The recent interview with Eminem in the New York Times confirms two obvious points about Relapse: one, it came out of a period of intense confusion, depression and self-doubt; two, the Slim Shady stuff was done more from a sense of duty to fans than any real desire to resurrect the persona. Which explains why this record, where Eminem speaks pretty much as himself, is so much superior to the Shady-oriented material that preceded it. I have my doubts about the power ballad intro and outro, but this is a great record. Even clean and sober, though, Eminem finds himself in a difficult position. The Slim Shady stuff is old hat, but he can’t, and shouldn’t, build the next phase of his a career out of down-tempo raps about depression (leave that to the indie kids). He needs something new, something that will probably alienate large sections of his audience. As much as I respect his desire to please his old fans, he may find that they’re another dependency he’ll have to wean himself from. Are there twelve-step programs for adulation addiction?
I’ve liked some of Sparks’ earlier records, but the bombast here is too much, with whatever personality and charm she possesses overpowered by thundering drums. Note to songwriters and producers: “Umbrella”-inspired songs with choruses that consist of nothing but the title repeated over and over like an echo are old and overdone. Time for a new trick, please.
Critics, and the Brothers themselves, are attributing the darker tones of this record to “maturity” (why, they’re almost a year older than they were when they made their last album!), but it probably has more to do with spending the last few years on the entertainment industry hamster wheel. Since I assume these clean cut boys don’t ingest any substance stronger than caffeine, their paranoia is probably the result of sleep deprivation more than anything else, which would explain why the change of tone is lyrical rather than musical; their machine-tooled pop-punk is as bouncy as ever, and just as unoriginal. If I can be excused an untoward comparison, they’re in roughly the same place The Beatles were in late ’64/early ’65: exhausted, but still game. In the Brothers case, though, I don’t think there’s an equivalent to Rubber Soul waiting around the bend, and not just because they don’t smoke dope.
Cobra Starship featuring Leighton Meester—“Good Girls Go Bad”
Coming on the heels of Lady GaGa and 3Oh!3, this single suggests a new trend: bombastic electro-influenced records about women losing (or intentionally throwing away) their inhibitions. This one includes an appearance by a member of the cast of Gossip Girl, which should cement the idea in the minds of culture watchers nicely. If this becomes a hit, there should be a piece in the New York Times Style section before the summer is out.
I’d be more than willing to ignore The Fray if they saved their self-indulgent warbling for their own material, but this act of desecration forces my hand. Say goodbye to Hinder and Nickelback, because these guys are now officially the Worst Band in the World. Question: Does this mean “You Found Me” would sound good if Kanye sang it? Answer: No.
Many people, including me, complain that country is still lost in the late ’70s, or maybe the early ’80s, but this roaring piece of female raunch is as modern as it gets. That is, it’s main influences aren’t the Eagles or John Mellencamp, but Kelly Clarkson and, especially, Katy Perry. This may sound horrible to you, and it certainly isn’t what most people would call country, but Nashville professionalism and attention to lyrical and musical detail make it more interesting than most of Clarkson’s and Perry’s stuff. Sexier, too–and a lot dirtier.
Rucker’s first two country singles possessed the lyrical specificity and detail that makes up for a lot of rote arrangements and fruity singing in Nashville. This one doesn’t. He sounds almost as vague as Hootie.
The Pussycat Dolls featuring Nicole Scherzinger—“Hush Hush”
A terrible record, and when it shifts into “I Will Survive” you can feel the desperation take hold as the Dolls slide back into the oblivion from which they came. The only thing that keeps this from being the worst single of the year is the existence of The Fray.
Trey Songz—“I Need a Girl”
Chris Brown having sabotaged his career, Trey Songz steps into the gap with the oldest trick in the pop book. He needs a girl, and ladies, you could be the one. All you need to do is hollaback, preferably in the form of buying this record, the album, concert tickets, and associated merchandise. Not a bad song, but the blatant pandering is a bit much.