“Midnight Memories”, #12
Good hooks, good words (mostly about being famous, but then what else would they know?), and they love their rock and roll. But the end result is too stiff, too slick, and too obvious. With five decent voices you’d think they’d try something more daring in terms of vocals, but their harmonies are strictly by the book, and vocal interplay is either beyond them or never enters their heads. We probably won’t know if any of them are worth listening to until they break up. But if there’s a Justin Timberlake in this band he hasn’t shown himself yet.
Justin Bieber featuring R. Kelly—“PYD”
For a singer as empty as Bieber to match himself up with Kelly isn’t brave or daring, it’s just stupid. While Bieber works his hardest, Kelly never breaks a sweat, and once he steps up to the mike you forget Bieber is even on the record. Not that Kelly’s presence makes “P.Y.D.” worth hearing—it’s pretty standard lover-man stuff, the kind of thing Kelly wouldn’t bother with if he wasn’t trying to reestablish himself. Then there’s the matter of a man with Kelly’s history singing to Bieber’s audience. I realize Bieber is trying to sound more adult, but somebody wasn’t thinking too clearly when they came up with this idea.
Kanye West—“Bound 2”
Compared to the rest of Yeezus this could be considered a love song, which means the crashing and clashing electronic noises have been replaced by soul samples and West acknowledges affection for someone besides himself. The samples are jammed together just like everything else on the album, and the rap is more arrogant rant than declaration of love. He’s still demanding that everything be on his terms. As a portrait of West’s id, “Bound 2” is impressive, as a love song it’s a joke, and when you combine it with the video it’s a dumb joke. Only a genius could be so stupid.
John Newman—“Love Me Again”
With his retro clothes and hairstyle and his sense of melodrama, the first thing that came to mind on hearing Newman was Johnnie Ray, but the more obvious influences are more up-to-date: Amy Winehouse and Adele. They sing real songs, though—Newman’s material is designed to hang an overpowering arrangement on and nothing more. His voice isn’t much, and the songwriting is so lazy that the middle eight is essentially just a slowed down version of the verse. Great drums, but that’s the only worthwhile thing to be taken from this.
T-Pain featuring B.o.B.—“Up Down (Do This All Day)”
T-Pain can still put a hook together, but the hook is all there is, and it goes up and down and over and over and on and on. B.o.B.’s here, too, though I keep thinking he’s someone else, and he adds nothing. How much more anonymous can either of these guys become before they disappear completely?
Ariana Grande—“Last Christmas”
“Last Christmas” is pretty much foolproof, but like too many Christmas records Grande uses it as an excuse for grandstanding (and with Mariah Carey as her model she really knows how to grandstand). Producers Babyface and The Rascals don’t help by overhyping the beat. Did any of them care what the song is actually about? If they did you’d never know it.