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Auto-Tune, Sax Solos, Choirs - Music's Most Unforgivable Crimes

By Ailbhe Malone

Posted on 04 Aug 10

 
 

The recent Mercury nominations, featuring Topman troubadours Mumford And Sons, hold out the very real possibility that an album featuring banjo solos could win.



Terrifying, I know. There is no excuse for banjos in rock. It got me thinking about other all-too-common musical crimes - the rancid cliches, the things bands do that really grind your gears. Here follows my list of the top six musical bad habits.

1. Saxophone solos
The sax is the horn version of Comic Sans - ubiquitous and childish, with a desperate need to be noticed. A blaring solo enhances few things- not least Canadian indie. Weep for Broken Social Scene’s ‘Almost Crimes’ - a brilliant track ruined by an obnoxious sax breakdown.


See also: John Lennon, ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’ The grotesque sax intro makes this sound like the opening act for Noel’s House Party.
Exception: David Bowie, ‘Modern Love’. This sax solo is bearable due to Bowie singing over it - apart from a few rogue bars where the sax is allowed to roam free.

2. Theatrical spoken interludes
From La Roux’s hammy ‘Tigerlily’ turn to Los Campesinos!’ psuedo-poetic poncings, the only thing that a spoken interlude declares is the artist’s own pretensions. Not only does it ruin the flow of a track, it also destroys the mood - who on earth could keep from giggling at a mock-Vincent-Price monologue?

See also: Los Campesinos!, ‘You! Me! Dancing’ This spoken section manages to shoehorn in a reference to Rousseau, making it as beard-stroky and as annoying as physically possible.
Exception: Michael Jackson, ‘Thriller’. Although even when the King of Pop went Hammer Horror, it erred on the side of dodgy.

3. Pointless guest vocalists
When it comes to wheeling in a lady guest, electro try-hards 3OH!3 are serial offenders. Current single ‘My First Kiss’ with Ke$ha is 3 minutes and 32 seconds long, and features exactly 16 seconds of Ke$ha vocals. This smacks less of artistic collaboration, and more of boardroom ‘synergy’ at the record label.

See also:: Alexandra Burke feat. Flo Rida, ‘Bad Boys’. The nadir of cameos, Flo Rida swoops in for a swift 30 seconds, and manages to get Alex’s name wrong. Shoddy.
Exception: The Killers feat. Lou Reed, ‘Tranquilize’. Although his cameo is brief, Reed appears in the final 20 seconds of the track and mournfully, magically, redeems all that has gone before him.

4. Fake phone calls
The epitome of naff, it’s difficult to carry off a fake phone call. The fourth wall comes tumbling down as the artist leaves the realm of song, and comes straight into normal life. Case in point: Professor Green’s nonchalant chatter at the beginning of ‘I Need You Tonight’ is so humdrum that it may as well be about the price of soup in Tesco.

See also:: E.L.O, ‘Telephone Line’. Schmaltzy, sappy and all down a phone line. Shut it down.
Exception: Kraftwerk, ‘The Phone Call’. In true Kraftwerk style, the quartet take away the ‘song’ part of the fake phone call, and base a track around the phone call part instead. Inspired.

5. Choirs
The X-Factor can be blamed for popularizing the school of thought which states that an emotional moment must be accompanied by a choir. This pyrotechnics-and-tears schtick means a choral group is wheeled in to soundtrack any montage, be it uplifting, sad or mundane. Even Journey’s snore-fest ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ has been given a choral reboot, because, guys, we’re all winners in life. Barf.

See also: Tina Turner, ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’. An overblown concept meets hyperbole’s Top Trump card - a children’s choir.
Exception: Blur, ‘Tender’. A masterclass in when to introduce the choir, ‘Tender’ builds momentum gradually, and the choral outburst happens at its emotional peak- rather than at the start. Listen and learn, Leona.

6. Auto-tune
Auto-tune is in danger of becoming the Noughtie’s version of the sax solo. At a glance, four tracks of the current Top Ten use the vocal effect, and when the biggest group in the UK use auto-tune prolifically on their single (JLS, ‘The Club is Alive’) - it’s clear that auto-tune is the lazy man’s short-cut to ‘innovative’.

See also: T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, ‘Can’t Believe It’. Heralded as both the saviour and the abuser of Auto-tune, T-Pain uses the effect prolifically. But does he speak like that in real life?
Exception: There are no exceptions. As Jay-Z stated: "When a trend becomes a gimmick, it's time to move on. It was cool in the beginning. Some people made great music with it, now it's time to move on."

 
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