Jason Mraz—“I Won’t Give Up”
Being the minor talent that he is, I expected Mraz to play it safe with a snappy sound-alike to “I’m Yours” for his next single, but it seems his talent is so minor he doesn’t realize where his best interests lie. This is super-serious, packed thick with sincere clichés that appear to have been lifted at random from self-help books. Each verse ends either with an affirmation or a “deep” question: “I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not, and who I am”; “God knows we’re worth it”; and my favorite, “How old is your soul?” These seem to have no connection to the lines that precede them, or a connection so vague that only those well versed in the jargon could understand them. I’m not sure that group includes Mraz. Just to give him the benefit of the doubt, I’d like to think this is intended as parody, but the music suggests otherwise. Which means that Mraz probably isn’t even a minor talent. He is a cad, though. That I know for sure.
Skrillex featuring Sirah—“Kyoto”
Skrillex is polishing and improving his sound with every record. “Kyoto” adds a guest rap, but otherwise uses the same basic formula as his previous singles: establish a familiar groove with a hyped, bass heavy mix, stop dead with a scream of urgent exclamation, followed by a needle drop and all hell breaking loose, repeat, then end on the original groove. The big difference here is that the shifts are less dramatic, the change in style almost seamless (the fact that he’s working with hip-hop rhythms may have something to do with that). Whatever you may think of him, he’s a talent, and he isn’t stupid, his music is growing and developing. How far that development goes is another question: the clichéd “Japanese” melody here suggests that his musical sensibilities, however broad they may be, aren’t very deep.
3OH!3—“Set You Free”
Another couple of minor talents who aren’t as smart as they think they are. I’m not saying that electro-clash can’t be used to transmit a “serious” message, but it does tend to take the “clash” out of it, which means it’s missing all the fun and most of reason for its existence. I like the line “I don’t live in bed no more”, but otherwise this is boring, pretentious, and self-pitying. They don’t even sound like themselves, they sound like Weezer fans with sequencers. Ke$ha should heed the warning: this is where taking yourself seriously gets you.
Gotye featuring Kimbra—“Somebody That I Used to Know”
Imported from Belgium, this sounds like it could become the sort of sleeper hit that “Pumped Up Kicks” was, only without the pretentious seriousness. The mid-sixties Latin groove (courtesy of Luiz Bonfa’s “Seville”) gives it the feel of a Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazlewood track, minus the camp value of Hazlewood’s singing. And the woman’s part, which starts with the best line in the song, “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over”, carries echoes of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”. In other words, this contains references to enough pop landmarks, without any of them being obvious on first listen, to make it sound both familiar and out of the ordinary.
Montgomery Gentry—“Where I Come From”
For the most part, I don’t mind country songs praising small town life—two of my favorite records of the last few years are Miranda Lambert’s “Famous In a Small Town” and Ashton Shepard’s “More Cows Than People”—but this is so aggressive, and so defensive, that it comes close to a kind or rural fascism. Their examples of small town life are bizarre, especially the lines about two guys fighting in a parking lot: “Nobody’s gonna call the cops”. So that’s what’s wrong with big cities; it’s not that people fight in the streets, it’s that people insist on summoning the authorities when they do. Better yet is the old man sitting on the porch who can “buy your fancy car with hundred dollar bills”. What is he, a rapper? A meth dealer? Whatever the case, I bet he drives an old beat-up pickup truck covered in mud when he takes his mother to church on Sunday morning. They always do.
Jay-Z Kanye West—“Gotta Have It”
Is this actually being promoted as a single? If it is, it’s an odd choice. For starters, it isn’t even two and a half minutes long, which means it won’t fit on any existing radio formats. Second, though the James Brown sample provides a great hook, it isn’t up there with “Niggas In Paris” in sing- or hum-along terms. It does, however, continue in a more obvious way the theme of racial politics and black history that “Niggas” snuck in between the lines. Have they got some kind of thematic singles campaign going that they’re not telling anyone about? Or are they just being eccentric?
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