Heartthrob – the Album of the Year (originally published on GuySpy, Dec 10 2013)

Niall McMurray Says “Heartthrob” Should Be Album of the Year

OH HAI! I was just wondering what the best album of 2013 was as I’ll probably get an iTunes voucher for Christmas from an unimaginative relative.

Hello! That’s an easy one. Without a shadow of a doubt it’s “Heartthrob” by “Canadian rock duo” (it says on Wikipedia) Tegan and Sara.


Oh, rock. I’m not so keen on rock.

Wait, come back! This is the album where Tegan and Sara “went pop.” A bit like when Bob Dylan “went electric” in 1965 but SO much more exciting.

So what’s it like then?

It’s brilliant.

I’ll need a bit more information than that, really.

Oh alright then. Well, to start with, it’s short – just thirty six minutes long. Which is a full three minutes longer than Kylie’s “Enjoy Yourself” but a good hour shorter than most Tori Amos albums. Brevity in pop is very important – if you can’t say what you need to in about three minutes per song then you’re in a spot of bother. It is also PACKED WITH TUNES – which is kind of the bare minimum you’d expect from a pop record, but an awful lot of people do forget to include them. Tegan and Sara also belong to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-to-fade school of pop. Little Mix should take note, it’s all bridge with that lot.

That sounds quite interesting. What about the lyrics?

Hmm. Actually, “Heartthrob” sounds like it was recorded by two people whose first language isn’t necessarily English but are giving it a jolly good try anyway (“I did behave, saved you every time” isn’t exactly conversational.) But as with all the best pop, the lyrics serve the tunes. Most of them are about being miserable, the rest of them are about sex. These are the only two acceptable subjects about which to write a pop song.

Can I dance to it?

That depends if you can dance or not, but in principle yes. Some of the songs are quite fast, some are quite slow and some are “mid-tempo” i.e.) not quite sure. They’re all uniformly excellent apart from the very last track which is merely quite good, and I fancy was done to keep old school Tegan and Sara fans happy. It’s a bit new-wavey. It all sounds marvellous live, though the disconcerting thing about going to a Tegan and Sara concert is that you’re never quite sure if they’re on the stage or in the audience next to you at any given time. Tegan and Sara fans like to look like Tegan and Sara you see. EVEN THE MEN.

And what’s the general sound like?

Put it this way – many of the songs sound like they could feature in an unmade John Hughes film in which Molly Ringwald discovers she has sexy feelings for Ally Sheedy and ACTS UPON THEM.

Standout track?

The greatest single of the year, “I Was a Fool.” A song so gorgeous and heartbreaking it deserves to be remade by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson.

Well it’s decided then. Thank you.

My pleasure. And if you have any spare change left over from that voucher please buy “Flatline” by Mutya Keisha Siobhan, as it flopped disgracefully and I imagine they’re a bit hard up by now. It would really make their Christmas.

O Holy Crap: Here Comes Christmas (originally published on GuySpy, Nov 6 2013)

O Holy Crap: Here Comes Christmas

The Christmas album is a funny old thing, isn’t it? Destined to languish at the bottom of your most played list on iTunes for a good 49 weeks of the year, pop stars tend to make them when their careers are going either incredibly well or incredibly badly. By lucky chance, two of our foremost ladies of song are going into battle this winter with their first festive collections, giving us a rare opportunity for direct comparison.

In the red corner: the UK’s very own Leona Lewis.


Why is Leona doing it?

Gosh, this has the whiff of contractual obligation doesn’t it? Poor Leona has had a rough old time of it lately, releasing actually quite good records to massive public indifference. “Christmas with Love” will, I imagine, turn out to be her swansong on Syco – expect an exciting deal with newly formed indie label  L.Lewis Records to be “inked” in January.

What is the single like?

It’s called “One More Sleep” and it’s fake Motown – or, if you will, Fauxtown. But it’s really rather good and will only get better as December 25th approaches.

Will it make it onto subsequent editions of “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” for future generations to enjoy? 

Hell yes. Children will dance to it and say “Mummy, who is Leona Lewis?” to which mummy will reply “I haven’t an effing clue dear.”

What does Leona say in the press release?

“This has been such a busy year for me having been on tour, shooting my first movie and being in the studio. But I cannot wait to get out there this Christmas and perform these songs. I had such fun recording this record and that really comes through in the songs. I am looking forward to spreading a little Christmas cheer!”

What does Leona actually mean?

“I was forced to do this at gunpoint.”

What will this do for Leona’s long term career prospects?

Well, it will give her something to do when switching on the Christmas lights in Billericay.

In the other red corner: America’s Kelly Clarkson.

kelly-clarkson-wrapped-in-red-christmas-album-1024x1024 copy

Why is Kelly doing it?

Because Kelly feels like it.

What is the single like?

“Underneath the Tree” is so upbeat and jovial as to be almost threatening. If Kelly were to sing this to a group of pensioners in a small, poorly ventilated room she would be the only one to make it out alive. None of this detracts from its general fabulousness though, especially when the saxophone solo kicks in.

Will it make it onto subsequent editions of “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” for future generations to enjoy?

You betcha. And it will come before Mariah on the tracklisting, much to Mariah’s fury.

What does Kelly say in the press release?

“I’m super excited to put out my first Christmas record. I absolutely love Christmas music and have had a total blast recording and writing for it. I can’t wait for y’all to hear it.”

What does Kelly actually mean?

Exactly what she fucking says. She’s Kelly Clarkson.

What will this do for Kelly’s long term career prospects?

Kelly is good for a while yet. Don’t worry about Kelly.

The verdict:

Kelly – personal empowerment guru to me and millions of others, has this one in the bag with “Wrapped in Red.” Leona – personal empowerment guru to some rabbits, cows and anything else with a pulse that you might want to eat – walks away looking a bit sad and defeated. Which is a shame, given her talent BUT THAT’S POP FOR YOU ISN’T IT? Merry Christmas ladies!

Pop Stars: Just Get On With It (originally published on GuySpy, Oct 15 2013)

Pop Stars: Just Get On With It

When you start work in a new place one of the first things you generally receive is a horribly worded job description saying things like “to assist the manager in the running of the department whilst gradually dying a little inside each day.”

You know would benefit from a document such as this? Most pop stars. Theirs wouldn’t even be particularly depressing. In fact it would only contain three points.

1) Make amazing pop records.

2) Keep your mouth shut unless it is to talk about point 1.

3) Occasionally fall out with other pop stars.


This simple agreement would save them, and us, an awful lot of trouble. If the music is accompanied by a Message then it is invariably less interesting. The best case in point here is of course Lady Gaga, who couldn’t wait five minutes before unofficially adopting the gays and the bullied, or indeed anyone who’s looked in the mirror and thought they were having a bad hair day. Gaga will shelter you. Which is all very noble, and probably quite well-meant, but you can’t be the defender of every single misfit on the planet and still do your day job properly: hence “Born This Way” and a career that’s been on a downward trajectory ever since. Maybe “ARTPOP” will rectify things, but I wouldn’t bet on it. For one thing, it’s called “ARTPOP.”

Madonna – who used to quite sensible about these things – also clearly needs an urgent appraisal with her supervisor. This “secretprojectrevolution” thing she’s always banging on about these days smacks terribly of someone who wants to be remembered for something more than just pop songs. – which is a bit insulting to the breathtakingly good pop songs she’s made. As if faffing about with an admittedly quite nice fringe in arty black and white whilst asking us to define oppression (or something) is ever going to be more fun than “Holiday.” Honestly, the sooner Lola takes over the better.

I can’t think of a single pop star who has demonstrably cared about something other than pop who has enjoyed a noticeably more successful career or made better records. Pop is a cut-throat world, and while you’re off opening an accessible gym in a favela someone else is on the phone to Sia getting all her best songs. Some people do appear to know this – Rihanna being one, Katy Perry being the other. All either of them really do is make records at regular (almost too regular, RiRi, we can’t keep up) intervals because that is all we require of them. And in return we buy them, with the implicit understanding that if they suddenly appear in a documentary about the dangers of fracking in Lancashire then it is all over. 

All pop stars please take note. Thank you.

Cher, Miley, Madonna: the Unholy Trinity (originally published on GuySpy Oct 1 2013)

Cher, Miley, Madonna: The Unholy Trinity

It’s official: pop has run out of songs. Whilst cocking an ear at the new Cher single “I Hope You Find It” earlier this week, I thought to myself “this seems awfully familiar.” And barely thirty seconds of research revealed that, yes it was familiar. It’s an old Miley Cyrus tune from 2010, and a pretty terrible one at that.

It’s one of those awful Anthems of Low Self Esteem where a spurned lover lingers by a rain-dappled window looking miserably hopeful. I was about to get all grumpy at this horrific example of pop eating itself, but then I realised it gave me a chance to bang on once again about two – actually three – of my favourite ladies.

Miley, of course, is on an upward trajectory at the moment, while only a fool would argue that Cher isn’t sliding, albeit loudly, towards the Shady Pines retirement home of her career. She has in fact become the batty old lady who sits on her porch swing shouting obscenities at provocatively dressed young people who cross her line of vision.

With pleasing symmetry, much of her recent vitriol has been directed at none other than Miley: “She can’t dance, her body looked like hell, the song wasn’t great, one cheek was hanging out. And chick, don’t stick your tongue out if it’s coated.”


Cher’s other favourite punch bag is Madonna. Proof that her eye for an easy target hasn’t yet diminished – and somehow when she calls her “Madge” it is SO much more demeaning than when anyone else on the planet does it.
When Madonna launched her oh-god-what-the-hell-is-this-just-make-a-decent-record-will-you Secret Project “revolution” thingy in London last week, the glorious pomposity of the whole thing was punctured by a slightly tipsy figure in the shadows who emerged to shout “Get your fanny out! That’s what we’re all here for!” Pretty sure that was Cher.
Ideally, I’d like to see this situation spiral out of control, forming an ever more complex, M.C. Escher-inspired world in which Cher, Miley and Madonna ONLY cover each other’s songs, bitch about each other incessantly and then all turn up to the MTV awards in identical dresses which are age-inappropriate for two out of three of them. Can it end any other way?

Strictly Come Dancing: Ben Cohen Unites Fickle Gays Throughout UK (originally published on GuySpy, Sep 11 2013)

Strictly Come Dancing: Ben Cohen Unites Fickle Gays Throughout UK

British gay men were reportedly reduced to a frothing, masturbatory mess last weekend as Ben Cohen appeared as a contestant on BBC One’s Saturday night ratings behemoth “Strictly Come Dancing.”

Former England rugby star Cohen, 34, took to the dancefloor in an unspeakably tight, low cut purple sequined shirt and thigh-clingingly sheer black trousers. When asked on his opinion of the outfit, one hitherto eloquent and responsible gay accountant could only muster an incoherent, rambling string of “GRRRRs” before touching himself inappropriately as his eyes lingered over the twinkly eyed, glistening jewel of manhood.

Onlookers in central London described how the streets of Soho suddenly emptied, prompting momentary fears that all gays had been raptured. This concern was quickly dispelled, however, by the sound of a collective “WOOF” that briefly registered on the Richter scale and set off car alarms as far away as Cromer. Facebook reported a 70% drop in profile pictures using a badly photoshopped image of Vladimir Putin in rainbow make-up, as gays across the land took temporary leave of their senses and returned to their lustful, vacuous selves.

BBC bigwigs are said to be delighted at having captured the attention of Britain’s most notoriously fickle television audience, and have reportedly drawn up contingency plans to ensure anti-bullying campaigner and happily married father of two Cohen’s continued presence on the show, should he turn out to possess absolutely no rhythm whatsoever. “Basically, he’ll wear less and less each week,” said a corporation insider. “We will not rest until the streets of Britain are filled with fevered, masturbatory gay men every Saturday night until Christmas.”

Cohen was unavailable for comment, but did offer one of his trademark, heart-melting grins that briefly outshone the sun with its dazzling, radiant beauty.



Miley Culture (originally published on GuySpy, Sep 2 2013)

Miley Culture

I had a brush with my own mortality earlier this week, and one of the first thoughts I had whilst machines beeped ominously around me was “what if don’t live long enough to hear “Bangerz”?” Proof, if it were needed, that the planet now revolves around the burning star that is Miley Cyrus.

Miley, as you may have noticed, has taken a lot of flak in the last couple of weeks for her provocative and artless cavorting with Robin Thicke at the VMAs. Miley is a slut! Miley is porn! Miley is setting a bad example to young women everywhere!

Tosh. Miley is doing precisely what young pop stars are supposed to do, which is outrage everyone who is not a fan of that sort of thing. In my experience, people can be divided into roughly two camps: those who are likely to twerk in a flesh coloured bikini and those who are not. I doubt Miley’s performance will provoke a mass changing of camps, although it may lead to a rise in sales of oversized sponge fingers.

Personally – and I am biased because I believe “Party in the USA” is the greatest single moment in recorded music history – I thought Miley was ace. She is 20 and she fucks now, and sometimes a former child star needs to send that message very clearly so we let them move the hell on. Was it classy? No? Did I watch through my fingers? Yes. Will I download “Bangerz” on its release? You betcha.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Pre-Show

Camille Paglia argues that Miley lacks the artist’s flair of someone like Madonna – that’s almost certainly true, but where was the art when Madonna was rimming a bloke in the pages of her “Sex” book, eh? It’s interesting that Miley wearing at least some form of garment provokes more outrage in 2013 than Madonna did parading about in the nuddy with oiled men on leashes in 1993. The difference is that Madonna trained us to expect shocks right from the get-go. It’s a lot harder for the former Hannah Montana. She’s had her face on so many lunchboxes it’s no wonder she wants to stick her ass on one for a change.

Madonna, I suspect, would be the first to defend Miley’s right to do whatever the hell she likes, and if that involves grinding into Robin Thicke while he’s dressed as a mint humbug then good for her. As the old saying goes: if it makes Taylor Swift’s jaw drop, do it.

Yeast Infection (originally published on GuySpy, Aug 14 2013)

Yeast Infection: The Unstoppable Rise Of The Great British Bake Off

Sometimes it’s hard to judge precisely what counts as inappropriate behaviour. For example: is watching “Great British Bake-Off” with your hands down your trousers wrong?

Well, this obviously depends on the reason your hands are where they are, doesn’t it? I used to be fairly sure it was a Paul Hollywood related phenomenon, but these days I’m not certain it isn’t the sight of a golden tarte tatin glistening seductively on an artfully draped tablecloth. Baked goods, it appears, are quite the aphrodisiac.

The gays, of course, latched onto “Bake Off” very early – like disco and crystal meth, we know a burgeoning trend when we see one. Also we’re usually quite well represented among the contestants, last year bringing us the delightful yet sinister Brendan – who I’m positive must have a substantial collection of swivel-eyed Victorian dolls on his bed – and of course the eventual winner John, last spotted hanging out with Nancy Dell’Olio in the audience of “Strictly Come Dancing” (well done John).

Paul – possibly the only man on television who makes icing for the sole purpose of styling his hair – was clearly the honey trap. But nowadays I find myself more enraptured by Mary’s twinkling papyrus face and her habit of finding something good to say about an eclair with all the charm and flavour of a concrete breeze block. If I’m ever due to receive some really bad news I would like Mary Berry to be the one who delivers it: “It’s terminal I’m afraid, but my goodness, you do have a lovely colour about you.”

Most of all, “Bake Off” sets us off on a lovely gentle canter towards winter. While Mel and Sue tie themselves in knots trying to outdo each other in the bad pun stakes, we form meaningful (if short) relationships with people who may be Master Baker one week and out of those tent-flaps the next faster than you can say “KitchenAid Artisan.”

By the time we reach the final it’ll be dark outside, a chill will be in the air, and at least one hand will be down our trousers. Welcome back “Bake Off.”

The Great British Bake Off returns to BBC2 on Tuesday 20th August.