Ariana Grande featuring Mac Miller—“The Way”
If I didn’t know that Grande came from Victorious I would have assumed she was a contestant in a Mariah Carey sound-alike contest where the runner-up gets stuck with a Mac Miller feature (the winner doesn’t have to use a feature at all). Not terrible, but Miller is always irritating, and the song is too derivative to be anything but a curiosity. At least Grande imitates the more recent Mariah Carey, and not the ballad and helium queen of the 90s.
Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies & Friends—“Boys ‘Round Here”
“Boys ‘Round Here” is such a leap for Shelton, so obviously the best music of his career, that if I’d heard it unlabeled I probably wouldn’t have recognized it as him (though the presence of Pistol Annies might have tipped me off). After Miranda Lambert’s last album I was afraid that Shelton’s version of country was starting to creep into her music, but now it looks like the opposite is happening. Either that or Shelton’s been spending a lot of time listening to Roger Miller. It’s not perfect: the lyrics are limp at times and it could use some editing. Worse, nothing else I’ve heard from Shelton’s new album comes close to it, so maybe this was an inspired one-shot that will never be repeated. Unless, that is, it becomes such a smash that he’s forced to follow it up. Which makes me wish he didn’t say “shit” so prominently in the chorus, even though that’s one of the things that makes this record so wonderful. You still need radio play to be a country star, and Shelton is taking a real chance with this record. I just hope he keeps it up. (By the way, this is the second country single this month to reference “Teach Me How to Dougie”; kind of late, but for country something of a miracle. I wonder when “Gangnam Style” will pop up in a lyric?)
Fall Out Boy—“The Phoenix”
The album is called Save Rock and Roll, and that would appear to be what this is about. Which means that Fall Out Boy have managed to maintain their pretensions over their hiatus, and maybe even added a few. It’s just possible, though, that this time they’ll live up to them. The hook here is amazing, and if the rest of the song doesn’t quite match its power it comes damn close. This sounds as over the top as they always have, but it’s also more controlled, less a shambolic rush and more of a structured explosion. They’ve always had hooks, but now they know how to make them stand out and signify.
Ed Sheeran—“Lego House”
All the sensitive, breathy singing in the world couldn’t redeem this nonsense, in fact it makes it worse. When Sheeran says he’s going to paint her by numbers and put her on the wall, does that mean he’s placing her on a pedestal or claiming her as a possession (as if there’s a difference)? Does he even realize how insulting that metaphor is, that he’s making her out to be a blank canvas that can be filled in by formula to meet his desires? Or is that breathy voice the result of his head being filled with nothing but air?