Pre-millennial Popular.

Eiffel 65, “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”, 25 September 1999

This sounds as alien to me as the blue guy in its video, although it spent nine weeks at the top of the Australian charts, from 14 November 1999 through the first week of 2000. So why can’t I remember it at all? It must have to do with being distracted by that other thing preoccupying anybody who worked in an IT-related area at the end of 1999.

Without the associations that lift the Vengaboys and “Mambo No. 5” for me, I can’t find much here to enjoy; the lyrics are ridiculous. The in- and outside of his little blue Corvette! The blue window! No wonder your girlfriend looks so blue. My brother once did something similar to his bedroom by asking Mum to make him red curtains—it was like walking into an oven. 4.

Robbie Williams, “She’s the One”/“It’s Only Us”, 20 November 1999

I boarded World Party’s “Ship of Fools” when it reached number 4 on the Australian charts in 1987, and picked up Private Revolution on tape shortly after. Its jumble of influences didn’t entirely make sense at the time, but I must have listened to it a lot because it sounds very familiar when I relisten to it now. As well as relics of the Waterboys on “All Come True”, there are hints of Prince, The The, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and not a lot of Beatles at that stage (that became more obvious later, most clearly on his cover of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” on the Thank You World EP. It’s fair to say that the Beatles left their mark on World Party, but I always thought the “Beatlesque” description was a bit of a stretch for the band’s sound, especially for the debut, which comes from quite different directions). Private Revolution is a problematic album, and some songs I liked at the time don’t work for me now, but a few tracks have lasted: the two mentioned, the title track, and “It’s All Mine”.

The next album was the critical breakthrough, and I well remember Rolling Stone raving about it (four stars, if not more). Goodbye Jumbo blended the debut’s disparate influences into a more coherent whole, and married them to some excellent songs: “Way Down Now”, “Put the Message in the Box”, “Is it Too Late?” and “Thank You World”. But for me World Party reached its peak in 1993 on Bang!, which is almost all peaks itself. As well as the well-chosen singles, “Give It All Away”, “Is It Like Today?” and the George Harrison-esque “All I Gave”, it features some great album tracks in “Hollywood”, “Radio Days”, “Sunshine” and “Kingdom Come” (not to mention the Beach Boys-inspired hidden track “Kuwait City”). It’s the album I would hand to anyone new to World Party, and I can’t fathom AllMusic’s measly three-star rating; they seem hung up on one 26-second track.

I listened to Bang! a lot in the mid-’90s, and eagerly awaited the follow-up. But by the time it arrived in 1997, Egyptology was competing for my affections with the glory days of Britpop, and couldn’t win. Looking through its tracklist didn’t trigger mental samples of melody the way the first few albums do, so I can’t have listened to it nearly as closely as those. Hopping around it in iTunes, I remembered “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb” and not much else, apart from one stand-out song—and it wasn’t the single, the this time poorly-chosen “Beautiful Dream”.

“She’s the One” was the highlight of Egyptology, and everyone paying attention knew it, not least Karl Wallinger’s collaborator on Bang!, Guy Chambers. After winning an Ivor Novello award for it and performing the song on Later... with Jools Holland, Wallinger, I imagine, was wondering why his record label Chrysalis wasn’t capitalising on a sure hit for the album’s second single, so I’m not surprised at his initial dismay when they handed it to Robbie Williams in 1999 for this Chambers-produced version.

Williams’s “She’s the One” is such a faithful cover that removing the vocals would have left a creditable World Party karaoke track: too heavy on the strings, and missing the rock finale, but near enough. Chambers made Williams’s “She’s the One” sound even more Beatle-y than the original by adding the orchestra—or perhaps more accurately, more Oasis-y. Williams’s delivery, too, is as close to Wallinger’s as he can manage. Yes, Karl wuz robbed, but he came to terms with it, as the songwriting royalties (no doubt much higher from a Williams performance than a World Party single would ever have managed) helped sustain him in the years following an aneurysm in 2001.

As a World Party fan I’d give the original a 7 or 8, and there’s enough of it in Williams’s cover to warrant a 6. The Robbie-Goes-Manics flipside “It’s Only Us” is enjoyable enough to give the double-A single the same.

Thanks to this Popular entry, I’ve now learned that World Party’s last album—2000’s Dumbing Up, better than Egyptology but not up to their memorable best—has finally got a successor, the 2012 5-CD compilation of b-sides, demos, live tracks and new recordings Arkeology, which is on Spotify. Hooray!

Cliff Richard, “The Millennium Prayer”, 4 December 1999

I wasn’t sure what to expect on hearing this for the first time last week, but it wasn’t a serious-minded attempt at “One Song to the Tune of Another”, without the comedic benefit of Tim Brooke-Taylor’s or Barry Cryer’s dulcet tones.

Even for a lapsed Sunday-school-attendee like me, the Lord’s Prayer is deeply ingrained, with an undeniable power and poetry, but Cliff here has done everything in his own power to deny them. If I were a believer I might feel offended at what his performance does to the prayer itself, but as an unbeliever I’m more concerned for poor auld “Auld Lang Syne”; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear it the same way again (or at least won’t next Wednesday; hopefully, time will heal these wounds).

One, one, a thousand times, one.

And from two days after this entry was posted...

Westlife, “I Have a Dream”/“Seasons in the Sun”, 25 December 1999

My instinctive reaction to these Westlife tracks is quickly becoming like those scenes in old IPC comics where Pongo Snodgrass was being forcefed castor oil and screaming “Groooohhh!”, so I wasn’t looking forward to this at all. Sure enough, “Seasons in the Sun” is ghastly, a grooohh-inducing 1 at best.

“I Have a Dream”, though... I hadn’t realised it was one of ABBA’s singles, I’d just heard it as an album track from Voulez-Vous, and in that context I quite liked it. And there’s enough of Björn and Benny in this version to make it listenable, if not enough of Frida to make it good. Every silly boyband flourish detracts from it, but I was still able to sit through it without feeling I was being forcefed Popular medicine, in contrast with the flipside or the previous number one.

Three or four for “Dream”, then. Two overall.

29 December 2014 · Music