If you're of a certain age you'll be able to remember the glory days of the legendary Smash Hits tour that would wheel in and out of town the latest pop sensations. Whether it was the big sellers like Westlife or Blue or now forgotten pop anarchic's Daphne & Celeste or Simon Cowell's Motown duo it was a fun packed delight.
Look around the landscape now and it's all changed. Smash Hits has done under not being able to move with the times and latch on to the likes of Arctic Monkeys or Panic! At The Disco as teenage icons while traditional pop music is dying on it's arse in the charts. Lets face it if you're under 16 chances are you're into My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and the aforementioned Panic! At The Disco. Over 16 and it's likely to be the Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and Babyshambles.
Could it be that with it's now underground status the real alternative to the mainstream is pure pop again? Over the past few years rumours have spread around from Razorlight being manufactured by a record label, Keane being brand managed to wear the right clothes and recently the Arctic Monkey's having their lyrics written by a secret svengali figure. All the while pop bands have been spreading their names through myspace, having fansites set up for them by hardened fans and playing gigs around the country trying to build up their fanbase.
Take a band like The Vacancy who are just inking a deal with Sony BMG as this article goes to press. Based around the core of brothers Zack and Josh with long-time friend James, they take the sounds of the Dum Dums and Busted and infuse it with some mature songwriting that could come from Elvis Costello or Squeeze. The demos currently online are recorded with programmed beats and bass while they looks for a full time rhythm section, but even so "Paint You By Numbers" and "Shop Window" wipe the floor with the post-Busted output from James Bourne and Matt Willis. It's easy to see why Sony BMG are already shaping them as one of their priority acts for later this year.
Whistle Jacket have already had their fair share of pop success writing and producing for the likes of Sugababes, Blazin Squad and So Solid Crew's Lisa Maffia, but 2006 is the year they're concentrating on their own project. Currently showcasing to major labels with their Outkast meets Scissor Sisters-esque pop they're almost certain to find success in their own right. Whether it's the universal anthem of love that is "Simple Things" or their own theme tune "Whistle Jacket Show" they manage to merge the pure pop with credible beats that will get the urban kids behind them.
The last time we saw Damage was several years ago supporting Gabrielle on her sold out Arena tour and Jade and Andre's new band Cherry Blackstone are a natural continuation of the direction they were heading in at the time. They describe themselves as Coldplay and David Bowie meets Black Eyed Peas, but the nearest comparison we can think of us now-defunct Darkness label mates Do Me Bad Things. The exposure of Jade's recent appearance on Channel 4's the Games will have done them no harm, but the fact they straddle so many fences means its going to be a long struggle to public acceptance.
Dear Eskiimo and The Hussy's are bands who have both had their experience of major labels and have decided to go independently. Dear Eskiimo were signed to Mercury for a year, but released a single independently through My Dad Recordings which attracted attention from the NME, The Fly and various other positive reviews. With a year drawing on they decided to go it alone, finish off their long awaited album and are set to relaunch this Summer licensing through another major label. The Hussy's as some of you may know used to be known as The Supernaturals. Now with a new singer Fili, James McColll still writes the songs but stays out on the sidelines on guitar and backing vocals delivering songs such as "Friends Reunited" and "Napoleon". XFM are backing them and a national tour is planned soon, potentially with the Proclaimers who they share a manager with.
So is this just a British phenomena or is the pop kickback happening all around the world? Mandy Kane from Australia has been slamming down the doors in Australia where he's reached the Top 20 and been compared to the likes of David Bowie, Gary Numan and Marc Almond with tracks like "Murder In The Daylight" and "Hanky Panky" (not a Madonna cover). In the more traditional R&B pop, 16 year old American Justin Phillip sets himself between Justin Timberlake and Usher with slick R&B pop
Only time will tell if these pop acts will break through, but it's proof that while it may be easy to model yourself on Alex Turner or Pete Doherty the more interesting music is certainly being created by those pop acts outside the mainstream