Anyone who read this blog at the end of 2012 may have noticed that we ended the year gripped by two obsessive pop ideas. The first was that “Scream And Shout”, the atrocity duet between will.i.am and Britney Spears, was audible proof that pop in its current incarnation was exhausted to the point of death. The second was that a new song called “Captain”, sneak released by wayward wunderkind Frankmusik, might be just the kind of thing to jolt it back to life.
Six weeks on and nothing has changed. “Scream And Shout” still clings to the top ten like some ghastly fungus, every sale another kick to pop’s broken body. And the exhilarating assault of fizzing synths, giddy beats and melody that is “Captain” still sounds like the joyous antidote to its deadly poison. Where “Scream And Shout” is cold and cynical, “Captain” is hot and impassioned. While “Scream And Shout” makes a night “in the club” sound as enjoyable as terminal stage syphilis, “Captain” makes an agonising break up sound exhilarating. And where “Scream And Shout” practically yawns “will this do?” in the listener’s ears like a jaded Baltic stripper, “Captain” pulls out hook after hook, sonic trick after sonic trick, in its efforts to grab and keep your attention.
Actually, we lie. One thing has changed: “Captain” now has three siblings to keep it company, in the form of the glorious “Far From Over” EP, released on Valentine’s Day, for free, here. For Vince Turner (the man behind Frankmusik) the EP marks a return to the fizzy, hyperactive ultrapop which first made his name. It is a record born of desperation (Vince broke up with his record label and his fiancé during 2012) which somehow sounds gleeful, a reminder of music’s amazing power to alchemise heartbreak into something life affirming.
Lead single “Map” may be even better than “Captain” and is certainly the most thrilling, direct pop single of Frankmusik’s short, frustrating career so far. It’s only February but it’s already a likely contender for our favourite song of 2013. Like so many of the best pop creations, “Map” is deceptively simple: it opens in a haze of shimmering, chiming synths before giving way to an aching verse which slowly builds until – KABOOM – the soaring, pounding chorus explodes like a small thermonuclear device. We’re approaching our fiftieth listen to it, and we aren’t even close to being sick of it yet.
Nor are we the only ones to fall in love with it. Last night influential gossipmonger Perez Hilton leaked the song to his 6.1 million followers, declaring it a triumphant “return to form… electro with heart”. For once, he’s absolutely right. Influential bloggers, pop fans, celebrities and Natasha Bedingfield have since rushed in to declare the song a stunner.
As well as the previously mentioned songs, the EP includes “Thank You”, which is gentler and stranger than its boisterous siblings, though still irrepressible. It’s the tune most obviously indebted to the Japanese pop and 8 bit symphonies Vince spent a long time enthusing to us about when we met him last year (see interview here). Over bleeping, whirring soundscapes, Vince lays down beseeching verses and a monster, pole-vaulting chorus (that might not make sense now but it will once you’ve listened to it). It’s a strange mixture of 80s retro and futurism that sounds quintessentially Frankmusik.
The grand finale comes with the plaintive electro ballad “The Line”, which is as close as the EP gets to conventional and restrained, before it takes a bold step into the epic with a long, keening coda. It’s as ridiculous as it is brilliant, but fearlessness is part of what makes “Far From Over” exciting: as the prophet Adam Ant once said, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.
If we sound overexcited that’s because we are – shamelessly. Great pop should turn you into an excitable fan boy/girl. And this has little to do with the fact that we’ve stayed in touch with Vince while he’s sweated blood and tears over this EP, and everything to do with the results. From the moment we heard “Captain” in December we thought that Vince had recaptured the fizz and verve which we’d fallen in love with when we first got obsessed with his debut album “Complete Me” in 2009, and which went AWOL on his flat second album. What we didn’t know was that he’d only just got started: in the space of a month he’s recorded these four dizzying songs, this flood of new sounds, ideas, and melodies.
We don’t know for sure if this EP will set Vince’s career back onto the upward trajectory we think his abundant talent and his obvious love of pop deserves. Even with the online excitement Hilton and others have sparked, second chances in pop are rare, and “Far From Over” won’t be for everyone. For every listener who laps up its sugar rushes and gleefully synthetic sounds, others will balk and sneer.
But we desperately want “Far From Over” to succeed, because we think its spirit of invention and sheer life affirming joyousness offers a way out of the tired, loveless cul de sac chart pop is currently stuck in. And because we want pop stars who really care about what they do, who can fuss obsessively over every sonic detail while understanding the simple ecstasy of a melody in flight, who can embrace the cheap potency of pop while adding new ingredients. We think Frankmusik’s up to the job.