New this week

Mary J Blige featuring Drake—”The One”

As good as it was to know that Blige had found marital happiness, her odes to her man and their relationship didn’t sell very well, so here she toughens up, brings in a ringer, and delivers a rip off of “A Milli” that, if nowhere as good as the original, is still a lot better than Beyonce’s. Drake, whose part seems to have been stuck in as an afterthought, adds nothing but sales power.

Michael Franti & Spearhead—”Say Hey (I Love You)”

Despite the lyrical references to dancehall and production by reggae legends Sly and Robbie, this sounds more New Orleans than Jamaica to me, not that that ‘s a bad thing. It also sounds more Jack Johnson than Franti, which is. There’s something frustratingly automatic about this record in it’s sunny brightness, something a little too perfect, as if everybody were being careful to only color within the lines.

Demi Lovato—”Catch Me”

Lovato’s vocal affectations—the short sharp breaths at the end of phrases, the cracking teen falsetto that at times makes her sound like a 12-year-old—can be so irritating that it’s easy to forget how well they fit the song’s subject: romantic confusion and barely tempered longing. Needless to say, that irritant also acts as a hook, and Lovato oozes innocent charm even as she’s overtaken by lust (though she would never call it that).  She’s no Taylor Swift, but she’s not quite your run of the mill Disney pop princess, either. Of course, that might just be a part of the Mouse’s marketing plan.

Beastie Boys featuring Nas—”Too Many Rappers”

“Grandpa been rapping since ’83.” They’ve lost a few steps over the years, of course, and the clever rhymes and disses don’t flow as freely as they used to, but the beats still thunder, and they’re still smarter and wiser than most. But aging rappers are no less of a conundrum than aging rock stars, and I’m not sure they should waste their time dissing the Black Eyed Peas, no matter how cleverly they manage it. Once they start yelling at kids to get off their lawn, it’s over.

Zac Brown Band—”Toes”

This is the first Jimmy Buffet rip-off (or homage I guess you could call it) I’ve heard that captures Buffet’s laid-back smarts at their best, catchy tunes, silly rhymes, and all. Unfortunately, the silliest rhyme (“care-o” and “dinero”) draws on a feeling of good ol’ boy privilege in a foreign land that comes across as just short of racism.  Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, but this sense of rural superiority (rural meaning good old American values, of course, whatever they are), even, or especially, when drunk or stoned, is one of the things that’s most irritating about current country music, and this song, despite all its charms, strikes me as stepping over the line.

Jeremih—”Imma Star (Everywhere We Are)”

I’m still not sold on “Birthday Sex” except as camp, but building a cut as artful as this one based on nothing but variations on the hook from Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” demonstrates real talent on the make. His phrasing and timing are near-perfect, and there are lyrical moments that suggest he may have more brains than “Birthday Sex” let on. But on only his second single he’s already rapping about how famous he is. Not a good sign.

Beyonce—“Sweet Dreams”

Not bad, but underneath the drums and the low warbling synth is one hell of a corny song. Whenever I hear the male backup singers going “Ho!” in the background I have visions of a dream sequence from some big Hollywood musical from the fifties, full of garish Technicolor and energetic dancers seen only in silhouette, a no-expenses-spared mixture of conspicuous class and pure hokum. That’s entertainment, I guess.

Mat Kearney—“Closer To Love”

I usually try to avoid the “Artist 1 + Artist 2 = Artist 3” formulation when I’m reviewing records, but “Closer To Love” is so lacking in any distinguishing characteristics of its own that it’s unavoidable. So, The Fray + Leona Lewis = Mat Kearney. Sometimes pop really is just formula.