Praising Eminem’s technical skills is like praising a high speed juggler or a savant who can instantly calculate the day of the week for whatever date you give him: what they do is impressive, but it doesn’t mean much. Eminem has reached the point where he’s all technique. On “Rap God” he changes up the flow half a dozen times, and each achieves a higher level of difficulty, but what he has to say is no different from what he was saying fifteen years ago–the same complaints, the same brags, the same jokes. He’s as empty as any other machine.
Justin Bieber—“All That Matters”
The main thing wrong with Justin Bieber’s records is Bieber himself. People forget that he started his career doing Chris Brown imitations (among others) and he seems to have inherited all of Brown’s worst vocal mannerisms and then added a few of his own. The beats Bieber chooses, though, aren’t anywhere near as good or eccentric as Brown’s. He’s playing it safe, either in fear of alienating his fan base or in realization that his talent isn’t all that great. Then again, maybe he’s just lazy.
Alison Gold—“Chinese Food”
My only interest in this dumb but catchy joke is just whose joke it is. Did Gold walk into Ark Music Factory and ask them to write a song about Chinese food, or did Patrice Wilson already have one sitting on the shelf? The first possibility is most likely, because the second one is mindboggling. The idea of Wilson trying to dream up songs he thinks teenagers will want to sing and coming up with “Chinese Food” is so ridiculous, and yet so charming, that it’s irresistible. Does he have a stockpile of tracks about taqueria trucks, bubble tea, and doughnut shops as well? Favorite hangouts, malls, and clothing stores? Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat? This could become a genre all it’s own. Which would make Wilson some kind of genius. But chances are Gold just thought it would be funny to sing about Chinese food.
Avril Lavigne featuring Chad Kroeger—“Let Me Go”
One advantage of Lavigne’s marriage to Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger is that he seems to be curtailing her tendency to overdo. This is a pleasant, streamlined ballad (though the fade goes on too long), and a vast improvement over Lavigne’s usual power-ballads. The disadvantage is that Lavigne feels obligated to let Kroeger sing, and he’s as horrendous as ever. This is the third or fourth example in the last year of a perfectly good record by a woman being ruined by some man butting in. Stand your ground, ladies.
Florida Georgia Line—“Stay”
I still enjoy “Cruise” (the original version, anyway), but these guys are becoming unbearable fast. Especially the singer, whose vocals are intended, I bet, to be the epitome of country rock, and come off sounding like parody instead. Not a funny parody, either.
Tegan And Sara—“Closer”
All the appropriate 80s synthpop markers are in place, the hooks are gorgeous, and three cheers for getting lesbian sex (the real thing that is, not just cheap titillation) on the Hot 100, even if only for a couple of weeks. But like all the Tegan and Sara I’ve heard, this strikes me as stiff and formulaic. I always have the feeling they’re trying to teach me something, and there’s a slight air of condescention that comes with it.
Eric Paslay—“Friday Night”
Much of this is cliche, but it’s a good song, and something about Paslay suggests promise. He doesn’t distort his voice into the usual good ol’ boy mannerisms, or sound like he’s more in love with himself and his masculinity than the woman he’s singing to. It’s odd to think of such virtues as rarities in country music, but that’s what they’ve become. Paslay’s not boasting, he’s just stating his case. Very nice.
Zac Brown Band—“Sweet Annie”
Brown’s band has become so technically accomplished that each record moves them closer to jam band territory, and on “Sweet Annie” they’re as boring as the Dave Matthews Band. Less pretentious to be sure, but just as dull.
This slice of country nostalgia is interesting for only one thing: Rucker appears to remember not only radio, but hearing Wall of Voodoo coming out of it. He wasn’t always a country singer, you know.
The Band Perry—“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely”
Not bad, but for these guys very ordinary. A couple of more records like this and they’ll demonstrate no personality at all.
Cole Swindell—“Chillin’ It”
Hints (or would that be whispers?) of rap influence, and a lot of the usual. I assume his last name is pronounced Swin-dell rather than Swin-dull. The latter would be just too appropriate.
ScHoolboy Q featuring Kendrick Lamar—“Collard Greens”
There are lots of good things about this track, but somehow it doesn’t quite connect. Neither ScHoolboy Q or Lamar have much to say but the usual about being rich, and Lamar in particular, despite his hook, seems to be on autopilot. Which still makes him better than ScHoolboy Q, who I find it almost impossible to pay attention to. Not just here, but on any of his records. Not a good sign.