I'm guessing that all of us know someone who sets themselves up as a 'proper' music fan. You know the type, they're the ones who look down their turned up noses at anything 'manufactured or 'fake' with the usual sanctimonious 'they're not playing their instrument's!!!' dismissal. And, hands up, he who is without sin in a glasshouse etc - I was one of these self same people too. Back when my contemporaries were Duran Balleting through the decade, I could be found sat up in my ivory tower studiously listening to 'Brain Salad Surgery' with a furrowed brow. 'Proper' music you see.
'Perfect' could be classed as 'proper' music - a 'proper' band playing their own 'proper' song on 'proper' instruments. As 'proper' as they come in fact. And fair play, 'Perfect' is a song I ought to like because it pushes all of my buttons. A jaunty, jazzy double bass led shuffle and a vocal dripping with a latter day Francophile Patsy Cline air - it's the sort of thing you'd expect to hear being busked outside the Moulin Rouge while pouting girls in berets walk by. In modern times, Madeline Peyroux has released three albums of this kind of thing and I've lapped up each and every one of them like a thirsty Labrador. But I don't like this.
The limp acoustic shuffle of the brushed drum rhythm plays out as rather a clichéd take on the genre rather than the real thing, more of a stock library recording marked 'French Club: Evening Ambience' than a live recording of the same as it has all the substance of smoke once Eddi Reader's strong vocal is factored out. In fact, there's barely a song there at all, and what there is is almost wholly dependent on the repetition of the chorus to drag it into some kind of structure.
And repetition is right - why bother with line and metre when you can stretch out words into as many syllables as you want to get them to fit:
"It's got to be-e-e-e-e-e-e-e
The very use of the word 'perfect' calls for the smart context of a full stop, but this bizarre and rather lazy stutter sounds more like something broken or else a stuck needle - it reminds more of a contrived football chant more than anything else, something designed to get people singing along and nothing else. But whatever, it's far from the perfection Reader is looking for. It's smug, and it annoys in its smugness.
To my ears, 'Perfect' has never sounded half as natural and rootsy as it likes to think it is. There's no grit here and no grime, just a flat surface buffed to a high sheen. Sure, up against the majority of it's bedfellows in the 1998 charts it must have sounded as earthy as a Blind Lemon Jefferson field recording, but closer listening reveals a track every bit as contrived as the latest Kylie Minogue single (though aimed at a different audience) and I don't think it's any co-incidence that Fairground Attraction hit paydirt just when CD was becoming the dominant music format. For what could be a better way to listen to 'proper' shiny music than on a shiny silver disc that promised 'perfect sound forever'? A claim, incidentally, that lasted only slightly longer than the band themselves.