No, this piece of fluffy reggae (fluffer than fluff?) isn’t a Police rip-off, or even a Train rip-off—it’s a Vampire Weekend rip-off. It is, in fact, so exact an imitation that there are moments when I wonder if VW aren’t playing some sort trick on us. But if you’re one of those people who think Vampire Weekend represent the voice of privilege, wait until you hear these guys. They’re so self-involved they think anyone who dares to say no to them is being “rude”. They also think they’re cute and clever as hell and that those things matter. I do like the guitar solo, which makes the “rude” father sound like the parents in a Peanuts cartoon, but that’s all I like..
2 All About That Bass
Her favorite genres of music are soca, fifties rock and roll, and doo-wop, but she got her start in the biz writing for Rascal Flatts. She’s got attitude to spare, but knows how to be silly. Her hooks glide and cascade and will bounce around inside your head forever. In other words, if she can keep on her current trajectory and find the right collaborators, Meghan Trainor could be the Kirsty MacColl of her generation, and I don’t know why anyone would complain about that. To actually pull off a pop confection like this is an amazing thing, probably involving the alignment of the planets and the interference of the gods. Complain people do, though. Yes, this is a little showtuney, but since the show is Hairspray, so what? And I actually like the fact that the bass isn’t overwhelming—it puts the emphasis on her voice and the body that forms it. Worst of all are the false comparisons between this and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, and the suggestion that “All About That Bass” was somehow designed to keep Minaj off the charts. Coincidence isn’t conspiracy, and anyone who believes it is is destined for a deeply unhappy existence. As is anyone who can’t appreciate this record for what it is, instead of projecting their own prejudiced principles on it or wishing it would go away.
3 Stay With Me
Up to now, Smith’s chart placings have been features on EDM records. These have been good but not great. The format is too loose for him, the high emotionalism of his vocals needs a solid structure to provide context and tension. “Stay With Me” proves this. Classic soul in style, it runs less than three minutes, and it’s close to perfect. Even the massed vocals on the chorus which seem like overkill on first listen turn out to be emotionally precise, the sound of a mutitide of channels of pain and loneliness bursting out. Vulnerability isn’t the only trick in Smith’s bag, but he plays it very, very well.
4 Break Free
Ariana Grande featuring Zedd
If Grande wants to be the second coming of Mariah Carey (or third, since the second was Mariah herself), I’d prefer she take her business elsewhere. But if she decides to become an EDM diva instead, I’m all for it. It would be an ambition more in line with her talents, for one thing; and it would match her up with people like Zedd, who really outdoes himself here, for another, and one hopes, keep her away from the icy grip of people like Ryan Tedder. The only flaw in “Break Free” is that just as it gets really crazy it comes to a sudden halt, and instead of a false ending followed by a jump back into the chorus it’s the actual end of the record. Here’s hoping for an extended mix that rights this mistake.
Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX
Charlie XCX steals the record—considering she’s one of the greatest hook writers to appear in the last few years, this is no surprise—but she doesn’t save it, because nothing can be rescued from Iggy Azalea. The problem isn’t what she is—a white woman trying desperately to recreate black style—it’s that she sounds like what she is. Her vocals are so fake, so forced, so distorted, that it’s impossible to hear anything but her misguided ambition and self-importance.I don’t call racism every time I hear a white artist imitate black style, but this is minstrelsy plain and simple: not love and theft, but insult and theft. And it makes me sad that an artist as promising as Charlie XCX is involved in it.
6 Am I Wrong
Nico & Vinz
A couple of black guys from Norway, formerly known as Envy, cobble together a pastiche of Senegalese rhythms and riffs, write a bunch of banal lyrics to go over the top, which one of them sings as stiffly as possible. It’s the Swedish House Mafia formula all over again, though the rhythms make up for a lot. A number two record all over Scandinavia, though I wouldn’t look for the same thing here.
Arianna Grande featuring Iggy Azalea
Produced by Max Martin, and in the great Swedish pop tradition this is catchy as hell while making no sense whatsoever. Or, to put it in the form of a question: why is the whispering voice on the chorus male? Isn’t Grande the one who’s happy to be rid of the guy? If the feeling is mutual, why isn’t that indicated somewhere in the lyric? This is a kiss-off song where it’s impossible to determine who’s kissing off who. And why is the unbearable Iggy Azalea on here at all? Catchy as hell, though.
8 Black Widow
Iggy Azalea featuring Rita Ora
Rita Ora’s hook is decent, though nowhere near as good as Charli XCX’s on “Fancy”, and Azalea’s vocals are less irritating than her previous records, and that’s about all there is to say. Except that my feelings about Azalea’s records echo almost exactly my feelings about Lady Gaga’s first couple of singles, so I feel as if I should hedge my bets a bit on Azalea’s ultimate worth. Whether or not Azalea has a “Bad Romance” or even a “Paparazzi” in her is open to question. I do know this much, though: no matter how flamboyant her costumes or her music, Gaga always sings like herself, where Azalea’s voice is nothing but imitation. It’s as if she can’t tell the difference between herself and her outfits. Gaga would never make that mistake.
After hearing this, I feel as if I should apologise for all the times I’ve said a record was overwrought or overdone. “Chandelier” is the sort of record those words are meant for, and even they can’t do it justice. It’s almost impossible to convey how over the top this record is, from its booming drums to Sia’s screaming vocals. There’s a song in the maelstrom somewhere, but good luck finding it. And when you do you won’t find much. Even Rihanna, who Sia imitates in her phrasing, shows more restraint than this. Hell, Demi Lovato shows more restraint than this.
10 Bang Bang
Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj
11 Boom Clap
Soundtrack fodder, reportedly a leftover from True Romance, and still better than 98% of whatever else has appeared on the chart this year. Charli XCX’s gift for hooks is amazing enough, but her gift for planting those hooks inside darker, more emotional structures is even greater, and if this is the least of her singles, that’s just makes it more evidence of how good she is. There’s nothing that can be said about this that hasn’t already been said about her previous records, and I do worry about her repeating herself, but even if she isn’t breaking new ground here that only shows how fertile that ground is. Here’s hoping that fame doesn’t ruin her.
Adam Levine is no longer a vocalist, he’s a special effect designed to get the maximum amount of attention by sounding both human and machine-like (synthesizer-like really) at the same time. This is perfect for Maroon 5, since their records always sound less like songs than machine-made imitations of songs. Here they imitate the Police, who in comparison sound like the Beatles. There’s not a single moment of inventiveness or good feeling in this record, just machines (human and otherwise).
Disclosure featuring Sam Smith
I’m having a hard time making up my mind about this record. I like it, but I don’t like it a lot. The music is often lovely and Sam Smith deserves all the positive press he’s been getting. The main problem is the overall structure: the way “Latch” is constructed it seems like it should be much longer, but it could benefit from being rearranged and made shorter, as well. The first would turn it into a great dancefloor track, the second into a good to great pop song. I know Disclosure are trying to create something new by tredding that middle ground, but they haven’t done it yet, and the current result is a fairly pleasant mishmash, but not much else.
14 Rather Be
Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne
Everytime I concentrate on this it sounds OK, but when I don’t concentrate it disappears. I’ve listened to it seven or eight times and still can’t conjure any of it up from memory. That doesn’t make it bad, just absent. Absent, though, is not how you want a pop record to sound. Is it?
Enrique Iglesias featuring Descemer Bueno & Gente Zona
It’s hard not to wonder how long Iglesias’s career can survive on songs featuring singers who are far better than he is. This is the third in a row, and it’s a good one, but Iglesias is starting to seem like the host of a variety show who does a turn with each of his guests (who are polite enough not to outshine their host too much). Here the guest is Descemer Bueno, who sounds like a Latin Rick Ross, only with a more supple flow. Very nice overall, but how much of that is due to Iglesias himself is impossible to say.
16 All Of Me
The problem isn’t that John Legend is a wimp, it’s that he’s a boring wimp. A boring wimp with pretensions: what the hell are those weird vocals effects at the end supposed to mean?
It has a hook, largely stolen from Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, but this goes nowhere. The problem is partly Becky G’s voice, which seems incapable of anything approaching ecstasy, but it’s also Dr. Luke’s production: stripped-down hip-hop is not a style that suits him.
18 Don’t Tell ‘Em
Jeremih featuring YG
Music aside—which is OK, though DJ Mustard gets less spicy every time out—this is as tiresome as current hip hop gets. What bothers me most, though, is the recurring motif of guys urging their women not to tell anybody that they get together. Fear of being caught cheating is probably the least of it, since they spend a good deal of time bragging about putting one over on the other guy or their other women. Whatever the reasons, it’s just another form of manipulation and power play. It’s about as far from love, or even lust, as you can get, though the songs are usually presented as being about both. It’s an unhealthy state of affairs (no pun intended) all around.
Not sure he’d appreciate the title, but this record makes Pharrell the king of easy-listening retro R&B. It’s only a soundtrack cut, probably nothing he invested much work or thought in, but it’s turning into a huge hit, and he’s stuck with it. As are we–it’s so catchy that after two or three hearings you’ll never get it out of your head. It isn’t horrible, but we’re all going to be sick of it come spring, if not sooner.
20 Burnin’ It Down
This is the most tolerable Aldean has ever been. He isn’t shouting or boasting or laying on too much schmaltz, and his hip hop influences, for the first time, sound integral instead of tacked on. Mind you, he still sounds stolid, and he’s still just singing about how much he loves sex, and while he’s been getting his R&B right others, like Brad Paisley, have moved on to EDM, but for Aldean this is a huge accomplishment. I’m almost proud of him.
When pop producers go EDM, their productions are still recognizable as pop—the beats and flourishes may be different, but the overall structure holds tight to tradition. When DJs go pop, though, the result is often a clumsy mess. Coming from the EDM sife the traditions don’t merge well. The structure is all wrong, builds and bridges are truncated or stuck in the wrong places, and the emotional resonance built into the forms get lost in the collision. This isn’t to fault the DJs. Anyone can hang a new sound on an existing structure, but attempting an entirely new framework is much more difficult. I get the feeling Calvin Harris really is trying to do something different, but I’ll be dammed if I know what it is, and I:m boy sure he does, either. He doesn’t write songs, per se—”Summer” consists of a single verse repeated three times—and his music is full of cliches, taken either from EDM or rock. He does his own singing, though, which, considering his voice is reminiscent of Dr. John’s, only without resonance, is brave of him. It provides the only semblance of humanity on the record, and it’s welcome. But with these lyrics and this music, it doesn’t make things that much better, and I doubt that anything could.
22 Love Runs Out
The hollow sound of drums beating in an emotional and intellectual vacuum. Plus shouting. They will do this until the love runs out. Shoot me now.
23 Dark Horse
Katy Perry featuring Juicy J
In which Katy Perry goes dirty south, or something, and Juicy J cashes a check. I appreciate Perry’s willingness to experiment, but this sounds like the worst kind of entitlement. Racial, maybe, but definitely corporate. She’s the biggest star of the last five years, so she gets to engage in hostile takeovers of any style she chooses. Sort of like Kanye West, only without the ranting, and with less interesting music.
Florida Georgia Line
From dirt they came and to dirt they shall return. And as goddamn soon as possible, please.
25 American Kids
Chesney wants to be more than just a country star, he wants to say something, so he wisely brings in songwriting pros like Shane MacAnally to lend a hand. It helps, but it doesn’t change the fact that Chesney’s idea of an artist to emulate is John Mellencamp. There are worse models, but there are also far better ones. “American Kids” is a step up for Chesney, but it’s hardly a masterpiece. Sure is catchy, though, especially the parts stolen directly from Mellencamp.
26 Really Don’t Care
Demi Lovato featuring Cher Lloyd
Lovato returns to her Disney-pop roots here, albeit with references to giving her ex the finger. If the song cut off before Cher Lloyd comes in I might like it the way I like a lot of meaningless but catchy pop music. It isn’t that Lloyd is terrible, though she adds nothing to the record, but that her appearance is so calculated. Her presence is intended to give Lovato a commercial boost in the UK, and Lloyd a boost in the US. That’s true of a lot of features, but somehow this seems more obvious, more crass. That it only worked for one week almost gives me hope that the pop audience is starting to see through these things, but I’m not counting on it.
27 2 On
Tinashe featuring Schoolboy Q
Reminiscent of early Ciara, only DJ Mustard’s production is less defined, to say nothing of Tinashe’s vocal. “Make money like an invoice” may be one of the dumbest lines I’ve heard all year, and that’s saying something. Schoolboy Q is on here, too, though I find it hard to remember just where.
28 Drunk On A Plane
For the most part, Bentley is a second rate bro-country singer. Second rate, that is, if you consider Brad Paisley as the top of the heap. Since, on that scale, most other bro-country singers are third rate, that makes Bentley the closest thing to quality you’ll find aside from Paisley himself (not to mention those slightly outside the mainstream orbit, like Eric Church and almost every woman in country). “Drunk On A Plane” is funny, sad, angry, and all the other things it’s supposed to be in just the right combination. But it isn’t great. If all the verses were as good as the last one, it would be.
Jason Derulo featuring Snoop Dogg
“Talk Dirty” is fun. This is less fun, built as it is on old funk cliches and even older jokes. The only bright spot is Snoop’s rap, which is dirtier than Derulo could ever imagine being.
30 Habits (Stay High)
The lyrics about sex clubs and bulimia are no doubt getting this record more attention than it deserves, but the chorus is ordinary, as is the arrangement in general. I’ve heard at least one remix that’s far superior to the original, so Lo may have a better idea of what she’s doing than this suggests. The lyrics are pretty sharp, after all.
31 Cool Kids
Comparisons to Lorde are too easy with these guys, and, except for the vocals, totally beside the point. Cheap irony like this is beneath Lorde, and she’s way beyond caring about who’s cool and who isn’t. She has no interest in rehashing the nineties or Foster the People, either. Most of all, her music is barely touched by self-pity, whereas Echosmith seem to be interested in nothing else. They’ll really have something to feel bad about when their fifteen minutes are up.
Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne & French Montana
As Brown’s legal troubles continue to mount, he decides to release a record about how untrustworthy women are, begging for rap radio airplay by putting Lil Wayne on the intro and creating “East Coast ” and “West Coast ” versions with French Montana and Too Short. The east version is so dull and irritating I haven’t even bothered with the west (sorry). The beat’s not bad, but otherwise this is the definition of clueless.
One thing that was missing from John Caramanica’s recent article in The New York Times about the growing influence of hip-hop in country music was women. Hip-hop’s influence was considered only as an an offshoot of bro-country, a place where women either aren’t allowed or apparently aren’t interested in. The reality, of course, is different than that: hip-hop’s influence on country is genre wide; it affects everybody, and “Bartender” is a case in point. In its structure and its vocal rhythms, the song is hip hop stuck on top of country backing. The melding is seamless, but the influence is obvious, and the fit is perfect. In fact, the fit is better than most of the bro-country “rap” songs I’ve heard. That was the other thing Caramanica left out of his article: most country rap is terrible and reinforces the most deathless country stereotypes. This isn’t, and doesn’t. In fact, it’s the first uptempo Lady Antebellum song that’s any good at all. Which doesn’t mean it’s great, but it isn’t bad.
34 A Sky Full of Stars
Ordinary EDM. So ordinary, in fact, it should have been credited to Avicii featuring Chris Martin. Eno to Avicii; talk about lowering your ambitions.
35 Turn Down For What
DJ Snake & Lil Jon
The best yeller in the business shores up the cracks in an overwrought pastiche of trap cliches. I like the yelling, I even like some of the cliches, but it doesn’t add up to much.
36 Come With Me Now
Every couple of years another great white rock and roll hope rears its head, makes a fuss for a while, and then disappears (remember Kings of Leon? Have you forgotten Imagine Dragons yet? And how about them Black Keys?) KONGOS could easily fall into the same trap, but I hope not—they’re too good. They certainly fit the mold and are prime press fodder: four brothers, sons of John Kongos, who had a few UK hits in the early seventies and was famously sampled by Happy Mondays, born in South Africa, raised in the UK, now based in Phoenix. And their music shows all these influences: touches of British blues and psychedelia with a huge, very American sound, a touch of U2 style balladry, and grace notes of township jive. Sometimes they sound overwrought, and I have no idea what the song is about, but it’s enjoyable all the same. Even if they’re full of themselves, like every other great white rock and roll hope, at least they don’t seem to be. They don’t even think the devil finds them tasty.
37 Counting Stars
I still believe that, musically at least, OneRepublic is getting better. Their sound has become less self-serving, more like a band than a studio monstrosity. But nobody as rich as Ryan Tedder should write about trading in counting dollars for counting stars, at least without suggesting that he’s talking about his struggling, early days. It would still be a lie, but it would be a romantic lie, not a hypocritical one.
38 New Flame
Chris Brown featuring Usher & Rick Ross
Another good beat from, or discovered by, Brown, and it sounds especially great when Usher is singing over it. It even makes Rick Ross sound good. But Brown himself makes no real vocal impression and basically disappears from his own record. If the courts really want to get some community service out of Brown, they should sentence him to finding beats and songs and producing new singers who are better than he is. That would be of far more value than picking up trash or whatever else they’ve been trying to make him do.
ScHoolboy Q featuring BJ the Chicago Kid
The beat is decent, though nothing you haven’t heard before, but all Q does with it is moan about being stuck in the studio and wishing he were somewhere else. Specifically, he would like to be in a woman’s vagina, though he doesn’t make that sound much more exciting than being in a vocal booth. Mostly he sounds like he’s falling asleep.
41 I Don’t Dance
This sounds good, quieter and more subtle than the norm in bro-country, and Brice’s voice is fine. But he sings about being in love the same way he sang about his dead brother in “I Drive Your Truck”: with stolid seriousness and self-importance. Since the title conjures up fond memories of Tom T. Hall’s (and Graham Parson’s) “I Can’t Dance”, the thudding tempo here seems even more of a mistake. Being in love is about being alive; so why does Brice sound like he’s going to a funeral?
42 No Mediocre
T.I. featuring Iggy Azalea
In order to meet T.I.’s standards, there are, apparently, two criteria: a woman has to be above mediocre, i.e., a “bad bitch”, and she has to shave her pussy. The first criteria is so vague as to be meaninglessness, the second so specific it’s idiotic (and no, I don’t care if Iggy Azalea meets either one). Of course, T.I. doesn’t mean any of it. He’s just being silly in his usual dumbshit manner. I blame reality television, but it’s also possible prison messed him up. Whatever the case, he’s a lost cause.
When you have your studio pre-sets tuned to “I Want You Back” you can get away with almost anything, but only if you don’t sing like a couple of Glee cast rejects.
Rich Gang featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan
In this autotuned age, who am I to complain if Rich Gang want to rap in voices that make them sound like drunken seven year-olds? It’s as good a way as any other to get attention, and sometimes it’s even funny. I draw the line however, when they use those voices to give feminine hygiene advice to women they obviously hate (i.e., all of them). These are not the sort of guys who should be talking about douches.
45 Believe Me
Lil Wayne featuring Drake
Wayne sounds alive for the first time in years, but the fact that he’s previewing his next album with Drake as support suggests the old confidence still hasn’t come back. His rap is good, but almost hidden, and Drake is as dull as he’s ever been. As for the beat, I haven’t decided whether it’s abstract or just lazy.
When you name your band for one historical event, and then name your single for another, you’re talking pretension few artists could live up to, or a level of gimmickry only a huckster could admire. “Pompeii” itself is pure ‘80s overkill, Big Country mixed with Adam Ant. If it were goofier I might enjoy it, but they seem to mean every word. They seem to suggest that even if the world comes to an end everything will remain pretty much the same. Which is true, but since no one will be around to notice it doesn’t make much sense to be an optimist about it.
47 Meanwhile Back At Mama’s
Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
The usual reactionary rustic nonsense, better played and sung than most, but still nonsense. And it goes on forever.
48 Leave the Night On
Better than average bro-country, with decent lyrics and a reference to Train that’s smarter than anythimg the guys in Train itself have ever come up with. Still, it is a Train reference, and though Hunt skirts the edge of bro-country cliche he doesn’t avoid it either. So let’s call him promising and wait to see what he does next time.
49 Best Mistake
Ariana Grande featuring Big Sean
50 This Is How We Roll
Florida Georgia Line featuring Luke Bryan
Not only is this how Florida Georgia Line rolls, it’s how they roll every time. It’s become impossible to tell their songs apart. Luke Bryan better watch out, or the same will go for him.
At last Sheeran comes up with a record worth listening to more than once. Funky enough to pass, with a great hook, and the title clevery buried in the mix. The story is suggestive enough to keep gossip mongers guessing (he swears it’s not about Taylor Swift), but holds interest even without speculation. “Don’t” also contains what may be the best line Sheeran will ever write: “I never saw him as a threat/Until you disappeared with him to have sex, of course”. There may be hope for him yet.
52 Hot Nigga
53 0 To 100 / The Catch Up
Michelangelo Matos said it best: “Drake raps like he’s in business school.” Oddly enough, though, that may be a large part of his appeal. He doesn’t have a dominating or particularly distinctive voice or flow, but he makes up for it by presenting himself as a simple conversationalist; his raps just sound like someone talking, and the rhythmic patterns are so subtle as to be almost invisible. It’s an achievement in technical terms, whether you care for it or not. Like the world’s worst party guest, however, his conversation has only one subject–how’s Drake feeling–and his self-absorption and mansplaining get boring fast. It would be interesting to hear him apply his style to a subject other than himself. If he could learn to be a storyteller rather than a monologist, he might become as great an artist as he thinks he is.
5 Seconds of Summer
Always figured their power ballad was just around the corner, and “Amnesia” is nowhere near as horrible as I feared, at least in terms of what it could have been. It’s still fairly horrible, though. The main problem is the same one that afflicts all their records: throwing everything they can at the songs at as high a volume as possible. In terms of arrangement and production they never shut up, and they never stop shouting. So why do I keep giving them the benefit of the doubt? Because every once in a while they hit on something real—a hook, a bit of melody, a decent line or two—and there’s a moment like that in almost every record. Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but I’d swear that somebody involved has actual talent.
55 Hope you Get Lonely Tonight
Another well-made mediocrity. Country bros on.
56 Somethin’ Bad
Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood
Much like Lambert’s last single, “Automatic”, “Somethin’ Bad” is a decent idea waiting for a payoff that never comes. There are characters, and there are situations, but there’s no story here. Two women meet, run off to New Orleans, anticipate raising hell. That’s it. As if to compensate, the arrangement is blown far out of proportion, much closer to Underwood’s style than anything you’d expect from Lambert. All the bombast does, though, is make it harder to understand the lyrics, thereby destroying any chance the song has of meaning anything. I’m beginning to think Lambert shouldn’t record duets; not counting Pistol Annies she’s yet to make a good one, largely because she always lowers herself to the level of her partner. For the moment, at least, she has no peers, and she shouldn’t pretend that she does.
57 This Is How We Do
58 We Dem Boyz
More of a chant with vocal asides than a rap, and more boring than not. It’s not a bad chant, but it wears down fast, and the asides say nothing new and then some. Oh, and the response vocals in the background are really stupid. Think maybe it’s the dope?
59 Girls Chase Boys
When Michelson had her one hit years ago, I thought she was smart and talented but too cutesy and shallow for her positive attributes to ever add up to much. But now, on “Girls Chase Boys” at least, she’s not only brought everything together, but has used her cute side to stunning effect: this is the sweetest, catchiest, most emotionally realistic piece of pure pop since “Call Me Maybe”. The sunniness is a neat trick,too, since in lyrical terms this is the polar opposite—a resigned kiss-off song that marks the end of a relationship rather than the beginning. The machine-like throb of the backing provides a sense of regret and here-we-go-again repetition, but it also confirms the one hopeful line in the song: “All the broken hearts in the world still beat”. Not as great as “Call Me Maybe”—it fades on repeated plays instead expanding like Jepsen’s song did—but then what is?
60 Roller Coaster
A country groove so steady amd so bland it reveals Bryan’s greatest weakness: his voice (that and his love of deathless cliche, but he’s hardly the only country singer with that problem). His vocals lack depth, don’t contain much resonance, and seem incapable of any deep emotion. Not that this song calls for any, of course.
61 Pills N Potions
I get a certain absurd enjoyment out of watching critics tie themselves in knots every time Minaj releases another single. “Yay! She’s going back to rap!” “Boo! She’s turning into a pop singer!” “Gah! What is this thing!” The idea of a rapper also wanting to be a pop singer, and vice-versa, is so foreign to them that MInaj’s flipping back and forth strikes them as almost a personal insult. This time, after rapping hard on “Lookin’ Ass Nigga”, she comes up with a pop ballad that includes some soft, laid-back rapping. The result is neither bad nor good, just mediocre and only slightly interesting; certainly nothing to get upset about. She’s supremely talented, but she isn’t a genius. Maybe that’s why her shifts in style seem so odd, willful instead of brilliant, driven by the desire to be a genius rather than genius itself. Critics, and MInaj herself, may be expecting more of her than she can deliver.
62 River Bank
I don’t buy into the idea that this is a reaction to the controversy over “Accidental Racist”. Paisley has always balanced his gender stretching and challenges to the philosophical narrowness of country music with simpler, more relaxed, and more humorous takes on country life. Besides, “River Bank” is easily as gender stretching, at least musically, as anything he’s ever done. The sound is familiar enough to lovers of pop, but for the country audience it’s close to revolutionary, and since Paisley is one of the better songwriters of the last decade, this is a good deal better tthan most of the pop it’s influenced by. The first verse alone demonstrates such mastery of craft it’s almost awe inspiring. Paisley can, I suppose, be partly credited with the invention of bro-country, but he’s also far beyond it. He works on so high a level no one can touch him.
63 Where It’s At
A slightly above average song of marital—or at least connubial—bliss, but not so far above average as you’d notice.
Hey, babe, sit still while I mansplain my love for you. To summarize: you’re hot, dumb, and remind me of Michelle Pfieffer. And hey, ain’t I cute?
“Hideaway” is possibly the purest house music ever to make the charts, at least in the US, which may be causing a lot of people to praise it more highly than it deserves. This is growing on me, and I love the downplaying of passion while trying to play it cool of the lyric. Like a lot of house, though, it tends to fade into the background even when you concentrate on it, at least for me. As tor Kiesza herself, I’m reserving judgement. There are times when her vocals are perfect, but others when she seems like just another competent house vocalist and little more.
66 Ready Set Roll
It takes a magnificent level of chutzpah to preface a standard piece of good ol’ boy country rock with a Daft Punk imitation even wimpier than the originals, so I’ll give Rice a certain amount of credit. But the song itself is so lame Rice ‘s premature bandwagon jumping (country EDM is years, if not decades, away) means nothing.
67 Main Chick
Kid Ink featuring Chris Brown
With the support of Chris Brown (again), and DJ Mustard producing, especially since both bring their B+ game, this is bound to be a hit. It may even have something interesting to say about the life of fame. Whether Kid Ink would be worth listening to without his pals is another question. His flow is fine and he fills in all the details the way he should, but his rap doesn’t go anywhere. And with Brown and Mustard, that would probably be the state of his career, as well.
68 No Flex Zone!!
70 Small Town Throwdown
Brantley Gilbert featuring Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett
I can’t stand Gilbert, and the way he treats his voice I may not have to listen to him much longer, but this is a decent record, helped big time by a slightly retooled Aerosmith riff. Maybe Gilbert’s taste in metal is getting better, or maybe he’s getting better. Then again, Thomas Rhett is credited on this but doesn’t sing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one who does the riffing. So maybe nothing has changed and Gilbert just got lucky.
71 Stolen Dance
Their name should be enough of a hint, but even without knowing they’re German it’s obvious English isn’t Milky Chance’s first language: the vocal rhythms and inflections are off when they aren’t blatant imitations of other records (“do the boogie all night long”), and their accents are subdued but hardly hidden. This makes the blandness of “Stolen Dance” seem more interesting than it actually is, though not by much. There will be no Gotye aus Deutschland this year.
A good idea for a song, but except for the bridge this is so repetitive it kills it’s own message. There are a lot more independent black women out there than Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, and just think what a great hook could be built out of listing them. Names, ladies, we need names!
73 Love Never Felt So Good
Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake
Fine for what it is, and it’s certainly not an embarrassment, but you can understand why Jackson didn’t finish the song. People have been comparing this to the sound of Off the Wall, but it feels even older than that, and if Jackson had been presented with this song in 1979, he still wouldn’t have recorded it. It’s well-made fluff, at best, exactly the thing you’d expect from a lifetime hack like Paul Anka. It was generous of Jackson to even consider recording it.
74 She Looks So Perfect
5 Seconds of Summer
Australian boy band, One Direction approved, bouncy, loud, maybe slightly better than average. None of that matters. What matters is the chorus, an insidious earworm that implants itself instantly in your brain and never goes away. Ever. It’s about underwear (I won’t mention the brand—if this wasn’t product placement the company is getting enough free advertising as it is). I dare you to forget it once you’ve heard it, and not to feel dirtied when you do. It’s disgusting and captivating at the same time. People of a certain age or maturity level are going to be shouting it all summer. 5 seconds my ass.
75 We Are Tonight
76 Fight Night
The simple genius of a track like “Versace” is something most groups are lucky to achieve even once, so the follow-up is packed with dumb sound effects, endless, boring raps, and crudely violent sexual metaphors. Needless to say, “Fight Night” is now the bigger hit of the two. And with that feng shui reference I’m now beginning to wonder if “Versace” was the joke I thought it was. They aren’t as smart as I thought, that’s for sure.
Hard work and suffering are worthy of respect, but they don’t guarantee quality. Ever.
78 Girl In A Country Song
Maddie & Tae
The chorus imitates Drake, the verses cop from Kendrick Lamar, and there’s the occasional Eminem flow for spice. With these models to work from, the fictional rapper pledges his 1001 years of devotion. Anybody who believes it deserves him.
80 Sunshine & Whiskey
I liked Ballard’s last single, “Helluva Life”, but this is way too cute for its own good, especially the second verse. He sound as if he thinks far too highly of himself, and he hasn’t done enough yet to deserve even that, much less our admiration.
With Pharrell in the producer’s chair, this was guaranteed to at least not be a rhythmic embarrassment. The acoustic guitar driven beat is a welcome change from the usual drum machines, Sheeran’s vocals are fine overall, and if “Sing” is only dinky-funky, at least it’s funky. But boy is it dumb. Sheeran honorably tries to avoid lyrical cliches, but what he comes up with to replace them is even worse. He sounds both naive and ridiculous, and the further he swerves from the basic beat the worse it gets (the bit about her bringing him tequila is embarrassingly bad). The funk would need to be a lot less dinky to make up tor that.
82 Come Get It Bae
AKA “Blurred Lines Redux: Blur More”
83 I Will Never Let You Down
84 Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa & Ty Dolla $ign featuring Kill The Noise & Madsonik
Third time to the goofy funky well, and though it may not be completely dry the contents aren’t exactly palatable. Derulo’s voice certainly isn’t. He may have the worst falsetto I’ve ever heard, and even without the leering name check his debt to Katy Perry is obvious. I dread the possibility of a ballad where he does his Chris Martin imitation. With luck, though, now that he’s exhausted this particular style and needs to find a new one, he’ll disappear.
86 I’m Ready
If the old TV series Happy Days took place in the late oughts instead of the 1950s, this could be it’s theme song: cleaned up and bleached-out 3Oh3!, played purely as a reminder of old times, and patched together with no concern for coherence or substance. It’s not a song, it’s a nostalgia trigger, made up of the most obvious readymades. Isn’t too soon for this sort of thing, though? I mean, shouldn’t they wait until the style is actually dead before they bury it?
87 Cut Her Off
KCamp featuring 2 Chainz
The shift back to the streets is almost complete. While the richest rappers, like Jay Z and Kanye West luxuriate in their mansions, collecting royalties and raising children, and while the second rank continue to brag about their foreign cars and their ability to still afford bottle service, a batch of younger rappers, their flow as jagged and stilted as their lives appear to be, rise up and try to reestablish the ancient rap values of dealing, pimping, and violence. They don’t seem as volatile as their predecessors, not as violent or headstrong, but their problems with women—not just particular women, but women as a concept—seem as impossible to solve as ever. The problem, of course, is in their heads, not in the women, but it would be almost impossible to make them understand that, much less admit it. At the same time, it’s that tension that makes their music worth listening to. The paradox is the real problem. Or a large part of the problem, anyway. Why would they give up a way of thinking that gives theirlife meaning and makes them rich, and makes their art, even if it causes them endless trouble at the same time? These are not new questions, but they’re no closer to being answered. Good record, though, even if it offends me.
Pitbull featuring John Ryan
89 Day Drinking
Little Big Town
Love the drum line, maybe even the whistle. Like the guitar solos, which remind me of the Beatles in their tone and texture. Don’t think much of the song or the singing. Their confidence is on a high, but they need to come up with material that matches it. They also need to align their aural gimmicks with their material. As much as I like the drum line and the whistling, they sound stuck on, not organic. A little less harshness in the production would help, as well.
Tiesto featuring Matthew Koma
Bro-country isn’t dead by a long shot, but this may be a sign of it’s ultimate demise, and in the best possible way. Paslay has managed a neat trick, he guarantees himself conventional notice by hoisting all the usual red flags—tailgates, small towns, back roads, etc.—but maintains his individuality by denying them at the same time. “Song About A Girl” could be described as post-bro-country meta songwriting, or something like that, but the important thing thing is that almost every second of it works perfectly. Musically it creates a great country groove without resorting to heavy metal guitars and booming drums. The only weak spot is when Paslay gets around to describing the girl herself. We expect something original, but get nothing but more cliches. I thought Paslay showed a lot of promise on his previous single, “Friday Nights”. Who knew he’d fulfill almost all of it on his very next record?
91 About the Money
T.I. featuring Young Thug
92 Who I Am With You
Four more pieces of product from the Nashville factory, and the only reason I can tell them apart is because I have no choice; there’s one or two of these every week, and I’ve learned to spot the subtle, meaningless differences that make them distinguishable to the cognescenti of the country version of yacht rock. Currington, who has been at this longer than the others, tries to stretch the boundaries of the form a little, at least musically, which only makes him sound more ridiculous. Otherwise, though each of these records has its moments, the overall effect is of formula correctly and umimaginativley applied and little else. And that’s being extremely generous.
93 Cold One
Tyga Featuring Young Thug
95 Good Kisser
I’ll admit to never being much impressed by Usher. He’s made some great records (including this one), but, much like Beyonce, you can hear how hard he’s working, the calculation and ambition behind every moment. For some people, I know, this is part of the appeal; we live in a time where people are given more praise for the quantity of their work, for the amount of time and energy they put into it, than the quality. Even a record as lascivious as this sounds devoted more to a puritan work ethic than to sex. Or perhaps it’s closer to say that the sex itself seems more like work, a practiced skill rather than a libidinous release. Don’t get wrong, this is a great record (having the vocal echo the bassline may be the best thing Usher has ever done), but it comes from a world I’m fairly sure I’d never want to live in.
96 Take Me To Church
Eli Young Band
I still think Young has promise, but you’d never know it by this pale Tom Petty imitation. Even paler than Petty, if you can imagine such a thing.
“Foreign” is essentially Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” with all the hooks and fun removed. Where Derulo is stupid (in a fun way) and offensive, Trey Songz is just offensive. “Foreign” is like a one-man argument against immigration reform: if we let foreign ladies in, Songz will force them to twerk to his boring beats and fulfill his cliche sexual fantasies. Better for everybody if they just stay home.
99 My Eyes
Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Sebastian
Shelton’s best since “Boys Round Here”, which isn’t saying much to say the least. At least he doesn’t sound as full of himself as usual. Gwen Sebastian, despite her inexplicable featuring credit, does nothing but provide some harmonies on the final chorus. Wonder what she did to deserve that sort of visibility.
100 Later On
The Swon Brothers