Trey Songz featuring Nicki Minaj—”Bottoms Up”
I was really hoping this would be about ass, maybe with a Funkadelic sample, but it turns out it’s just another dumb song about drinking. Ugly, too, as it seems to present Songz as a wily man about town getting Nicki drunk so he can have his way with her. The only thing that saves it from that fate is the fact that Minaj plays about as unconvincing a drunk as I’ve ever heard. Which doesn’t keep her from being the best thing on the record, for what that’s worth.
Katy Perry—”Circle the Drain”
She sounds like she means it, and in this case her vocal and musical affectations help provide enough distance to keep the record from becoming too overwrought. But it is overwrought, and it isn’t much of a song, and Tricky Stewart’s production, which tries to use hip-hop instrumentation to create a rock and roll effect, doesn’t work. Can’t help but wonder, though, if this is the same relationship she wrote about for Kelly Clarkson’s “I Do Not Hook Up”. Sounds like it went downhill fast.
Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson—”As She’s Walking Away”
When the song starts, Brown phrases like James Taylor, which is what he normally does. Once Alan Jackson steps in, though, suddenly Brown sounds like him. Whatever the reason for this change—homage, lack of his own ideas, blatant pandering—it’s the only interesting thing about this record.
Antoine Dodson & The Gregory Brothers featuring Kelly Dodson—”Bed Intruder Song”
The story behind this record overwhelms the music, which is something of a shame. It isn’t great, but it is different from anything else you’ll hear on the chart, the eccentric (in every way) vocal line guaranteeing a certain fascination even when the record becomes repetitive. Charges of exploitation are understandable, but in this case seem misplaced. Not just because Dodson is getting an even split of the royalties, but because the Gregory Brothers have been so respectful. The record is funny in many ways, but not because the Gregory’s are treating Dodson and his family as a joke. A novelty to be sure, but hardly an exploitation. And if it gets Dodson’s family out of the projects, I’m all for it.
Far*East Movement featuring Cataracs and Dev—”Like a G6″
Solid L.A. minimalist rap, somewhat reminiscent of (or at least noticeably influenced by) jerkin’, good beats, cliche lyrics.
What fascinates me, though, are the racial markers these Asian-Americans lay down. No self-respecting African-American rapper would be caught dead in a Pontiac, and these guys make a point of name-checking Cristal. Did they not get Jay-Z’s memo? Maybe they assumed it didn’t apply to them. Solidarity guys, we need solidarity.
Plain White T’s—”Rhythm of Love”
There must be something wrong with me. I’ve hated everything else the T’s have done (including how they spell their name; it’s Ts, you guys), but I find this charming, even if intentionally lightweight. The secret, I think, is in the way they constantly change up the arrangement—lyrically the song doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s never boring, and when they bring in the background vocals, which remind me of Spanky and Our Gang, I find it irresistible. If they were as clever with words and melodies as they are with arrangements, they might really be something. Based on their past, though, I’m willing to bet this is the best they’ve got in them.
The Ready Set—”Love Like Woe”
J.R. Rotem’s kiddie-pop productions usually have something to recommend them, but not this time. The music is bouncy and bland, the singer anonymous, and the play on words of the title doesn’t work because the music, which doesn’t sound woeful for even a second, never lets you in on the trick—until I looked more closely at the lyrics I assumed that someone involved was mixing up their homonyms. I’m still not sure that they weren’t. Then again, maybe this is intended as a foray into kiddie-pop emo. Or would that be redundant?
Mumford & Sons—”Little Lion Man”
The idea of British folkies making the US pop charts is odd enough that it almost overshadows the song itself, which is pleasant but fairly standard English folk. Kind of reminds me of the Clancy Brothers, which is probably about as far back as most people’s memories of English folk go, even in England (and yes, I know the Clancy’s were Irish—same difference). You can tell it’s modern, though, which is probably why it’s been so successful. First, it’s bouncier and catchier than most real English folk music. Two, they say “fuck”. Three, the lyrics are so personal and obscure that only someone with intimate knowledge of the writer’s life would ever know what the song is actually about. So, folkies yes, but folk music? Uh-uh.
Usher featuring Jay Z—”Hot Tottie”
Despite the presence, yet again, of a guest who outshines his host, this is the first Usher I’ve heard in the last two years that didn’t sound like he was trying to play catch up with pop culture. That may have more to do with Polow Da Don’s production than anything else, but Usher adds his own touches, as does Esther Dean. Jay-Z blows everybody away, of course, but that doesn’t matter, this is still Usher’s best record since mid-decade.