[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
BOB DYLAN ONCE boasted that he had killed off Tin Pan Alley. He was mistaken. Like Glenn Close from a bathtub, Tin Pan Alley rose again in the Nineties, tinnier and far more deserving of panning.
Not that “manufactured” pop is intrinsically worthless. All pop is manufactured, one way or another, and authenticity is a chimera; the post-Coldplay glut of droning sad-sacks is no more legitimate than the Crazy Frog. What matters most in overtly synthetic music is the quality of the manufacture - effecting the illusion that joy and care went into the process, rather than cynical avarice.
Cue Girls Aloud: on paper, another game show abomination, but on Chemistry (Polydor ****) a fizzing, day-glo compound straight out of the Xenomania lab. By some distance the best test-tube pop album since Spice, Chemistry dexterously fuses the Sixties girl-group ideal with winsome Carnaby Street-cred and fashionably retro-futurist electro.
While their peers absurdly ape brooding Urban acts, Girls Aloud capture suburban hi-jinks with chipper romanticism - bringing, as the best teen bands do, glamour to the innately ridiculous; froth and sheen to raging hormones and spilled Smirnoff Ice. At times they resemble a wind-up Kraftwerk; at others, My First Goldfrapp. Even the ballads, rather than executing the customary, sickening slump into saccharinated quicksand, skim lightly over the surface. A refreshing reminder, this, that there are no bad genres, only bad records.
That said, if slavish New Wave mimicry counts as a genre, it's hard to make a case for it. But again, there's an exception. As LCD Soundsystem (Brighton Event II ****), James Murphy produced a debut album stuffed less with pastiches than hommages which could have graced such disparate albums as Power, Corruption and Lies, Hex Enduction Hour and Blur. When his touring band last passed this way early in 2005, they gave a creditable if undeviating account of that album.
The intervening months have seen them leap forward. They now play with a fluidity and fervour approaching that of prime Talking Heads. LCD may be the only current post-punk/art-funk group to instinctively grasp the crucial distinction between imitation and emulation; and if they continue to progress at this rate, they could yet enter the same league as Murphy's heroes.
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