Music has changed a lot over the last five years or so. During the late 90s and early 2000s, British indie bands were seeing surprising success in the charts. Bands like The Coral, The Music, and Franz Ferdinand achieved success not just in the album charts, but in the single charts as well. Then, with the inclusion of downloads counting towards chart placing, that all changed, with singles chart success for indie/alternative bands seemingly a thing of the past.
As an example, the first five Arctic Monkey singles all charted in the top five, while, despite four number one albums, they haven’t had a single chart in the top twenty since Crying Lightnin’ in 2009.
This phenomenon has coincidentally happened around the same time that the rise of the female solo artists has taken place in Britain. What started with Adele and Duffy in 2008, has continued, with acts like Florence and the Machine, Marina and the Diamonds, Jessie J, Rita Ora, and Ellie Goulding achieving massive success. When I started listening to music properly in the late 90s and early 2000s, all we really had female-wise were acts like Samantha Mumba, Dido, and Gabrielle who hardly set the pulses racing with their tunes.
For the most part, I can put up with the new wave of female artists, and although I’m not a massive fan of the majority of them, there are certain songs, Someone like You by Adele, Hollywood by Marina and the Diamonds, and Warwick Avenue by Duffy that I quite enjoy. Although I completely understand the appeal of the majority of the acts who are popular now, someone I just don’t ‘get’ the popularity of is Emeli Sande, who managed to ruin not just the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics this year, but Sports Personality of the Year as well. It’s like her mournful, tuneless dirges complete with the hair of Annie Lennox were a punishment for everybody enjoying all the incredible sport we’ve had this year. She must have some serious dirt on someone from the BBC…
Because I don’t really listen to music radio, I wasn’t aware of Ren Harvieu until seeing her take part in the He Ain’t Heavy charity single a month or two ago. And then, a few days later, you know those nights when you go on YouTube to watch a two-minute video of Matt Le Tisser’s best ever goals, and three hours later you’re on part three of a documentary about the history of sand? It was one of those nights, on a little YouTube session when I stumbled across her cover of The Beatles classic Something , a song that was one of Frank Sinatra’s favourite ever love songs.
As gorgeous as that cover was though, it does have tough competition with Matt Le Tissier’s top ten goals in terms of pure beauty…
After listening to the cover, I listened to her album, Through the Night, and like any self-respecting human being does, clicked on her Wikipedia to find out some more. The album was written along with some good names. People from bands like The Stands, and The Redwalls contributed songs, as well as Ed Harcourt. But it was Dave McCabe, the lead singer from The Zutons who helped contribute to my favourite song off the album, Open up Your Arms. I think it’s weird when people try particularly really hard to describe music, so it’s best to just have a listen to it and watch the video before if you haven’t previously.
Pretty, pretty good isn’t it? It’s a throwback sure, but the music really reminds of those big singles that Britpop bands released with strings in the late nineties. Think A Design for Life by Manic Street Preachers; The Drugs Don’t Work by The Verve, The Universal by Blur. It has the rise and fall, the crashing and bashing, and thankfully it’s being sung by a rather attractive lady as opposed to a reality show dropout. It’s the sort of tune that could be on the soundtrack to a film, or equally the song to become a karaoke staple. It’s a universal song, a well written, well produced, excellently sung song.
What warms me to the song and the album, is that this seems to be the perfect mix of the indie music that hit the charts when I was a staunch follower of music, and it also has the pop elements that prove popular this days.
The major appeal to me is Harvieu’s voice. It’s not a screeching mess, there’s a refreshing lack of auto-tune, and she doesn’t reach for notes she can’t – because actually, it seems she can reach for all of them comfortably. There is back story to Harvieu, she broke her back in an accident in May 2011, but luckily that didn’t affect the recording of her album or her live performances.
It’s her live performances that have particularly interested me, and sadly I’m talking YouTube only because I can’t actually stand the majority of people who go to gigs. One such performance was on the Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode radio show, where she covered another of my favourite songs, Nobody does it Better by Carly Simon, with such aplomb that is completely blew the original out of the water.
The other performance was this version of Open Up Your Arms, on Jools Holland. A lot of my favourite live performances I’ve seen have come on Jools. Think of At the Drive-Ins epic One Armed Scissor on the show, or Oasis doing I Am The Walrus back in 1994, Christy Moore’s cover of Fairytale of New York, or The Vines performing Outtathaway! with Craig Nicholls at his most destructive..
The Open Up Your Arms performance is up there with the above for me, and I think the reason why is because Harvieu has a live presence that is remarkably reminiscent of some of her Salford and Mancunian colleagues.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Watch the first thirty seconds or so of the next couple of videos, and notice how the singers carry themselves. Firstly, The Stone Roses and Ian Brown…
Now, Oasis, and prime Liam Gallagher…
And, who else, but The Smiths and Morrissey…
To me, there is a certain swagger in each singer and natural movement that can only come from genuinely feeling and enjoying the music you’re singing to. The same attitude I found in Harvieu’s performance on Jools Holland, a video I’ve written about for so long now, reading it has probably taken longer than it will to watch it.
It’s a refreshing change from the overly choreographed, lip synced garbage that seems to be popular these days.
And so, this completes the latest edition of ASADYMHF. If there are any other actually genuinely good popular music acts out at the moment, please let me know. As I mentioned before, I don’t listen to music radio, nor do I watch music channels, so I’m a little out of the loop at the minute. The sixteen year old me who bought NME, Q, Mojo every week/month and devoured the charts every Sunday would be ashamed. And the twenty-two year old me is a little too actually. Maybe it’s time to start listening to more new stuff, as opposed to just listening to Disney soundtracks, The Bee Gees, and Ryan Adams.
Hey, if you’re reading this Ren, if you could do a mega-mix of The Bear Necessities, Night Fever, and Come Pick Me Up, I’d really appreciate that…