As a rapper, French Montana is negligible, but he sure knows how to pick hooks and choose guests. Nicki Minaj is perfect here, even if you can’t understand half of what she says. Since she not only plays the freak, but goes freak hunting at the same time, she can serve as both a sexual object and a role model (though I have no idea who could possibly follow the pattern she’s set), and blows Montana’s more generic rap sexism away with a giggle and a shout. There’s a reason this is officially Montana’s record, though. His chorus holds the track, which would otherwise be pulled apart by its eccentricities, together.
The Band Perry—“DONE.”
It would seem that the lighter, dreamier, romantic version of The Band Perry, (that is, the one that made their first album) is already history. “Better Dig Two” traded in obsession and psychosis, and now comes “DONE.” (yes, all caps and a period; never say these folks aren’t up-to-date), a break-up song with teeth. The bite isn’t just in the lyrics, either; the music is tougher than anything they’ve done before, but never falls into the pseudo-metal that mars a lot of country music. For that you can thank Kimberly Perry’s power-pop-loving brothers, Reid and Neil, who did the bulk of the writing. In other words, not a one woman show by a long shot. They may be around a lot longer than people thought.
DJ Drama featuring Wale, Tyga & Roscoe Dash—“So Many Girls”
If I had to choose between screaming DJs, I’d choose Drama. He screams less than Khaled, for one thing, and his beats show a lot more variety and subtlety. Khaled scores bigger and better rappers, though, and every once in a while his guests make all the shouting and bombast worthwhile. On “So Many Girls” the raps drag an impressive track down with generic, mindless boasting. Maybe Drama should try releasing unfinished instrumentals. It worked for Baauer.
This is so goofy that it goes a long way towards making me think Aldean is an actual human being, as opposed to a country cliche machine. How can you help enjoying a song that, instead of paying obeisance to Hank or Johnny or Waylon, serves up some respect to Joe Diffie? This doesn’t make Aldean a genius, of course: he should never be allowed to rap again, or even say hip-hop. I do like the line “teach us how to Diffie”, though, even if it is a little late in the day for dougie jokes.
Fall Out Boy—“My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up)”
I’ve never been a fan of Fall Out Boy. Their songs, their playing, and their ideas always seemed muddled to me, and when you combined those with their obvious ambition and self-absorption you got a lot of pretentious mess. I was glad when they decided to go on hiatus (from which I assumed they wouldn’t return), because I could only see them getting worse if they carried on. But now they’re back, and the time off has obviously been good for them, because their comeback single is focused, imaginative, and even comes close to making sense (at least to me; I’m sure it makes perfect sense to them). Naturally enough, the song is at least partially about their time off. At least, I assume that’s what the “dark” of the title partly refers to (these guys love puns and multiple meanings). The best stroke is in the title itself, the idea of a songwriter being informed of mysterious goings on (by who or in what context we’re never told) by the songs he writes. It reveals songwriting as a kind of self-telepathy along the lines of Norman Mailer’s famous statement “I don’t know what I think until I write it down” (and yes, I had no idea what the song was about until I started writing this). These guys have obviously stored up enough anger to drive their songs without a lot of fancy ideas, but it’s good to hear them thinking. It’s even better to hear that thought making it’s way into the music instead of confusing it.
After the run of mediocre singles that followed the wonderful “Need You Now” (there were seven of them, in case you’re counting), I figured Lady Antebellum for one of those groups who have one great song in them, and then repeat the formula for as long as it takes for the magic to wear off and they disappear from view. But “Downtown” is a surprise in every way, a slice of stripped-down country funk that’s the polar opposite of “Need You Now” and just about everything else in mainstream country. It does have one predecessor: “Pontoon”, and I would be surprised if Little Big Town’s hit wasn’t a strong influence on this one. “Downtown” isn’t as sultry, but it’s funkier, and if the song and arrangement aren’t enough of a surprise, the guitar break sure is. The first great country single of the year, and it’s going to be a hard one to top.
Rihanna featuring Mikky Ekko—“Stay”
Adele having opened the door with “Someone Like You”, we’re starting to see a rise in piano-only (or near-piano-only in this case) ballads. Bruno Mars has one (and a good one, too) in the top ten, and now there’s “Stay”. I was impressed at first: the song moves nicely and shifts in ways that keep your attention, and Rihanna’s voice is looser and comes closer to real emotion than she ever has before. But then you have to deal with Mikky Ekko (ugh, what a name), and his “Ed Sheeran wasn’t available so they sent me” vocal. Ekko gets the entire second verse to himself and sinks the record. At at her most mechanistic, at least Rihanna has a voice that keeps your attention. Ekko couldn’t get you to notice him even if he was singing to you in an elevator—you’d mistake him for muzak. There are a lot of guest vocals and raps on Unapologetic, along with dance tracks with not much in the way of lyrics. This is Rihanna’s way, I suppose, of giving herself a break while making sure she doesn’t drop out of public view for more than 25 minutes. I don’t blame her, but if she’s going to do that she needs to find better singers.
Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift—“Highway Don’t Care”
Tim McGraw may be the most overrated country star of the last fifteen years. He’s got a voice, but he uses it for nothing but the usual country sentiment. He’s willing to experiment with sounds and styles, but he always lands in roughly the same place, and those experiments never extend to the ideas or the themes of the songs themselves. He generates a lot of buzz at times, but no heat. On “Highway Don’t Care” he teams up with Taylor Swift, who has already done her part to canonize him, and though neither one of them had a hand in writing the song, it may as well have both their fingerprints on it. Which means it leads nowhere new. Even worse, it takes its sweet time not getting there. The only revelation comes when Swift takes the part of the generic love song playing on the radio: if ever there was proof that it’s her voice as well as her songwriting talents that have made her such a star, this is it. She makes those banal words come alive. Too bad McGraw can’t do the same.
Drake—“Started From the Bottom”
“Started From the Bottom” is more a teaser for the new album than a legitimate single, but I’m impressed by the beat, and by Drake’s switching up of voices. Whatever you may think of him overall, there’s no doubt that he’s improved as a rapper. As for the lyrics, I assume that he means that he and his crew started out from the bottom of the rap game, not life itself. I’m willing to concede that point; how many people would take any teen actor—especially a Canadian one—seriously if he suddenly announced he intended to become a serious rapper? But that doesn’t mean he needs to devote every track to complaining about it.
Kenney Chesney—“Pirate Flag”
Chesney is coming off a string of above-average singles, but this is the fourth single off Welcome To the Fishbowl, and the inspiration doesn’t run quite as deep this time around. Certainly not deep enough to float his pirate ship.
Young Jeezy featuring 2 Chainz—“R.I.P.”
Is he talking about his career? Not yet, I guess.
Chris Young—“I Can Take It From There”
For assembly-line made country slap and tickle, not bad. But I’d have less doubt about his lust if Young didn’t use so many pre-formed parts to put it across.
Wale featuring Tiara Thomas—“Bad”
This is the first time a Wale record has gotten my attention since he teamed up with Lady Gaga on “Chillin’” nearly four years ago. Once again it’s the woman who makes the track worth hearing. When Tiara Thomas announces that she’s never made love but she sure knows how to fuck, the record is essentially over, at least as far as Wale is concerned. Who pays attention to anything else after that? Thomas also outs herself as a cheater who’s guaranteed to break Wale’s heart, which I guess makes her whatever definition of the recently controversial term “bad bitch” you care to apply. The word “bad” applies to Wale, too, but in only one way that I can think of.
One of those weeks where nothing is great, but nothing is horrible, either. That doesn’t mean it’s all mediocre, just that the good stuff is rarely more than that, and the bad stuff doesn’t make you feel nauseous. It all congregates near the middle of the probability curve, just the way it’s supposed to. It’s not exciting, but it’s the way it is.
Tyga featuring Rick Ross—“Dope”
There are so many excellent beats out there, and so few excellent rappers. Tyga is fine, though he relies on crudity more than he needs to and references too many other rappers to make himself look cool. Rick Ross just sounds tired. Which leaves us with that ominous beat. It’s a great beat, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s enough.
Miranda Lambert—“Mama’s Broken Heart”
One of the best tracks from 4 the Record, with an intro that, surprisingly, brings the sound of dub, or at least the punk rock version, into country. Co-written by Kacey Musgraves (“Merry Go-Round”) and a couple of other people who aren’t Lambert but are following her blueprint, “Mama’s Broken Heart” is good, but it’s not Lambert-level good. If she’s going to set up her own songwriting workshop to provide her with material Lambert couldn’t do better than Musgraves, but it’s still going to sound secondhand if all her writers do is copy what she’s done before. Lambert’s found her sound and now, aside from the Pistol Annies, she’s playing it safe. She’d be better off stepping a little further afield.
Kid Ink featuring Meek Mill & Wale—“Bad Ass”
The beat is insane, but only Meek Mill makes the most of it, with a rap that, rhythmically at least, is almost as crazy. Wale, as usual, sounds lost. As for Kid Ink, I assume he got his name from his tattoos, not his writing skills. I’d love to hear some better rappers freestyle over this, though.
Florida Georgia Line—“Get Your Shine On”
“Cruise”, which is still in the top forty, has a rough energy that wipes away its weaknesses and clichés. This is smoother, less energetic, and all cliché. I hope they’ll be able to figure out why this won’t be as big a hit as “Cruise”, but I wouldn’t count on it. That kind of thing rarely happens on purpose, and is generally impossible to recreate.
Chris Cagle—“Let There Be Cowgirls”
I like the conceit of this, especially the detail of the angels demanding God make cowgirls and that they be “strong as any man”, but it’s really just an excuse for Cagle to turn up the mediocre hair metal. The result, witty though it sometimes is, is sludgy and dull by the end. It has its moments, like the whistle that interrupts the final riff, but those aren’t enough to save it. And the second verse makes it sound like Cagle could have another career writing Harlequin Romances.
Pitbull featuring Christina Aguilera—“Feel This Moment”
Pitbull not only isn’t ashamed of his commercial aspirations and how foolish he’s willing to act to achieve them, he’s proud. It’s taken him a long time to learn how to build a record that will appeal to every possible fan base, and he intends to take advantage of that knowledge, even if it means lifting one of the most recognizable and obvious hooks of the last thirty years to do it. His last three singles have seemed random in approach, but who knows, maybe there’s some strange plan behind them. So far he’s sampled Mickey and Sylvia, Toots and the Maytals, and now a-ha. How many different demographics can you capture that way? Is Glenn Miller next? Plan or not, though, it doesn’t seem to be working. None of Pitbull’s recent singles has made top ten, and the latest debuting at 99 isn’t a hopeful sign. Maybe that’s why Christina Aguilera’s chorus is about death. Talk about covering all your demographic bases.
50 Cent featuring Dr. Dre & Alicia Keys—“New Day”
Another uplifting chorus from Alicia Keys (“Empire State of Mind” it ain’t), a familiar-sounding snare drum beat from her hubby, and 50 Cent at his most mush-mouthed, lying to us: “Nothing matters but the music/Music my first love”. It’s already the clarion call of second-raters around the world, but just a few years ago 50 Cent was saying music was just one element in his diversified portfolio, a way of making quick cash so he could do some real business. Guess that didn’t work out. Oh yeah, also featuring Dr. Dre as himself.
Listening to Miguel’s trilogy of brief mixtapes from earlier this year, Art Dealer Chic, the obvious comparison was to Prince, but this, a reworked version of the song that opened the series, is more Al Green, especially when Miguel is demonstrating his falsettos near the end (yes, he has more than one, and they’re all great). The song itself, and the arrangement, are too busy at times, but that’s because Miguel has more ideas, and feelings, than he knows what to do with, not because he’s covering up any defects. He’s still learning how to deploy his gifts, but this is the best R&B record since “Climax”, and he’s only going to get better.
Rick Ross featuring Wale & Drake—“Diced Pineapples”
If the title, which is a metaphor for both diamonds and pussy, but mostly the latter, doesn’t give you the giggles, Wale’s Smoove B impersonation on the introduction will (“The better my effort, the wetter her treasure”). Rick Ross lowers the temperature a bit, if only by conjuring up images of Rick Ross having sex, while Drake deepens the chill by doing his sad-sack-who-feels-your-pain-and-gets-laid-in-the-process routine. Wale’s final verse is already forgotten. In other words, business as usual.
This is so heavy. Not only is it about the Apocalypse (it says so, right in the lyric: “This is it, the Apocalypse”), but it’s also about the coming of a new age (“Welcome to the new age”). The singer himself, it turns out, is the one who’s radioactive (“I’m radioactive! I’m radioactive!”), and it’s all so heavy he has to stop before the end of the first verse to catch his breath; his inhalation is mixed higher than even the lumbering drums and super-distorted pseudo-dubstep bass, so you know he’s really feeling it. Somebody must like these guys, because this is the second track off their EP to make the Hot 100 in the last month. Every generation has its Queensryche, I suppose.
Keyshia Cole featuring Lil Wayne—“Enough of No Love”
I’ve always liked Keyshia Cole, even though most of her records have been mediocre. This is one of the better ones, a soulful lament with a good string arrangement, perfectly sung with just the right balance of strength, defiance, and bitterness. The song doesn’t build the way it should, though, and the chorus lacks musical punch and drama. Then there’s Lil Wayne’s feature. He plays it just right, at first, sacrificing enough of his usual charm to come on like the jerk the guy in the song is supposed to be, but he loses most of his energy along with it, and his rap tails out with a dumb play on Cole’s name that doesn’t fit at all. It’s a shame; a little more work and this could have been a great one.
Ne-Yo—“Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)”
This isn’t a complete failure, but it feels wrong. Ne-Yo’s attempt to fit his subtle lover man croon to a Euro-disco backdrop sounds strained, not just vocally, but in terms of melody as well. Cutting his usual long, smooth lines into staccato bits strikes me as a mistaken compromise, a failed attempt to maintain his old musical personality in the face of commercial necessity. It’s more interesting in its way than the usual Ibiza outpouring, but not by much. And the title is a disaster. He needs the parenthetical, because he’s already written a song called “Let Me Love You” (a number one for Mario in 2005), but it sure leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air. Is he going to dump her once she learns to love herself, or is he holding back the full force of his affection until then? Whatever the case, the title sounds as compromised as the song itself.
Kendrick Lamar—“Swimming Pools (Drank)”
Despite putting out one of the best albums of last year (Section.80) and being officially anointed by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as the savior of LA rap, Lamar has been keeping a fairly low profile, at least compared to, say, Frank Ocean. But in his own way Lamar is as emotionally open as Ocean is, and in many ways he’s better. He lacks Ocean’s soulful voice and falsetto, but he’s a brilliant rapper, and his sense of humor cuts deeper. Here he deploys more funny voices than a Funkadelic album to shade a serious portrait of a binge drinking loser who just happens to be named Kendrick. The silliest voice, naturally, is the one that gives him the best advice, while the hippest one tells him to fill his pool with liquor and “diiiive in”. Easily the best rap record to hit the chart so far this year.
Owl City & Carly Ray Jepsen—“Good Time”
Adam Young, better known as Owl City, should not try to be David Guetta (especially if he’s going to sing), and Carly Rae Jepsen, who, despite “Call Me Maybe”, still needs to establish herself as a career artist, shouldn’t be trying to help him. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a record that sounded like such an obvious cash-in on the part of everyone involved. From Young I don’t expect anything better, but “Call Me Maybe” is going to be in the top ten for the rest of the summer, and it’s way too soon to indulge in such an obvious ploy to keep Jepsen in the public eye. I also hear she’s working with Ryan Tedder. In a recent article in Billboard, Jepsen’s manager, Scooter Braun, was quoted as telling her that her life wasn’t going to be much fun for awhile. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun for her audience, either.
Maroon 5—“Wipe Your Eyes”
Despite, or perhaps because of his second career as judge/mentor on The Voice, Adam Levine has become the most irritating, if not the worst singer of our time. Here, with the assistance of producer J.R. Rotem, he emphasizes this fact by singing, via sample, with one of the best vocalists in the world, Mariam Doumbia of the Malian duo Amadou & Mariam. Rotem and Levine compound the mistake by using one of the duo’s greatest songs, the ethereal and mysterious “Sabali” (co-written and produced by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz; it may be the best piece of music he’s ever been connected with). The result is almost sad. Levine is so outclassed he doesn’t even try; his voice is hoarse and he sounds exhausted and depressed. If, by some chance, this results in “Sabali” getting the attention it deserves, then I guess this record’s existence will be good for something. But otherwise it’s not much more than a sour joke, one that even I can’t bring myself to laugh at. (Note: At least according to the Billboard listing, Doumbia, her writing partner Marc Antoine Moreau, and Albarn aren’t given a songwriting credit for this record; so maybe Levine’s vocal comeuppance is exactly what he deserves.)
More pop than Skrillex (who has done a remix), but still identifiably dubstep (whatever that means by now), this is notable only for the fact that it’s a real song, and not just a beat with some vocals thrown on top of it. They may even have written the song before they came up with the beat, but judging by the way it stops and starts and stalls as it stumbles along, I assume not. It’s not a very good song, and if it wasn’t for the music (and the record’s placement in a TV commercial) no one in the U.S. would have noticed it. It did debut at number one in England, but it was a slow week.
Wale featuring Rick Ross, Meek Mill & T-Pain—“Bag of Money”
What a generous guy Rick Ross is. Here, after giving Wale a brief guest spot on one of his many tracks, Ross turns around and allows Wale to release it under his own name, letting a little of that Rozay magic rub off on him as he struggles to establish a career (based on his rap here, he needs all the help he can get). Mind you, Ross knew this wasn’t a great track, and that it wouldn’t be a huge hit, even with T-Pain autotuning (or T-Paining I guess it’s now called—not to be confused with trepanning though the effect is often the same) in the background. Generosity has it’s limits.
Linkin Park—“Lost In the Echo”
For Linkin Park, not bad. The lyrics lack their usual vague generalization and overbearing pretentiousness, and the music continues to modernize their sound without turning it into novelty dubstep. Not great, of course, but at least it isn’t laughable.
Nickelodeon has tried every way to make Big Time Rush into real stars rather than just tween faves. They’ve given them top production and decent songs, got Snoop Dogg to do a guest spot, dressed them up in suits like Il Divo, everything. Here, they get modernized, their name shortened to BTR (already the name of one of their albums), and pointed roughly toward the same musical territory as The Wanted and One Direction. It doesn’t work, largely because the song is too busy and complicated (is anything on the radio simpler than the stuff The Wanted sing? They make nursery rhymes sound baroque), but also because, as singers, the members of BTR are undistinguished. You can’t create pop stars out of nothing, after all, or at least nothing but looks.
Zac Brown Band—“The Wind”
This is better than most of Zac Brown’s stuff not only because it’s fast, but because it’s so loose. He lets the band show off in the best possible way, and the record not only zooms but swings (maybe Brown’s been listening to some Kentucky Colonels in between the Jimmy Buffett and James Taylor). And, for the first time I’ve heard, Brown sings like himself instead of one of his heroes. Turns out he doesn’t have much vocal personality of his own, which explains a lot.
Mac Miller—”Party On Fifth Ave.”
I like the music, but Miller is a competent rapper at best, and his verses are full of filler. Even musically, though, this is stiffer than a party song should be.
Glee Cast—”Last Friday Night”
Wale featuring Meek Mill & Rick Ross—”Ambition”
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a rap song that was this serious, or went into any detail about the rappers pre-success life on the streets. The verses here are so heartfelt that even Ross sounds like he’s telling the truth, especially when he talks about his mom praying while she waits for the results. Still, Wale wins the honesty stakes when he admits he never worked the streets himself. That may be one of the bravest things I’ve heard a rapper say in a long time.
“All I Want for Christmas is You (SuperFestive!)” (with Mariah Carey), #86
“Drummer Boy” (featuring Busta Rhymes), #99
With Carey and Rhymes on these tracks you expect some craziness, but the insanity is all Bieber’s, and good for him. Forgetting for a moment that neither of these are very good, you have to applaud Beiber for trying. He could easily have cranked out an album of hoary seasonal chestnuts and let his tween fans eat it up. Instead, every track from his Christmas album that’s made the charts has been in a widely different style from the one before it. The Phil Spectorish arrangement on “All I Want for Christmas” is mixed too far below the vocals, and Bieber can’t really rap (or, rather, he doesn’t have a voice that’s suited for it), but I appreciate the effort.
You can only dance so long in the face of recession and social fragmentation, and it’s beginning to look as if the party’s over. Even Taio Cruz has a hangover, and these guys, determined as they are, are on the brink of collapse. Their defiance is almost tragic: not only do they swear, in what may be the hook of the year, that they won’t blackout, but they’re only getting started and, most ominously, “This won’t stop until I say so.” If they don’t collapse of dehydration I figure they’re heading for an OD or alcohol poisoning, and they want to take you with them. One of the scariest, most depressing party records I’ve ever heard. I wonder if that’s intentional.
Miranda Lambert—”Over You”
I’m still making up my mind about 4 the Record—the songwriting is weaker than on Lambert’s first three albums, though in many ways the music is stronger—but I have no doubt as to the two worst songs, both of which involve Lambert’s husband, Blake Shelton. This is the one they wrote together, and though I bet the basic idea and melody were his, I also bet the best line, “How dare you?” to a lover who has died, is Lambert’s. Whatever the case, this is slow and tedious, and though Lambert does her best to wring the simplistic sentimentality out of it, she doesn’t succeed. Whoever wrote the line “Mid-February/Shouldn’t be so scary” (sure hope it wasn’t Lambert) should be sent to remedial songwriters school immediately.
Funny, the only reality I want to escape is the one that allows Chesney to keep making bad rock records and calling them country. Did Sammy Hagar ghostwrite this for him while they were hanging at Cabo with Jimmy Buffett?
Skrillex—”First of the Year (Equinox)”
OK, shoot me if you want, but I love this. Too soft in the soft parts, too loud in the loud ones, with unmusical screams and lots of grinding and distortion, this is dubstep as pop metal, and it’s just about perfect. In some ways, Skrillex plays it safe: he never steps off the beat, and he keeps something resembling a melody drifting through the entire track (though it does get kicked in the ass and jerked out of place a few times). For all the noise he never drifts far from the pop basics, which, as far as I’m concerned, is exactly how it should be.
Coldplay featuring Rihanna—”Princess of China”
The grander the statement, the vaguer and more ordinary the music becomes. Rihanna adds nothing, because there’s nothing to be added to. In the context of the album the lyrics might make sense—though I wouldn’t count on that—but on their own they skirt the ridiculous. The hooks and the overall grandeur of the sound just make things worse; it’s all show, no content.
Toby Keith—”Red Solo Cup”
A funny record that both celebrates redneck drinking and skewers it at the same time. It comes dangerously close to a throwaway comedy sketch, but Keith makes sure it’s a real song, and his delivery, both comically and musically, is flawless. Which only increases my sense of frustration. To follow up a record as blinkered and patronizing as “Made In America” with one as friendly yet satiric as this? How many Toby Keiths are their anyway? And couldn’t the good one hang around a little longer?
Bow Wow featuring Lil Wayne—”Sweat”
I like the music, but the raps, especially Bow Wow’s, are pure cliche. As is Wayne’s, except it’s a cliche built on the kind of raps he was doing six or seven years ago. It’s all Wayne, but it’s not a new Wayne. Eventually, the cliches wear out the welcome of the music, and you’re left with nothing.
Justin Bieber featuring Usher—”Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
Not terrible, but Bieber, for all his new found “maturity”, over-vocalizes in a juvenile manner, while Usher leans too heavily on the show-biz warmth he’s a master of. I’ll stick with Nat “King” Cole, thank you very much.
Kelly Clarkson—”What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”
I wish I liked this more, but for all of Clarkson’s strengths as a vocalist there isn’t much she can make of this song, which is essentially a gussied up version of “Since You Been Gone”. It doesn’t flow dynamically or build like “Gone” though; it settles in at a certain volume level and stays there, leaving Clarkson with nothing to bounce her vocals off of. Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff Clarkson seems to like. When she has material that allows her to vary her voice and take advantage of both her timbre and her emotional and vocal range she’s one of the best pop singers around; when she doesn’t she’s just another shouter
Florence + The Machine—”Shake It Out”
I’m impressed by the production, which starts with a big sound that gets even bigger as it goes along, and there’s a kernel of real emotion and a good hook somewhere under all the drums and blare and Florence’s multi-tracked vocals. A lot of people bring up Annie Lennox as a comparison, but this is more like Bonnie Tyler, or what Kate Bush might sound like if she were produced by Jim Steinman. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but it is a bit of a mess.
Wale featuring Miguel—Lotus Flower Bomb”
Wale can be clever, such as the moment near the end where he sings the vowels (“Ahhh, A, E, I-O-Ooooh”), but too much of this is ordinary, and Miguel adds nothing, including a hook.
The Black Keys—”Lonely Boy”
I can understand the appeal of these guys: they provide straightforward funk ‘n’ roll without all the masculine preening and posturing, and Dangermouse’s production adds enough of a modern touch to keep them from turning into an indie Sha Na Na. But this is still nothing more than basic, well-produced blues-based boogie. And on the intro, which sounds like the soundtrack to Coney Island Hipster Beach Party, they are the indie Sha Na Na.
Kaskade featuring Neon Trees—”Lessons In Love”
Not to be confused with Cascada, of course, or any other dance pop band featuring loud, fuzzy synths and slow climbs up a chromatic scale passed off as solos. I do like the unpolished sound of the vocals, though; they actually keep me listening.
Hunter Hayes—”Storm Warning”
Twenty years old, a former child-actor and already a full-time country hack, you can hear Hayes trying hard to sound like his heroes, who in this case appear to be Rascal Flatts. His phrasing makes him sound like he’s sixteen, though, with a lot to learn in the vocal department. Not to mention the originality department, though I doubt if he’s much interested in that one.
Justin Moore—”Bait A Hook”
Sometimes I have a hard time telling all the Justins and Jasons and Jerrods apart, and this song is one reason why. There’s not a hint of originality or personality in the music, the lyrics (the third country hit in the last three months to emphasize fishing), or the vocals. The occasional hints of sexual jealousy are interesting, but the country chauvinism is strictly by the book and the stereotyping of city boys plain stupid. As anonymous as they come.
Just for the season, Bieber steps out of hip-pop into Jason Mraz/Colbie Caillat/Coca-Cola commercial territory. At least I hope it’s just for the season.
Christina Perri—”A Thousand Years”
Perri is actually getting better. This is merely mediocre instead of out and out terrible like “Jar of Hearts”. But then, this is a soundtrack cut, so maybe she wasn’t trying as hard.
Rick Ross featuring Nicki Minaj—”You The Boss”
Did Nicki Minaj really know what was going on when she gave Ross the hook to this piece of sexist, misogynistic tripe? Had she heard the rap, or more importantly, the second female vocal (I’m assuming it isn’t her, and I hope to God I’m right) before she laid down her part? I’m trying very hard to avoid personally insulting Ross, because he may very well just be playing a part, but can I help it if I always imagine that part as Jabba the Hut?
Not bad for a by-the-numbers country love song; I like the chorus a lot. But there’s nothing special about Young’s voice or his ideas. He just happened to write a half-way decent song this time, is all.
Romeo Santos featuring Usher—”Promise”
Not as delightfully insane as “You”, but odd and pleasant enough. Santos’s voice is so ethereal that almost everything he sings drifts off into the stratosphere, and not even Usher, who sounds a bit out of his depth, can hold him down. I’d love to hear what a production team like Stargate could do with him, but my fear is that the closer he gets to crossing over the more he going to sound like Enrique Iglesias. If he gives Pitbull a guest spot we’ll know it’s over.
Martina McBride—”I’m Gonna Love You Through It”
Taking Brad Paisley at his word, McBride serves up a country song about cancer, and doesn’t hesitate to say the C word right up front. She also doesn’t hesitate to layer the record with as much string-laden sentiment as it can hold, and then pours on some more. After her last two singles, and especially “Teenage Daughters”, I thought McBride was going to make something new and interesting out of her career, but it must be harder to break out of that Nashville mold than I thought.
David Guetta featuring Jennifer Hudson—”Night Of Your Life”
It’s bad enough that Guetta is a mediocre DJ, but Hudson is an absolutely hopeless disco singer. You can argue about whether Guetta should be allowed to make records, but there’s no doubt that Hudson shouldn’t be allowed to sing stuff like this.
Florence + The Machine—”What the Water Gave Me”
Let me guess: A totally self-absorbed belief in your own pretensions? The Pocket Guide to Romantic Suicide Imagery? A free pass to the nearest Renaissance Faire?
Game—”Martians Vs Goblins”
I assume that this scraped it’s way onto the charts because people wanted to hear Game making rude suggestions about Bruno Mars along with many others. I can’t think of any other reason to listen to it. My only question is whether Lil Wayne actually contributed to this track or Game used a sample. If the latter, that may be the biggest insult on the record.
Wale featuring Jeremih & Rick Ross—”That Way”
I still think Wale has promise, but this isn’t going to get him anywhere. Jeremih provides a decent hook, and Ross provides his usual presence (and his usual lack of anything interesting to say), but Wale seems lost on his own record. You don’t remember a word he’s said once it’s over.
Ace Hood featuring Chris Brown—”Body 2 Body”
A mid-level seduction track from two mid-level guys. There is one weird line, though, from Ace Hood: “Are those your real eyes?/Can tell you’re partially Asian”. Is that meant to be a compliment of some kind? Interesting ideas about seduction these guys have.
Jamie-Grace featuring tobyMac—”Hold Me”
A British version of Colbie Caillat, which means a little Natasha Bedingfield and Lily Allen gets mixed in as well. Cute, if you can stand it.
Benny Benassi featuring Gary Go—”Cinema”
As modern as pop techno gets, but so limp that what it most reminds me of is the wimpy bubblegum pop of the early seventies like Christie’s “Yellow River” or Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” or Wadsworth Mansion’s “Sweet Mary”. All of which had better hooks. Better singing, too.