Coldplay featuring Rihanna—”Princess of China”
The grander the statement, the vaguer and more ordinary the music becomes. Rihanna adds nothing, because there’s nothing to be added to. In the context of the album the lyrics might make sense—though I wouldn’t count on that—but on their own they skirt the ridiculous. The hooks and the overall grandeur of the sound just make things worse; it’s all show, no content.
Toby Keith—”Red Solo Cup”
A funny record that both celebrates redneck drinking and skewers it at the same time. It comes dangerously close to a throwaway comedy sketch, but Keith makes sure it’s a real song, and his delivery, both comically and musically, is flawless. Which only increases my sense of frustration. To follow up a record as blinkered and patronizing as “Made In America” with one as friendly yet satiric as this? How many Toby Keiths are their anyway? And couldn’t the good one hang around a little longer?
Bow Wow featuring Lil Wayne—”Sweat”
I like the music, but the raps, especially Bow Wow’s, are pure cliche. As is Wayne’s, except it’s a cliche built on the kind of raps he was doing six or seven years ago. It’s all Wayne, but it’s not a new Wayne. Eventually, the cliches wear out the welcome of the music, and you’re left with nothing.
Justin Bieber featuring Usher—”Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
Not terrible, but Bieber, for all his new found “maturity”, over-vocalizes in a juvenile manner, while Usher leans too heavily on the show-biz warmth he’s a master of. I’ll stick with Nat “King” Cole, thank you very much.
Kelly Clarkson—”What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”
I wish I liked this more, but for all of Clarkson’s strengths as a vocalist there isn’t much she can make of this song, which is essentially a gussied up version of “Since You Been Gone”. It doesn’t flow dynamically or build like “Gone” though; it settles in at a certain volume level and stays there, leaving Clarkson with nothing to bounce her vocals off of. Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff Clarkson seems to like. When she has material that allows her to vary her voice and take advantage of both her timbre and her emotional and vocal range she’s one of the best pop singers around; when she doesn’t she’s just another shouter
Florence + The Machine—”Shake It Out”
I’m impressed by the production, which starts with a big sound that gets even bigger as it goes along, and there’s a kernel of real emotion and a good hook somewhere under all the drums and blare and Florence’s multi-tracked vocals. A lot of people bring up Annie Lennox as a comparison, but this is more like Bonnie Tyler, or what Kate Bush might sound like if she were produced by Jim Steinman. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but it is a bit of a mess.
Wale featuring Miguel—Lotus Flower Bomb”
Wale can be clever, such as the moment near the end where he sings the vowels (“Ahhh, A, E, I-O-Ooooh”), but too much of this is ordinary, and Miguel adds nothing, including a hook.
The Black Keys—”Lonely Boy”
I can understand the appeal of these guys: they provide straightforward funk ‘n’ roll without all the masculine preening and posturing, and Dangermouse’s production adds enough of a modern touch to keep them from turning into an indie Sha Na Na. But this is still nothing more than basic, well-produced blues-based boogie. And on the intro, which sounds like the soundtrack to Coney Island Hipster Beach Party, they are the indie Sha Na Na.
Kaskade featuring Neon Trees—”Lessons In Love”
Not to be confused with Cascada, of course, or any other dance pop band featuring loud, fuzzy synths and slow climbs up a chromatic scale passed off as solos. I do like the unpolished sound of the vocals, though; they actually keep me listening.
Hunter Hayes—”Storm Warning”
Twenty years old, a former child-actor and already a full-time country hack, you can hear Hayes trying hard to sound like his heroes, who in this case appear to be Rascal Flatts. His phrasing makes him sound like he’s sixteen, though, with a lot to learn in the vocal department. Not to mention the originality department, though I doubt if he’s much interested in that one.
Justin Moore—”Bait A Hook”
Sometimes I have a hard time telling all the Justins and Jasons and Jerrods apart, and this song is one reason why. There’s not a hint of originality or personality in the music, the lyrics (the third country hit in the last three months to emphasize fishing), or the vocals. The occasional hints of sexual jealousy are interesting, but the country chauvinism is strictly by the book and the stereotyping of city boys plain stupid. As anonymous as they come.