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Single review: Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ & ‘Castle On The Hill’

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Is it just me? Am I just an old humbug? Or are Ed Sheeran’s two new singles really nothing special?

There. I said it. I am underwhelmed.

It’s not that Shape Of You isn’t sensual, poetic and catchy – it is. It’s not that Castle On The Hill isn’t a tender, uplifting piece of pop – it is. And it’s not as though either of those singles could do anything other than hit the apex of the charts in a heartbeat – they did.

But after two years of the incessently ubiquitous hits of X, surely it wasn’t too much to hope for something…fresh? Sheeran has always been a passing interest of mine, an artist to play when I need a sentimental or angst-ridden singalong. He owes me no particularly great debt of fandom, and yet I feel cheated.

If you’re not too outraged to keep reading, I’ll explain myself now, I swear.

Shape Of You was always going to steal the limelight. Flirty, sexy, catchy as all hell…on paper it works, out loud it sounds like a rework of Nina with a little bit of Don’t thrown in. Is this really all Sheeran has to offer? It’s a solid comeback, but it’s so. damn. safe. Also, TLC’s No Scrubs keeps popping into my head every time the pre chorus starts and that is just not a good thing.

Castle On The Hill offers a surprising change of pace – perhaps Sheeran’s attempt at a new flavour of songwriting? – but it sounds strangely anonymous after the textbook songwriting of the sister single. Although Sheeran delivers with satisfactory character, Castle On The Hill could belong to anybody. Most plausibly, in the introduction, U2 circa The Joshua Tree.

Are you still reading? Did you make it? Do you think I’m crazy?

It’s just…after the sweet nothings of +, 2014’s X offered grit and swagger and a maturing sound. While Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill are deserving chart-toppers amongst the swirl of radio favourites, they have ultimately failed to build on Sheeran’s ever-promising foundations. Did Thinking Out Loud leave such a big void that we will happily greet regurgitated inspiration with such enthusiasm? Evidently so.

But keep grooving, kids – there are worse songs you could get excited about. Having had my vent, I shall now banish my disappointment to the quietest murmurings and leave you be. (Bah. Humbug!)

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Living In 2017: A millennial commentary on Skyhooks

When Twenty One Pilots released Stressed Out, it was as though the millennial population found an outlet it hadn’t even realised it needed. Its words reached out and touched the tender bruise of anxiety in so many of us, acknowledging our weary battles on the frontlines of adulthood, so frequently glossed over by radio hits.

But like much millennial commentary on modern life, Stressed Out is permeated with a desolation that provides little comfort beyond empathy. After all, Twenty One Pilots are of our generation: they’re as lost and world-weary as the rest of us, and Stressed Out is as much a quest for answers as it is a comment on the lack thereof.

I listened to a lot of FM radio over 2016, so this New Year’s Day I did what I do every time modern music gets me down: raid my parents’ musical archives.

In the case of my mother, this features both Sherbet and Skyhooks rather heavily – and while Howzat will always be an irreplaceable piece of Australian music gold, I found Skyhooks to be the anxious millennial’s best friend. Yes, I am talking about a 1970’s band, no, I am not a Baby Boomer, and once I was as resistant to this idea as you probably are now.

Skyhooks first proved their millennial relevance innocently enough – my parents made me listen to All My Friends Are Getting Married after 18-year-old me had complained once too often about the number of engagements announced in my Facebook feed. Oh, I initially rolled my eyes at the dated groove and crazy costumes, but the not-so-subtle scepticism of marital life soon had me feeling as free as a bird.

As I embark on 2017 – due for the proverbial quarter-life-crisis in about 7 months – it is Living In The 70’s (the album, as well as the title track) that I find myself holding close. The track itself has a restless, wide-eyed bewilderment that is all too familiar for those of us growing up in this fast-paced digital age. It acknowledges the feelings of alienation that modern progress brings (“I feel a little crazy, I feel a little strange”); the can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it trepidation about the ever-increasing lack of humanity (“eating fake food under plastic trees”); and most of all, the rising panic of having to deal with it all (“I need another pill to calm me down”).

Where Twenty One Pilots soar into helpless falsetto, Shirley Strachan lowers his voice to a feisty snarl: Skyhooks may have felt bamboozled by the plastic age, but there’s a fierce survivalist pride to their delivery that feels bloody good to imbibe by proxy.

They keep up the fight for the rest of the album, too, if you’re interested – and again, it’s strangely relevant. Horror Movie makes us feel better for hating the news, while Whatever Happened To The Revolution sounds eerily applicable to a world full of “clicktivism”, where Trump is president and marriage equality still battles to come into existence:

Everybody thought we could win with a vote
So the band went home without playing a note
…When you’re sick of your parties and sick of your sweets
Get off your arses I’ll see you out in the streets

skyhooks

You’ll crack a smile though – it’s not all doom, gloom and politics. Anyone who’s ever had a dodgy Tinder date will have a hearty giggle at You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good In Bed and Balwyn Calling (“Oh she might have looked like a princess/ Why’d you have to give her your address?!”). Any self-respecting millennial has also surely had to put up with being asked Hey What’s The Matter With You? (“You can’t have your dope and smoke it too”) by Bernard Salt et. al., so why not clap along as you return the question with a healthy dose of sarcasm and electric guitars?

More than anything, Living In The 70’s provides ample distraction from the anxieties of today. Revel in the unbridled sexiness of Motorcycle Bitch and cringe at the pre-internet inconvenience of wanking in Smut (be warned also: it will ruin Twisties for you). Use this album as a time machine, or let it apply to now: the choice is yours, and the result is medicinal either way.

This music may be more than four decades old (indeed, nearly two decades older than most millennials), but in being older, Skyhooks can offer reassurance where our contemporary acts can not. We might feel a little crazy, we might feel a little strange, but we’re not the first to have done so – and we’re unlikely to be the last.