The main symptoms of which are ennui and procrastination, hence the lateness of this. It isn’t just that mediocre records are hard to write about, though they are, but they drain whatever energy you have for writing, as well. And so far this has been a very mediocre year. There’s not a single record this week—and this is the biggest debut week so far, in terms of the number of records—that I have any strong feelings about. It’s been that way for three months now, which is why my Best of the Hot 100 playlist only has four songs on it (and one of those is over a year old). Even though it’s still early in the year, there’s little sign of it getting better. I wonder where the real action is?
will.i.am featuring Justin Bieber—“#thatPOWER”
Since I’m expecting the usual will.i.am haters to raise a fuss about the lift from Daft Punk and the emptiness of Justin Bieber’s vocal, it’s probably a waste of time to mention that this is easily the best thing will.i.am has produced since The E.N.D., way back at the dawn of the EDM era he helped create. It’s nowhere near as good, partly because it’s a rehash, and partly because of Bieber, but just like The E.N.D. it’s better than most people will give him credit for. Me, I respect him for sticking to his electro guns, and just want to point out that Bieber sounds a lot more alive than Britney Spears did, though not as much as Fergie.
Justin Timberlake—“Pusher Love Girl”
The news that Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience is essentially a contractual obligation album—though for a performance contract rather than the usual recording contract—explains a lot. The length of the songs, for one thing (just like “Mirrors”, “Pusher Love” runs over eight minutes): when you need to put an album together in a hurry, there’s nothing like extended breakdowns, intros, and codas to make it look like you’re giving your audience their money’s worth. It also explains the relative shallowness of the lyrics, and occasionally the music. No doubt Timbaland has a ton of beats and backing tracks piled up on his hard drives, but lyrics, and even lyrical themes, can be harder to come by. “Pusher Love” could almost be a case in point. It features a lengthy and unnecessary orchestral intro, an even lengthier and perhaps even less necessary breakdown and coda, and, in between all that, a B+ level beat and lyrics that add nothing. All the same, this is the best track from 20/20 to hit the charts so far, and a decent radio edit could work wonders. It’s good enough, in fact, to make you wonder why it wasn’t released as the first single instead of “Suit & Tie”. I assume it had something to do with branding the upcoming tour, and maybe to lower expectations for a project Timberlake doesn’t have much of his heart invested in. The question is how much respect he’s willing to lose. He’s certainly lost a lot of mine.
Tyga featuring Cedric Gervais, Wiz Khalifa & Mally Mall—“Molly”
Sometimes I like Tyga, sometimes I hate him, this time I don’t care.
Lil Wayne featuring 2 Chainz—“Rich As Fuck”
A couple of lines suggest that Wayne may have some brain cells left, but then it winds down into the usual rap misogyny, which used to be unusual for Wayne. The beat’s dull, too.
“Another J. Dash production!” Are we supposed to have remembered the last one? I don’t. Though it’s harder to create a one-word hook than it might seem, it isn’t that hard. Besides, Dash doesn’t put anything worth hearing between the hooks. I thank him, though, for reminding me of The Coasters “Turtle Dovin’”. I wonder if Dash has heard it.
Zedd featuring Foxes—“Clarity”
Another small step in the direction of turning EDM into just another form of pop music, as opposed to a revitalization. This has it’s moments, but the music is so loud that the vocals get stretched out of any recognizable emotional range in compensation, which the music, ironically enough, isn’t full enough to hide.
Jake Owen—“Anywhere With You”
For some reason I keep confusing Jake Owen with Luke Bryan, which is unfair to Bryan, who has some brains and is willing to experiment. Owen’s a hack, but country radio must love him because he’s managed to milk Barefoot Blue Jean Night for over a year now, even though each single has been duller than the one before it. Maybe it’s because he’s so willing to pander: the opening line may be the most egregious and ridiculous example I’ve ever heard.
Kip Moore—“Hey Pretty Girl”
Eric Church may use Bruce Springsteen as a symbol of romantic nostalgia, but Moore goes a step further: from his cover pose in a leather jacket, Fender in hand, to the careful, repetitive folk plainness of his style, it’s obvious Moore wants to be Springsteen. That he fails isn’t a surprise, but it’s also for reasons you might not expect. “Hey Pretty Girl” goes on too long and repeats itself too much, but that’s the least of Moore’s problems. The big issue is his inability to break out of the country straitjacket, which forces him to pay the usual lyrical homages to family and motherhood and true love, even though the music is speaking Springsteen’s language of thwarted dreams and diminished hopes. If he wants to be Springsteen, or even get close, Moore is going to need to go all the way. Either that or try something else.