Plain White T’s — “1,2,3,4”

Released: 1.16.09

Peak: #34

Tom Higgenson is the kind of drip who considers “Times Square can’t shine as bright as you” a poetic compliment. But he’s also the kind of drip who can sing that line with such an easygoing ache that you don’t have to be a teenage girl to imagine he means it. He may even be the kind of drip who did mean it. And in 2007, he and Plain White T’s emerged as the kind of long-struggling drips whose hard-won success seemed a pleasant fluke. “Hey There Delilah” contrasted charmingly with the Adult Contemporary competition, its homely, credible longing showing up the made-for-CW melodrama of the Fray’s “How to Save a Life” and the rote sentiment of Daughtry’s “Home.”

As is the nature of flukes, Plain White T’s seemed unlikely to repeat the feat. Sure enough, two years after the T’s breakthrough, the simplicity and directness of “1,2,3,4” (“There’s only one thing, to do, three words, for you: I love you”) proved less seductive to pop audiences than the deep, deep thoughts of the Fray’s “You Found Me” or Daughtry’s “What About Now.” (And unlike Feist, the T’s counting never showed them how to get to Sesame Street.) But “1,2,3,4” genuinely improves on the original template, feeling more effortless and offhand even than “Delilah.” The swelling strings sound as intimate as the plucked guitar melody, and the keyboard imitating a calliope or pennywhistle or whatever never intrudes.

Cornball, for sure, adorable, for damn sure, and with a video even more cornball and adorable: As Higgenson busks solo in Chicago, cute captions explain how each couple watching him originally met. That sort of manipulative shtick could sell enough jewelry to decimate an entire West African country come Christmas time. Instead it’s peddling an even more insidious commodity: true love. And yet, the fantasy is appealing. Maybe it’s not your thing. But if you out-and-out hate this song, I bet you trip first-graders when they’re running to catch the school bus.

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