It feels like old home week on the Hot 100, with 11 debuts, four coming from performers who have been around for well over a decade, and two of them getting ready to enter their third. The best debuts, appropriately enough, come from one of the oldest acts, Weezer, and the newest, Wale. Wale tries to tip the balance by lifting a 40 year-old hook that’s appeared twice on the Hot 100 this year already, but I give the prize to Weezer—their stolen hooks are even older, and a lot better to dance to.
Pearl Jam—”The Fixer”
I imagine this rocks out pretty hard live, but whether it’s the song itself or the production, the record comes across as well-crafted but laid back in a way I don’t think they intended. They don’t sound like a fixer determined to save the world so much as Mr. Fixit, or an affable plumber in Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood, come to repair a leaky faucet and share a good story or two. The latter may actually be more effective in the long run, but somehow I don’t think that’s what they meant.
Love and Theft—”Runaway”
Keep running guys, we can still hear you.
The teenage sense of entitlement that seems to fill this record would make sense if these guys were still teenagers, but they’re not. They’re Christians in their mid-thirties looking to keep their name alive in the culture, and their entitlement has more to do with a rock star’s, and an evangelical’s, sense of superiority than anything else. What’s worse, they don’t use the word “overcome” in the civil rights or personal travail sense of overcoming obstacles and injustice, they use it in the sense of the Book of Revelations. It’s the devil and his minions they’re overcoming, which is to say that they’re looking to wipe out anybody who doesn’t believe the same things they do—hence the apocalyptic overkill of their music. When they’re not indulging their sadistic religious revenge fantasies, though, I’m sure they’re just wonderful guys.
To go with the repulsive images in the video—dead women dressed up and posed like the figures in Helmut Newton’s photographs—GaGa swipes the melody line from Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” to provide herself with a hook and add that final mid-eighties touch. I understand the appeal of true decadence, but this is just dumb dressing up as smart and calling itself elegant. She should just join Duran Duran and get it over with.
Weezer—”(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”
At first, the hook line seems nothing but a piece of sophomoric cleverness, but that’s the point: it’s a pick-up line that slowly turns into a pledge of lifelong commitment, from first summer fling to marriage to the moment you find yourself trying to stare down a future that promises nothing but decline. By the end of the song they barely have anything to say to each other, but they both still want to, and that’s all that matters. Say what you want about Weezer—and just about everything has been said—but it takes real brains to pull off a song like this without sounding either overly sentimental or flippant. The music, with its echoes of “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Walking On Sunshine”, provides the perfect background: patience and fortitude sparked with moments of spontaneous joy. You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of a riff deployed as metaphor.
Three Six Mafia featuring Kalenna—”Shake My”
Three Six Mafia: the Halle Berry of rap.
Still number 2, and if his next record is as dull as this, he won’t rank even that high. At least when he was in Pretty Ricky he had crassness going for him.
Selena Gomez & The Scene—Falling Down
Disney’s methods are so hit and miss that you never know where a good record is going to come from. Nothing that Selena Gomez has been involved with so far has been worthy of notice, but suddenly here’s a perfect pop confection, and with it comes the realization that she’s been as much a victim of her material as everyone else on the channel. No music factory is perfect, of course, but give me a couple of more records like this and I could put together a Disney compilation that could stand with just about any pop album of the last decade. It would be absolutely meaningless, but it would be entertaining as hell.
R. Kelly featuring Keri Hilson—”Number One”
The title may be a pleasing fantasy or fond remembrance, but even with Hilson doing her best Beyonce imitation I don’t see any way this makes it onto pop radio. I suppose there could be something to admire in the daring of putting out a record about how great you are in bed after being barely acquitted of pissing on a 14-year-old girl, but it’s more likely a symptom of sheer cluelessness and ego than anything else. The music isn’t bad, but Kelly has become a sideshow, and he (and maybe Hilson) seems to be the only one who hasn’t realized it.
Wale featuring Lady GaGa—”Chillin’”
Despite the recycling of Steam’s hoary old hit (apparently hearing it at every athletic event in the world over the last forty years just isn’t enough for some people), and the presence of the dreaded GaGa, I find myself liking this record a lot. More than any of the thousand freestyles over “Paper Planes”, this is where M.I.A.’s influence jumps hip-hop. It’s simplified for sure, but that only emphasizes the catchiest parts, which is what good pop is supposed to do. GaGa does a pretty good impersonation, and there are moments when she seems to be channeling some piece of classic post-punk, The Slits maybe, or even The Raincoats. That might be going too far, but that’s what I hear, and this is still a lot better than I expected it would be.
Skillet—”Awake and Alive”
Since I hold them responsible for the existence of bands like this, maybe Pearl Jam could add these guys to their fixit list. Or at least convince the vocalist to stop dropping his cast iron namesake on his toes every ten seconds.