It’s been something like six years since Ciara had a big pop hit, and it’s a tribute to her tenacity that after years of missing the mark she finally created something that connects. For that she, and everyone else, can thank Mike Will Made-It, who delivers the most stunning (those drum beats!) and friendliest track of his career. Not his most daring or deepest mind you, but it’s good that his sound is adaptable to artists who aren’t rapping about how stoned they are. Still, this track could use a little depth, and it isn’t going to come from Ciara, who needed her tenacity for the simple reason that she never was that good, even when she had hits.
DJ Khaled featuring Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne—“No New Friends”
How dare people try to be friends with Drake now that he’s famous? They just want some of his fame and money to rub off on them. He’d rather hang with his real friends, his true friends, the ones he knew before he was famous. He’ll even stick with the ones who can’t really hack it anymore, like Lil Wayne. After all, you won’t catch Wayne hanging with people he didn’t know before he was famous. Except for Drake, of course. But Drake is special. At least, that’s what he keeps telling us. But then, why should we believe somebody who isn’t willing to be our friend?
Just like Michael Buble, Sara Bareilles is an artist I enjoy when she’s being sarcastic, and find unbearable when she engages in sincere uplift. This isn’t horrible, but it pales next to Bareilles’s previous singles, and portends a load of schlock in the future. C’mon Sara, there must be someone who still pisses you off. Maybe you and Buble could do a duet where you really tear into each other.
Lana Del Rey—“Young and Beautiful”
Del Rey’s inability to project or phrase makes it hard to tell just what direction she’s approaching this song from, but I’m going to assume, since this is from The Great Gatsby soundtrack, that she’s pretending to be Daisy Buchanan. Problem is, she sounds more like Myrtle, the gas station owner’s wife who deludes herself into believing that Daisy’s husband, Tom, is in love with her and ends up being killed by Gatsby’s car while Daisy is driving. Myrtle isn’t young and beautiful, and she’s too shallow to have an “aching soul”, but she’s convinced herself of both all the same. Sounds like Del Rey has, too. But she hasn’t convinced me.
Hustle Gang featuring T.I., B.o.B., Kendrick Lamar & Kris Stephens—“Memories Back Then”
Another great T.I. rap (two in a row!), and this time the words are as important as his timing and flow. But B.o.B. is ordinary as ever, and it’s beginning to look like Kendrick Lamar’s misogyny is not only real, but deep. Either that or he’s been doing so many features lately he’s started to fall back on cliches to get by. So, if you feel like it, edit out the T.I. verse for a best of, and hope for a remix with someone equally inspired. Just think what Andre 3000 could do with an idea like this.
Zac Brown Band—“Jump Right In”
Ever wondered what James Taylor would sound like if he fronted a jam band that was really into Jimmy Buffett? Me either, but here it is all the same.
As a rapper, French Montana is negligible, but he sure knows how to pick hooks and choose guests. Nicki Minaj is perfect here, even if you can’t understand half of what she says. Since she not only plays the freak, but goes freak hunting at the same time, she can serve as both a sexual object and a role model (though I have no idea who could possibly follow the pattern she’s set), and blows Montana’s more generic rap sexism away with a giggle and a shout. There’s a reason this is officially Montana’s record, though. His chorus holds the track, which would otherwise be pulled apart by its eccentricities, together.
The Band Perry—“DONE.”
It would seem that the lighter, dreamier, romantic version of The Band Perry, (that is, the one that made their first album) is already history. “Better Dig Two” traded in obsession and psychosis, and now comes “DONE.” (yes, all caps and a period; never say these folks aren’t up-to-date), a break-up song with teeth. The bite isn’t just in the lyrics, either; the music is tougher than anything they’ve done before, but never falls into the pseudo-metal that mars a lot of country music. For that you can thank Kimberly Perry’s power-pop-loving brothers, Reid and Neil, who did the bulk of the writing. In other words, not a one woman show by a long shot. They may be around a lot longer than people thought.
DJ Drama featuring Wale, Tyga & Roscoe Dash—“So Many Girls”
If I had to choose between screaming DJs, I’d choose Drama. He screams less than Khaled, for one thing, and his beats show a lot more variety and subtlety. Khaled scores bigger and better rappers, though, and every once in a while his guests make all the shouting and bombast worthwhile. On “So Many Girls” the raps drag an impressive track down with generic, mindless boasting. Maybe Drama should try releasing unfinished instrumentals. It worked for Baauer.
This is so goofy that it goes a long way towards making me think Aldean is an actual human being, as opposed to a country cliche machine. How can you help enjoying a song that, instead of paying obeisance to Hank or Johnny or Waylon, serves up some respect to Joe Diffie? This doesn’t make Aldean a genius, of course: he should never be allowed to rap again, or even say hip-hop. I do like the line “teach us how to Diffie”, though, even if it is a little late in the day for dougie jokes.
I have nothing against party music or teen lust, and I could even forgive the Clash rip-off of the intro, but this is crass and insulting. “Let’s get some” is not something you say to a sexual partner, even a one-night-stand, it’s something you say to your brain-dead buddies when you go out looking for sex. Since finding willing partners is no longer a problem for these guys, it may not seem to matter to them what they say, but in reality it matters more. Either they don’t understand that, or they don’t give a shit. Plus, they didn’t give The Clash credit for that intro, so fuck ‘em.
Taylor Swift loves words. She loves the way they flow and mesh and swerve and can double up meaning and emotion with the slightest change in emphasis. She loves them so much she overstocked “Red” with them and then felt she had to come up with an arrangement to match. Her willingness to experiment is appreciated, but this goes too far. And not all the words work: the Maserati reference is wrong for her, and some of the similes fall flat. Still, I wish half the songwriters in America tried this hard.
Not only the best Bond theme since Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”, but the best thing Adele has ever done as well. The lushness of the string arrangement is perfect for her, allowing her voice to cut through like a knife, and a vast improvement on the harsh sound of her previous records. Not having to fight with the arrangement let’s her focus on the emotion of the song in a way she hasn’t in the past, and gives her a chance to be subtle instead of pounding the listener over the head with the power of her voice. The song itself is something of a pastiche, especially the arrangement, but it’s a great sound, and if it encourages Adele to sing like this I’m all for it.
Bruno Mars—“Locked Out of Heaven”
I actively enjoy a lot of Mars’s music, and the fact that he has a working knowledge of the entire history of rock and roll only makes me like him more. That knowledge hasn’t yet synthesized into a personal style, though, so when he decides, as in this case, to base a song on the early days of The Police, all he comes up with is pastiche. It’s alright to wear your influences on your sleeve, but if you don’t rise above them you end up looking like a hack.
Brad Paisley—“Southern Comfort Zone”
Paisley walks a very fine line on “Southern Comfort Zone”, which is easily his best single since “American Saturday Night”. Like that song, this is about expanding the horizon of country music, admitting, and even enjoying, the existence of a world outside the rural stereotypes that dominate the genre. The deepest moment comes at the end of the second verse, when Paisley says that he knows what it’s like to be in the minority. It’s a plea not just for a broadening of outlook beyond the south, but for greater tolerance at home as well. He’s careful, though, to soften the message as much as possible, layering spoken bits from The Andy Griffith Show, Nascar, and The Grand Old Opry over the intro and the outro, emphasizing that he always wants to come back home, and assuring his fans that a life outside the south doesn’t automatically lead to debauchery, since the only “west coast girl” he’s kissing is his wife. I have my doubts about the choir singing “Dixie”, though. It’s a musical triumph, especially when it’s paired with his guitar solo, and for Paisley it’s obviously the ultimate form of southern pride, but to a lot of people, including me, it’s also a symbol of the Confederacy and the antebellum south. Paisley has already declared his hatred of racism, and it may only be a sign of my own narrow point of view that I’m bothered by this, but I worry that Paisley thinks he’s living in a post-racist world where southern pride has been safely cleansed of the memory of slavery. I wish he was right, but he isn’t. Still, Nashville needs more songwriters who love the tradition but also question its flaws and weaknesses. I only hope that Paisley’s influence will be as powerful as his music.
Kid Cudi featuring King Chip—“Just What I Am”
A hymn to self-delusion, this may be as deep as a pro-marijuana song can ever get. While dope rappers like Wiz Khalifa are just having fun, Cudi is self-medicating, hoping to alleviate the mental issues that his therapists and prescription medication don’t. Whether that’s because they can’t work or Cudi lacks the patience to let them is open to question. His defiant tone suggests the latter. Whatever the case, Cudi sounds more focused and on top of things than in the past, as if his anger at his situation had cleared away some of his confusion. If he is self-medicating, though, I wouldn’t count on it to last.
Gary Allan—“Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)”
If you’d written a song encouraging someone to start over again after a bad breakup, and filled it with images of storms lifting and new beginnings, would you base the arrangement on an earlier song that embraces death? Neither would I. Then again, after 35 years of being inured to it on oldies radio, most people have probably forgotten what “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is about, and those chord changes are a perfect fit with the Allan’s storm metaphors. So, hell, why not? Most people won’t even notice the disconnect, but whenever Allan sings about standing on the edge and setting yourself free over those doom-laden chord changes, all I hear is an invitation to suicide. And I can’t help but wonder if that message isn’t being conveyed even to those who aren’t familiar with Blue Oyster Cult. The music has it’s influence, after all, regardless of the lyrics. Not that I’m expecting a wave of suicides below the Mason-Dixon line if this becomes a hit, but a surge in depression statistics wouldn’t surprise me.
Glee Cast—“The Scientist”
Mumford & Sons—“Lover Of the Light”
Another muddle of personal relationship and religion, and though Mumford sounds like he knows what he’s singing about, I doubt if anybody else does. That includes the band, who go through their regular soft/loud, stop/start business regardless. The instrumental break may be the most vacant thing they’ve ever produced.
DJ Drama, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Jeremih—“My Moment”
A better than average rap uplift song, but the arrangement is too busy and the meaning, such as there is, gets lost. I’m still trying to determine whether Drama’s shout at the end is intended as a parody of DJ Khaled or just a following along. I hope it’s the former; Drama’s too talented to waste on Khaled’s brand of nonsense.
Randy Houser—“How Country Feels”
This is as ordinary as country-rock gets, but at least Houser has the good taste not to stress the double entendre of the title. Then again, maybe that’s why this is so ordinary.
P!nk—“Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”
P!nk’s persona, the pop diva with the heart of a riot grrrl, can create interesting tensions in her music, but sometimes it forces her to overplay her hand. This is a step up from songs like her pre-maternity leave self-help ballad “Fuckin’ Perfect”, but she tries too hard. The song is already tough enough without the double entendre title parenthesis or the ear-piercing pitch of the “shit day” section. It’s not that I don’t believe that P!ink has shit days, it’s that the whole section is overkill and seems designed to do nothing more than give her a chance to swear and remind everyone how down-to-earth she is. Without it, despite it’s worrying 90s feel (guitar line courtesy U2, vocal harmonies on the verses courtesy Liz Phair), it would be a much better song. As it is, it’s slightly above-average and nothing more.
Tim McGraw—“Truck Yeah”
Not a great song, but there’s no doubt McGraw is re-energized now that he’s free of Curb Records. Anyone who thinks Emotional Traffic wasn’t pure contractual obligation should listen to how fired up McGraw sounds here. He’ll come up with better material, but as an announcement of liberation this isn’t bad. Also, the image of McGraw rocking out to Lil Wayne is pleasing in all sorts of ways (though I do wonder how you do that).
DJ Khaled featuring Kanye West & Rick Ross—“I Wish You Would”
Having decided that drunken award show ramblings and all-caps Twitter rants are damaging not only to his reputation but his self-respect, West has wisely decided to express his vehemence and air his frustrations on his records instead. The result, so far, has been a succession of singles in which his anger, instead of being diminished by expression, has grown, as if each record was feeding off the one that preceded it. “Mercy”, “Theraflu/Way Too Cold/Cold” (the succession of titles alone gives you an idea of how focused West’s rage has become), and now “I Wish You Would”, are all rants directed at anyone who has ever gotten in West’s way or dared to consider themselves his equal (excepting, of course, his mentor Jay-Z). Each has been more bitter and pointed than the one that came before. The most brilliant part of this campaign has been his using the bombastic, rap brag production of DJ Khaled as his base, taking the already prominent anger of the form and amping it to the breaking point. Rick Ross does his best to keep up, but he’s out of his league, and Khaled’s best contribution, aside from the beat, is a brief interjection expressing amazement at the majestic vehemence of West’s rap. West is working out so much aggression that I fully expect his next album to be full of laid back soul ballads and Chi-Lites samples. Then again, if he keeps up like this, it may end up as an album length equivalent to the intro of “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To the People”.
Trey Songz featuring T.I.—“2 Reasons”
It’s nice to hear Songz breaking out of the soul ballad niche he’s come close to exhausting and being trapped in, and T.I.’s trying out a new flow and voice is a relief, as well (he’s barely recognizable as his old self). This is nothing but a goof, and suffers from not going far enough into the inanity that drives it, but I like it more every time I hear it, and it may turn out to be a keeper.
Pitbull featuring Shakira—“Get It Started”
What a mess. Pitbull’s willingness to try just about anything is one of his greatest strengths, but here he comes out with a start and stop dance track that doesn’t make sense even when it’s banging. Shakira’s presence adds to the mystery. This sounds like two incomplete productions slapped together in the hope that the marquee names on the label will make the accumulated trash a hit anyway.
Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa—“Payphone”
The sheer hackery of this record is revealed by the very elements that are designed to disguise it. That is, the subject matter itself—just mentioning payphones these days is guaranteed to get people’s attention: “Who uses those, anymore?”—and the expletives in the chorus, which in the era of “Fuck You” sound as false and clichéd as moon June spoon. And I hope never to hear Adam Levine’s falsetto again. The most irritating and possibly the worst record of the year; certainly the worst to make top ten.
Linkin Park—“Burn It Down”
As long as they’re driven by decent hooks and can be taken as metaphors for personal drama, I can just stand Linkin Park’s apocalyptic scenarios. When the music drones loudly like this, however, and when their need to say something important overwhelms any sense of proportion they may possess, they’re unbearable. This is only half way to unbearable, but that’s far enough for me.
A mixtape cut, which means Miller’s turn from old-timey samples to electronics may not mean anything in the long run. Not that Miller’s records mean anything, anyway. He’s isn’t a terrible rapper, but he sure isn’t a great one, and he has nothing original to say. He does have diamonds on his chain, though. No, really, he has diamonds on his chain.
Rick Ross featuring Drake & French Montana—“Stay Schemin’”
I find the slow motion chorus intriguing, and Drake is rapping better than ever, but this sounds exactly like what it is: a mixtape track that got enough attention from fans and bootleggers, largely because of Drake, that the label decided to issue it as a single. In other words, a rip-off. But hell, why shouldn’t an otherwise free track make you some money off of those who aren’t in on game while at the same time thwarting those pesky bootleggers who had the idea first? That’s what scheming’s all about, isn’t it?
Kanye West featuring DJ Khaled—“Way Too Cold”
What may be most fascinating about Kanye West right now is how unpredictable he’s become. Most artists at this point in their career start to smooth things out: their music becomes more polished, which many often mistake for maturity, capitalizing on their strengths while limiting experimentation to those ideas that can easily be folded into an existing sound. West appears to be doing the opposite: his records are getting rougher and more outrageous every time out. He seems to be running on pure instinct. The result is throwaway tracks like this, a fast moving, unpolished rant that builds and builds and gives you the feeling that it could get even bigger. Until, that is, DJ Khaled steps up to the mike and starts reading the names of Chicago neighborhoods off a gazetteer. Without Khaled, this is a near perfect record. I would have been happy to hear that great beat bump along for the last minute and a half without any more raps at all. Did West owe the guy a favor or something?
Chris Brown—“Sweet Love”
I go back and forth on this one. Brown’s vocal is as irritating as he’s ever been (is there anyone in pop who sounds more self-satisfied?), but the music is amazing: brash and energetic, with a lilt that adds a pleasant and unexpected romantic tinge to the whole. It’s messy, but it works. Couldn’t producer Polow Da Don have given this beat to somebody else? Anybody else?
Toby Keith—“Beers Ago”
After demonstrating, on “Red Solo Cup”, how a country beer-drinking song should go, Keith now focuses on the subject of country teen nostalgia, which once again features beer. It’s almost as if he’s presenting a masters class on how to rejuvenate tired country themes. Rule number 1: include as much realistic and humorous detail as possible. Rule number 2: don’t lose count of your beers.
Gotye—“Eyes Wide Open”
It’s not fair to make a judgment after only two singles, but this record helps to confirm my belief that Gotye is the Gerry Rafferty of our era: a talented, intelligent, well-meaning guy who has his flashes of inspiration but isn’t a genius, and who will make a number of enjoyable but unimpressive records and one or two great ones. He’s already made a great one. If he’s lucky he’s got one more left. This isn’t it.
John Legend featuring Ludacris—“Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”
If this had been released five years ago, I would say that Legend was talented but a couple of years behind the times. Now I’m not sure what to say, except that Ludacris is even further behind.
Future—“Same Damn Time”
A lot of this is fairly standard Atlanta rap, and Future, though he has something of a gift for words, doesn’t have that much different to say from everybody else (two girls at once? amazing!). The vocals, however, are something else. He goes from straight shouting to a flow obviously based on T.I. to electronically stretching his voice to the breaking point. If you’re not listening closely, it sounds like he has lousy breath control, and maybe the idea was to recreate the sound of someone trying to speak while their lungs are full of smoke. Which isn’t all that meaningful of an idea, either, and though I’m willing to give him credit for possibly trying to get at something more important, I have no clue as to what that would be.
Jennifer Lopez featuring Pitbull—“Dance Again”
The music on the chorus is too garish, and Pitbull is wasted, but the verses are great, and this record officially establishes Lopez’s comeback as more successful than Madonna’s. Of course, Lopez achieved this by ripping off the more easily copied bits of Madonna’s style, but she still has the advantage. Does MDNA have any tracks produced by RedOne? Sounds like it should have.
Kanye West featuring Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz—“Mercy”
In just about every way, West’s rap doesn’t fit this song: it breaks the flow, simplifies the beat while complicating the record as a whole, and shows up everyone else’s ignorance by promoting his own intelligence. It’s as if he expects the whole world to come to a halt every time he opens his mouth. Gee, I wonder what that could be a metaphor for? But aside from the exotic main beat, his rap is the only thing that makes this record interesting. West is right: those other guys should shut up and go home.
Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw—“Feel Like A Rock Star”
My problem with this, besides how dull and cliched it is, is that I can’t get the image of Cheney and McGraw performing it on the ACM Awards out of my head. With Chesney in his sleeveless, fuchsia t-shirt and white cowboy hat, and McGraw in his black v-neck, leather pants, and black leather cowboy hat, they looked like country’s most prominent ambiguously gay couple. The lyrics, with turns of phrase that could easily be taken for gay slang, don’t help matters. Are they trying to tell us something? If they are, that would be the only interesting thing about this record.
“Right By My Side” (featuring Chris Brown), #51
“Beez In the Trap” (featuring 2 Chainz), #78
“Va Va Voom”, #79
“Beez In the Trap” is a classic, “Va Va Voom” likable but nothing special, “Right By My Side” another of Minaj’s unfortunate forays into generic pop (on which, once again, she does an expert Rihanna impersonation). So goes another week in the life of the most promising and frustrating rapper of the last two years. And now she’s cut herself off from Twitter and is complaining about lackluster sales. I suspect if she had only released “Starships” and “Beez In the Trap” before the album came out, instead of all the Roman stuff, that wouldn’t have been a problem (just because you’re the female Weezy doesn’t mean you have to match his release schedule). Whatever the case, it sounds like she could use a vacation.
DJ Khaled feturing Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Lil Wayne—“Take It To the Head”
Sub-par performances all around on the latest, less boomy than usual, Khaled extravaganza. Only Brown sounds like he’s interested. Bet he ends up wishing he hadn’t wasted that hook.
Demi Lovato—“Give Your Heart A Break”
Interesting. This is from Lovato’s LP Unbroken, which came out last September. It’s only the second official single from the album, and releasing something bright and bouncy after the ballad, “Skyscraper”, makes perfect sense, but it’s impossible not to wonder if its release doesn’t have something to do with the success of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. Aside from the lyrics, the first few bars are almost identical. So is this a cash-in? Lovato establishing a prior claim? It’s easy to imagine that Jepsen and her producers drew on this for inspiration, so is this release Lovato’s way of calling them on it? Whatever the case, it’s a great record, if not as great as Jepsen’s. It’s good to hear Lovato doing something upbeat that doesn’t focus on vulnerability or depend on her usual vocal tics.
T.I.—“Love This Life”
It’s an interesting stylistic change-up, but the lyrics are the same-old “the way to a woman’s heart is through your credit card” nonsense. Even when he gets around to mentioning love and affection in the second verse he still ends up talking about all the stuff he’s bought her. Which finally makes me realize why I’ve always had a problem with T.I.: under all the beats and the great flow, he’s as shallow as they come.
Fat Joe featuring Chris Brown—“Another Round”
I congratulate Joe on his weight loss. It’s a hard thing to do. But all I can say about this record is that the adjective in his name still applies to his head. And that goes double for Chris Brown.
Andy Grammer—“Fine By Me”
Not by me, you smarmy twit.
Of Monsters and Men—“Little Talks”
I knew there would be Mumford and Son imitators, and I knew they would be terrible, but I didn’t know they’d be quite as bad as this. I’m reminded of the ghastly folk-pop groups of the mid-sixties, The We Five, maybe, or even The Seekers. This is faster and rougher, because that’s the style, but the result is pretty much the same: pseudo-folk for pseudo-folkies, only this time with blaring, witless horn charts. Some things just never die.
Gloriana—“(Kissed You) Good Night”
As followers in the footsteps of Lady Antebellum, these guys are almost as good, which means they’re almost as bad, too. I appreciate the romanticism, but there’s something unsettling about the line “I should have pushed you up against the wall”, especially when the woman sings it. I’m sure it’s meant in all innocence, but the possessive, domineering tone of it (after he’s admitted to being scared to kiss her in the first place), followed by the woman’s submissive tone when she repeats it, grates and sets off alarms. It’s kind of creepy. Takes all the romanticism right out of it, at least for me.
K’Naan featuring Nelly Furtado—“Is Anybody Out There?”
Two years ago K’Naan was making great records about racism and the horrors of living in Somalia; now he’s singing It Gets Better songs over Smeezingtons-wannabe beats. Furtado sounds so anonymous that every time I hear this I need to strain to remember who it is. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Meek Mill featuring T.I., Birdman, Lil Wayne, D.J. Khaled, Rick Ross & Swizz Beats—“Ima Boss”
His brief change in style having flopped, at least when compared to his earlier singles, DJ Khaled goes back to the bank on this remix, providing big bragging beats for big bragging rappers. Nobody says anything important, but the energy level is surprisingly high. Usually when a producer returns to a style he’d hoped to move beyond, the intensity drops. If anything, this is even more energetic than Khaled’s earlier hits. It sounds like a homecoming. Maybe he changed his style out of a sense of duty, not desire.
Lindsey Pavao—“Say Aah”
Glee Cast featuring Ricky Martin
“Sexy and I Know It”, #81
“La Isla Bonita”, #99
Kip Moore—“Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck”
This is based on the usual country clichés about trucks and beer and women and skinny dipping, but Moore manages to create a good record by keeping things as simple as possible: no fancy bridges or middle eights, a tune that’s immediately familiar and easy to hum, and lyrics that never get fancy or stretch some ridiculous rustic metaphor to the breaking point. The arrangement could be less bombastic, but that’s a common problem with a lot of country rock these days, and hardly Moore’s fault.
Calvin Harris—“Feel So Close”
Harris is less bombastic than David Guetta or Levels or just about any other dance-pop producer right now, but that doesn’t make him any better. His subtlety doesn’t have any actual idea behind it; it’s just the way he prefers to approach things. It does make for a more dynamic listen, I’ll admit, but unfortunately during the quiet bits you have to listen to Harris sing, which isn’t a dynamic experience at all.
Kirko Bangz—“Drank In My Cup”
A Drake sound-alike without the self-doubt or the well-meaning sexist condescension—that is, without any of the things that make Drake more than just another rapper on the make. The beat’s good, but it’s a Drake imitation, as well . Except for the intro, that is, which is lifted, uncredited, from Cream. Somehow I can’t see Drake doing something like that, either.
YG featuring Tyga, Snoop Dogg & Nipsey Hussle—“Snitchs Ain’t…”
With women running the top ten, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find the return of good old rap misogyny down at the bottom of the chart. I would say that’s where it deserves to be, except that it doesn’t deserve to be on the chart at all. At least the first verse shows some humor in its putdowns; the rest is catchy and dumb in the worst way.
DJ Drama featuring Fabolous, Roscoe Dash & Wiz Khalifa—”Oh My”
In which three guys who have never had anything to say say it together over a track that has nothing to say, either. At least DJ Khaled’s tracks are full of racial pride; this is just full of it.
Big Sean featuring Kanye West & Roscoe Dash—”Marvin & Chardonnay”
Big Sean is Big Sean, Roscoe Dash is, I guess, Roscoe Dash—to tell the truth I didn’t even realize he was on here until I read the credits—and Kanye West is a strange and shriveled parody of himself. First time I heard this I thought West was Big Sean doing a Weezy imitation; even when I realized it was West himself I could barely believe it. It’s not just that his verse is bad—West has been bad plenty of times before—it’s that it isn’t even an interesting or offensive form of bad, it’s sub-par in every possible way. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t West making fun of Big Sean instead of the other way around.
Pia Toscano—”This Time”
Apparently Jimmy Iovine thinks Toscano can be a star despite her early booting off of American Idol. To prove it, he gets Ester Dean to write up a pale imitation of a Ryan Tedder track and tells Toscano to sing as loudly as she can. At least that’s how I imagine it went. I figured I’d give Toscano a break and not blame her the first time out. Next time, though…
This is as dirty as country can get and still be played on the radio, though I suspect the only program it would really fit on is the old Dr. Demento show. The main joke you see, is rhyming “fish” with “truck” and “luck”, an idea that puts it right up there with “Shaving Cream” in the intellectual humor department. There are also some double entendres involving fishing rods and little pink bobbers. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable in a leering, adolescent sort of way.
Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield—”Easy”
What exactly is Natasha Bedingfield, or her management, or her record company, thinking? A few years ago she was pioneering a form of white-girl hip-hop which, if slick as hell, at least carried some meaning; now she’s lending her voice to one of the worst bands in the world on a “country” power-ballad that makes Lady Antebellum look like masters of emotional restraint. Unless she’s planning to go “country” herself how does this possibly further her career other than keeping her name in the charts? Yeah, her last album tanked, but that’s because she had lost track of where her true strengths lie. Now she’s even further off course.
An odd metaphor coming from a woman who is generally seen either in wigs or with hair coiffed and dyed to within an inch of it’s life; does anyone know what GaGa’s real hair even looks like? But despite the cognitive dissonance and the unfortunate echoes of David Crosby, this is a grand piece of Springsteen-influenced disco, the kind of music that sounds great not just on the dancefloor but out on the open road. I’m particularly fond of the bridge, where GaGa’s phrasing makes her sound appropriately callow and naive. It may be the most human moment she’s ever managed.
Young Jeezy featuring Lil Wayne—”Ballin’”
Jeezy’s voice holds your attention, but he works in a style that was half-dead even when he started out five years ago, and has nothing to add to it. Neither does Lil Wayne.
Nicole Scherzinger featuring 50 Cent—”Right There”
Not terrible, which is a surprise considering how lazy it sounds. The music isn’t bad, but the rhyme scheme consists of repeating the same word at the end of each line, an effect almost as flattening as 50 Cents’ rap. He long ago said he had no real interest in making music anymore, and this proves it. Scherzinger sounds as anonymous as ever, and you can’t help but wonder if this would even have been released if it wasn’t for her X Factor gig.
DJ Khaled featuring Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne—”I’m On One”
A stylistic changeup from Khaled, which would be interesting if he was capable of making good music, but he isn’t, so we’re left with the lineup. Rick Ross is his usual monotonous self, and Lil Wayne indulges in hit-and-miss word games: good and bad puns (“I’m a made nigga, I should dust something”) with the occasional meaningful line. As for Drake, he may be serious in his doubts about the rap game, and even in his self-criticism, but he lies so consistantly about how hard his life is I find it impossible to trust him even (especially) when he sounds sincere. His hypocrisy is fascinating, though, as is his resistance to flow. Being the snobbish cad that he is, he seems to consider it beneath him.
Jason DeRulo—”Don’t Wanna Go Home”
Yet another lift from “Day-O”, this one even more obvious than Lil Wayne’s. Otherwise, this is as anonymous as most of DeRulo’s previous records. If it weren’t for that borrowed hook, it would have no melody at all.
Jennifer Lopez featuring Pitbull—”On the Floor”
Anyone with any sense knows why this debuted in the top ten. Lopez’s presence on American Idol may, in fact, be the only reason this record was made at all. Some people have already mentioned the irony involved in Lopez coaching singers when she doesn’t have much of a voice herself, but weak vocals are the least of this record’s problems, which is such a blatant grab-bag of current dance floor trends that even Pitbull sounds a little unsure of it. You can’t say Lopez and her producer, RedOne, aren’t up-to-date, but ripping off a track as recognizable as “Stereo Love” when it’s just peaked on the charts is about as daring as this record gets. For anyone who may have wondered whether it was RedOne or Lady Gaga who provided the creative firepower on The Fame, this should answer your questions quite nicely.
“Don’t You Want Me”, #49
“Blame It (On the Alcohol)”, #55
“Tik Tok”, #61
Back to normal.
Wiz Khalifa featuring Too $hort—”On My Level”
Not a terrible track, but the presence of Too $hort makes me question Khalifa’s judgement. Too $hort is now too old to indulge in stimulants himself, so instead he talks about getting girls loaded so he can have his way with them. What a guy. Is this why some people are raving about Khalifa? Because he’s bringing back “real”, stupidly sexist hip-hop? As if it ever went away.
“Someone Like You”, #65
“Set Fire To the Rain”, #88
Adele has a voice—when she isn’t blasting like an air raid siren she manages to be both growly and vulnerable, with a touch of hysteria thrown in for good measure—but these are terrible songs, if they can even be graced with the designation of song at all. They’re set pieces for her voice; the lyrical blather serves as nothing but an indicator of what she’s getting so upset about. She’s young yet, so maybe she’ll learn, and when she gets around to making 35 she may even have something to say. But since her sales are encouraging her in the wrong direction, I don’t hold out much hope.
Big Time Rush featuring Snoop Dogg—”Boyfriend”
Snoop teaming up with this Nickelodeon-sponsored boy band has a lot of people shaking their heads, but other than their choice of words and their preferred stimulants (Big Time Rush are high on life, you see), I don’t see much difference. Both have fairly shallow ideas about love and romance, one the result of inexperience, the other the result of too much experience. Snoop, of course, is super cool while BTR gush, but while BTR sees nothing but the stars in their own eyes, Snoop sees nothing but Gucci bags and the size of her thighs. Since they’re both looking for the wrong things, why shouldn’t they search together?
DJ Khaled featuring Rick Ross, Plies, Lil Wayne & T-Pain—”Welcome To My Hood”
#90 Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 2/28/11
Kirk Franklin—”I Smile”
I’d never heard of Franklin before this, and since he doesn’t actually sing on this track, I thought he was some sort of Prosperity Gospel preacher. But he has a long history on the gospel circuit and seems to be the real thing, though you’d never know it by listening to this happy jingle for Jesus. Not that it blatantly advertises itself as such: for the most part it’s a positivity anthem with a few religious references thrown in. It’s essentially all chorus, and though it seems friendly enough at first, it gets cloying fast, and then it goes on and on and doesn’t leave you alone, like a cheerful bus stop proselytizer who doesn’t recognize the fine line between being friendly and being an irritant. Franklin actually starts out irritating by dedicating the song to “depression, recession, and unemployment”, no doubt for opening desperate people’s hearts to the message of the church. Which is one of the reasons I, and many others, hate the church to begin with.