B.o.B. featuring Lil Wayne—”Strange Clouds”
B.o.B. has been putting so much energy into the pop side of his career that I’d swear this is the first time I’ve heard him rap. That can’t be true, but that’s the way it feels. He isn’t bad—good flow, some nice twists and turns both in the rhythm and the words—though more derivative of T.I. than I’d expect him to be. Wayne, meanwhile, sounds more alive all the time. His rap feels like it came off the top of his head for once, and while it isn’t brilliant, he seems to be regathering his strengths. Not a moment too soon, either.
Bruno Mars—”It Will Rain”
Somewhere under the overkill of fuzzy synths and staggered beats you’ll find a very good song with sharp lyrics and a distinct Motown feel. I’d love to hear a slightly more uptempo, sparsely arranged version. In the meantime, we’ll just need to listen past an arrangement dictated more by it’s place on the latest Twilight soundtrack than the song itself.
Nickelback—”When We Stand Together”
Of course it’s awful, it’s Nickelback. But consider this for a moment: these guys are so slow at what they do—their new album will be only their third since 2003—that this song must have been written long before the Occupy protests or maybe even the Arab Spring. Yet here it is, right on time. Putting its laughable aesthetics aside, it’s exactly what it should be for this moment in time. If these lumbering Canadians could feel this coming, possibly months ago, and sympathize, it may be a lot bigger than anybody thinks. A hell of a lot bigger.
T-Pain featuring Wiz Khalifa and Lily Allen—”5 O’Clock”
Adding soul raps to a Lily Allen track is a brilliant idea, but this goes on too long, and except for the organ that weaves it’s way through the track like T-Pain’s conscience, doesn’t add much. It also, of course, places the emphasis of the song on Allen’s physical, rather than emotional needs, and turns her into a nagging, if sexy, bitch. I’m not saying it does total disservice to Allen’s song, but it puts the weight on the least interesting aspect. And Wiz Khalifa only makes it worse.
Lloyd featuring Andre 3000 & Lil Wayne—”Dedication To My Ex (Miss That)”
I wish this wasn’t such an obvious take off from Cee Lo’s “Fuck You”, not just in terms of lyrical content but in sound, as well. It’s very good, and Andre 3000 is great, but the imitative quality and the shallowness of it can’t be avoided. “Fuck You” was great because Bruno Mars and Cee Lo live and breath retro soul; Lloyd is just following in their footsteps, not forging a path of his own. That may be his whole problem: as much as I’ve enjoyed his music, I still have no idea who Lloyd is.
Jason DeRulo—”Fight For You”
I thought retro-sampling had hit bottom with Gym Class Heroes’ borrowings from Supertramp, but it’s impossible to underestimate the crassness of pop culture. Just when I thought DeRulo might be worth listening to, he comes up with this. I realize that sampling the African chants from “Wanna Be Starting Something” is cliche, but Toto is not an adequate replacement. Not at all. What could possibly be next and/or worse? Pablo Cruise?
Blink 182—”After Midnight”
These guys have matured enough that they don’t ruin their mediocre song with meaningless histrionics, and Travis Barker is a damn good drummer. It’s still a mediocre song, though, sung by very mediocre singers.
Luke Bryan—”I Don’t Want This Night to End”
I really enjoy the way the melody of this flows and changes pace as it goes along, creating a romantic atmosphere all on its own. Which is good, because the arrangement, the vocals, and the lyrics do nothing to add to the feeling.
Zac Brown Band—”Keep Me In Mind”
Brown is a one-man 70′s retro movement. So far he’s focused on the laid back sound of Jimmy Buffet and the somnambulist crooning of James Taylor, but here he ups the tempo and the tension by recreating the muzak-americana of the pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers. All he has to do now is tour with Fleet Foxes and take over the world by putting it to sleep.
China Anne McClain—”Calling All the Monsters”
Leave it to Disney to turn Britney’s Spear’s current sound into family-safe Halloween music. They do it very well, too. This is brighter and snappier than Spear’s has been in a while, and though the voices are young, this is never corny or cheesy. It’s a good, catchy, electro-influenced dance track. Not to mention that it cuts Lady Gaga off at the pass, keeping her from releasing a seasonal record along the same lines.