Bright Light Bright Light – Little Bit
A while ago I talked about Imperial Phases and how they don’t really exist as a concept any more – principally because having a run of super hits seems ever more implausible unless of course you happen to be Little Mix – and even they are slightly too familiar with the saddest chart position of all, no.11. A prolonged, unbroken run of top ten hits is pretty much a thing of the past now, at least while the strange gulf between what we’re buying and what we’re streaming is still so huge.
There used to be an easy way to spot an Imperial Phase – all you had to do was open your copy of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles and Albums and look for a row of black dots signifying a top ten hit or a star denoting a no.1. Here is Madonna’s page from the 18th edition – we shall never see its like again.
The current situation means I’ve had to recalibrate my concept of the Imperial Phase so that it now exists as a purely creative thing, which is obviously a lot more noble but presumably makes things slightly difficult when it comes to compiling a Greatest Hits. Someone who is right in the middle of this new and not-really-improved-but-what-can-you-do-that’s-the-modern-world-for-you Imperial Phase is our old friend Bright Light Bright Light, otherwise known as Rod Thomas. Full disclosure: I sort of know Rod a bit and he’s written two sterling posts for this very site (on Shea Seger and Lisa Lougheed), and as a consequence I’ve avoided featuring any of his stuff. But as of now it’s just plain ridiculous not to, for he has made a ton of brilliant records in the last few years, reaching a peak of amazingness with last year’s Choreography album. So, with any potential awkwardness around possible favouritism nicely out of the way, let us familiarise ourselves with the wonder that is Little Bit, my favourite tune of 2016 – although Dami Im’s Sound of Silence did give it a run for its money.
My pop senses tingled immediately when I first heard this song – which was on a train from Paddington to Bristol, to give you a bit of colour – and in the few seconds of the calm but ever so slightly tense piano intro I managed to have a flash of concern that the rest of it wasn’t going to live up to the technicolor pop explosion I had somehow envisaged in a very short span of time. But goodness gracious me it did! In came that faintly 808 State-y saxophone bit (thrills!), accompanied by the whirring sound of something stirring to life and then…the hook. Oh, that hook – on its own, it’s bold, brash and supremely confident. But when it returns for the chorus and Rod starts to soar so beautifully over it (“looking fooooooooooor….”), Little Bit hits the sweetest pop spot of all, which as we all know is ecstatic sadness. Here’s a clip of it from the album launch show at London’s Oslo venue, where me and my friend Shaun got very excited and did our best Joanne-and-Susan-Ann-from-out-of-the-Human–League dancing to it (thankfully not captured).
The “I’m in the corner, why can’t you see me?” theme is something that crops up in quite a lot of Bright Light Bright Light songs. Anyone who’s ever stood in the rain outside a restaurant watching their ex having a simply lovely time with someone new will understand it, although of course this never actually happens in real life. But it does happen in movies, and in my head Little Bit crops up during a Shelley Long rom-com from 1988 in which she’s been dumped for someone younger and less complicated but takes revenge by seizing control of her former husband’s business empire. In Rod’s head it’s a Jean Grey going full-on Phoenix moment, which works equally well.
This “why not me?” approach is one of the richest seams you can mine in pop (Tegan and Sara are dead good at it too) and it’s cropped up very satisfyingly on all three of Rod’s studio albums to date – but I reckon Little Bit is the best of the lot, not least because it has a completely brilliant middle eight where everything cuts out, giving you time to prepare yourself for a triumphant, spectacular last act on the dancefloor. Amazing.
While we may never see any stars or black dots alongside the Bright Light Bright Light back catalogue – the fact that they stopped publishing the Guinness Book of Hit Singles and Albums in 2006 notwithstanding – the new pop landscape means that it doesn’t really matter, does it? The Imperial Phase may not exist in its original form any more, but then neither does the ‘flop’: success is measured in different ways now. And at this point I’m going to stop writing before I destroy the entire Into the Popvoid concept.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Well if there was any justice Bright Light Bright Light, but what can you do?