Demi Lovato—“Heart Attack”
The best way I can find to describe Lovato’s style of vocal attack is to quote something Robert Christgau once wrote about the late Replacements guitarist, Bob Stinson: “…Stinson’s guitar was a loud, unkempt match for Paul Westerberg’s vocal, only he’d juice the notes with a little something extra, and probably wrong…”. This is exactly how Lovato sings (listen to the second verse of “Give Your Heart a Break” for an example of her making all the wrong choices but adding to the emotional power of the song in the process). The difference is Stinson was working with Westerberg, one of the best songwriters of his time, while Lovato depends on industry pros who focus on formula more than inspiration. When she finds a good song like “Give Your Heart a Break” or the earlier “Don’t Forget” she can make something fascinating, if often frustrating, out of it. But on a generic song like “Heart Attack” she overcompensates. The verses are all right, but she screeches the chorus, making a mediocre song an unbearable one. It doesn’t help that the production is even louder. I hope Lovato finds another good song soon, but I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of stuff like this in her career. I also worry that she doesn’t know the difference.
The rise of teen pop has opened a window for contemporary Christian music, which trades in the same themes of uplift and aspiration. This allows Nicole, who’s been recording since 2004, to partially remake herself as a Cher Lloyd sound-alike and push her spiritual ideas without once having to mention God or Jesus. Nicole—27, married, and pregnant—doesn’t exactly match the teen pop demographic. But then, neither does Carly Rae Jepsen, which may be what Nicole’s new label, Capitol, is betting on. But “Call Me Maybe” was a masterpiece, while “Gold” is generic teen pop, too basic to be particularly meaningful (a common problem with Christian pop), and too sugar-coated to get the attention of anyone but candy freaks.
Michael Buble—“It’s A Beautiful Day”
For someone who’s been stereotyped as an easy-listening crooner, Buble is an interesting guy. He made millions off his Christmas record, and on his regular albums, which consist mostly of covers, he plays the smooth, sophisticated balladeer to the hilt. His singles, however, tell a different story. 2009′s “Hollywood” was a nasty swipe at celebrity culture, and “It’s a Beautiful Day” is yet more sarcastic, and even vicious. It’s a beautiful day, you see, because the girlfriend he was planning on dumping anyway saved him the trouble by dumping him first. Both “Hollywood” and “Beautiful” cover their bitterness in upbeat, bouncy arrangements with catchy choruses. The only part of the music that reinforces the lyric is the horn charts—nothing sounds more sarcastic than a drunkenly sliding trombone, though the trumpet solo at the end of “Beautiful” comes close. It’s enough to make you wonder if Buble isn’t toying with his audience, seeing how far he can go, at least symbolically, in telling them off. It may also be a way of stretching the envelop a little to make his cage of a career more bearable.
There’s also a third, darker, possibility: that Buble is a closet misogynist. The way he addresses the women in “Hollywood” and “Beautiful” is, at its best, condescending and patronizing. At its worst it’s hateful (listen to the way he clips off the words “It’s a beautiful day”, skipping away as he flips her off). The coupling of catchy music with bitter sarcasm only makes that impression greater. He’s sugaring the pill, partly because he believes it’s the only way the women in his audience will take it, and partly because he enjoys the idea of watching their reaction when they realize what they’ve swallowed (not that he risks losing them; if the career of Chris Brown has proved nothing else, it’s that some fans will take, or ignore, anything). Buble is either a true artist yearning for more and striking out at his audience in frustration, or a sadistic misogynist getting his kicks in as cruel a way as possible. Like I said, an interesting guy.
Brantley Gilbert—“More Than Miles”
Merely mediocre, which for Gilbert is a step up. The lyrics, at times, are both laughable and touching—”I’ve been changing lanes without my mirrors/Cause every time I look behind me I see her”—though you’d never know it by the way Gilbert sings them.
On “Don’t You Worry Child”, Swedish House Mafia paved the way for the final merger of EDM and pomp rock, and Hadouken! are happy to deliver the final product. Geeks to their bones (the band’s name comes from an attack move in the Street Fighter video game), they’ve embraced the sense of technological grandiosity that lies at the center of geek culture and made loud music out of it. It’s not terrible (there’s one great key change), but if Tom Scholz had grown up in the 00s instead of the 60s and 70s, this is what Boston would have sounded like.