Drake featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem—”Forever”
The beat is rote, the raps display a high amount of craft but little inspiration, and the air of self-congratulation is so thick it’s a wonder anyone else can breathe when these guys are in the room, but that’s not what makes this record so offensive. What’s makes this record so offensive is Drake, who lies through his teeth every damn minute of it. Exactly when did a guy who was a regular cast member on a successful TV series from the time he was fifteen shovel shit at the mall? When he was signing autographs on promotional tours? Or was that an episode of DeGrassi High he somehow confused with real life the way Ronald Reagan used to argue government policy by reminiscing about movies he’d been in? And when Drake says “nothing was done for me” what exactly does he mean? He’s got Lil Wayne for a mentor, he’s got a father who’s a well-respected session drummer, and his uncle is Larry Graham, formerly of Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station, one of the most influential bass players in the history of funk and R&B. None of them lent him a hand or showed him a few chops or opened the occasional door or offered a few words of advice? Ever? I realize it’s accepted in the rap world to emphasize and exaggerate your hard knock past, but inventing one out of whole cloth strikes me as going way too far.
Drake featuring Lil Wayne & Young Jeezy—”I’m Going In”
Drake has nothing to say, Lil Wayne sounds uninspired and repeats himself, and Young Jeezy says “motherfucker” a lot. This is a statement of purpose?
Weird lyrics; they seem defensive, as if they were trying to justify the metaphorical excesses of her first hit, “Bleeding Love”. Maybe somebody suggested to Ryan Tedder he’d gone a little too far last time. Whatever the case, this is, thankfully, less self-abusive than “Bleeding” (or at least less graphic), and the chorus, surprisingly enough, almost lives up to the title. If Lewis wasn’t trying so hard to be the new Mariah Carey this might even be tolerable.
Kid Cudi featuring MGMT & Ratatat—”Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)”
It opens with Cudi (or at least his “lonely stoner” persona) rolling a joint, ends with a booze and dope fueled hangover, and in between ruminates, without relying too heavily on banalities, on a stoner lifestyle that sounds half fun and games and half self-medicated chronic depression. In other words, an interesting record, but also a trifle boring. The sound effects provided by Ratatat and MGMT are far less interesting than the borrowed dubstep of “Day ‘n’ Nite”; if this is the kind of music the guy listens to on a regular basis, it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to get out of bed
LMFAO—”La La La”
Their borrowed lover man moves and borrowed techno are far less entertaining than their borrowed offensiveness (see “I’m In Miami Bitch”). Which wasn’t all that entertaining to begin with.
Mariah Carey—”I Want To Know What Love Is”
In a way I feel sorry for Carey. After mounting her comeback and making the best music of her career over her last two albums (which wouldn’t be saying much, I know, execpt that there was truly excellent material on both records), she finds the ground shifting under her feet once again. The modern R&B she mastered so effortlessly had peaked with Usher over a year before her comeback album, and her older, massively successful style has been usurped by the likes of Leona Lewis, who gushes over-the-top sentimentality in a way Carey wouldn’t think to do now. And so, after a few flop singles and a couple of hits that were nowhere near the overwhelming sellers she’s used to, Carey goes back to the safety position of the power ballad (and a hoary old 80′s classic power ballad at that—”classic” in this case meaning a Foreigner song that everyone has heard to death already), unleashes her pipes at the upper limit of her range (though only near the end and deep in the mix, thank God), and generally pulls out all the commercial stops, and still the best she can get for a debut is number 66. The shame of it is that until this takes off for the Church of Our Lady Mariah of the Golden Larynx it shows more maturity and subtlety and soulfullness than any ballad she’s ever recorded. It’s not a great song, but for awhile she almost makes something great out of it—until, that is, she feels the need to ignore the song completely and massage her audience with her voice.
The Black Eyed Peas—”Meet Me Halfway”
Like it or not, Fergie’s feigned soulfulness is a kind of home truth for a lot of fans out there, and I for one think that the Peas’ resistance to polishing up their singing is an attribute, certainly commercially if not always artistically. They appear to have no aesthetic principals at all, yet also come across as both friendly and likeable. This could be nothing but commercial calculation, but since they were pretty much like that even when they weren’t selling any records (and since “My Humps”, which is obviously the pattern for a lot of the new album, took them as much by surprise as anyone), I doubt it. They may well have fallen on this formula by accident, but who can fault them for running with it? Like it or not, they’re producing something that’s truly new, and they’ve convinced an army of fans to go along with them.
Bon Jovi—”We Weren’t Born To Follow”
No, you were born to endlessy repeat yourself. And you’re good at it.
The All-American Rejects—”I Wanna”
There’s actually a fairly nifty, if totally unoriginal, song under all the ego flashing, and under the influence of the remasters I detect a similarity in structure, melody and rhythm to the Rubber Soul era Beatles. But the Beatles usually knew how to keep their egos from getting in the way of their music (at least most of the time), something I doubt these guys will ever learn. To them, flaunting their ego is the music.
Carrie Underwood—”Cowboy Casanova”
Always hip to the latest fab trends, Underwood harkens to the success of Katy Perry, mines some bubble-glam rhythms from the seventies, and even dresses up in a glittery drum-majorette jacket for the cover (or icon, or whatever you call it these days). It’s nice to see Nashville paying attention to a different part of the seventies, even if they still remain lost in that decade. The lyrics are generic, and this doesn’t hit as hard as “Before He Cheats”, but I suspect good clean fun like this is the best we can ever expect from Underwood.
Alice In Chains—”Check My Brain”
I have one question: did they distort those guitars the old-fashioned way, by playing with the tape reels, or did they auto-tune them? Also, is it just my imagination, or is this song actually about how nice it is to live in California? I’m probably missing some ironic or cynical lyrical clue, but I can’t bring myself to listen closely enough to find out. Those guitars give me too much of a headache.