Gaga’s love for seventies-style piano ballads is her greatest weakness, and “Dope” is one of the worst records she’s ever made. The song, with its melodramatic pauses and overloaded metaphors, is bad enough, but Gaga’s slurred vocals, though they make sense since she’s supposed to be drunk, up the level of pretension without adding anything musically. Producer Rick Rubin’s electronics don’t help. This sort of stuff wasn’t any good when Elton John did it, either (ever heard “Ticking”?), but I doubt anyone will ever convince Gaga of that.
A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera—“Say Something”
This confirms it: Nate Reuss, the voice of .fun, has now officially become the vocal model for sensitive guys the world over, and on “Say Something” Ian Axel matches him almost phrase for phrase. This is, I admit, an improvement over Ryan Tedder or whoever the lead mumbler in The Fray is, but it’s a sound we’ll all be sick of soon enough. Christina Aguilera steals the record (not that it’s worth having), without doing much more than singing quietly and breathing prettily at the end of each line. She should try this on her own sometime.
Justin Bieber—“Bad Day”
At 2:25, “Bad Day” is simple and direct, doesn’t have a cloying chorus, and allows Bieber to show off his falsetto. These are all good things, and suggest that Bieber is starting to gain greater control of his music. “Bad Day” is slight, more a fragment than a real song, higher on atmosphere than anything else, but it’s impressive all the same. I still have my doubts about Bieber’s voice, but that falsetto works better than expected. Now he just needs to apply it to some stronger material.
James Wolpert—“A Case of You”
Supposedly “Perfume” represents a new, more “personal” style for Spears, and it is nice to hear her singing about something besides dancing and working. But it isn’t much of a song, and it doesn’t have much of a hook. Though it sounds properly obsessive in spots, the arrangement, and the vocals, are so busy negotiating sudden shifts in tone they never bear down emotionally the way they should (will.i.am’s production, working outside of his normal electro groove, sounds lost). It’s a good idea for a song, but it doesn’t come across.
Luke Bryan—“Drink A Beer”
Slow, stately, perfectly crafted, dull as dirt.
Banjo and straight-ahead beat courtesy of Mumford & Sons, heys and hos courtesy of The Lumineers, the song itself courtesy of decades of mainstream Nashville craftsmanship. Not the worst record Lady Antebellum has made, but far from the best, and such an obvious piece of trend hopping you wonder if they’ll ever make a decent record again. They probably will, because they’re pros, but this sounds a little desperate.
Hunter Hayes featuring Jason Mraz—“Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me”
Hayes has always depended more on being cute than any obvious talent, and here, with the aid of Jason Mraz, he tries to turn himself into the Michael Buble of country music, only perkier and without the voice or the brains. Having just turned 22, Hayes may not get away with the cute act much longer and he doesn’t appear to have anything to fall back on. Maybe he can start peddling hooks, like Mraz. Not that that’s been working.
Eminem featuring Sia—“Beautiful Pain”
I haven’t cared for Sia’s music since long before she started writing hits for others, and her hook for this record is even blander than usual. Eminem, meanwhile, keeps repeating himself, which can hardly be considered inspirational. This is second rate in every way.