Hot 100 Roundup—11/7/10

Ke$ha—“We R Who We R”

Far too reminiscent of “Tik Tok”, only with half the jokes, half the hooks, and a lot less appeal, which leaves you with almost nothing at all. A sop to her fans, and an obvious one, at that.

Taylor Swift
“Sparks Fly”, #17
“Innocent”, #27
“The Story Of Us”, #41
“Dear John”, #54
“Better Than Revenge”, #56
“Haunted”, #63
“Last Kiss”, #71
“Enchanted”, #75
“Never Grow Up”, #84
“Live Long”, #85

What I’m about to say may sound petty, as if I’m just looking for something to criticize in the face of the almost universal adoration of Swift and Speak Now. But it needs to be said. These are all good songs, some of them excellent (though none as good as the preview singles that have come out over the last month), and Swift performs them with an intelligence and emotion that few can match. All the same, this is one of the worst produced pop albums I’ve ever heard. Whether it’s the production itself, the arrangements, or the fact that they’ve been mastered at too high a volume, most of these tracks sound over-loud and shrill, lacking dynamics and bottom, and I find it impossible to listen to more than three or four at a time. This may not be Swift’s fault. Even though she’s credited as co-producer she may not have had a lot of control over the final mastering process, which is 90% of the problem. My worry is that it’s all intentional, that the shiny sound is meant to be a match for Swift’s shiny dresses and golden hair and the whole fairytale aura she surrounds herself—or at least her career—in. She may be more of a Stevie Nicks imitator than most of those who champion her would care to admit. She writes wonderful songs, and the fairytale imagery and plot-lines are disappearing from her lyrics, which is a good sign, but you have to listen past the production in order to hear them. Time for a new producer, if not a re-think of her entire musical approach.

Chris Brown—“Yeah XXX”

This is, admittedly, Brown’s best record since “Forever”, but of course that’s not saying much. Once you’ve made a record like “Douches” “Deuces”, there’s no way to go but up. The only interesting thing about this record is the fact that, considering Brown was once a hip-hop star, it isn’t hip-hop at all. It’s more like a heavily edited early ’90s hardcore dance track, and when I say heavily edited I mean one with all the hooks removed.

Rascal Flatts—“I Won’t Let Go”

It’s hard not to be impressed by an act that’s been as successful as this one has been at rewriting other people’s hits. Last time it was Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance”; this time, for a change of pace, it’s The Pretenders’s “I’ll Stand By You”. They barely even bother changing the chorus, just the title. It’s like a karaoke contest where you get to make up your own lyrics as you go along.

Kid Cudi—“Mr. Rager”

Easily Cudi’s best record since “Day ‘n’ Night”, and about roughly the same thing—getting wasted—only from a different perspective. The lonely stoner of the earlier song got wasted to get away from his problems; “Mr. Rager” suggests getting wasted is the problem, though it wisely doesn’t say so straight out. Cudi may be too subtle, though. The record lacks any real tension or sense of emotion, as if the guy were already wiped out and not just considering the possibility. If Mr. Rager is intended to be some sort of Pied Piper, it doesn’t work. There’s no suggestion that anything is being risked, that anything can be lost. I understand what Cudi is getting at, but somehow it doesn’t work.

Ne-Yo—“One In A Million”

Reviewed in Bubbliing Under, 10/17/10

Luke Bryan—“Someone Else Calling You Baby”

Reviewed in Bubbliing Under, 10/17/10

Bubbling Under:

Chris Young—“Voices”

This and the earlier “The Man I Want To Be” paint Young as a concerned, spiritual soul, yearning to live up to an image of manhood taken straight from the Bible, age-old rural wisdom, and whatever his management and record label say will make him a star. All artists pander to their audience to some extent, but Young jumps in with both feet, and he’s a master at it. Either that or this steaming pile of crap is proof that the voices in his head don’t give him a single original idea, or even tell him to choose decent songs.