As we ease, or force, our way into October, the release schedule continues to ramp up, and probably won’t ease off until Thanksgiving. It would be easier to be happy about this if the music were better. This week is a mixed bag, not just between different tracks but on the records themselves (nothing has exhilarated and disappointed me at the same time as much as the new P!nk single). Next week is more promising. Maybe I’ll feel better about rap by then.
Christina Aguilera—“Your Body”
Aguilera still oversings, and her love of meaningless bombast is undiminished, but “Your Body” is easily her best record since 2006. She sounds on top of things again, and her voice, which has deepened and toughened with the years, makes up for a lot of the oversinging. It’s also worth mentioning that she was onto EDM back in 2008, and though all the records she released in the style up until this one tanked, she was ahead of the curve. So far ahead, in fact, that now she’s behind. I have strong doubts about the message of this song, though. I have nothing against celebrations of sexual pleasure by women in the their mid-thirties, but the cougar-on-the-prowl idea has been overworked, the song lacks sensuality, and Aguilera’s sexual aggressiveness sounds forced and unpleasant.
The verses on “Try” are so beautiful that there’s a palpable let down when the track devolves into yet another of P!nk’s motivational choruses. Up until then, this is almost a textbook example of how experimental influences can be folded into pop music to create something both stunning and comfortably familiar. It’s one of the things pop is best at, but P!nk makes the mistake of not trusting her instincts and falling back on old ideas. In commercial terms, it will probably work, because no one else is better at this sort of thing, but “Try” could have been much more.
Swedish House Mafia featuring John Martin—“Don’t You Worry Child”
Have you ever wondered what Coldplay would sound like if they went the EDM route? Wonder no more.
Kanye West, R. Kelly—“To the World”
The beat is excellent, as always, and West politely gives R. Kelly the floor, limiting himself to a few of his usual boasts, allowing Kelly enough room to flip off the entire world. My only question: who gives a fuck? The level of willful self-delusion and fallacy on this record is unbelievable. Kelly talks like his inability to break a pop record anymore is all about his artistic principle and his determination to go his own way. But of course it isn’t. The quality of his music is as high as it ever was, and even flights of ridiculous fancy like the endless Trapped In the Closet wouldn’t put people off of him in large numbers if there weren’t other things to consider, like the fact that he videotaped himself peeing on a fourteen-year-old girl. Face it, Mr. Kelly, you are never going to live that down, and it has nothing to do with your talent or your artistic principle. Shut up. As for West, I await the day when he stops bragging about how rich he’s become and what a great artist he is and starts making some real art again. Besides, I don’t trust anyone who labels himself a tastemaker while foisting Big Sean on the world. That may be the greatest fuck you of them all.
Game featuring Chris Brown, Tyga, Wiz Khalifa & Lil Wayne—“Celebration”
At a certain point the quality of the beats, the flow, even the words, no longer matters. Just like country singers and their pickup trucks, I don’t care if I hear another rapper bragging about the high life ever again. There are always exceptions, of course, but this isn’t one of them. In its own way, “Celebration” is as soft and self-satisfied as a Jimmy Buffett record, only nowhere near as smart, and without a hint of irony.
Carly Rae Jepsen featuring Justin Bieber—“Beautiful”
Kiss is such a kaleidescope of pop styles that even an obvious Colbie Caillat/Jason Mraz imitation like “Beautiful” fits right in. It helps that it’s better than its influences in almost every way, and that Beiber sings as well as he ever has. The style is perfect for him (it should be, he wrote it), though I’m not sure it fits Jepsen as well as it might. Still, “Beautiful” is a good deal better than her pairing with Owl City.
Usher deserves credit for absorbing modern dance music into his style, but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s been paying as much attention to modern R&B. After Frank Ocean’s “Novocane” it’s hard to believe anyone would use the term numb as a symbol of personal liberation or sexual exploration. As far as Usher is concerned, though, you can’t really feel until you can’t feel your face, or something like that. He may just mean letting yourself be taken over by the music, but even then numb is the wrong word, especially on a record that drives as hard as this one. There are times when I think Usher doesn’t even know, or care, what he’s singing about, a major flaw when you consider your vocals as important as your beats. In the clubs no one is going to care, and the Swedish House Mafia beat is better than just about any David Guetta or Calvin Harris track you care to name, but the disconnect is still puzzling.
Kip Moore—“Beer Money”
Since country is embracing Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty these days, I suppose it makes sense to include John Mellencamp as well. But unless you’re imitating Mellencamp at his most inspired, all you’ll come up with is insipid pseudo-rock like this. The lyrics are clever in spots, and Moore’s last single, “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” was far better, so I’m not giving up on him completely, but he might want to aim his sights a little higher.
Greg Bates—“Did It For the Girl”
Love the intro, but it’s stolen from Smokey Robinson, and after that “I Did It For the Girl” turns ordinary fast. If you’re going to steal from the best, you may as well keep going. And a country version of “You Really Got A Hold On Me” could sound pretty good.