[31 July 2013]
Keith Top of the Pops’ first album, 2011’s Fuck you, I’m Keith Top of the Pops, was a refreshing, better than average look at pop music today and the mediocrity therein. Keith is back with whole army of minor indie greats behind him, from Charlotte Hatherly to all of Black Box Recorder, in a charge against bone-headed rock and other mainstream fancies on TOTP2. The voice sample which opens the album clues you in on exactly what Keith is fighting against: “I think there’s a grand assumption that people who listen to pop music and rock music are just blithering idiots”. Thankfully, Keith and his gang are fighting the good fight with plenty of humor and terrific songwriting in tact.
The songs on TOTP2 can be lumped into three different categories: the witty songs on culture, the girl-pulling songs, and the jarringly serious songs. The first two categories prove more successful than the last, and thankfully these are the sorts of tunes which are more abundant on the album. When these subjects are taken together, they produce the most delightful first half of an album I’ve heard this year. It speaks volumes about TOTP2 to say that opener “Morrissey Will Never Forgive Me” is the weakest of the pop culture-focused cuts. Although some of the Smiths references don’t always hit, the line “I was looking for a job and then I found a job / Thank God for that ‘cos I’ve got bills to pay” never fails to amuse. As far as songs about Morrissey go, it’s no “Lighten Up, Morrissey” by Sparks, but its sentiment still charms.
Keith’s songs addressed to potential girlfriends have a playfulness similar to a Jonathan Richman song, without sounding at all like an homage. The album’s third track, “Better Than Your Boyfriend”, is an album stand out—sweet, a little silly, a little giddy, and with a twist of a final line. “Do You Want Some”—the song which precedes it—has a reckless, garagey quality that also marks it as a keeper.
After these comes a song that risks being pure novelty, but goes beyond all expectations to serve as a bit of decent cultural criticism. “#Propermusic” takes real tweets under that hashtag and puts them in the hands of Black Box Recorder’s Sarah Nixey, who coos things like “The new Muse album is a journey through modern rock—and opera” in her signature dreamy voice. When Jo Bevan and Julia Indelicate join in, the song takes a strangely feminist turn. “#Propermusic” could be taken as a comment on what some consider a woman’s place in the music industry, as fan rather than artist. That three highly talented female artists are reciting these dribblings about male artists who market tripe gives the song a clever irony. The track that follows, “Stupid Rules (For Stupid People)”, has a similar depth in its call to individuality. Also, it’s just nice to have a song preaching against that silly rule of “don’t wear that t-shirt if you’re seeing that band”.
At “Goodbye”, TOTP2 hits a bit of a head. Due to what came before, the listener is forgiven for wanting to look for humor amid the lyrics on the overwhelming fatigue of life, but the feeling that this suicide song is a sincere one prevails. It’s a disconcerting moment quickly dispensed by its follow-ups, the sweet, 42-second long “Short Song” and the boisterous “You Wish You Were in My Band”. The album’s other serious song, closer “I’ve Been Thinking”, fairs better than “Goodbye”. Like many songs on the album, it is musically akin to something by Half Man Half Biscuit or Wreckless Eric, but with a lighthearted sincerity poking through.
At 26 minutes, TOTP2 is hard to fault. It’s mostly fun, loose, and boasts a roster of some of UK indie rock’s best and brightest, yet resists overuse. I would say this is the perfect summer album, but something tells me I’ll still be listening when Halloween rolls around.