Soundchecks Music Reviews

POP! JUSTICE: 100% Solid Pop Music
various artists

review by Alastair Stuart

Pop Justice is one of those rare instances where the hype really is justified. A newsletter, website, and now pod-cast, Pop Justice takes as its basic belief the idea that there is no greater form of entertainment than really good pop music or, failing that, laughing at really bad pop music. The site champions the best in the field and savages the worst as well as providing a rolling A-Z of the field which readers can contribute to. There are some gems buried in there, including Rachel Stevens' disease, a sad condition which sees the sufferer produce great music which no one cares about and which they singularly fail to understand.

Now, somewhat inevitably, Pop Justice has released its first compilation album and the end result is, for the most part, glorious. The tracks on display here are fused together with a subtlety of mixing that Realplayer gleefully ignores, but still somehow their energy and inventiveness comes across.

Pop is a broad church, taking in dance, R&B, rock, rap and indie and the producers have made sure that every genre is well represented here. The first five tracks alone include Rhianna's Soft-Cell riffing SOS, the criminally underrated Annie's Me Plus One and the arctic babes mix of I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor by the Sugababes, which is either one of the best cover versions in years or hell in audible form, depending on your point of view.

Oddly, the stand out in these first five is Love Machine by Girls Aloud. The bizarre, pseudo bee-bop base of the track works as well as it ever did but what really makes the track are the lyrics. Completely different to the released version, they reposition it as a far sweeter, less belligerent piece of music, and it shows off all five girls' vocal ranges and subtlety far better than the released version.

There's no let up in the next five either, with Alesha, formerly of Mis-teek's surprisingly good Lipstick segueing effortlessly into the electro-apocalypse of Ladytron's Destroy Everything You Touch, surely final proof that pop music is whatever you point at when you say that's pop music. The welcome arrival of Scotland's favourite indie sons Franz Ferdinand with Do You Want To only reinforces this, as does the gradual bleed into Justice V Simian's We Are Your Friends, a track beloved of E4 continuity producers across the land. Rounding out the opening ten, Client's Lights Go Out with its defiantly Northern vocal manages that rarest of qualities in dance music; genuine sex appeal.

Unfortunately, the back 13 of the album starts badly. The drill mix of All This Love by The Similou proves once again that fake band names and nonsensical lyrics do not good Euro-pop make whilst the Pussycat Dolls cover of Hot Stuff (I Want You Back) swamps the humour of the original beneath a wall of over production and Aguilera-esque vocal over-clocking.

Thankfully, things get back on track with Stefy's surprisingly minimalist tale of a cheating friend, Chelsea closely followed by an excellent unreleased version of the Pet Shop Boy's classic, It's A Sin. The unfortunate Miss Stevens follows straight after with the excellent Some Girls and then, it all goes wrong again. Britney Spears has produced several dreadful tracks in the last few years but Do Something may just beat out her cover of My Perogative as the worst. Strutting, clunky and despite its pared back sound still, somehow over produced its only prevented from being the worst track on the album by the presence of the Pussycat Dolls.

From there, things take a drastic turn for the better with the Jason Nevis remix of Kelly Clarkson's Since You Been Gone, and the Junkie XL radio edit of the Scissor Sisters' Mary, both managing to do something new with the original track without burying it. The always reliable Timbaland and his resuscitation of Nelly Furtado's career with Maneater follows and flows gracefully into Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke mix of Mr Brightside by The Killers. The mix somehow manages to make Brendan Flowers' vocal even more plaintive and desperate and does the song a real service.

Finally, Sophie Ellis Bextor (arguably another sufferer of Rachel Stevens' disease) turns in the impressive Dear Jimmy and to the surprise of no one, Girls Aloud return to round the album out. Whilst putting both Biology and the Toyn Lamezma mix of Biology on the same album, let alone next to one another, may not be wise it ensures that the album closes with the same energy and wit it opened with.

100% Solid Pop Music is a fantastic cross section of that most maligned of musical genres. It would be easy to say, with the presence of The Similou, Spears and Pussycat Dolls tracks that it's actually only 97% solid pop music but in the end that's simply not true. There's so much invention, intelligence and energy on the album that you can't help but overlook those tracks. A smart, energetic and hugely entertaining compilation, this proves that there's no justice like Pop Justice.


Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press