The latest roundup has been posted by the Voice, and I’m already getting negative comments about my Taylor Swift review. I was expecting this. Criticizing charity singles, even when you like them, is a losing game. But that’s my job. At least none of Alicia Key’s fans have threatened to kill me yet.
Posts Tagged ‘Alicia Keys’
50 Cent featuring Dr. Dre & Alicia Keys—“New Day”
Another uplifting chorus from Alicia Keys (“Empire State of Mind” it ain’t), a familiar-sounding snare drum beat from her hubby, and 50 Cent at his most mush-mouthed, lying to us: “Nothing matters but the music/Music my first love”. It’s already the clarion call of second-raters around the world, but just a few years ago 50 Cent was saying music was just one element in his diversified portfolio, a way of making quick cash so he could do some real business. Guess that didn’t work out. Oh yeah, also featuring Dr. Dre as himself.
Listening to Miguel’s trilogy of brief mixtapes from earlier this year, Art Dealer Chic, the obvious comparison was to Prince, but this, a reworked version of the song that opened the series, is more Al Green, especially when Miguel is demonstrating his falsettos near the end (yes, he has more than one, and they’re all great). The song itself, and the arrangement, are too busy at times, but that’s because Miguel has more ideas, and feelings, than he knows what to do with, not because he’s covering up any defects. He’s still learning how to deploy his gifts, but this is the best R&B record since “Climax”, and he’s only going to get better.
Rick Ross featuring Wale & Drake—“Diced Pineapples”
If the title, which is a metaphor for both diamonds and pussy, but mostly the latter, doesn’t give you the giggles, Wale’s Smoove B impersonation on the introduction will (“The better my effort, the wetter her treasure”). Rick Ross lowers the temperature a bit, if only by conjuring up images of Rick Ross having sex, while Drake deepens the chill by doing his sad-sack-who-feels-your-pain-and-gets-laid-in-the-process routine. Wale’s final verse is already forgotten. In other words, business as usual.
This is so heavy. Not only is it about the Apocalypse (it says so, right in the lyric: “This is it, the Apocalypse”), but it’s also about the coming of a new age (“Welcome to the new age”). The singer himself, it turns out, is the one who’s radioactive (“I’m radioactive! I’m radioactive!”), and it’s all so heavy he has to stop before the end of the first verse to catch his breath; his inhalation is mixed higher than even the lumbering drums and super-distorted pseudo-dubstep bass, so you know he’s really feeling it. Somebody must like these guys, because this is the second track off their EP to make the Hot 100 in the last month. Every generation has its Queensryche, I suppose.
Keyshia Cole featuring Lil Wayne—“Enough of No Love”
I’ve always liked Keyshia Cole, even though most of her records have been mediocre. This is one of the better ones, a soulful lament with a good string arrangement, perfectly sung with just the right balance of strength, defiance, and bitterness. The song doesn’t build the way it should, though, and the chorus lacks musical punch and drama. Then there’s Lil Wayne’s feature. He plays it just right, at first, sacrificing enough of his usual charm to come on like the jerk the guy in the song is supposed to be, but he loses most of his energy along with it, and his rap tails out with a dumb play on Cole’s name that doesn’t fit at all. It’s a shame; a little more work and this could have been a great one.
Ne-Yo—“Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)”
This isn’t a complete failure, but it feels wrong. Ne-Yo’s attempt to fit his subtle lover man croon to a Euro-disco backdrop sounds strained, not just vocally, but in terms of melody as well. Cutting his usual long, smooth lines into staccato bits strikes me as a mistaken compromise, a failed attempt to maintain his old musical personality in the face of commercial necessity. It’s more interesting in its way than the usual Ibiza outpouring, but not by much. And the title is a disaster. He needs the parenthetical, because he’s already written a song called “Let Me Love You” (a number one for Mario in 2005), but it sure leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air. Is he going to dump her once she learns to love herself, or is he holding back the full force of his affection until then? Whatever the case, the title sounds as compromised as the song itself.
Kendrick Lamar—“Swimming Pools (Drank)”
Despite putting out one of the best albums of last year (Section.80) and being officially anointed by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as the savior of LA rap, Lamar has been keeping a fairly low profile, at least compared to, say, Frank Ocean. But in his own way Lamar is as emotionally open as Ocean is, and in many ways he’s better. He lacks Ocean’s soulful voice and falsetto, but he’s a brilliant rapper, and his sense of humor cuts deeper. Here he deploys more funny voices than a Funkadelic album to shade a serious portrait of a binge drinking loser who just happens to be named Kendrick. The silliest voice, naturally, is the one that gives him the best advice, while the hippest one tells him to fill his pool with liquor and “diiiive in”. Easily the best rap record to hit the chart so far this year.
According to almost everyone, 2010 has been a great year in just about every genre: alternative, country, hip-hop, techno—great records have been popping up everywhere, from both new and old artists, with a full schedule of promising releases to come.
But if that’s true, and for the most part I think it is, not much of that greatness has been showing up on the pop chart, or if it has it’s come and gone so fast it’s barely been noticed. At least four of my favorite records this year, “Super High”, “Love King”, “I’m Single”, and “Reverse Cowgirl”, disappeared from the chart after a week or two. Others, such as Jay-Z’s “On To the Next One” struggled to climb into the top 30, and then dropped quickly once they reached their peak.
Mind you, if what you’re looking for is party music, you can’t do much better than most of the records that made the top ten this year. Straight ahead rhythms uncomplicated by any sense of hesitancy or messy emotion have dominated the market, with only top drawer sellers like Rihanna and Eminem daring anything that requires much thought on the part of the audience. I like a lot of the records that have made the top ten so far this year, but I can think of only one or two that will have any long lasting effect. Party music is designed to be ephemeral, so that’s hardly a criticism, just a recognition of the way things are, and are likely to remain for some time.
Most of what I consider the best of the year so far comes from a little further down the charts, though of course that’s no guarantee of durability. Even I was surprised, though, that my number one would turn out to be the darkest record to make the charts this year, a record so full of bad feeling that it dropped off the charts after a single week and has been ignored by just about everybody. Who’d have thought I could feel alone in praising a Lil Wayne single?
As for the worst, it should be pointed out that this list does not include any of the Glee Cast singles, which are not only terrible but should never have been released in the first place. If I had included them, they would have occupied all ten places and then some. At one point, I considered making “Ice Ice Baby” both the worst and best single of the year, but that was just cynicism. I feel better now, honest.
The Best So Far (in approximate order of preference)
1. Lil Wayne – I’m Single
2. The-Dream – Love King
3. Cali Swag District – Teach Me How To Dougie
4. The Black Eyed Peas – Rock That Body
5. Rick Ross featuring Ne-Yo – Super High
6. Selena Gomez and the Scene – Naturally
7. Jay-Z featuring Swizz Beats – On To the Next One
8. Miranda Lambert – The House That Built Me
9. Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
10. T-Pain – Reverse Cowgirl
The Worst (in alphabetical order)
1. Alpha Rev – New Morning
2. Artists for Haiti – We Are the World 25
3. Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith – Never Say Never
4. Dirty Heads featuring Rome of Subllime with Rome – Lay Me Down
5. David Guetta featuring Fergie and LMFAO – Gettin’ Over You
6. Avril Lavigne – Alice
7. Muse – Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)
8. Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts
9. Mike Posner – Cooler Than Me
10. Shiny Toy Guns – Major Tom
“Up All Night” featuring Nicki Minaj, #49
“9 AM In Dallas”, #57
“Fireworks” featuring Alicia Keys, #71
“Fancy” featuring T.I. & Swiss Beatz, #99
Approached in bulk, Drake’s tracks achieve a definite if subliminal groove that is, at first, both attractive and of a certain clinical interest. The same can be said of his raps, which are straightforward and plainspoken. But if you’re going to be this plainspoken you’d better make sure you have something to say and have some poetry hidden in there somewhere. Drake has neither, and after a few plays his minimal grooves become boring. When Drake says he wants to be a real artist, I believe him, but I believe him even more when he expresses doubts about his talent. His honesty may get him somewhere eventually, but it hasn’t yet.
Disturbed—”Another Way To Die”
Environmental metal: it’s not quite an oxymoron, but it sure doesn’t make much sense.
When you limit your musical palette as much as these guys do—they don’t write new melodies or rhythms for each record, they just switch rhyme schemes—the smallest change or addition can come as a surprise. Here, they add a few pleasant harmonies and suddenly sound almost as upbeat and friendly as The Beach Boys. They should be careful, though: too many cracks in their obnoxious facade and they’ll start to get boring.
Soulja Boy Tell’em—”Pretty Boy Swag”
Not so much a change in style as a change in speed, and a smart move. The slow, deliberate, teasing pace makes Soulja Boy sound more mature without diminishing the feeling that’s he’s still just a teenager having a great time with something he loves. That’s almost enough to make him important, even if all he raps about is how cool he is.
Bobby Brackins featuring Ray J—”143″
Ray J seems to make his living now attaching himself to young rappers, where he applies his seductive crooning, reminds everybody of his biggest hit, and smooths out any rough spots that would make these records interesting. Though I’m not sure Brackins would be interesting even without him.
The Dirty Heads featuring Rome—”Lay Me Down”
Unbelievable. A Jack Johnsonish acoustic reggae ballad with a plot that is basically a rehash of The Getaway—the movie version, that is, where the beautiful young couple get away with robbery and murder to spend the rest of their lives having sex on the beach, as opposed to Jim Thompson’s original novel, which had an ending so depressing, ironic, and horrifying that even Sam Peckinpah didn’t have the nerve to serve it up on screen. You should read it, if only to understand me when I wish The Dirty Heads a less final but somewhat similar fate.
Jaheim—”Finding My Way Back”
If this was 1973, this would probably be a big regional R&B hit in Baltimore or Chicago, like The Whatnauts or some of the lesser Chi-Lites singles. It’s 2010, though, and what would have been second-tier in the ’70s is just an oddity now. If Jaheim is going to mine the past, he should go all the way, like Raphael Saadiq. Or he should at least get better songs.
Rodney Atkins—”Farmer’s Daughter”
Notable only for the way Atkins sings, especially the first verse. His backwoods accent is so heavily played and calculated—not a single drawl out of place—that it becomes a kind of minstrelsy; good ol’ boy whiteface, if you will.
Craig Morgan—”This Ain’t Nothin’”,
You need to walk a pretty fine line to pull off country sentimentality. Do it right, the way Miranda Lambert does on “The House That Built Me” and you can produce a powerful record despite the required cliches and homilies. One bad line, though, can tip you over into bathetic camp. This song has three or four bad lines, one of them in the chorus, so it gets repeated over and over again, and another in the second verse that wouldn’t be out of place in a South Park parody.
Blake Shelton—”All About Tonight”
There are two things I find interesting about Blake Shelton. One is his release schedule, where he’s experimenting with putting out half an album every few months (this is the lead single from his second “six-pack”); and the other is that he’s engaged to Miranda Lambert, who outclasses him in every way I can think of. His music doesn’t interest me at all.
Jack Johnson—”You and Your Heart”
Jack Johnson hates haters. Ooh, he hates those haters. He hates haters because they do hateful things like have standards and because their hearts are somehow disconnected from their bodies. (Jack Johnson’s heart is connected directly to his body, and he’s got the song catalog to prove it.) He hates haters so much he lets his guitar distort—just a little, not too much—and convinces his band to play like they hate haters, too. He almost sounds angry. If those haters keep hating he might just go insane. Let’s try it and see.
Jamie Foxx Featuring Justin Timberlake & T.I.—”Winner”
Like all of Foxx’s hits, this one gets the credits wrong—it should be “T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake and some other guy”. I’d give Foxx credit this time out for rapping in his own voice, except he doesn’t have one (he doesn’t dare imitate anybody who can actually sing or rap without technological aid). He is skillful at getting good material out of his “guests”, though. Timberlake actually sounds interested, and T.I. walks off with the record, which he treats as if it were his latest comeback single. Considering how his first comeback single is doing, it may well be.
B.o.B.—”Don’t Let Me Fall”
Aside from the fact that B.o.B. can’t sing, isn’t it a little early in his career to be trotting out the rap equivalent of a demographic-widening power ballad? That’s the third single, dude. Second single’s supposed to be the damn!-look-at-how-famous-I-am record. You’re getting everything out of order.
Tempo-wise, these guys have only one gear, second, but they seem to think that being loud and gruff makes up for this. It doesn’t. This is all about chilling on a sunny afternoon, but it doesn’t chill, and it isn’t sunny, and it forces me to the conclusion that their deliberate lack of subtlety isn’t a stylistic choice or commercial calculation–they honestly lack the ability to play any other way. I’d almost feel sorry for them if I thought they were smart enough to recognize it.
Miranda Cosgrove—”Kissin U”
For it’s latest foray into the Disney-owned tween pop universe, Nickelodeon brings out the big guns, hiring Dr. Luke to produce what sounds like a Kelly Clarkson reject sung by a teenage girl who’s been listening to too much Ke$ha. Not that Dr. Luke isn’t constantly trying something new; here he experiments with the idea of a chorus that is actually more sluggish than the verses. Needless to say, this isn’t a good idea, but no one involved with this record seems to have noticed that, or to care.
Alicia Keys—”Unthinkable (I’m Ready)”
Wait a minute—how old is Alicia Keys? She must be old enough to not consider sleeping with somebody as “the unthinkable”. Is this written from a teenager’s perspective? The music, all slow-grind and heavy percussion, certainly doesn’t sound like it. If it’s about cheating there’s no sign of that either. Does she have any idea what she’s doing at all?
Breaking Benjamin—”Give Me a Sign (Forever And Ever)”
I’d have a lot more respect for Christian metal if what I heard of it wasn’t so one dimensional. It’s all about suffering and pain, the sonic equivalent of The Passion of the Christ, with flagellation and crucifixion replaced by headbanging and bleeding ears. I suppose it’s meant to be cathartic, but how can it be when they do the same thing over and over again? Apparently, as that model Christian, Jacqueline Susann, put it, once is never enough.
Kelly Clarkson—”All I Ever Wanted”
God, I wish Kelly Clarkson picked better material. She sings this perfectly, but it isn’t much of a song, and though I don’t expect masterpieces four singles into a Clive Davis-managed pop album this should be better than it is. As a more subdued version of the stuff she did on My December I suppose it could be considered a step in the right direction, but the real problem with that album wasn’t musical overkill (though that was a problem) so much as the weakness of the material. Maybe this will grow on me the way “Already Gone” did. But “Already Gone” stayed in one place and drove its point home. The greatest singer in the world couldn’t save a song as confused as this one.
“Half of My Heart” (featuring Taylor Swift), #25
“Heartbreak Warfare”, #100
What bothers me about these records, both above average in execution, emotion, and intelligence—especially “Heartbreak Warfare”—is Mayer’s apparent inability not to wear his influences on his sleeve. “Half Of My Heart” not only borrows the easy heartbeat groove of Fleetwood Mac, but is layered with an almost embarrassingly accurate imitation of Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar, while “Heartbreak Warfare” is a barely disguised rewrite of U2′s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Considering the subject matter of both songs, the borrowing makes sense, but it also makes me wonder if Mayer has any musical identity that he truly feels is his own. Maybe “Half Of My Heart” is a reference to his music as well as his love life.
“Lean On Me”, #50
“Don’t Stand So Close To Me/Young Girl”, #64
“I’ll Stand By You”, #73
“Endless Love”, #78
Welcome, to paraphrase Dylan, to the old folks home in the high school. For anyone who didn’t already believe that boomer culture is a dead issue, Glee is the ultimate proof—or the final nail. These kids aren’t singing their parent’s music, after all, they’re singing their grandparent’s music. There’s a certain amount of wit, I suppose, in pairing The Police with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (though it’s unfair—not even Sting deserves to be chained to such deathless smarm), but the joke is lost in the blank earnestness of the performance. This might as well be Sing Along with Mitch or The Lawrence Welk Show for a new generation—once meaningful standards reduced to a level even lower than muzak. As glad as I am that Bill Withers and Chrissie Hynde will never have to work again unless they want to, they deserve better. We all deserve better. Even the people who actually buy this crap deserve better.
Alicia Keys—”Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”
Even at her best, and this is close, Alicia Keys makes what might be called R&B for home schoolers. She gets all the details right, down to the smallest nuance, but her music lacks the give and take, the rough and tumble of actual human contact, and it’s full of a self-importance bred of isolation. It’s as if she were building a museum of her emotions, displayed on pedestals behind glass, with dark velvet curtains and perfect lighting and little explanatory plaques for our edification.
“Down To Earth”, #79
“First Dance” (featuring Usher). #99
Four of the songs from his eight-track EP already having charted as singles, it only makes sense that the three others that are available as individual downloads (the eighth is technically an “album only” bonus cut) should chart as well. The first two are even blander than the singles, but “First Dance”, at least lyrically, is something else again. It’s the prom, you see, and there’s no one else on the dance floor, and their are no chaperones, and… “I promise I’ll be gentle, I know we gotta do it slowly” Bieber croons in his most seductive 15-year-old tones. “I couldn’t ask for more, we’re rockin’ back and fourth,” he says later, and then assures the young thing that “our parents will never know”. If both consenting partners are under age, is it still considered statuatory rape? And people think Adam Lambert is controversial.
Rihanna featuring Jeezy—”Hard”
It is hard, and it gets even harder with Jeezy’s rap, which, unlike so many guest spots, lifts the song to a higher level, and is immediately followed by Rihanna’s best-ever vocal performance. She sounds so enraged she’s incoherent. Better this than the self-pity and mixed messages of “Russian Roulette”, not to mention the rest of Rated R.
Melanie Fiona—”It Kills Me”
Like Jazmine Sullivan, Fiona sounds as if she’s immersed in early ’70s soul, specifically of the Chi-Lites variety. She’s more emotionally restrained than Sullivan, though, her music less zaftig, so to speak. Which makes her a little less interesting and more generic, at least in ’70s terms. Today, the sound of this record stands out, but back in ’73 it would have been lucky to make top 30 on the R&B chart.
50 Cent—”The Invitation”
The good news is that 50 Cent sounds interested again—this is as tough and angry as it ought to be. The bad news is that he’s still 50 Cent, and apparently the only way he could revive his interest was by going over the same ground he and thousands of others have worn down already. Not bad for retro-gangsta, but it doesn’t go anywhere, largely because it never had anywhere to go in the first place.
I’m not a big fashion guy, but when these three photos turned up in my RSS feed, I couldn’t help but notice. I guess everyone’s feeling a little defensive these days.
And just as a side note, I’ve finally figured out what Adam Lambert reminds me of: a demented game show host.
Alicia Keys—”Doesn’t Mean Anything”
I love the jittery piano rumbling that goes on underneath the arrangement, the sort of subtle touch that suggests Keys may have some musical smarts after all. But this sounds a hell of a lot like “No One”, only less intense, and with no real hook. Which means, unfortunately for Keys, that it may well live up to it’s title. Not to worry, though: a career in soft jazz awaits.
“Taking Chances”, #71
“Somebody To Love”, #85
In a way it’s unfair to review these records: they were obviously put together very quickly (the arrangements are the barest accompaniment and nothing more), the singers aren’t professionals (or at least not professional singers), and the audience buys them more as a souvenir keepsake than for the music. But here they are, creating a small extra revenue stream for the show, and as long as they turn up on the Hot 100 I feel duty bound to tell you what they’re like. They’re awful. I never thought it would be possible to miss Celine Dion, but I do, and as for their version of Queen’s (as opposed to Jefferson Airplane’s) “Somebody to Love”, I found it impossible to listen a second time. Aping Grace Slick, as horrifying as that sounds, might actually have been a better choice.
David Nail—”Red Light”
There’s a decent breakup song buried in here somewhere, but I dare you to find it under all the country bombast. Nail isn’t a bad singer, either, but he’s trying so hard to be heard above the noise that you’d never know it.
This is the opening cut of Maxwell’s BlackSummersNight trilogy, and it sounds like it. It’s a microcosm of the album as a whole, more an overture designed to introduce the various themes than a complete unit in itself,and it doesn’t quite work as a single. That build through the first couple of minutes sure is something, though; I could listen to that forever.
Pink has been milking Funhouse the album for so long I’m beginning to wonder if she’s going through some sort of extended mourning period for her marriage, one that feels like it’s never going to end. I suppose the title of this song is intended ironically, which might explain why it isn’t much fun at all, but doesn’t explain why it’s a banal pastiche. It’s got energy, for sure, just no brains.
The mix of Hank and AC/DC Morgan brags about here might have been surprising four or five year ago, when Big and Rich did it, but now it’s just another modern country cliche, to go along with the beer and the pickup trucks. And the loud. Don’t forget the loud.