Taylor Swift—”Speak Now”
Another cute fairy tale, a song form at which Swift has become an absolute master. Sassy, funny, and sharply observed as always, only this one is streaked with some real bitterness, including details and descriptions that would be considered, um, mean coming from anyone else. As the title cut from the new album, it obviously serves as justification for the deeper anger that permeates some of the other songs. Like most fairy tales, however, this ends at the point of victory, and says nothing about the aftermath. Which makes me wonder if Swift, both as a character in her songs and as a real person, is ready for the tempest she’s stirring up.
Kanye West featuring Pusha T—”Runaway”
Ever since 808s and Heartbreak, and even more so since his disastrous VMA fuck-up, the main focus of Kanye West’s audience, and certainly the press, has been not his music, but his state of mind. Is he falling apart? Does he regret what he’s done? Will he apologize? Will the new record present a more humble, subdued Yeezy? The answers so far (No. Yes. Sort of. Are you kidding me?) are fascinating in their way, but they distract from the main point, which is the music. In the last three months he’s released two excellent official singles, plus a boatload of good to great tracks as part of the G.O.O.D. Friday download series, and all I read on the blogs and in comment sections is analysis of his emotional ups and downs, as if every new piece of music were nothing more than the latest installment in a soap opera: Kanye West and the Price of Fame or As the Rapper Yearns. Part of this is West’s fault—his self-absorption is far beyond the call of duty of even the most egotistical rappers—but at the same time he’s one of the few whose work lives up to their own hype. And even if the latest records break little new ground—“Power” harks all the way back to The College Dropout, while “Runaway” sounds like an 808s track with some pop sweetening—the ideas he’s already dug up would be enough to fuel any number of lifelong careers. If, that is, he doesn’t drive his into the ground by making music about nothing but himself. It’s a narrowing of the palette that few artists survive, no matter how brilliant they are. I just hope this album gets it all out of his system and he can go on to something else.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand”, #36
“One Of Us”, #37
“Only the Good Die Young”, #50
“Losing My Religion”, #60
“Papa Can You Hear Me?”, #65
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”, #73
“I Look To You”, #74
P!nk—”Raise Your Glass”
For a Max Martin-produced party record this is surprisingly stiff, never more so than in the throwaway vocal interjections that are supposed to provide that loose, freaky atmosphere (and all the jokes). It’s all far too calculated and machine-tooled, without a single moment left to chance. I don’t know if this is Martin’s fault or P!nk’s, but it sure isn’t freaky.
Bruno Mars—”The Lazy Song”
Dear Bruno Mars: You can be a pop guy with serious undertones, or you can be a serious guy with an instinctive pop sensibility, but you cannot be Jack Johnson with keyboards. Not if you want any respect, that is.
A Rocket To the Moon—”Like We Used To”
One of those records that’s upended by the details guys like this learn to put into their songs in their Songwriting 101 class. Pleading with an ex-girlfriend you caught naked in a car with somebody else fourteen months ago does not make you sensitive or passionate—it makes you a wimp. As does the music and the vocals.
Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina—”Stereo Love”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 10/10/10
David Guetta featuring Kid Cudi—”Memories”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 10/3/10
Shakira featuring Dizzee Rascal—”Loca”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 10/10/10
Justin Moore—”How I Got To Be This Way”
By being kicked in the head by a horse, apparently. This explains a lot.
Ne-Yo—”One In a Million”
This is the catchiest and most pop-oriented of the preview singles off Ne-Yo’s new album, which also means it’s the most familiar sounding and the most ordinary. Ne-Yo’s style and class set him apart from almost everybody else on the chart, but they also hold him back somehow. It feels as if he’s not telling us everything he could because he’s afraid of stepping outside of the image he’s concocted for himself. Maybe it’s time for him to be a little less of a gentleman, or at least find an outlet for the tension that stance implies.
Trace Adkins—”This Ain’t No Love Song”
In fact, it’s barely a song at all.
Luke Bryan—”Someone Else Calling You Baby”
Bryan is a decent, mid-level country singer, and this is interesting for being essentially 70s country pop with a more soulful, modern rock setting, The Bellamy Brothers turned up to 11. Past 11, actually, which is the problem.
Willow—”Whip My Hair”
This is far better than anyone had a right to suspect, and surprising, as well. Willow’s voice is literally unbelievable—it’s not just the strength, but the mature phrasing—if I hadn’t already known I never would have suspected her real age; I would have gone for thirty. The track is rougher than you’d think, as well, a poppified mix of electro and crunk that never lets up. Tougher than anything her dad ever did, that’s for sure.
My Darkest Days featuring Ludacris—”Porn Star Dancing”
With Nickleback’s Chad Kroeger as co-writer and co-producer doing his best 3Oh!3 impersonation, the presence of Ludacris helps this record achieve a perfect storm of demographic triangulation. The sheer commercial shamelessness of it almost makes its stripper pole sleaze appealing. Kind of catchy, too.
If it were anybody else turning to poker metaphors to describe their passion, I’d assume they were shooting for a country crossover, but these guys sound like the same old boring rockers they’ve always been. Only without hooks. It doesn’t mean much to go all in if all you’ve got left is a couple of bucks.