You know popular music’s going through one of its periodic troughs when Michael Head puts his name to an uninspiring record. The man who perfected the indie guitar band rulebook when his Shack franchise (belatedly) released the "Waterpistol" album, then shot that rulebook off into the stratosphere with his magnum opus "The Magical World Of The Strands" has somehow managed to make a complete hash of releasing his bestest song (and there’s a healthy degree of competition with a pensmith as talented as this) as a single. This 7" features not the soaring, majestic take on "Somethin’ Like You" to be found on the Strands album but an inferior bungling of same, recorded without the string arrangement so vital to the song’s emotional core. Here guitars are strummed listlessly to fill up the instrumental break, and the listener is left to fill in the gaps with karaoke-style string section impressions. The flipside, "Green Velvet Jacket", is scarce compensation: yes, it’s a completely new Michael Head song, for which we should be eternally grateful, but as a sparse, folky, acoustic device it doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing. To add injury to insult, there should’ve been a third track on the single, a new recording of the "Magical World Of The Strands" opener "Queen Matilda", but all reference to it has been inked out on the sleeve and it’s conspicuously absent from the vinyl. Then again, given the vandalism perpetrated on the title track maybe that’s no bad thing.

MICHAEL HEAD Somethin' Like You (Megaphone)

This is the CD version of the 7" vinyl single I reviewed a few issues back. Maybe my critical faculties are napping at the moment, but I can’t see what irked me so much about this string-section-less remake of Michael Head’s finest moment (which originally appeared on the divine "Magical World Of The Strands" album) back then. Maybe it’s the subsequent realisation – thanks to the "NME Premier Live" shows that were on Channel 4 during February – that this version closely approximates the live Shack sound (Shack being Michael Head’s main franchise, shortly to release their first album in eight years). Whatever this take on "Somethin’ Like You" is at least the second best version I own of my favourite Michael Head song, which immediately elevates it to genius status. Not as good, but again better than I remembered it to be, is the acoustic whimsy of "Green Velvet Jacket", which is followed by the unique selling point of this CD single, a demo of "Queen Matilda", another "Magical World Of The Strands" highpoint. I can’t think of any other song released this decade that seems so timeless – part sea shanty, part traditional folk ballad, part love song, the imagery may be all vague talk of fog and ships, but it seems absolutely right, completely ageless, as does the instrumentation, just acoustic guitars and flute. Whether or not Michael Head ever receives the recognition that, in a perfect would, his incredible songwriting talent would garner, those in the know will always have the evidence, of which this single, along with the "Waterpistol" and "Magical World Of The Strands" albums (as well as, we can hope, the imminent new opus "HMS Fable") is yet another example.