“I Almost Do”, #65
“Everything Has Changed” (featuring Ed Sheeran), #67
“All Too Well”, #80
“Stay Stay Stay”, #91
Red see-saws between relationships in bloom and relationships that have wilted, with a couple of turns into more generic themes, and the five tracks that make the Hot 100 in its debut week reflect that as much as the preview singles did, if not more so. Despite this thematic unity, the album can hardly be called cohesive, since stylistically it jumps all over the place, and the frequent returns to Swift’s more familiar mode of confessional songwriting never bring it together. More than any of her previous albums this one boils down to individual songs. They’re a mixed bunch. I would enjoy “22” more if Swift didn’t open it with a Ke$ha impersonation, and I’d enjoy “Stay Stay Stay” more if it weren’t so giggly. As for the serious songs, they’re high-class singer-songwriter material perfectly crafted and played, but rarely anything more. None of which worries me as much as Swift’s tendency to get swept off her feet by any man who shows even the most basic level of politeness (just because a guy carries your groceries or opens the door for you doesn’t mean he’s the one). Then there’s her affection for duet partners whose appeal consists of the ability to sound sincere and nothing more. For the first time, I question her taste. No wonder she has relationship problems.
“Poetic Justice” (featuring Drake), #76
“m.A.A.d City” (featuring Mc Eiht), #94
Lamar may be from Compton, but he’s not of it. He observes it from inside and outside at the same time, which allows him to shift perspective without losing his connection to the truth. Sometimes this takes the form of changes in vocal approach and texture, often with the aid of pitch shifting and filters. Sometimes, as in “m.A.A.d. City”, the whole song changes direction, throwing in an entirely different beat and feel. The result is music that covers life from a half-dozen different perspectives in the same song, many of them coming from inside Lamar’s own head as he sorts out his place in the world. That goes for a love lyric like “Poetic Justice”, as well, which has more intelligent romance charging through it than any rap I’ve heard this year. At least, that is, until Drake shows up. Lamar has so many voices he barely needs guest spots, and Drake’s unshakable sense of self-importance doesn’t fit the song. He’s outclassed in every way. Other than that, two great tracks from a great album.
Sam Palladio & Clare Bowen—“Fade Into You”
I’m not sure how seriously to take this record. An original song with production by T-Bone Burnett should be given some consideration, even if I don’t like it much. But this one comes from the new TV series Nashville, and though I’ve heard good things about the show, the music suffers from the same problem that infects Glee: actors as singers, pop songs turned into showtunes. “Fade Into You” sounds nothing like mainstream Nashville, but at the same time Burnett’s production sound has become as much of a cliché as countless country radio hits, so it’s hardly an improvement. It isn’t terrible, but it’s badly flawed, and if more tunes from the show make the chart, and are no better in quality, I may need to give some thought to whether or not I want to continue reviewing them. It will be interesting to see if these have staying power on the charts, or turn into short-lived souvenirs like the Glee tracks. But that won’t change their quality one way or the other.
Meek Mill featuring Kirko Bangz—“Young & Getting’ It”
Here’s another way in which hip-hop reminds me of country these days: it’s packed with moderately talented, minor artists who put out an endless succession of records that are well-crafted musically, demonstrate a high level of vocal and lyrical talent, and share barely a single idea between them.”Young and Gettin’ It” sounds good but means nothing, at least nothing more than other records by 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Fabolous, Big Sean, Kirko Bangz, and endless others (dare I add Lil Wayne to the list?). Most of whom appear on each other’s tracks anyway, so why bother trying to tell them apart?