Friday, March 12th, 2010

Diana Vickers – Once

Fourth place on X Factor doesn’t usually get you a hell of a lot, so the Blackburn warbler appears to have struck a bit lucky…


Kat Stevens: Diana’s ‘distinctive’ Dolores O’Riordan nasal sounds pretty much scuppered her X Factor chances – that and her dreadful habit of always holding her hand in a claw-like ‘C’ to convey emotion at crucial sections of every performance. Thankfully she has toned down the HYUUUs and MAEYYYs into something almost listenable: jolly Ellis-Bextor backing track, synthetic duck quacking every so often, baffling lyrics about assisted suicide (possibly). Paradoxically, the repeated ‘once’ chorus is the emptiest part and could almost benefit from a bit of adenoidal gargling.

Martin Skidmore: It’s taken her a while to release a single – she was on X Factor back in 2008. I liked her odd, slightly croaky vocals on that, but I don’t think they have the force to compete with this kind of electro-rocky sound. She sounds endearing on the verses, but the denser rocking-out parts don’t strike me as at all right for her.

David Moore: A touch of Marion Raven, not least in its obtuseness (“only gonna let you kill me once” — what are you, Catwoman?). But there’s also some of Marion’s snarl in the verses, and the boilerplate angsty chorus almost (not quite) kicks. Deal-breaker for me is the samey vocal performance, strangled in the throat when it needs to break a few windows in the chorus. Suggests Flyleaf with a head cold.

Iain Mew: I was going to try to avoid the obvious, despite the matching voices, genres, hand movements and all, but seriously. “I’m only gonna let you kill me once/I’m only gonna let you kill me then some”? In the confused pleasure in death of the chorus it’s clear: “Once” is Ellie Goulding’s “Under the Sheets”, toned down a bit. Without pitchshifted clones or quite such overwhelming electro production Diana’s voice has to do a lot more of the work than Ellie’s but pleasingly it’s definitely up to it, excitedly demented apparently suiting her perfectly.

Alfred Soto: I threw away lots of zingers before stumbling across what one “captainmustang” wrote in the video’s YouTube comment section: “why does she feel the need to sing like shes got something stuck in her throat. i wish someone would kill her once.” Also: she sings like she can’t be bothered to pretend there’s six thousand machines between her larynx and the microphone.

Hillary Brown: I like Ms. Vickers’s breathy, icy vocal quality, although I can see as well how it could be extremely annoying to some. Still, I wouldn’t change the station to get away from this tune.

Martin Kavka: There is a troika of British pop royalty behind this track: Cathy Dennis, Eg White, and Mike Spencer. All are coasting on laurels earned about a decade ago, and it is now time to evict them from pop’s inner sanctum. Dennis, usually so good at writing in the voice of a woman who is trying to deny her own vulnerability, pens enigmas (“I had as much as you can take”) and lazy thoughts (“What is love anyway?”). White’s backing plods through the same chord sequence ad nauseam. Spencer obviously wants to create a cross-genre smash that tops “Spinning Around” and dethrones Lukasz Gottwald as the king of pop. He throws in keyboard washes, occasionally filters the lines, crunches up guitars and even makes room for some sensitive piano noodlings, but it just gives the listener emotional whiplash. As a result, there’s nothing for Vickers to do except bark out the title, strut around in various outfits, and hope that she comes away from this with a better reputation than Heidi Montag. A very short marine-colored angora sweater ends up being the most memorable thing of the whole affair. Do they make that in size XXL?

Matt Cibula: There is a little shrine in my heart for Cathy Dennis, so this marmalade gets a lot more love from me than it perhaps should. Intrigued by her lack of voice but as I’m not British I am not allowed to have an opinion about that.

W.B. Swygart: She sounds like Helen Marnie out of Ladytron but with some added craw – the craw makes things a bit confusing, and it’s tempting to see it as a kind of cheapo crutch, a quirk designed to con the listener into thinking something’s going on (see: any British man that has so much as looked at an acoustic guitar in the past decade) – but it also serves to give her just the right amount of distance, like this is how she operates, this is the medium through which she engages with her material. And she does engage, and there’s clearly quite a bit of intelligence going on as she picks her way through this tangled little character sketch – the small-town girl (lots of those around these days, innit?) trying to figure out what the fuck this relationship guff is all about, and taking the approach that it’s some kind of warfare, that giving yourself away completely will only result in you losing something you can’t get back, and if that’s how it’s got to be – that there is a winner, and there is a loser, and that is how life has to be – well, winning is the only option. But the song never delights in that – hear the fade, the long stare into the abyss on “Touch them where it hurts, then you live…”, contrast it with that optimistic, heart-pounding swell on “Tripping round, to your place”, then seizing up – “What is – love? AnyWAY?” This is a song about being young, confused, and willing to latch onto anything that gives even the faintest whiff of being a right answer then sinking in your teeth for dear life. It’s also a lot slighter than it seems – it sort of starts, does a guitar-crashing bit, quiet bit, guitar-crashing bit (and much plaudits to la Vickers for resisting the urge to go with that guitar-crashing bit completely), and then dumps you at Milton Keynes Coachway. Also, congratulations for trying to make the backing dancers look like Him Out Of The Matrix, but only succeeding in making them look like Him Out Of The Ting Tings.

3 Responses to “Diana Vickers – Once”

  1. Cursing once again the insanity of February/March – wish I’d heard this in time to review it, I’d be w/ Ian and Swygart in the [8]s – there’s a tension between the melody and the arrangement which in most other hands would be triumphant or steely or strong. Vickers manages to pull off a vocal ambivalence and resignation that suits the song quite well. In some ways, while I still like “Under the Sheets” better (stronger writing, at any rate) this performance might hit me harder.

  2. Hm, should have given this a “6” and it’s growing a little in my estimation, I think.

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