Taylor Swift—“Out Of The Woods”
The album may be called 1989, but the real source, for this song at least, is 1965 and the melodramatic girl-group sound of the Shangri-las. The wistful, echoing background vocals, the bracing shifts in dynamics, the car crash climax: all the parts are there, modernized just enough to make them seem contemporary (which is a weakness, since what they really are is timeless). None of this necessarily makes “Out of the Woods” a great song—most of the Shangri-las’ weren’t, and this inherits and continues the style’s overwrought shallowness—but I appreciate the recognition of a great tradition. Who knows, once the heat of Swift’s career has cooled down, this may seem as good a record as “The Train From Kansas City”.
Nico & Vinz—“In Your Arms”
The music, despite its African influence, is pleasant but nothing more, and the melody is uninspired. The lyrics, though, are something else, tracing as they do the shrinking opportunities of a young man’s life until he’s left with nothing but the boring nine to five. Everything is fine, though, as long as he can lay in his lover’s arms. This is sweet in its way, and the realism a surprise, but the music is too bland to drive the point home. Still a deeper song than you’d expect, especially at this moment in pop history.
Jessie J Featuring 2 Chainz—“Burnin’ Up”
I know I’m not supposed to use the word “strident” when referring to female singers, but what other adjective applies? Sharp? Shrill? Stabbing? Jessie J takes her readymade pop so seriously that she forces all the fun out of it and beats you half to death with her stiletto heels in the process. 2 Chainz, meanwhile, tries to turn himself into Pitbull but only makes it halfway to Flo Rida.
Glen Campbell—“I’m Not Gonna Miss You”
A song about fading into Alzheimer’s by an artist who actually is fading into Alzheimer’s, and, yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds. Maybe more so, due to the creakiness of Campbell’s voice and the bland arrangement. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect. Whatever you might think of “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” or even the fact that Campbell recorded it, there’s no doubt that the honesty is brutal. Campbell knows that it’s selfish to be glad that he’ll never notice his loved ones’ pain as he fades away, but he can’t help thinking of it as a blessing. The problem is, he may be wrong. He may very well see and feel their pain but never be able to express it. That’s the dark undercurrent of tragedy that gives the song its depth and resonance, and it’s doubled by the fact that we may never know whether Campbell intended it or not.
Bobby Shmurda—“Bobby Bitch”
Successfully following up a viral hit is a near impossibility, so it makes sense for Shmurda to strike while the iron is still in the top ten. This is mediocre at best, though, built on a beat that seems to have wandered its way here from 2004 or so. Those horror-movie synth-strings don’t carry quite the same menace anymore.
The voice is decent but nothing special, the music willfully obscure, the lyrics banal when not offensive (and sometimes even then). And yet this guy has been an indie darling for a few years now. I’d like to think there’s a disconnect in there somewhere, but I’m afraid there isn’t.
Lee Brice—“Drinking Class”
The audience pandering is so thick you almost miss the pretension built into the arrangement, which consists largely of a mixture of humming and grunting by a choir made up entirely, I assume, of good ol’ boys. If there was an actual song attached it might be interesting. All “Drinking Class” really does, by replacing the rhyming word “ass” with the off-rhyme “backs”, is prove what a chickenshit Brice is.