Maroon 5—“One More Night”
Less irritating than “Payphone”, but also less catchy, with both the band and producer Max Martin running on automatic. Since “Payphone” still hasn’t peaked (God help us), I’m not even sure why they released this. To prove to themselves they can still make hits without guest spots?
“Beauty and a Beat” (featuring Nicki Minaj), #72
“Right Here” (featuring Drake), #95
How confident is Justin Bieber in his talent? Confident enough that the two LP tracks with the highest profile guests are pure filler. Minaj gets jokey and suggestive but does nothing special, while Drake tries out a new flow and nails it but doesn’t say much. “Beauty and the Beat” has a great break, but for the most part the music is passable and nothing more. These charted only because of Minaj’s and Drake’s fans, and I’ll bet neither one will be released as an actual single.
Meek Mill featuring Drake—“Amen”
Mill has nothing to say beyond the usual rap bragging, but he’s funnier and more clever about it than most: the line about drinking so much that when he takes a drug test he pees rosé is perfect, as are the lines about building himself a crib with a moat. As for Drake, he’s been using his post-Take Care guest spots to work out new vocal and rhythmic approaches, and so far he hasn’t taken a wrong step. He’s almost unrecognizable here, but he’s also very good, and his rap raises what would have been just an above-average track to a higher level. Not that much higher, mind you, but still an improvement.
Kelly Clarkson—“Dark Side”
Clarkson is in a groove where every record she releases has some magical quality that makes it compelling, if not overwhelming. There’s a sense of both comfortableness and humility in the music she’s making now. After a couple of shaky years she trusts herself, her talent, and her audience more than ever, and it shows. More than any other singer I can think of, she wants to draw her listeners into her world, welcome them and reassure them, even when what she’s singing about is pain and the loss of emotional control. This isn’t a brilliant record, but it’s very, very good, almost as good as “Stronger”. For the moment, at least, Clarkson may be the world’s friendliest, most sublime, and perfect pop star.
Easton Corbin—“Lovin’ You Is Fun”
Corbin, along with Chris Young, Luke Bryan, maybe Blake Shelton, and others, is what I call a country nerd. Goofy, smiling, dedicated, their music is always pleasant and well-crafted, but never strikes a nerve. To me, they’re a country version of the second-level power pop bands of the late ’70s, only instead of The Beatles and The Byrds they grew up on Garth Brooks and George Strait. They have talent, and they mean well, but most of them don’t have the stuff. Corbin is slightly better than the pack, but that isn’t saying much.