One thing that the new singles dominated market is starting to do is destroy the old release schedule paradigm. Last year’s summer lull was barely a lull at all, and here in mid-January the big guns are putting singles out when the memory of Christmas has barely faded, with the surprise release of Justin Timberlake’s first new music in six years leading off. The Taylor Swift single is something of a surprise as well, not just in terms of quality (poor), but in its being released at all. I imagine it was forced by popular demand—why else put out a Target-exclusive bonus track as a single just a couple of months after the album?
Blake Shelton—“Sure Be Cool If You Did”
Shelton has found the perfect groove, and it’s called Seduction. He’s charming, relaxed, has a good sense of humor even if he’s never witty, and honest about his desires without ever being heavy-handed or appearing lecherous. His boyishness has it’s limits, though. He appears to live in a world where he has no responsibilities other than satisfying women as well as he can, and making sure they have a good time before and after. His universe is the singles bar, and the world outside either doesn’t exist or can be easily shrugged off. People who appreciate that sort of fantasy should lap this up, because “Sure Be Cool If You Did” is the best job Shelton has done in this style yet. Though it’s hardly a compliment to say that Shelton is good at being shallow.
Taylor Swift—“The Moment I Knew”
It’s easy to understand why “The Moment I Knew” wasn’t included on Red. For all the emotional relationship shifting Swift does on the album, she never resorts to pouting, breaking down in tears, or acting like a spoiled brat (entitled, maybe, but never spoiled). She does all that on “The Moment I Knew”. She’s never sounded more unappealing, and all the songwriting craft in the world—and right now she’s the best—isn’t going to make things any better. I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but let’s face it: if you have a couple of bad relationships, there’s no telling what the cause might be, so you can just soldier on without worrying about it; but if you’re working on numbers three, four, five, or whatever, it’s time to check your own head and not be putting all the blame on others. Something is wrong, and it’s not just them.
OneRepublic—“If I Lose Myself”
Can we assume that EDM is over now that OneRepublic has embraced it? “If I Lose Myself” is EDM-lite, to be sure, but it’s still EDM. Gone are the clattering, over-miked but at least human-sounding drums that have marked almost every Ryan Tedder production until now. Instead we get a smooth machine beat and looping synths reminiscent of Phillip Glass or Terry Riley in service to another of Tedder’s bland but oh-so-sincere love lyrics. It reminds me of when Steve Winwood went disco in the softest possible way. Goodbye, EDM, it was nice knowing you.
Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z—“Suit & Tie”
Timberlake is too serious a talent to write off, but “Suit & Tie” is too shallow a record to take seriously. The Timbaland beat is great (and I’m sorry to say that that’s a surprise), and Timberlake has never sung better, but this is a song about dressing up to go out with a woman with a great ass, and nothing more. If anything, the quality of the music is too high, and when it gets deflated by the lyric it almost hurts. Retro-sophistication will only take you so far if all it does is swim on the surface. As for Jay-Z, I suspect he was brought in in consideration of his sartorial habits, not because his rap fits the song.
B.o.B. featuring T.I. & Juicy J—“We Still In This Bitch”
This isn’t unlistenable, and everyone involved raps well, but I find it almost impossible to pay attention. The title tells you what they’re going to say, and they don’t dare swerve from the script. “We Still In This Bitch” is as pro forma in its way as B.o.B.’s pop records, and without the benefit of a decent hook.
The things guys will say to get laid. Geez.
Kendrick Lamar—“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”
It’s a muddled comparison, I know, but Kendrick Lamar is essentially Drake if Drake were capable of deep thought (as opposed to giving it lip service). Here, he even chooses a theme close to one of Drake’s own: how his friends have changed since he became famous. Lamar admits that he’s taken advantage of his fame even while complaining about those who are trying to take advantage of him, which isn’t far from Drake’s own admissions. Drake always sounds angry, though, and shrugs others off with barely a thought. Lamar doesn’t do that. He doesn’t sound angry or even irritated. Mostly he sounds disappointed, and his disappointment isn’t directed only at others. Since Lamar talks to himself so much on his tracks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “bitch” who’s killing his vibe isn’t sometimes himself.