Top 50 Songs of 2006 (30-26)
Subtle really burst out of the indie-hop ghetto with this colourful burst of manic energy and attention-deficient genre-hopping. 'The Mercury Craze' covers funk, rock, metal, indie, electro and straight-up hip-hop in the course of less than five minutes (too short, in my opinion), shooting off more ideas than most underground rap groups have in their whole career.
In fact, so succinctly did they eclipse their backpacker peers that critics were likening them to OutKast rather than the usual Company Flow comparisons, which will give you some idea as to 'The Mercury Craze''s frantic, technicolour haze of drive and force. That it wasn't a huge hit is a disappointment, and something tells me that they'll never make something as obviously 'breakthrough' as 'Ms. Jackson', but this is most definitely Subtle's 'B.O.B.'.
Yay! Prince is back! Wait a minute, what's with all the god-bothering songs on 3121? Oh yeah, that's right, he's a Jehovah's Witness these days, isn't he? Oh well. As fleeting as it was to have Prince Rogers Nelson firing on all cylinders, it was great while it lasted. To be honest, 'Black Sweat' wasn't the only good song on the album (there was 'Lolita', 'Fury' ,the title track too), but it stood head-and-shoulders above the rest with its slinky, minimalist groove, coupled with a superbly anachronistic g-funk whistle and Prince's best falsetto in a long, long while.
As always with Prince, 'Black Sweat' isn't just about sex, it is sex. It ruts its perverted way out of your speakers, making you feel more suggestible from the opening, crunchy kick drum, before proceeding to dry-hump you into oblivion, leaving a questionable stain on your turntable. It's a filthy, three-minute stand that you just know won't respect you in the morning, but hey, it's just fucking, baby!
28. Ghostface Killah feat. Ne-Yo - Back Like That (Def Jam)
In all the clamour to praise Fishscale as a glorious return to form for Ghostface, pretty much no-one highlighted 'Back Like That', choosing instead to focus on the tougher, more thuggish tracks like 'The Champ' or 'Shakey Dog'. This, the first single, was passed on as an attempt to make a dent on the mainstream. With current slow-jam favourite, Ne-Yo in tow, the move just seemed cynical, pussy-arsed, even. What almost everyone missed, however, is that 'Back Like That', for all its sugary strings and creamy crooning, is arguably Ghostface's most affecting song since 'All That I Got Iz You'.
Ghost's vocal here just oozes heartbreak, distress, jealousy and anger, while Ne-Yo, surprisingly, provides a more than competent smooth to go with Ghost's rough. In fact, his breakdown is 'Back Like That''s real emotional wallop, with the sucker-punch coming when he does his best Nathan Morris, belting out "That shit you just don't do". This is what the heart-sick thug plays when his boys aren't around.
27. Arctic Monkeys - A Certain Romance (Domino)
There was the meteoric rise, the hyperbolic praise and then the backlash, all in quick succession, but each part of Arctic Monkeys' progress lost sight of their greatest strength; their knack for a good tune. 'A Certain Romance' is the point on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not where AM ally the pithy, poignant lyrics to the free-wheeling guitar pop and a sense of the epic, and in doing so created a world-weary, but hopeful hymn to the beered-up working classes.
If that sounds like you'd rather gnaw your foot off than actually hear it, then that's your own look-out, but there's a winning frankness and honesty in 'A Certain Romance' that stops it from descending into tropey cliche. They'll probably never write a song as good as this, but as a pitch-perfect encapsulation of what saw Arctic Monkeys strike a chord with so many people, it will stand the test of time better than the column inches and the OTT hype.
26. Christina Aguilera - Ain't No Other Man (RCA)
Going from outrageously slutting her way around a boxing ring on 'Dirrty', to looking all classy and Marilyn Monroe-ish was probably not the most surprising thing that Christina Aguilera did this year. That accolade is reserved for her decision to hook up with THE best hip-hop producer of all-time, DJ Premier and cutting a sassy, seriously sexy, modern pop song in the form of 'Ain't No Other Man'.
She still does her Mariah Carey bellow at points, but it's countered by Premier's speedy, for him, hip-hop beat, jazzy horn licks and the sheer maturity and, dare I say it, credibility of the song. This is not bubblegum, but it does feel very now (or three years ago, if you still stand by it being a 'Crazy In Love' rip-off), while also coming over like an instant classic. Christina's place in music history is cemented in one smart move and a vocal performance that towered over most of her peers. Take that, Britney!