Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad: Princess Chelsea ‘The Cigarette Duet’

Every week, a panel of writers for The Corner will focus on a bunch of recently released local singles and grade them. We call it Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad. Read through the panelists thoughts below and let us know what you think of the song in the comments section.

[YouTube / Lil’ Chief]

[Grade: 7.7]

Luke Warm: I like the video, very suburban surrealist. But I’m not here to rate the video, unfortunately because it was the best part. This song is half-assed novelty, and a bore at that. It’s exquisite but, and totally slick and shit t t t t z z z z z. That Jonathan is pretty cute. [10]

Petra Jane: It’s attention to the details that makes a great song. Little things, like the way the deep surf-cowboy guitar and chiming xylophone echo the he-said/she-said call-and-response, and how the competing boy/girl vocals sync up at the end of each bit. And more importantly, the fact that the last note of the intro is deliberately held way too long, just to make reference to an obscure internet joke. Pretty clever for a girl. [7]

Michael McClelland: Not what I’d call the strongest track on the album, but it’s a good introduction for the curious. It really doesn’t sound like anything else coming out of New Zealand at the moment. I can’t figure out if Chelsea is ahead of the times or just behind them, but either way, she knows how to do it. The lyrics are dumb and fun (sometimes funny: “She’s gonna get a smack, and I’m gonna give you three”) sitting nicely above the ethereal tones of an amazingly produced bedroom recording. Some people might call it grating, but so much can easily be overlooked – the playful storybook basslines and carnival organ sounds are what I see as a powerful tool of originality, not a naivity-fond annoyance. The guitar solo is a little weak, maybe, but I’d wage that all instrumental shortcomings are made up for by that spacey arpeggiated sound spiralling towards the end. The video is crafted just as perfectly (and hilariously) as the song inexplicably is. All together, it’s not the best thing I’ve heard but it’s still better than everything else at the moment. I’m going to listen to the album. [8]

Matthew McAuley: This is pretty similar (duh) to The Brunettes. This sort of thing obviously isn’t rocket science, but without the self-control evident here it’s pretty easy to accidentally get way cheesy, which is when you end up at number one for twenty weeks or whatever (doh). Chelsea’s delivery on this is better than I’ve heard it on anything before, and J. Bree does what J. Bree always does. I like the guitar solo. I feel like I should think this is redundant, but for some reason I don’t. So yeah, good stuff. [6]

Isobel Cairns: This is light and tinkly. Too much light? Too much tinkle? Never mind. If everyone’s arguments sounded like this the world could be a better place. [8]

Tim Gentles: Both too cute and just cute enough. [7]

Dan Taipua: The duet is a lost art form in pop music, especially so the domestic duet. It’s revival on Lil’ Chief records makes sense since about 70% of their output reflects the heavy influence of Americana, and the remaining 30% meticulously documents an obsession with it. Critic comparisons with ‘Nancy & Lee’ aren’t unfounded, but they’re really just shorthand for the vast history of country-flavoured duets that no one can be bothered getting into – thematically, ‘Cigarette Duet’ is way off Hazelwood and Sinatra’s material.
Even though I’d heard Chelsea play live about a dozen times I’d never really clicked to her gimmick, the infantilist aesthetic – it just weirds me out when adults act like kids. I figured that was a pretty crappy attitude though, so I bought her album (US$6.66) to get a better idea about why she went with it/how she uses it. Turns out that it’s a great device to scrutinize people she hates; it’s easy to put morality on your side if you’re telling a children’s story.
In ‘Cigarette Duet’ the woman-child device/thing highlights how ridiculous it is for a grown man to tell off an adult woman – there’s a clear sense that Jonathan ‘getting cross’ is just as ridiculous and infantile as the phrase ‘getting cross’. You can tell he’s less interested in Chelsea’s health than he is in racking up smug points, and she just wants him to STFU so she can have a smoke. The recording is excellent and crystal clear in 320k, the singing is perfectly matched, the spacey intro and outro hold up, the duet sing-over-each-other-with-different-lyrics-according-to-outlook thing is in there – it’s a great song. Also, Chelsea wears a wicked Man of Colours tee on the cover of the single #IvaDaviesAllDay [8]


  1. c oo k says:

    great use of paragraphs dan.

  2. Michael McClelland says:

    petra – what’s the obscure internet joke? dying to know

    • The album/download version is 4 minutes 20 seconds. Co-incidence?

    • Noodle says:

      @Michael – I think she’s implying that the note is drawn out to extend the overall song length (audio file, not video) to 4:20.

      Personally I like the long note, independently of the possible weed joke.

  3. Chris says:

    Good shit Chelsea rulz and this song is awesome.

  4. Dan Taipua’s review here is one of the best I’ve ever read as part of this feature, insofar as it highlights an aspect of Chelsea’s music I hadn’t previously considered. Great stuff. I feel compelled to point out that it contains a ‘your/ you’re’ discrepancy though. Ok, I’m getting out of here before people start ranting about nepotism.

  5. What an absolute surprise that the panel all rated another panelists song so highly…this truly is becoming obscene.

    The amount of back slapping & high fives from the comments is enough to keep reading…hilarious.

    • Noodle says:

      Yeah, it is a bit dodgy to review a panel member’s song, but I have to say the high ratings are justified this time.

      No idea why Luke Warm is still on the panel though. Dude can’t even make half-sense any more. If you want a token troll, call up Grant.

  6. I liked the Eden’s Bar/ Myspace era stuff, sneaky sneaky dog friend was a neat song. I’m on the right track here, right? I was quite open to hearing Chelsea’s stuff because I thought she was funny on myspace and uhh had a “quirky alt brand”. #nepotism

    But I guess we all have to grow up sometime, maybe make some “proper music”. I really like the recording and the instrument sounds, guitar sounds great. The Nancy and Lee thing, Brunettes is a bit laboured and I never really connected with it, is that kind of the whole lil chief vibe? It’s still better than a lot of cutesy stuff you might hear on B. It’s got a kind of an Alan Ball vibe in there somewhere, I won’t say Elfman. I can see why she gets sync placements. I think if it went a bit dirtier a bit more noirish, a bit more nyc, a bit of Jonathan Richman in there maybe I’d be quite into it. I love that tune “hospital” it’s dark and sad and has childlike imagery and a sad crusty organ, so I thought of it.

  7. Chelsea smokes a cigarette like someone who doesn’t really like smoking, instead enjoying the artifice involved. It’s all about image and perception – we’ll roll over the surface of things – and so is her music. This isn’t an especially bad thing. Some of indie rocks more iconic figures have built entire careers from that (Stephin Merrit springs to mind) and people often mix up sincerity of purpose with sincerity of content. I have a real disdain for cutsie pop and run for the hills every time I hear some earnestly doe eyed, gawky female with a bob cut and over sized cardigan coo sweetly about animals under her bed. It’s that old adage; if you have to call yourself a lady, you probably ain’t. So if you have to call yourself weird, you probably ain’t. And that’s where Princess Chelsea excels. This song frees itself from those burdens because it’s all about construct. So it’s easy to appreciate the pleasing melody, the clever (but not too clever) lyrics and the bedsit musicality. I disagree with others on panel. I think this song is just a natural evolution of her early stuff. Just because something sounds rough or dirty, doesn’t automatically give it integrity. If there’s a criticism, it’s that Princess Chelsea’s kind of shtick doesn’t cut it once you’re over the age of thirty. Here’s hoping for some sort of artistic evolution once she bears child and has to worry about paying the mortgage. Combine those sorts of universal, every man themes with her ‘kooky’ sound and she’ll really have something special.


    • Oh man that line about “once she bears child” may be the best thing on the internet all day.

    • late30sguy says:

      i do agree with some of what Grant is saying. im not a fan of Princess Chelsea’s childlike image and as an ‘adult’ myself i can appreciate a track like this for it’s production values and musicality but all in all its nothing more to me than a smile inducing ditty. same goes for gimmicky tracks like monkey eats bananas (which my kids love). i did however purchase the album on bandcamp out of curiosity and i have to say was quite impressed by the lyrics to a number of other tracks on the album – in particular quite floored by this track overseas if she could grow up a little bit and deliver an albums worth of tracks of this calibre, theres no telling what she could do.

  8. I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again, no-one tells it like it

  9. Noodle says:

    Interesting that this kind of works both as an anti-smoking song and as a satire poking fun of smug, condescending anti-smokers. The guitar solo and intro have been criticised above but I think the instrumental is flawless. The song is fantastic all round. [9]

  10. Zing! Chelsea rulz – I’ve been hearing slight Jonathan Richman vibes throughout Li’l Golden Book, surely a good thing… something about Monkey Eats Bananas reminds me of the Modern Lovers’ Egyptian Reggae.

  11. Famous Producer/Writer says:

    Hello. I enjoy writing about music. Sometimes my small band of friends and I get together on our website and write about the music we’ve listened to that day. We’re quite a varied bunch, all from chequered backgrounds, some are rich, most are middle class, lol of course there are a few poor people as well. We don’t like class discrimination around here, Sir. Oh no! we don’t like that, Mrs

    One thing we are all united on is our passion for music. So as you can see we’re a mix of quirky people with lots of differing views, ok some of our views can be directly influenced by our social background – but I personally think this makes for the perfect mix. I enjoy the banter. I guess you could say we’re all very competitive when it comes to offering our views about bands & songs, it certainly makes thing’s interesting for our reader. Many times we’ve been accused of using flowery nonsensical bullshit to describe our views, just HATERS! There are some strong competitive ego’s, it can get tiresome, trust me. And enough about us personally, nobody cares about the faces behind the words.

    One thing we all agree on is that we really do love Quirky Pop. We really do love this song by Princess Chelsea. We collectively rate this song QUIRKY.

    (BTW, none of us know Princess Chelsea IRL. She is no way related to any of us, as i have heard she is MEGA RICH.)

  12. Michael McClelland says:

    well i dunno about the rest of you guys, but i only gave chelsea a high score because she’s a WRITER on THIS WEBSITE

    • I don’t think the implication is that people on the panel would blatantly score friends higher due to personal relationships. But does a little (or, in this case, a lot) of prior personal interaction mean that the panelist may subconsciously, or heaven forbid consciously, give the song being reviewed a bit more leeway, a bit more of a decent spin, a bit more of a sympathetic ear. What may deserve a five may get bumped up to a 7 purely on account of some subtle nepotism. I think The Cigarette Duet is a good track, but do I honestly believe that it’s so good that every person on panel thinks it’s great, despite their usually wildly differing tastes and opinions? Maybe not so much.

      • kthnx says:

        I hear where yr coming from. I don’t think something necessarily gets ‘bumped up’, but when compared to something the reviewers approach cold I can imagine it would perhaps get more of a fair go if it wasn’t that great. Conflicts of interests basically impossible to avoid in NZ tho

      • Michael McClelland says:

        yeah i think there’s no doubt about this on a subconscious level. it happens. but you know what, if dane rumble were a writer on the panel we’d have to review his music just the same.

        you can’t not review something, is what i’m saying.

  13. bi-stander says:

    Same goes for the NZ Herald, Graham Reid, Dominion Post, Radio New Zealand, and Sunday Star Times – they only gave her album glowing reviews because she sometimes writes for the corner. FACT – this song is #1 on bfm because she sometimes writes for the corner.

  14. chelsea says:

    sup grant

  15. Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra says:

    Hello. I hope we find you all in good health. Just wanted to wish Princess Chelsea good luck with her #1 smash hit ‘The Cigarette Duet’. Of course, as some have pointed out, there are a few similarities between our original song ‘Some Velvet Morning’ and the #1 NZ songstresses smash hit.

    I’d (Nancy) just like to point out we’re honestly not bitter if Princess Chelsea might have taken our idea and worked her own magic to create a similar song. Not at all. And I agree with Nancy, we’re both cool with Princess Chelsea and hope nothing but success for the future.

    So à bientôt from us both, yours ever loving Lee & Nancy <3

  16. anonymous says:

    So Chelsea is the new Heather?

    • not really….. do you mean because she’s female? this track is the only time she sings a duet with jonathan bree ….

Leave a Reply to Michael McClelland Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *