Sunday, April 27, 2008

Number 1s of 2008: April

It's not the end of April, but we've had the last Sunday, which is good enough for me. "American Boy" managed four weeks at number one, and now we move on to...

Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake, "4 Minutes" (20 April 2008 to present, two weeks and counting).

Madonna's built a career around collaborating with fashionable producers, usually with successful results, and if anything the surprise is that it's taken her this long to get around to working with Timbaland. After all, he's worked with everyone else. He's probably made a record with my granny. I'll have to ask her the next time I see her.

This is an odd song. Musically, it's really growing on me. Lyrically, it's bordering on gibberish - I think it's meant to be one of those awful "let us dance together, it is the most important thing ever" things, and even that doesn't come across very clearly. And as for the video... well, it's a bit of a mess, isn't it? They've put a lot of work into those special effects, but the result is just rather confusing.

Still, I like it. And it has the odd distinction of taking five weeks to climb to number one - something that was virtually unthinkable a couple of years ago, but seems to have become possible again thanks to the word-of-mouth nature of download sales. It didn't actually get a physical release until week six, and for that matter, the single had been on the charts for the better part of a month before the video came out. It's an unusual, slow-build marketing strategy which seems to work.

So - what else have we got this month?

- As if to prove my point that Kanye West has a staggeringly erratic sales record in the UK, his new single "Flashing Lights" bombed out at number 29. True, the video has been deemed unplayable on daytime TV (it features a woman in lingerie bludgeoning Kanye to death with a shovel, although it's very tastefully shot). But "Homecoming" didn't have a video at all when it was released as a UK single, and it still made the top 10. People just don't like this one very much, I guess.

- Australian singer Sam Sparro got to number 2 with his debut "Black and Gold", which is a classy little number. This guy might be on to something; we're probably overdue for a revival of adult-oriented electropop.

- Here's an interesting piece of repackaging. Following Robyn's recent renewed success, British labels have apparently been hunting for other Swedish acts along the same line. And they've come up with Petra Marklund, who records as "September" - a name that I suspect probably works better in Swedish. She's on her fourth album in Sweden, but she's never troubled the attention of the British before now. Frankly, videos like this probably didn't help.

So the UK record label has decided that a different tack is required. Here's what they came up with - presumably in association with the Latex and Neon Marketing Board.

It's... well, it's a bit tacky, let's be honest. And it's a bit sub-Kylie. But it's a better fit for the song. Incidentally, one of Robyn's videos was also re-shot for the UK market, although if you ask me, the Swedish version of "Be Mine" was much better than the tedious-night-at-the-youth-club British video.

- The British are always keen to jump on a new bandwagon, and since our top 40 is based on sales instead of airplay, it's surprisingly easy for MySpace buzz to translate to chart positions. As a classic example, here are the Black Kids, a Florida band who have never made the US chart - in fact, I'm not sure they've ever even released a record in their home country - but still got to number 11 here with "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You."

This is perhaps the indiest thing I've heard in years - I keep expecting a Chart Show caption to come up, telling me that it's number 8 on the indie chart below the Pale Saints - but it's a grower. And it has girls shouting, which is always good.

- Sometimes the music press are right when they seize on a band, and the Arctic Monkeys were an example of that. Now lead singer Alex Turner has formed a side project, the Last Shadow Puppets, with Miles Kane (who's in a band called the Rascals, which you're now supposed to say in a knowing fashion, as if you had heard of them before now - they've released two singles, neither of which made the top 75, although something tells me that'll change).

Their debut single, "The Age of the Understatement", got to number 9; the album entered at number one today. And it's good stuff; the Scott Walker-style orchestral backings really bring out another side of their songs. The single sounds like a sixties pop band doing a western theme, so naturally the video has them wandering around Moscow in the snow... No, I don't quite get it either. But it works, doesn't it?

You know, Alex Turner might actually be everything people claim for him.