“Empire” is so insane that I couldn’t tell you whether it’s any good or not. Shakira borrows half a dozen different vocal effects, invents a few of her own, ties them to some of the silliest lyrics you’ve ever heard, piles dramatic climax onto dramatic climax, and somehow makes it all work. In Shakira’s deranged delivery the line “and the stars make love to the universe” sounds silly, pretentious, illogical, and indescribably profound all once. I doubt there’ll be another moment quite like it all year. And I still don’t know if the record is any good.
You can hear elements of her great past—hints of “Bad Romance”, her flair for hooks and dance rhythms—but this is like a ghost of Gaga’s old self. The talent and craft are still there, but it’s hard to tell where her passion lies anymore. Not in creating cohesive pop songs, that’s for sure.
The Black Keys—“Fever”
Cut the length by about half (mostly by removing the last minute or so), remove most of the vocals and mix the organ up (yes, even higher up), and you could have the garage instrumental of The Black Keys’s dreams. Or maybe nightmares, which might explain why they screwed up a good idea so badly. Deep in their hearts they know what they’re doing is trash, but they’re too intellectualized to admit it.
Rixton—“Me and My Broken Heart”
Now that OneRepublic has become tolerable and The Fray and The Script have essentially disappeared, somebody had to step in and fill the vapidity gap. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Rixton.
B.o.B. featuring Priscilla—“John Doe”
Priscilla is a Rihanna wannabe who is only here because B.o.B. can’t afford, or can’t approach, the real thing. B.o.B. himself is a wannabe rap star who lucked into a couple of stunning features a few years ago (Bruno Mars and Haley Williams), and has been trying to recreate that luck with diminishing returns ever since. Here he cops to addiction, an honorable enough thing to do, but also a calculated career move. I would trust his confession more if he didn’t slip into a flow reminiscent of Eminem in the middle of it. Either he couldn’t come up with a flow of his own for the subject, which means he’s cheating or at least shortcutting his own emotions, or he’s lying. I’d bet on the first. It’s a misdemeanor at worst, but it still looks bad.
Properly arranged, the chorus here could be worthy of the Beach Boys. It isn’t properly arranged, though—there’s nothing daring in it—and it’s tied to the most godawful country rapping you’ve ever heard. And I bet Owen thinks he’s being brave releasing this as a single.
Tyler Farr—“Whiskey In My Water”
While one version of Farr goes “Redneck Crazy” and threatens to crash his truck into women’s bedrooms, the other likes to sit by the fire, unroll a lot of romantic cliches and get drunk on his darlin’s eyes. Which one to believe, I wonder.