Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams—“Get Lucky”
Good music is its own justification, and “Get Lucky” is OK, but I still find myself questioning its necessity. It’s more of a museum piece than a pop record, a careful reconstruction and distillation of everything that made disco enjoyable with all the rough edges that made it vital removed. Though I can’t exactly explain what I mean by this, to me it sounds very French. Or like smooth jazz with a beat. Even Nile Rodgers’s guitar sounds generic. And its debut in the top twenty seems like the last gasp of a movement that lost its energy long ago.
will.i.am featuring Miley Cyrus—“Fall Down”
How did I miss the fact that what will.i.am really wants to be isn’t a pop star, or even a pop empresario, but the Brian Wilson of EDM? The big influence here isn’t some piece of European minimalist disco, but Beach Boys’ records like “Good Vibrations” or Smile. Maybe I’m only realizing it now because this is the first time one of his musical collages hasn’t sounded like a cut-and-paste job designed to save a batch of disconnected ideas. Or maybe the strings tipped me off. There’s a big difference between will.i.am and Wilson, though (besides the fact that Wilson didn’t have to hire out the singing): Wilson didn’t just slap together stray parts, he thought out great parts and then meshed them into something more. Great as the combinations were, as Smiley Smile proved, even the oddest fragments could be separated from the body of the piece and still be enjoyable. The various parts of this record are improved by being heard in conjunction with the others, but not by much, and they could never stand on their own. Also, Wilson got decent lyricists to write his words for him, words that added to the music, rather than limply decorating it. This is an unfair comparison, I know, but will.i.am invites it, because his ambitions are that big, even though his talent is much smaller.
Jason Derulo—“The Other Side”
A hopeless rehash of Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” hampered by the brash mindlessness of the beat and the simple fact that DeRulo can’t sing. And I don’t mean as well as Usher. I mean he can’t sing.
Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding—“I Need Your Love”
Who needs hooks when you have Ellie Goulding’s voice to work with? Baby-doll innocent one moment, Bjorkishly weird the next, breathy and sincere in between, she constantly creates tiny, micro-pitched melodies between the usual notes that are either pleasurable or irritating depending on your point of view, but captivating either way. Harris, pro that he is, throws in some hooks of his own, just for spice, and the result is the best record from him I’ve heard.
Miguel—“How Many Drinks”
This seems cold and callous at first, and it is, but it’s also respectful in its own single-minded way. Miguel is more than willing to play the game, he just wants to know what the results will be beforehand. Of course, he’s also betting that telling the truth and self-serving candor will work as a seduction technique. If I were his chosen companion, he’d probably have me at the end of the first verse, when he rhymes “get in your pants” with “am I going too fast?” But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to hear the rest of his line.
Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell—“Blurred Lines”
This is so perfectly realized that I keep thinking there must be something seriously wrong with it, but aside from a certain level of slick calculation and the usual mild sexism, I can’t find anything. Thicke and Pharrell’s voices blend so perfectly that half the time I can’t tell them apart, and the record is so beautifully constructed that it doesn’t make any difference anyway. The high-point, though, is T.I., who first nails the beat and then toys with it like a master. It’s his best rap in years.
Sean Kingston featuring Chris Brown & Wiz Khalifa—“Beat It”
Kingston is a one-shot artist who’s career was fading long before his accident, so though I respect this attempted comeback, I don’t see much chance of success, and certainly not with material as generic as this. Meanwhile, Chris Brown continues to be trapped, or to flaunt, sexual metaphors that remind us of the darkest moments of his past. He won’t just “Beat It” for you, girl, he’ll “beat it up”. Is he that callous, or that oblivious? Is there a difference? Does it even matter anymore?