New this week—12/6/09

Lady GaGa
“Telephone” (featuring Beyonce), #30
“Speechless”, #94

Despite it’s honest origins—GaGa says it was inspired by her father’s initial refusal to seek medical treatment for a heart condition—or maybe because of them, “Speechless” is a terrible song. If she was going to pay homage to Elton John, couldn’t she have picked a better album than Blues Moves as a model? “Telephone”, however, is something else, an inspired comic character sketch that’s not only catchy as hell but a lot smarter and deeper than it first appears. Beyonce doesn’t add much—she sounds petulant rather than fed-up, which doesn’t quite fit the song—but she doesn’t hurt, either. And I have to admit I’m impressed by GaGa’s willingness to play the fool—though she does overstep a few times: that Grand Central Station line may be a little too dumb.

Young Money featuring Lloyd—”Bedrock”

I like the chorus and Lloyd’s Mr. Flinstone line, and it’s nice to hear a crew with a female rapper, but that’s about it. Even Lil Wayne sounds less than inspired. It goes on forever, too—what was it The Beastie Boys said about too many rappers?

Susan Boyle
“I Dreamed A Dream”, #62
“Wild Horses”, #98

The story of Susan Boyle holds such fascination that it’s hard not to wonder if the million people who have bought her album so far actually care what it sounds like. Her voice is interesting if only because, for a woman in her forties, it’s surprisingly girlish. Physically she sounds strong and mature, but her phrasing is often that of an adolescent—she’d be perfect for a guest spot on Glee. Her song choices seem eccentric at first, as well—“Wild Horses”, “Daydream Believer”, Madonna, Patti Griffin’s “Up To the Mountain” (which I’m willing to bet she first heard when Kelly Clarkson performed it on American Idol two years ago; her phrasing echoes Clarkson’s almost exactly)—but she reduces the tempo on most of the songs so much that the melodies all but disappear; they all sound like they came from an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. I’m as touched by Boyle’s story as anyone, but she either doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or doesn’t really understand what most of these songs are about (especially “Wild Horses”, which is incomprehensible vocally—she slurs the lyrics even more than Jagger—and emotionally). The paradox is that if she understood what she was singing about, her story wouldn’t exist. Her well-documented emotional inexperience is at the root of her fairy tale, which would be impossible without it, but it doesn’t make for compelling music.

Beyonce faturing Lady GaGa—”Videophone”

The spaghetti-western intro is a bit much, but for the most part this is Beyonce doing what Beyonce does best: luring young men to their doom. As a Siren no one can touch her, not even Lady Gaga, who shows up somewhere in the middle and contributes nothing but a touch of off-color kinkiness. If Beyonce ever put a whole album of this kind of stuff together, half the country’s male population would explode by the end of the fourth track. I’m surprised she hasn’t tried it.

Glee Cast
“True Colors”, #66
“Imagine”, #67

Awful as usual—to be honest I couldn’t get through a single listening of either one. What may be even worse for the show is that these song choices suggest the writers have already run out of ideas—and they haven’t even finished the first season yet.

Chris Brown—”Crawl”

Brown’s first stage of his career rehabilitation, “I Can Transform Ya”, has stalled on the charts (it’s selling well enough but it’s dying on radio), so here he shifts gears with an attempt at an uplifting power ballad. Clever in it’s way, but nothing you haven’t heard before. Despite it’s universalist tone, however, it seems to be directed not towards the downtrodden of the earth but towards a certain former partner in a collapsed relationship: “We can crawl back to love”, he assures her. I understand his motivation, but you have to wonder just how long Brown’s audience will be willing to watch him squirm. Another single as lame as this and we’ll have our answer.

Timbaland featuring Nelly Furtado & SoShy—”Morning After Dark”

This is a well-crafted piece of nonsense that doesn’t take off the way it should. It sounds like they had a lot of fun making it, but there’s too much going on and the track gets weighed down by trickery. I sure would like to know what “When the cats come out the bats come out to play” means, though.

Birdman featuring Drake & Lil Wayne—”4 My Town (Play Ball)”

I don’t understand why Birdman isn’t a bigger star. He has Lil Wayne’s full support, and his records, though not revolutionary in any way, are inventive and and clever enough to get your full attention, at least as long as the song is playing. They do tend to fade from memory quickly when they’re over, though. This is his best since “Always Strapped”, but at this point I’m not sure that’s going to make much difference, even with Lil Wayne and Drake providing decent guest spots.

Francesca Battistelli—”It’s Your Life”

More helpful homilies layered in pop cliches from a contemporary Christian singer. Not sure what kind of Christian she is, though: on her website she quotes E.M. Forster, who was not only a self-declared humanist, but gay. He also wasn’t Jesus, who isn’t quoted anywhere on the site. She does disrespect Forster somewhat by misspelling his name, but I don’t think that will cut her any slack with the fundamentalist crowd.

Trace Adkins—”All I Ask For Anymore”

Extra-strength country sentimentality with added vocal syrup. I’m sure Adkins is sincere in his way, but the Sunday-school-like chorus is shameless, and when he lowers the baritone boom at the end all I can do is laugh.

Billy Currington—”That’s How Country Boys Roll”

Did you know that country boys like pickup trucks, fishing, chewing tobacco, George Jones, and their mama? Me neither. Thanks for letting us know, Billy. You can go back to the holla now.