's more a product of the in-house arrangement, and they both still do a really good job howling over all of it!
Most importantly though is the reason why this song went to number 1 on the iTunes charts! See, Tom O'Brien as actually diagnosed with liver cancer recently, and as a retired postman and entertainer, didn't really have the funds to treat it. So, he and his long-time friend Eamon teamed up to record this song, which Eamon had been sitting on for the past 40-ish years! All proceeds of this single go to the Irish Cancer Society, so the longer it stays at the top of those charts, the better. So if you can, please donate here, it's a great cause, and a great little song to boot!
Title: Lullaby For The World by The Mahers (Ft. Ruby M.)
And in keeping with the theme of songs with positive messages... well ok, this has certainly got more of a budget behind it. It's a song written by Brendan Graham, aka the songwriter behind You Raise Me Up by Secret Garden, a song that has been covered more times than I can count! And this time round, it appears he wrote a song about the world and climate change.
Now to be honest, with the folk-touched instrumentation, the guitars, the backing vocals, and the harmonies across the opening verse, I was kind of hoping for a folk-metal explosion on the hook to really drive that titanic worldly force home... but no, instead the entire song stays in the same folk-rock vein, a ballad to stand up against climate change, explicitly naming several current issues, and singing the world to sleep, promising to make a better one tomorrow. And I do like the production a fair bit! Sure, I would have preferred some more flutes and it's a bit processed in terms of its sound, but the instrumentation is still beautiful, especially with that key change. And honestly, The Mahers do a good job at delivering it. The Kildare-based family has some excellent harmonies courtesy of their 3 daughters, the youngest of whom, Ruby, is only 11! Yes, this does mean that a child is singing most of this song, which I understand if you have a problem with, but she still sounds pretty great; she didn't make it big on The Voice Kids for nothing after all... yes, that is a real thing. There are some points where the vocal balancing isn't great, and I'd be lying if I said the lyrics weren't incredibly hyperbolic, but the core message is still very positive, and doesn't get lost in the mix.
Overall, for a pretty simple climate change anthem, with some pretty, folksy production, this isn't bad at all. Nice job, I'm okay with this. However, if you want a taste of some truly great folk:
Title: Turquoise Ink by Ger O'Donnell
So in all honesty, when this song started up with its blend of guitars, piano and violin, I thought I might have accidentally stumbled across a bonus track off Niall's Heartbreak Weather. Instead, I got Ger O'Donnell, a singer-songwriter I really had to dig for to find any information about online, outside of what's advertised on his Facebook page. So, Limerick-born, former teacher, who's been musically active since the 80s, Ger O'Donnell has released many songs over the years, but as far as I can tell, his biggest success was with a well-received Christmas album back in 2014. That said, he decided the release this, a single which does not seem to be appear on his latest album Motherland with Maria Ryan... and honestly, that's kind of a shame.
It's a song that's rather apt for the time, about one lover writing a letter to another, in the days before phones or the internet, where she has to put careful thought into each word before putting the pen to paper by candlelight. Just the detail of the turquoise ink, or the ocean of distance between our 2 characters, or her sitting in a café in Greenwich Village to write her reply on scented paper, it all adds character and detail to this long-distance love affair, it manages to be both evocative and distinct.
Like I said before though, what immediately struck me about this song was just how beautiful the opening notes were, with the mournful strings and the gentle guitar, but once Ger starts singing, it really pushes the song up a notch. His voice is gentle, but expressive, reminding me of the very best country artists I've been listening to for the past decade. And when he multitracks his vocals on the hook, it's a beautiful little touch! This song isn't trying to be flashy or showy, but it's also putting in the effort with the layered instrumentals and vocals, and it just results in a beautiful song! If you can, check out Ger O'Donnell's Spotify and look him up online, because he deserves a lot more attention. As I said, he has a new album out, and while I have yet to hear it, I'm certainly going to do so after this! Great song, check it out!
Title: Say Something by Kodaline
Finally, we close off our week with the famed Dublin-based band Kodaline, who need no introduction! ... Well, ok, for the uninitiated, they've been kind of a darling since they burst onto the scene in 2013, with a loyal fanbase making up for steadily dwindling commercial success. And look, much like Coronas, this isn't precisely a band I've always loved. They remind me a fair bit of Coldplay in their alt-rock, mid-tempo ballads and frontman Steve Garrigan's rather piercing falsetto. Not bad by any means, just not really for me. Now, this song may only just be charting on the Homegrown charts now, but it was actually released way back in June of last year. as part of the rollout for that last album One Day At A Time. And at first, I didn't really know what to say about it. Outside of Saving Grace, which genuinely got grating on repeated listens. the entire album felt very safe to me, and this just sounded like any other song... until I suddenly realised that Steve's vocals are sounding suspiciously similar to Adam Levine's! They're just a touch more nasal here, but it makes all the difference, and as soon as I noticed it, I couldn't unhear it. Yes, the guitar and the twinkling synth effects are pretty enough, but as soon as Steve's voice joins the mix, begging you to just say something to him, I just picture Adam and the song feels instantly cloying.
I know it seems cruel, but that vocal tone just rubs me the wrong way, and it really makes me nitpick everything else about the song. The songwriting being very basic doesn't help either, especially when placed next to any of our other entries for this week. It's just a generic song about how he would catch a grenade for you, or stay with you until you're grey and old, or until your legs don't work like they used to before, just a bargain bin of clichés that doesn't add anything all that interesting to the conversation. Again, not precisely bad, but perfectly bland and radio-ready... because this is the sort of stuff that gets big, for some reason. In other words, it's not good, and I wouldn't really recommend it; skip this one, you're not missing much.
Thank you all for joining me on this week's Musical McCool, I hope you enjoyed it. If you can, please leave a like, as well as some feedback in the comments, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these songs, especially anything new to you. Also, make sure you subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter to keep up with these releases. Take care everyone, and until the next time, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune, signing off!