If anyone ever wants to write Singles Jukebox fanfiction, why not imagine us in the early ’60s encountering “Downtown” for the first time?
Rebecca A. Gowns: Look, the funny thing about me writing for this website is that I listen to old music all day. So this one is sort of a pleasant surprise for me — a new song by Petula Clark ??? She has to be like 80 years old! (I looked it up, and she is!) It’s a beautiful song. Crazy to hear how the girlish spunky voice has mellowed out into this soft lilting one: soft, but not frail. The modern production suits her. Wow, if I had heard this in the mall I would have thought it was some aspiring singer-songwriter who just signed to a label yesterday. I’m not terribly fond of Petula Clark’s ’60s singles, nor of this common coffee house neat/clean/reverb-filled type of song, but something about the two together just works. What a magic trick.
Anthony Easton: At first I was sad that the production obscured her voice, but it’s in the same sub-genre as KLF and Tammy or Pet Shop Boys and Dusty, and those are some of my favourite things. It is less isolating than those examples, but incredibly intimate, the same otherness of Scott Walker, and perhaps the same rejection of pop history, but with the artifice stripped instead of compiled.
Edward Okulicz: Clark’s voice can’t help but resonate that little bit more on a line like “hold me forever, make it last” which, sad to think, has an unsettling ache of mortality to it, even as the strings swell like the soundtrack to a first kiss. Despite the relatively silly and dated titular line in the chorus (which is but one mildly-jarring line in a sea of expertly-felt longing), this would have fit snugly on Saint Etienne’s Tiger Bay or been perfect for Dusty.
Jonathan Bradley: Spare enough to be a bit spooky; after all, “cut, copy me” is no ordinary request. Clark’s hushed singing is intimate, but the swells in the chorus and the punctuating chimes make her voice an otherwordly presence. “I’m all yours,” she sings, positing herself as a vessel set adrift: “you are the shoreline I see when I’m off-course.” (She weirdly accentuates the are in that line, making it all the more uncanny.) It’s lovely, but lonely too; the sense is that no one could ever satisfy the bottomless hunger in the track’s center.
Brad Shoup: I believe that I’ve been on a hobby horse of late, giving the ol’ side-eye to folks who demand that our elderly entertainers give us something fragile and bleak. But “Cut Copy Me” is so damn cozy. It’s got the precise melodic RDA I subsisted on in college — come to think of it, my pop sympathies could be unpacked from the note she hits on the word “yours.” Anyway, it’s Petula: impressive longevity, no personal attachment. Don’t think of this as a pop star getting wise, unless it’s to the times.
Katherine St Asaph: Petula Clark’s comeback, such as it is (the phrase is at least three kinds of wrong, but have you got a better one?) seems a series of terrible ideas, like a cover of “Crazy”, or a single whose title suggests some dreadful Girl Talk remix — actually suggests it, as in a command — and whose video is a love letter by/to MS-DOS. Turns out the title’s a red herring; there’s nothing gimmicky here, but plenty subtly gorgeous, and if Petula’s voice sounds shrouded these days, it only helps land lines like “forget the others from my past.”
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Just unexpectedly gorgeous. When listening to “Cut Copy Me”, I don’t think of easy Clark reference point “Downtown” here (shout out all my fellow Lost fans!) but oddly enough, of the melancholic appeal of some black metal — it shares an understanding of how effective negative space is and tinged with an uneasy menace. Back in the days, they may have called this a stunner, and they would have been right. (Also, I was totally listening to Cut Copy before this came on which was just prescient.)
Alfred Soto: Oh man — if only Cut Copy had fit her into one of their techno-glaze mixes, like what Jarvis Cocker did to Marianne Faithfull a decade ago. Clark’s way with a consonant — she massages them just so — influenced Sarah Cracknell, and overall this is, I suppose, a dull minor triumph.
Ramzi Awn: Petula Clark’s effort at a commentary on the human condition is as unoriginal as its lyrics are cringe-worthy. Has Kate Bush heard this?
Scott Mildenhall: This nearly makes me want to do a bit of a cry. Where once all the lights were bright there’s now only a plaintive plea to never let them grow dim. This is a woman who, in the grand scheme of life, is approaching her terminus, and she’s vowing exclusive, undying love. It’s an outward denial of fatality, and, therefore, of any futility, because love is never futile. The admission is tacit: the need of a replica to fulfill her desires, marked by the digital processing on her voice, and the claims of wanting to forget the past that betray a desire to never ever lose it, and how it made her feel. At 80, so much is past. It weighs heavy on the song. But the tragedy of that, and the fact that one day the lights will dim, isn’t completely overarching, because even if we know it, and even if she knows it, she refuses to accept it.
Patrick St. Michel: The technological angle to this seems a bit forced — only the chorus and slightly manipulated vocals play up the themes the title hints at — but this is a lovely, fragile song out to connect with the information-age crowd.
Will Adams: In a predominantly electronic music landscape, overproduction can be difficult to define. This means I’ve had to resort to the tenuous rubric of “I know it when I hear it,” and “Cut Copy Me” couldn’t be clearer. I wouldn’t have minded the excess reverb on Petula Clark’s voice had John Williams not piled more and more unnecessary elements: glockenspiel, tubular bells, high synth pads, tinkling piano. By the song’s end, the lovely and understated opening is a distant memory, swallowed by a fog of strings.
Jer Fairall: Hushed and haunted, like a torch song stripped to its barest ghostly essence. The octogenarian singer naturally supplies much of the gravitas, but she’s remarkably well suited to the lovely crispness of the track, her voice neither dwarfed nor condescended to by an accompaniment that skips ostentation in favour of a steady pace kept only via a spare, insistent guitar part, accompanied by only the very occasional wisp of piano and orchestral swell. Only the silly titular conceit warrants a demerit, and even that is mostly for having me worriedly eyeing the credits to make sure that Lana Del Rey wasn’t involved.
Sally O’Rourke: Someone as defined by past glories as Petula Clark isn’t an obvious candidate for a drastic sonic makeover. But the wistful dance-pop of “Cut Copy Me” is less a trend-chasing departure than a sympathetic update. Aside from the steady pulsebeat and subtle vocal processing, the instrumentation is essentially the same strings, bells, piano, and nylon-string guitar that could have showed up on one of her ’60s ballads. The difference is scale: here, they’re stripped down to accents or basic, repetitive loops, giving the arrangement an openness that befits the lyrics’ appeals for intimacy and a fresh start. Despite her sung pleas to forget the past, though, it’s the coexistence of Petula’s familiar traits — her clarion voice and assured optimism — and the novel production that give “Cut Copy Me” such resonance. Moving forward isn’t just about pasting yourself into a new setting, the song suggests, but also copying over the best parts of your past.