the illiterate top ten record review archive
 

This archive contains my review of every song to make the top ten in 2006. Songs are arranged alphabetically by artist and then in order by date. The date under each review marks it's first appearence in the top ten, followed (in red) by it's peak position. The row of pictures above is the current top ten.

2008    2007    2006    2004-2005    1966

 

comments, questions, and anatomical suggestions (friendly or otherwise) can be sent to rjm@theilliterate.com

other critical types

billboard charts

music news

historical chart reviews

2006—summing up, dumbing down

I can already see the listing in some future music history chronology: “2006: R&B great James Brown, arguably the most influential musician of his era, dies. Legendary label head Ahmet Ertugen dies. Legendary producer Arif Mardin dies. Legendary acid casualty and founder of Pink Floyd Syd Barrett dies. Tower Records dies as digital downloads continue to take over music market, with websites such as YouTube and MySpace providing new channels for marketing and publicity.” Somewhere, near the very end, it might mention that a lot of mediocre records were released. Though unless it’s the debut of some future genius who hasn’t yet hit his/her stride, or what could be Bob Dylan’s last album, I’d be very surprised if it names any.

It hasn’t been a horrible year, but it hasn’t been a very strong one, either. When the biggest pop events of the year (besides people dying) are the returns of Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado to the top ten charts, you can hardly raise your hands in ecstatic hosannas, can you? Not that there was anything wrong with their records (“Promiscuous” is in my own top ten for the year), but there wasn’t anything great about them either. They were well-made professional pop, nothing more.

There weren’t even any strong new trends to hook onto this year, just a continuation of those that ruled the year before. Digital sales continued to increase, strong women got stronger (and louder), and rappers continued to pick up strippers in record numbers. That last trend may actually be fading, despite Akon’s current stranglehold on the top two places on the chart: the Ying Yang Twins, who claim to have started the whole strip club rap thing, saw first week sales of their new album drop by nearly 600% compared to their last. There’s karma for you.

The closest thing to a phenomenon this year was OK Go’s “There It Goes” video, which made YouTube.com, and the internet in general, look a lot more important than they really are, at least in terms of promoting new music (the video may have looked cheap and alternative, but that doesn’t change the fact that OKGo are a major label band with at least some promo dollars behind them). And though MySpace is a promising, and inexpensive, way of promoting bands to their already existing audience, there are so many music pages now that wading through them all to find something worthwhile is essentially impossible. The old ways are still the best ways, and the mainstream filtering process, as flawed as it is, still works.

So if the mainstream system didn’t give us much this year, we can only assume that there wasn’t much out there to give, or that the audience wasn’t quite ready for what there was. After all, you can’t blame the system for the failure of a great album like Idlewild, or for Lady Sovereign not making top forty. The mainstream gave them every break they could, but the audience wasn’t buying.

That may be because the audience isn’t who it used to be. Two of the biggest selling albums of the year (High School Musical and Hannah Montana) were products of the Disney Channel, and having already flexed its—or its parents—buying power, the pre-teens who sucked up those records and downloads are bound to become an overwhelming commercial force in the near future. If this idea scares you, remember that the kids who grew up on Mickey Mouse Club in the 50s became the revolutionaries of the 60s. So be patient and don’t despair—yet. Lady Sovereign may not have made top forty on the national charts, but she was top ten on Total Request Live, a show with a demographic not much older than Disney’s. Things will change, and chances are we’ll hate it, but that’s OK. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Which isn’t to say that change is always for the best, as the sale of Village Voice Media to New Times and the subsequent firing of just about everybody who made the Voice (and other papers, such as Seattle Weekly) worth reading, particularly Robert Christgau and Chuck Eddy, demonstrates. According to their separation letters, Christgau and Eddy were fired “for reasons of taste”, a phrase that I have been trying to puzzle out ever since: were they fired for not being “tasty” enough? for demonstrating the wrong kind of taste? for having some? Both writers will do fine on their own, I’m sure (Christgau already has gigs at Rolling Stone, NPR, and Salon, and the Consumer Guide is now on MSN.com; Eddy is doing the heavy metal blog for MTV’s Urge), and Christgau has had only good things to say about the Voice’s new music editor. But New Times heavy-handed management techniques (which include having many articles written and edited out of their Phoenix headquarters, thereby inflicting heavy damage on regional coverage), almost guarantees the ultimate insignificance of their papers as any kind of reliable news or critical source. A lot of good people have already left, or been forced out (including my old pal Skip Berger, editor of Seattle Weekly—see this piece by the Weekly’s former political columnist Geov Parrish for the gruesome details).

Not that many people make their music purchasing decisions based on what they read in newspapers or magazines, anyway. A Billboard survey from earlier this year put periodical reviews dead last (by a wide margin) as an influence on what people buy. Any rock critic who thinks he actually convinces people to buy records based on his recommendations (other than, possibly, other rock critics) is engaging in an immense act of hubris. But even if the influence of rock criticism, except among music geeks, is more subliminal than anything else, it’s still an essential corrective to an industry (and by that I mean the music press as much as the music business itself) that prides itself on its own excessive hubris, sycophancy, and greed. Talk all you will of the rise of alternative, online media, the presence of honest, uninfluenced criticism in mainstream dead-tree media is still essential, and with the corruption of VVM, now almost non-existent.

 


Akon
smack that (featuring Eminem)
With producer Eminem providing the flow along with a guest rap almost worthy of Ludacris, this is a big step up, production-wise, from the cruder, if somewhat more charming singles from Akon’s—or, as he likes to call himself, Konvict’s—first album. The problem is that, even though he still has a gorgeous voice, he now sounds like every other rapper strutting through a stripclub trying to impress with his cash and his flash and bragging about his sexual prowess. I know he would never want to go back, but I liked Konvict a lot more when he was suffering behind bars. I do give him props, though, for rhyming “my shadow” with “Lamborghini Gallardo”. Unless, of course, Eminem wrote that for him.
10/6/06 #2

|

 

I Wanna Love You (featuring Snoop Dogg)
With “Smack That” having already imbedded itself in the top ten, “I Wanna Love You” now makes Akon the undisputed king of the lyrical genre best summed up as “Rappers Heart Strippers”. The explicit version, in which the title line becomes “I wanna fuck you”, is probably closer to the operative emotion of the song (and unintentionally hilarious in that Smoove B sort of way), but Akon’s African-influenced lilt is more in tune with the clean version, and that’s the one that will dominate pop radio for the next few months. As pure as Akon’s voice, and his intentions, may sound, this is still just another song about picking up strippers—the sixth, by my count, to make top ten in the last year, three of them number ones. But then, with all those Gold Diggers, girls who hide their goodies, and power mavens like the Pussycat Dolls and Beyonce around, what’s a young rapper loaded with cash supposed to do when he really wants to show off how powerful he thinks he is? At least they’re not hoes, right?
11/24/06 #1

|

 


Christina Aguilera
Ain't No Other Man
This sounds like good, rough and ready funk at first, but it wears thin fast. The song goes nowhere, the arrangement is pre-fab funk, and Aguilera, trying to be Aretha, screeches more than she sings. It’s kind of like vinyl siding: it looks good at first, but the closer you get and the longer you look at it, the more it seems like just another big hunk of plastic.
6/30/2006 #6

|

 


The All-American
rejects
dirty little secret
More TV music courtesy of the WB Network. Not as self-satisfied as Gavin Degraw or as sluggish as Lifehouse, to be sure—they lean more toward the punkish and nasty side—but, in their own way, just as carefully groomed. Shut off your mind long enough and you might enjoy it. You should be aware, though, that they’re about as punk as Ashlee Simpson. Their web site is full of references to articles in Teen People and contests where you have a chance to have the band phone you at home or take you grocery shopping. They also have a logo that looks like something from an 80s pop-metal band. On tour soon with Fall Out Boy, which figures.
1/13/06 #9

|

 


Natasha
Bedingfield
unwritten
Bedingfield is something of a curiosity, if only because she’s constructed two singles in a row around the idea of the written word. The first, the charming “These Words”, was about the impossibility of expressing emotion in poetry or prose, even after brushing up on your Shelley and Keats. “Unwritten” ignores that impediment and advises everyone to get busy jotting down the book of their life—just be sure and take in some sunshine and feel the rain on your skin first. Needless to say, this piece of obstacle-free inspiration is the bigger hit. I like it, even with its church chorus borrowed from “Like A Prayer”. But I still think “These Words” is better, not to mention “Like A Prayer”.
2/3/06 #5

 


Beyonce
déjà vu (featuring Jay-Z)
Like almost all the Beyonce I’ve heard, this is catchy, appealing, and somehow not all there. Just to be fair, that can be said of a lot of pop music these days, and this is better than most. But like a lot of hip-hop singles, Deja Vu suffers from the perceived commercial necessity of sticking some famous guest rapper in the middle of the track. Jay-Z and B are a couple, so this was to be expected, but though their romance might be all fire and iced Cristal champagne, as a musical partnership they go nowhere. Like so many guest rappers, Jay-Z sounds as if his vocals were added as an afterthought months after the initial recordings were finished. From a real couple you’d expect some sort of intimacy, but I’ll be damned if I can tell if they were even in the same room when this was cut.
8/4/06 #4

|

 

Irreplaceable
Beyonce’s last single, “Ring the Alarm” sounded rough and unfinished, which fit with its theme of romantic desperation and rage, but it was also too calculated, too obvious in its effects, and it didn’t match up well with Beyonce’s strengths. “Irreplaceable”, which plays the same scenario from a different angle, emphasizes those strengths, and the result is a near-masterpiece, the best thing she’s released in the last two years. Like a lot of records these days, the emphasis is as much on the balance of power as romance. It’s her apartment, her car, and, most obviously, her money and earning power. By emphasizing her financial superiority she makes the man look, or at least feel, like a near gigolo; when he’s gone, she brags, she can just go out and buy herself another one. It’s a power fantasy as potent as anything a gangsta could dream up. Which isn’t to say she isn’t hurt—you can feel the pain in her voice even through the righteous anger that drives the song. Not that it matters much when the hooks start piling up on top of each other. Don’t be surprised if you hear “You must not know ‘bout me” ringing from every cell phone in the country for the next six months.
11/10/06 #1

|

 


mary j.
blige
be without you
This isn’t bad, and it’s nice to hear a straightforward love song in which the partners appear to be equal and the love isn’t instantaneous, but it’s nothing special. Since there doesn’t seem to be any danger that the guy is going to leave her, the song doesn’t have much edge to it. Not much passion, either. I’ll bet Blige really milks this live, but on record it’s a little too studied, if not exactly stiff.
1/20/06 #3

|

 


james
blunt
you're beautiful
Sensitive, handsome as hell, with the voice of an angel, Blunt is going to be huge, and the rest of the white pop singers in the world may as well just bow down now and get the hell out of his way. The irony is that he’s achieved this by modeling himself, vocally, thematically, and musically, on a singer who, in most ways (except for the voice) is almost his exact opposite: Paul Heaton. In the U.S., of course, that name means nothing. Heaton and his band, The Beautiful South, were huge in England in the 90s, but are virtually unheard of in the States (the curious are advised to pick up a copy of the South’s greatest hits compilation Carry On Up the Charts, a great album which is miraculously still in print). Ordinary looking as he was, anti-romantic as he was, Heaton still sang like an angel (and still does, though he seemed to run out of ideas a few years back), and it’s obvious Blunt learned his stuff singing along with his records. What Blunt lacks is Heaton’s dryness and realism and refusal to submit to sentiment. If Heaton were singing this song, he’d take this guy and his wistful obsession for women he knows he’ll never meet and cut them apart with a surgical precision that would scare most of the U.S. audience to death. It’s not that Heaton wouldn’t sympathize with the poor guy, but he’d be a lot more realistic, and he would never stoop to the level of self-pity that Blunt does. Still, there are worse things to be than a softer version of Paul Heaton, and no matter what happens, Blunt will always be better looking.
1/27/06 #1

|

 


Bow Wow
Shortie Like Mine (featuring Chris Brown & Johnta Austin)
Jermaine Dupri strikes again, and what else is there to say? How can you review a record that puts you to sleep in the first 45 seconds? It has a hook, sort of (it’s more of a chant), and a lot of sub-Michael Jackson crooning courtesy of Chris Brown, and the same thud-thud-thud-whoosh that adorns every other love song put out in the last six months. But it doesn’t have an ounce of spirit or inventiveness or energy. Teenage sexism, though—it does have a hell of a lot of that.
11/24/2006 #10

|

 


chris
brown
yo (excuse me miss)
This is slick enough to pass, and the hook isn’t bad, but it’s also pretty dumb, and, for me at least, it conjures up a somewhat disturbing image. This is the second single Brown has issued in which he presents himself as a precocious teenager on the make; i.e., the kid with the fake ID who’s snuck into the VIP and starts hitting up on the women. He’s charming, maybe even cute, but he’s also up to no good, and he probably doesn’t know what he’s getting into. OK, I’m projecting. This record is too slight to make that much of a fuss about. But when Michael Jackson was 11 and sang about love and sex, he pretended to be older. Brown doesn’t seem to be pretending at all, and for some reason that bothers me.
2/10/06 #7

|

 

Say Goodbye
Having dropped, for a moment, the persona of sixteen-year-old-with-a-fake-ID-on-the-make-at-the-VIP, Chris Brown reveals himself to be (ta-da!) just another asshole. “It’s not you, it’s me‘ he croons, as if reading from the official “How To Get Rid of Her While Keeping the Door Open for More Later” playbook, no doubt text messaging his next victim simultaneously. Since, as he keeps letting us know, he’s only sixteen, maybe he doesn’t realize what a slimeball he’s being. Not that he’d care.
11/3/06 #10

|

 


cascada
everytime we touch
I was wondering if D.H.T.’s “Listen to Your Heart” was a one shot or actually marked the start of some sort of techno revival, and here’s my answer. Except it can’t really be considered a revival since techno didn’t make much of an impression on the pop charts the first time around, fifteen years ago. Just like D.H.T., this is more streamlined, more pop-oriented than the techno it’s based on, more user-friendly, so to speak. It also romps more than Daddy Yankee’s “Rompe” and is hotter than Sean Paul’s “Temperature”. The difference, of course, is that reggaeton and dancehall get their stimulant inspiration from dope, while this is pure amphetamine rush. I may be showing my age in this, but in pop, as far as I’m concerned, speed matters.
3/3/06 #10

|

 


cassie
me & u
Thud, thud, whoosh, huh huh, whooosh, thud, heh heh, whiiir, whoosh, thud (repeat, with slight variations, for three minutes). So, are you horny yet?
6/2/06 #3

|

 


chamillionaire
ridin' (featuring Krayzie Bone)
This gets a little monotonous in the choruses, and the beats don’t quite capture the feeling of cruising as well as, say, Kanye West’s “Drive Slow”, but it’s such a relief to hear a gangsta rap song that actually takes place on the streets and doesn’t concern itself solely with the pursuit of booty that its flaws are easily overlooked. In one respect it may even be something of a breakthrough: they never once refer to women as bitches or hoes—they call them “chicks” (it’s only half a step forward, I know, but it’s something). Best of all, “Ridin’” has a great, and humorous, sense of reality. After driving oh so carefully to avoid the attention of the cops, Chamillionaire ends up crashing because he’s trying to take a picture with his cellphone. “Damn,” one of his passengers laments as Chamillionaire tries to pry his arm out of the steering wheel, “I done spilled my drink.”
4/28/06 #1

|

 


Chingy
pullin' me back (featuring Tyrese)
Another dull Jermaine Dupri production, and though Chingy has the good sense to level some sarcasm at Dupri’s “You all know what this is” introduction, that doesn’t make him, or the record, any less boring. He’s just another “superstar” rapper complaining about his girl while a hired crooner makes gushy on the choruses (and makes the record salable). At least he gives the woman credit for having some class and doesn’t call her a bitch. There is one nice production touch: when Chingy asks his crew for advice, you can actually here them offering suggestions during the chorus. Too bad they’re mixed so far down you can’t make out what they’re saying—a good dose of the dozens could have made this an interesting record.
9/29/06 #9

|

 


Ciara
Get Up (featuring Chamillionaire)
For the last year and a half, just about every record with Ciara’s name on it has made top ten, so it’s no surprise to see this mediocre piece of soundtrack music rush up the charts. Musically, it’s a rehash of earlier Jazze Pha productions, somewhat reminiscent of Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control”, though lighter and without the sharpness and precision of Ciara’s earlier records. At least she doesn’t go on about her “1 2 Step” and her “Goodies” this time. Chamillionaire, however, makes sure we all remember “Ridin’”, which has been off the top ten for almost a whole month, and has therefore disappeared from public consciousness.
8/25/2006 #7

|

 


Danity
Kane
Show Stopper
I have nothing on principal against reality show performers: they work hard, they do their best in ridiculous circumstances, and sometimes, like Kelly Clarkson, they come up with something unexpected and almost real. Danity Kane, however, the P Diddy guided winners of the latest season of MTV’s Making the Band, are all things hateful about pop music loaded into one inconvenient gas-guzzling vehicle (and you can take your pick—they namecheck just about every luxury car ever built). Image over personality, sonic novelty over music, disconnected lyrical nonsense over careful construction, you name a worthwhile pop attribute, and they’ll stomp all over it in their Cuban heels. Their voices are so full of air and hiss they could be singing through a breathalyzer (and yes, they do sound drunk). Though the cynical mastermind who conceived this crap deserves his full share of the blame, I choose to direct my ire toward the girls themselves. It’s one thing, in your pursuit of wealth and fame, to sell your soul to the devil, but to P Diddy?
9/1/06 #8

|

 


Diddy
Come To Me (featuring Nicole Scherzinger)
This has a few nice pop moments, and it’s been very carefully, and even cleverly, crafted, but it begs a question: is this what Hugh Hefner would sound like if he was a rapper? Though it doesn’t quite sink to the level of true smarm, this smug and self-satisfied record is nothing more than a high-gloss advertisement for Comb’s tastes in liquor, clothes, and women (at least he doesn‘t rap about Proactiv), and his ability to pay for them. It’s so smooth you barely notice what he’s really saying: the age-old "Don’t you wish you were me, sucker?" Just to drive the message home, on the choruses he has his latest female discovery pretend to find him sexually irresistable. Rap bragging taken either to a new high of sophistication, or a new low of self-satisfaction and enervation. You can guess which option I choose.
10/27/06 #9

|

 


Zac Efron
&
Vanessa Anne
Hudgens
breaking free
I can understand how this would work in the context of the movie, but it sure doesn’t work as a pop record. The shakiness of the vocals, suggesting both nervousness and lack of experience, would fit in perfectly with the idea of a high school musical, and the song itself is the sort of canned inspiration you’d expect in that setting. But the backing is so slick and professional it gives the lie to the whole concept and forces you to face the fact that the vocals are shaky and the song itself is nothing but canned inspiration. Couldn’t they have gotten a real high school stage band to do the music? It wouldn’t have been any better, but at least it would have been true to the concept. It might even have had a little charm to it.
2/3/06 #4

|

 


eminem
shake that (featuring Nate Dogg)
Since I find this record pretty much irresistible, I’m forced to face up to a question: why do I enjoy this particular piece of crude, offensive sexism about picking up strippers, and not D4L’s “Laffy Taffy”, which is about exactly the same thing? I’m sure I could come up with all sorts of rationalizations, some of which would even make sense, but it all comes down to the fact that Eminem makes me laugh, whereas D4L makes me go “Oh, for God’s sake.” It’s also a matter of style and craft. Eminem is, obviously, a hell of a lot better at what he does than D4L, his delivery cannier and more intelligent (a relative judgment, of course), his beats springier, his sense of humor more wide open (just like Ludacris’ line about Canadian hoes, I break up every time I hear “I want a girl I can fuck in my Hummer truck”, a line both perfectly crude and perfectly phrased). Or maybe it’s that he demonstrates any sense of humor at all. Where “Shake That” is about fun and games, “Laffy Taffy” is about power, and that makes a huge difference. If you’re insecure about where you stand on the pecking order, humor is the last thing you trust, because you can never be sure exactly what people are laughing at. Eminem knows where he stands, and his confidence allows him to make himself the butt of most of his jokes, or pretend to be the sexist asshole that he probably isn’t. D4L would never take a chance like that, because people would know that they’re not pretending—they really are sexist assholes.
2/10/06 #6

|

 


Evanescence
Call Me When You're Sober
Though I always liked the idea of Heart, I never thought much of the reality—Ann Wilson’s oversinging killed just about everything that was pleasurable about that band, even when the songs were good (if they weren’t so enthralled by Led Zeppelin they would have made a nifty pop band). Evanescence, which is essentially Heart updated as goth/metal, has the same problem, only doubled, because their songs—or at least this one—aren’t any good at all. Amy Lee doesn’t oversing in quite the same overpowering way as Wilson (she doesn’t have the pipes), but her intention, to create emotional effect through sheer vocal force, is the same, and in her own way even more mindlessly melodramatic.
9/1/06 #10

|

 


fall out
boy
dance, dance
“Sugar, We’re Going Down” was a song about sexual jealousy that tried to be cool and above it all and ended up sounding sloppy and misguided. “Dance, Dance” is a song about sexual jealousy that leaves out the cool and turns toward desperation, and thus sounds even sloppier and more misguided. It’s also better—“We’re falling apart to half-time” is a line worthy of early Elvis Costello. That’s not enough, though, to excuse the dunderheaded rhythm shifts and half-assed (or half-throated) singing. These guys are just lucky that sloppiness fits their subject—I see no signs that they’re capable of anything else.
1/6/06 #9

|

 


Fergie
London Bridge
On the surface as silly a dance record as you’re ever likely to hear, for Fergie haters, “London Bridge” is like throwing chum to sharks. But what do Fergie haters know? This lacks the density and levels of personality of the Black Eyed Peas, but it also gives you an idea of just how much Fergie contributes to the group. The beats are harder and funkier than just about anything else on the charts, the chorus catchier, and she has a sense of humor, which is more than can be said of most of the pop divas around these days. If she can be compared to anyone, it’s Mae West, whose attitude and aplomb and throwaway lines she seems to have studied closely (“Ferg, what’s up, yo?” “You are.”). Just like “My Humps”, there’s some subtle satire going on here, as well. It’s easy to take the title as a sexual metaphor, but it isn’t. At least, it isn’t a come on. When a bridge goes down, that means it’s closing and not letting any ships through. Whatever this guy does, he isn’t turning her on, that’s for sure. By the end she’s threatening to mace him. I suspect the song is an attack on papparazi who hound her and take photos when she just wants to get loose in the clubs. Why else would she be so worried about wearing the right shoes?
8/4/06 #5

|

 

Fergalicious
Since Fergie’s very existence is a welcome slap in the face to the hip-hop diva machine, I find her defensiveness and self-justifications on this song unnecessary. The more nonsense like “My Humps” and “London Bridge” she puts out the better, as far as I’m concerned, and there’s no need for her to make a case for it (that‘s my job). This is just silly and bouncy enough to get by, and I love the ancient James Brown sample and the off-rhymes on the chorus (delicious-promiscuous-fictitious); when Fergie leans into the self-parody it’s just about perfect. But it goes on too long, and the music doesn't have enough force to it to justify the length. Still, as a slighter saner followup to "London Bridge", it's not bad.
11/3/06 #3

|

 


Field Mob
So What (featuring Ciara)
Under the supercool exterior of this song, with its warm, mellow synths and early 80s percussion tracks, is an old-fashioned girl group number about the bad boy who no one trusts but who the girl loves all the same. Besides the laid back quality of the music, which removes all urgency and passion from Ciara’s plea (and which begs the question of whether she’s blissed out or just stoned), the main difference is that the boy (or boys, since there’s two of them) gets to speak his mind as well, and, as might be expected, doesn’t really have anything to say. Without Ciara, this record would have gone nowhere, and even with her, and her by now well worn references to her goodies and her one-two step, it’s taken a couple of months to drag itself into the top ten. Chances are we’ll never hear from Field Mob again, and I’m beginning to have my doubts about Ciara, as well.
7/7/06 #10

|

 


fort minor
where'd you go
Having been totally unimpressed by the little I’ve heard of Linkin Park in the past, this product of a side project by Mike Shinoda is a real surprise: a perfect piece of pop music. That’s not to say that there’s anything particularly original or exceptional about it—stylistically it draws its roots from Portishead and, especially, Eminem’s “Stan”—but it‘s everything I think a pop record should be: catchy without being cloying, emotional without being maudlin, lyrical without being sentimental. It also works an ambiguity that makes it universal. With Holly Brook singing the chorus, and the lack of any real identifier in the lyric, this song could be about anyone—father, brother, wife, sister, lover, friend—who has left their loved ones behind. Somebody with a real canniness for pop put this together, and though I suspect the hand of executive producer Jay-Z, I suppose it could be Shinoda himself.
5/12/06 #5

|

 


jamie
foxx
unpredictable (featuring Ludacris)
Talk about not living up to your title—the only thing unpredictable about this record is that Foxx didn’t haul out his lame Ray Charles impersonation again. Otherwise, this is just another collection of male hip-hop clichés about getting down (or off, as the case may be). Foxx’s idea of adventurous sex comes to not much more than not doing it in the missionary position. He does offer to go down on her, but only if she consents to being filmed first. Even Ludicris comes up with nothing but cheesy porn movie scenarios (the pool table, the kitchen, yada yada yada). His delivery is so droll, though, he almost saves the damn record anyway (someday he should put out a best-of filled with nothing but guest appearances). Foxx is a comedian, so the whole thing could be a joke, I suppose. But then it should be funny, shouldn’t it?
2/3/06 #8

 


dem franchize
boyz
lean wit it, rock wit it (featuring Lil Peanut and Charlay)
Although a part of me instinctively agrees with him, I’ve been somewhat hesitant to fully embrace jazz critic Stanley Crouch’s comparison of gangsta rap with minstrel music. Partly because, as a middle aged white guy, I wasn’t sure I had a right to comment on the subject, and partly because I didn’t feel I knew enough about either genre to have an opinion one way or the other (the fact that Crouch strikes me as something of a prude doesn’t help, either). Songs like this one, though, make me lean heavily toward Crouch’s point of view. One particular lyric strikes me as almost sealing the argument, so I thought a comparison was in order. First, “De Dandy Broadway Swell”, from Davidson’s Universal Melodist, a nineteenth century song collection:

You’ve heard ob dandy Niggers,
But you should see this coon,
A struttin down the Broadway,
Some Sunday arternoon!
I steal de hearts ob all de gals,
I jealous all de men,
Just do obserbe me when I turn,
De Pink you’ll call me den.

It wouldn't be hard to find verses that compare to that in many gangsta rap songs (Snoop's "Drop It Like It's Hot" comes to mind), and this verse from Dem Franchize Boys isn't an exact corollary, but it also seems particularly apt in regard to the general argument that Crouch makes. The last line could almost be from “Jump Jim Crow”:

Young Pimpin in tha club,
See dem hoes tryna act up
Cause they see my chain and a nigga throwin dem stacks up
I keep a full clip and my pistol in my pants,
I'm in da middle of da flo,
They screamin "Nigga do yo dance!"

It may, in the end, be a matter of audience more than anything else. The minstrel shows, even those with black singers and dancers, were largely performed for white audiences. I'm not sure the same is true for gangsta rap, whose audience is more mixed. But that still leaves the question of the fine line between cultural expression and cultural exploitation. As I said, I haven't yet come to any conclusions as to where that line is, but I think Dem Franchize Boyz have definitely crossed it.
3/10/06 #7

|

 


the fray
over my head (cable car)
These are the scattered shards of what’s left of Nirvana’s influence on the pop charts: a guy who sings like Cobain over music that sounds like Matchbox 20 moaning about losing his girl. It also features what might be considered the height of fratboy romantic imagery: a woman who’s so fascinating the guy finds himself thinking about her while watching the big game. I wonder if he thinks about her when she’s actually in the room.
5/12/06 #8

|

 

How To Save A Life
Listening to this song, with its classical pretensions and quasi-Cobainish mumbling and moaning, you’d never know it was about someone trying to get a friend to straighten out, a process that never gets beyond step one. At least, I didn’t know it until I read the lyrics. The message seems heartfelt enough, but the singing is all wrong, self-absorbed and self-pitying, slurred with sentiment and often incomprehensible, and the music is the same. If you’re going to save somebody’s life, shouldn’t you at least speak clearly?
9/22/06 #3

|

 


nelly furtado
promiscuous
Here’s what I’ve been waiting for: two playas of the opposite sex who meet as absolute equals, teasing, taunting, pulling, tugging, lusting and laughing at and with each other. Their sexual gamesmanship is so perfectly matched they may never end up in bed together. The dialogue could be wittier, and the mix a little less messy (and a whole lot sexier), but this is such a huge step in the right direction that it hardly matters. And if this is where Furtado found the soul she was searching for on “I’m Like a Bird” five years ago, it sounds like she’s been looking in all the right places.
5/26/06 #1

|

 

say it right
Furtado has too decent a pop sense to allow her mystico-sexuo-romantico-mumbo-jumbo lyrics to overwhelm her songs, so she gives Timbaland a free hand with the beats, and even allows him a little down-to-earth scat singing at the fade. Meanwhile she makes it a point not to enunciate her whatever-they-may-mean lyrics too clearly. Mysteriousness is the point, after all. Of course, her mumbling may also mean that she doesn’t quite believe what she’s saying herself. Still, though I prefer the straightforwardness of “Promiscuous” myself, for a piece of mystical sexual power nonsense, this is pretty good.
12/15/06 #1

|

 


Gnarls
Barkley
crazy
If what Danger Mouse told the New York Times about Gnarls Barkley trying to avoid sounding too funky is true, this record is a failure. It’s mid-70s British funk, to be sure (think Hot Chocolate or Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug”), but it’s funky all the same. It’s also silly in the extreme. Cee-Lo sings like he really is demented, and the background is just off-kilter enough to keep you guessing as to where things are going. Whether you like it or not probably depends on what you think of Cee-Lo’s voice and his late-night slightly-stoned ruminations on sanity. Me, I just wish it lived up to its near-perfect first line: “I remember, I remember when I lost my mind.”
6/23/06 #2

|

 


Taylor Hicks
Do I Make you proud
The most depressing thing about American Idol—that is, the summit of a long list of depressing things about American Idol—is that after the contestants have worked their asses off choosing songs, working out arrangements, polishing their moves and their images and their voices, when it comes down to the final stand, when there are only two contestants left and everything is on the line, the producers hand them songs like this, pure, unadulterated, inexcusable pieces of crap, thereby crippling their careers before they’ve even started. You can tell from his very first note that Hicks hates this song, and only by being reminded of his signature on the damn contract could he be induced to sing it. The arrangement constantly swells and drowns him out, which may be just as well, since his voice sounds impossibly thin (it sounded thin on the show, too, but either TV sound or the material covered for him). But no singer could make anything worthwhile out of this song (it almost boggles the imagination to think that the song Katharine McPhee was given for the finale was actually worse). I’m not really expecting much of Hicks, but whatever he comes up with on his own is bound to be better than this.
6/23/06 #1

|

 


Hinder
lips of an angel
Unhealthy, unholy, and unintentionally hilarious, Hinder may be the most godawful band to hit the top ten in the last two years. “I gotta whisper cause I can’t be too loud” the singer moans, loudly, and then proceeds to shout his way through the rest of the song. “My girl’s in the next room.” he announces in a positively Wagnerian cadence, and then, having mastered the trick of sounding both macho and desperate at the same time, goes on from there, mixing timeless country clichés with not so timeless arena rock clichés and making an ass of himself for everyone to see. For the last two years, I’ve been using The Backstreet Boys “Incomplete” as my measure of the truly terrible in pop music, but all things must pass, and for the foreseeable future, Hinder will bear the standard. The King is dead! Long live the King!

P.S. Just to prove how sensitive they really are, Hinder’s web site features a weekly “catfight”, where young women send in photos of themselves in lingerie and the band’s fans get to vote for their favorite. Very classy.
9/15/06 #3

 


Jay-Z
Show Me What You Got
It wasn’t until I happened to listen to some mid-fifties Sinatra that I got an idea about what Jay-Z is up to. Not to suggest that Jay-Z is Sinatra’s equal (time will tell), but the attitude and approach are the same: intelligent, knowing, good-humored, realistic, supremely confident with touches of both boastfulness and humility, and a bit of melancholy. In other words, maturity. Just Blaze’s background, with a little help from Public Enemy, is both harmonically rich and rhythmically daring, but Jay-Z glides over it as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world. At times, he may be too subtle—unless you’re familiar with the details of Jay-Z’s life, you’d never know that part of this is about his recent trip to Africa—and it’s hard to tell, beyond the usual boastfulness, if he has anything in particular to say. As an example for others, though, just acting like an adult may be all he needs to do.
11/17/06 #8

|

 


Jibbs
Chain Hang Low
The chorus is charming, the raps pro forma, and the historical ironies even heavier than Jibbs’ chain. Most likely, Jibbs thought he was producing nothing but a cute variation on the children’s favorite “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” But the melody, best known today as “Turkey In the Straw”, began its long life as one of the earliest minstrel songs, “Zip Coon”. In all innocence, perhaps, Jibbs has returned the melody to its original theme, a parody of dandyish black men trying to impress with their fine clothes and gaudy jewelry. He’s also guaranteed that the minstrel tradition will be carried on for generations to come. What effect, bad or good, this will have on the children of the future I leave you to argue out amongst yourselves.
9/22/06 #8

|

 


JoJo
Too Little Too Late
In which a thirteen year old prodigy turns fifteen, and with the aid of a lot of high-priced hired guns, manages to sound like she’s at least sixteen going on seventeen. But she still has a lot to learn (sorry) and she still can’t shake the young teen quality that comes through at times in her voice, which makes this song, about an apparently mature romantic relationship, sound just a little off. Of course, when a song is this bland, that may not make much difference.
9/22/06 #3

|

 


Jim Jones
We Fly High
It’s always dangerous to read deeper meaning into pop songs, because there’s always the chance that the effect of a record has little or nothing to do with what the artist actually intended, but this, for all it’s seeming embrace of the hedonistic life of a gangsta rapper, strikes me as a subtle indictment of that life—not an endorsement, but a warning. A lot of gangsta rap records bemoan the life, of course, but few do it as effectively as this one. The secret isn’t in the lyrics, which retail all the usual gangsta clichés about cars, booze, drugs, guns, money, and women, but in the music, which is draggy, lugubrious, enervating. Through some bit of aural trickery, the chorus seems to slow down and become more depressing every time it comes around, as if Jones were nodding off, sinking further into despair even as he’s driving to the next club or drop-off (which may well be the same thing). The sense of exhaustion and desperation—physical, emotional, and moral—is overwhelming. If that was Jones' actual intent, then he may well be some kind of genius. If it wasn’t, and I’m not mistaken in what I hear, then he’s just another fool, saying more than he knows.
12/8/06 #10

|

 


nick lachey
what's left of me
In which Nick laments his divorce from Jessica Simpson with—what else?—a power ballad. Though this isn’t nearly half as bad as The Backstreet Boys’ “Incomplete” (what could be?) the vocal similarity is telling. Anybody who tries this hard to convince you of how bad they’re feeling probably isn’t feeling much of anything at all. So if people are buying this out of sympathy they should just stop it right now. Morbid curiosity, however, is allowed—and probably harder to control, anyway. But that shouldn’t be enough to get it into the top ten.
5/5/06 #6

|

 


lil jon
snap yo fingers (featuring E-40 and Sean Paul)
This is crunk as all get out, but it’s also a throwback to an earlier age, the days of the twist and the jerk and the mashed potatoes. That is, it’s a dance song, pure and simple, one that makes reference to all the other dance records of the last year. You know, the Lean Back, the One-Two Step (previously known as the Cha Cha), the Lean Wit It, etc. The lyrics are surprisingly radio friendly: I detect only one gun reference, a couple of dope references, and no hardcore sex at all. Crunk without the crud—is such a thing possible?
5/19/06 #7

|

 


ll cool j
control myself (featuring Jennifer Lopez)
You all know what this is: this is another boring Jermaine Dupri production job. His self-introduction (a sample?) always sounds exactly the same, and so do most of his records. It doesn’t help that LL seems to have written this one up in the back of the limo on the way to the studio. Maybe he thought Dupri could bring his career back like Mariah Carey’s, without him having to do much himself (other than asking Dupri for some of that distinctive Pussycat Dolls feel). How else do you explain the fact that he didn’t even bother writing a last verse, but just goes “zuh zuh zuh”? He still has more style than most rappers, and he does try to get sexy by fiddling with the vocal rhythm in the third verse, but all he succeeds in doing is making the song feel longer. J Lo sounds so anonymous that I kept wondering when the background singer was going to step aside and her part would come in. And then, at the end, Dupri rushes out and urges everyone to get up and dance. He has to, because the music sure won’t make them do it.
4/21/06 #4

|

 


Ludacris
Money Maker (featuring Pharrell)
Ludacris has announced that he is tired of being known only as a joker, and that he will be more “serious” from now on. The first result of his no-doubt honest and worthy intentions is a song about women shaking their behinds that employs old tropes from blues songs, new beats from The Neptunes, and rhymes “penis” with “genius”. The difference between what he says and what he is actually producing may be the perfectly normal disconnect of a talented mid-career rapper unsure of what to do next. It may also be the subtlest joke he’s ever attempted. I lean toward the first because, so far, I’m not laughing.
9/22/06 #1

|

 


ne-yo
so sick
Is it just my imagination, or are old-fashioned, classically structured songs making a comeback? The simple verse/chorus structure here actually emphasizes the message and heightens the emotion, which, as you may remember, is how that whole verse/chorus thing is supposed to work. Ne-Yo’s low key singing—except when he goes to church near the end—provides a perfect counterpoint to the passion bubbling under the surface. I’m also impressed by the siren noises that come in on the hook line, a touch of atmosphere that reinforces the feeling of a guy sitting alone in his apartment, staring off into space and wondering what went wrong while the radio plays quietly in the background and muffled street noise enters from outside. Very nice.
2/3/06 #1

|

 

Sexy Love
This is a decent piece of soul crooning, and while it’s a big step up from “When You’re Mad”, which did little more than reveal the sexism that’s at the heart of a lot of soul crooning, it’s nowhere near as good as “So Sick”. “So Sick” may have been beginners luck, though, because it sounds as if Ne-Yo still has a lot to learn. I appreciate his attempt to emphasize concrete imagery instead of the usual lover-man generalities, but “You make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up” isn’t my idea of a sexy line (he may just be scared of her), and using it to open and close the song makes it all sound ridiculous. It does get your attention, though, and in pop music that may be all that matters.
8/18/2006 #7

|

 


Nickelback
Far Away
An even weaker song than “Photograph”, and, to compensate, an even more over-the-top arrangement—it starts with such an emotional, operatic brew-ha-ha that the rest of the song disappears in comparison. Quite possibly the worst band in the world, unless you count Hinder, who follow in their stylistic wake.
9/8/2006 #8

|

 


Panic!
At The
Disco
I Write sins not tragedies
Impressed as I am by their combination of musical chops, (not always successful) lyrical experimentalism, and endless song titles, the final result is as irritating a piece of arty, self-important melodrama as I’ve ever heard. That isn’t the only trait they share with Fall Out Boy (whose vanity label they’re signed to): they look like them, too. With the sound off I can’t tell their videos from their mentor’s. There’s also the question of misogyny (other song titles, with apologies for their length: “Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off”, “But It’s Better If You Do”, “There's A Good Reason These Tables are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven't Thought Of It Yet”). Just what the world needs, a recording dynasty of woman hating emo clones. They should have called themselves The Boys From Brazil.
8/11/2006 #7

|

 


daniel
powter
bad day
This has such a TV soundtrack air to it—you can almost see the opening credits roll as the chorus appears—that at first I thought it must be part of yet another WB Network teen exploitation. Turns out it’s almost worse than that. Powter originally released this confusing put-down of people who are ruled by their daily moods, with its catchy, ready-made melody, last year, after which it justifiably languished until, of all things, it got picked as background music for a European Coke commercial. Bingo! Number 1 in Germany, number 2 in the UK, and now, most likely, number 1 in the US as well. I give Powter points for couching a song that is basically an insult in such a catchy package, but the fact that no one, as of yet, seems to have gotten the point (do you really think it would be used for a TV commercial if they had?), suggests that the put-down has less to do with some sense of principal than a kind of superior, sadistic enjoyment in his own irony. The fact that he’s capitalized on the misunderstanding makes him look even more like a jerk. But while Powter is laughing his way to the bank, he might want to remember that people who achieve fame via TV commercials are usually never heard from again—except maybe on the WB Network.
3/17/06 #1

|

 


The
Pussycat
Dolls
Buttons (featuring Snoop Dogg)
We can thank the summer doldrums for this record’s appearance in the top ten. The Dolls last single, “Beep”, was far better, but suffered from stronger competition. This is a pale rehash of “Don’t Cha”, with its main idea, and even a couple of lines, lifted from Destiny’s Child’s “Lose My Breath”. Even Snoop sounds more bored than usual.
7/21/06 #3

|

 


rascal
flatts
what hurts the most
Despite the seemingly yawning gaps between demographics, pop is still the genre melting pot it always was, so it isn’t totally surprising that this country trio has their hair styled like Green Day and borrows the occasional vocal rhythm from Usher. Replace the banjo and fiddle and country twang with the proper accompaniment, and this would fit into just about any genre you could care to name. Which is just another way of saying that this song is about as distinctive as any other assembly line product, and as smarmy and self-satisfied in its unoriginality as most genre records, country or otherwise.
4/14/06 #6

|

Life is a highway
In which modern country-pop, via the soundtrack for a computer animated cartoon, of all things, and Tom Cochrane, of all people, takes its first baby steps into the 1990s. Just so they appear to be sticking safely to the 70s like everybody else, however, and perhaps in homage to Cochrane’s Canadian heritage, they make this sound like a slightly funkier Bachman Turner Overdrive. If it wasn’t for the slight twang in the vocal, you’d never know that this, with its clichéd heavy metal riffs and clichéd rock and roll highway imagery, was a country record. But then, they’re from Cleveland—maybe they’re paying homage to their own heritage, as well.
6/23/06 #7

|

 


red hot
chili peppers
dani california
I’m sure there are many people who are overjoyed to have them back, but this sounds like pretty standard Chili Peppers to me: choppy, kind of funky beat, lyric about a wild girl that may or may not be taken as a metaphor for the state of California as a whole, nifty Hendrix imitation on guitar, etc. They’ve become such consummate craftsmen that the record doesn’t miss a trick, but it also doesn’t generate any real feeling or ideas. It’s just more background music for guys to get stoned to. I wouldn’t say they’re just going through the motions, but it does make you wonder if they care any more.
4/21/06 #6

|

 


rihanna
s.o.s.
Catchy? Of course it’s catchy. It’s “Tainted Love”, after all. But “Pon De Replay” was catchy, too, and a lot simpler, without resorting to this Destiny’s Child-style overkill. The thin, clunky unfunkiness of Soft Cells’ version of “Tainted Love” was a large part of its appeal—jacked up like this it’s just a dull thud. Rihanna seems to have lost her accent, as well. She could have been something special; now she’s just another Beyonce clone. What a disappointment.
5/5/06 #1

|

unfaithful
At first I took this for a dreary hip-hop power ballad, which it is. It’s also an extremely melodramatic dreary hip-hop power ballad, a telenovella set to music, if you will. Poor Rihanna, you see, is cheating on her guy, but she feels really bad about it, because her guy is taking it so hard she thinks he’s going to die, and she’s convinced she’ll end up a kind of murderer. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t stop cheating. The other guy is never described, but you have to assume that part of his allure is that he isn’t a spineless wimp. There seems to be nothing that can be done about this. Rihanna even thinks everybody might be better off if she just put a gun to her guy’s head and got it over with. I suggest she make it a murder-suicide, and put us all out of our misery.
6/9/06 #6

|

 


sean paul
temperature
I can imagine this generating a little bit of heat in the clubs, but anywhere else it’s just lukewarm. The background is so sparse that Sean Paul’s raps, or toasts, if they still call them that, have to carry the entire record, and though the vocal rhythms are sharp enough, the lyrics themselves are nothing special, and all in all it’s nowhere near as hot as Sean Paul thinks it is. When a guy raps more convincingly about dope than he does about sex, it makes you wonder about his priorities.
2/17/06 #1

|

 

(When You Gonna) Give It Up To Me (featuring Keyshia Cole)
This isn’t as musically audacious as “Temperature”, with its skeletal beats, but it’s pleasant enough, and Keyshia Cole adds something tangible to the track, even if she does sound a little too much like Beyonce for my tastes. Still, the most amazing thing about Sean Paul’s records remains Sean Paul himself: his raps aren't much, but his voice has a kind of electrical buzz to it that worms its way under your skin. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your tastes, I suppose. I don’t much care one way or the other, but there’s no doubt the effect is there.
8/11/2006 #3

|

 


shakira
hips don't lie (featuring Wyclef Jean)
I’m not sure just why I feel so resistant to this record’s obvious charms. Though it can’t exactly be described as propulsive, it is a pleasant enough dance record, and it’s “make rhythm, not war” message is innocuous enough. But there’s also something pretentious and self-important about it, from its trumpet flourish intro to Wyclef Jean’s self-referential, and self-aggrandizing, rap. Pop music, and hip-hop especially, is full of people bragging about how great they are, but something about Jean’s rap suggests both self-importance and snobbery. At the same time, whenever he slips into Spanish, all I can think of is the stereotypical ugly American tourist trying to pick up women in a Latin American dance club with lines he’s learned from a phrase book. Meanwhile, Shakira urges everyone not to fight and just look at her body—as if that wasn’t just the thing to start a fight. Don’t be fooled by the title, either—hips do lie, all the time.
6/2/06 #1

|

 


Snow Patrol
Chasing Cars
The most curious thing about this irritating, obvious piece of emo soft-loud-soft-loud is the title, which come from a line in the bridge: “Let’s waste time chasing cars around our heads.” What are they, stoned puppies? Is this puppy love? What should be the title, “Forget the World”, probably seems too blatant to them, too clichéd. But if all you can find to replace a cliché is meaningless nonsense, I say go with the cliché. The whole song is a cliché, anyway, so why stop at the title?
9/8/2006 #5

|

 


bubba
sparxxx
miss new booty (featuring The Ying Yang Twins and Mr. Collipark)
How exactly does a record as awful as this one become a hit? Because it’s so simplistic and baldly stupid any idiot can shout along? Because it has not one, but possibly three stupidly offensive ringtones imbedded in it? Because the beats sound like something Pharrell would produce when he’s passing-out drunk? Because if white trash like Bubba can get into the Player’s Club, any old dumbass who hears this will believe that he can too? Because it provides absolute proof that stupidity knows no racial boundaries?
3/31/06 #7

|

 


Gwen
Stefani
Wind It Up
Though I’m still impressed by Gwen Stefani’s mix and match, multi-cultural, multi-colorful style, yodeling, especially yodeling sampled from The Sound of Music, is going a little too far. Or maybe it isn’t going far enough. Stefani’s intentions are good, but she’s all surface, and though lifting her lyrical themes from old Madonna records helps, they don’t add much depth. This is dress-up doll music—Stefani’s not a slut, like those Bratz, but she’s not much more than a slightly hipper Barbie. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of thirteen year olds who could use that example.
12/1/06 #6

|

 


t.i.
what you know
Sonically, this record, which takes the harmonic territory that Kanye West introduced to rap and blows it wide open, is magnificent. The strings and analog synthesizers provide a grandeur that not only matches T.I.’s boasting, but surpasses it, with an undercurrent of danger and menace that’s both frightening and invigorating. There’s a sense of humor, too: the background vocals, in which we get to hear the replies of the poor b-boy over whom T.I. is exercising his authority, hilariously shift from boastfulness to chagrin to embarrassed acceptance (“O.K., O.K.”). Lyrically, though, I have my doubts. T.I.’s vision of a jetsetting gangsta rapper (with his “work” in a Louis Vuitton nap sack) is obviously a fantasy, wish fulfillment on a massive scale. But it also represents, after the genre’s move into the clubs, another step away from the streets, this time into a private plane (the only reason T.I. goes back to the projects is to keep his minions in line). The shift from public life to one of privacy and privilege is understandable, and maybe inevitable, but it will kill the music in the end, even if it makes a handful of people rich.
4/7/06 #3

|

 


Justin Timberlake
Sexyback
Is JT the George Michael of the oughts? With producer Timbaland adapting techno effects to hip-hop rhythms, this is as pure and stripped down a dance track as anyone’s released this year. But it comes loaded with pronouncements about how Timberlake is determined to revive the lost ideal of sexy dance music and remake pop (the album is called Futuresex/Lovesounds; the cover is a photo of Timberlake crushing a disco ball with his feet). He’s a man with a vision, you see, like George or Michael Jackson, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts fighting with his record company, makes even more pretentious announcements about the direction of his career, and releases his own version of Listen Without Prejudice. I’m not making predictions, exactly, but all the signs are there. So enjoy the pure dance and pop music while you can—there may be far worse yet to come.
9/1/2006 #1

|

 

My Love (featuring T.I.)
Although I’m willing to give Justin Timberlake points for a certain amount of daring overall, on this record I’d have to take as many back for lack of originality. The music is weird enough to pass—the weirdest part of all being Timberlake’s soulless falsetto—but the introduction sounds a hell of a lot like “Promiscuous”, and the lyrics are bland clichés. Is this how JT plans to take sexy back? By holding hands and curling his toes in the sand? Maybe he was experiencing a flashback to his days, or even Annette Funicello‘s days, on The Mickey Mouse Club. I’m as irritated as anyone by the sexually graphic nature of many hip-hop songs (not because they’re dirty, but because they aren’t sexy, and are more about power than sex anyway), but this is stepping, or leaning, way too far back. Did I compare him to George Michael? Maybe I meant Pat Boone.
10/20/06 #1

|

 


t-pain
i'm in luv (wit a stripper) (featuring Mike Jones)
Just to state the obvious, rap and hip-hop have very little to do with the streets anymore; now it’s all about the clubs. In fact the closest most rappers and DJs get to the streets, if their videos are any indication, is the club parking lot. So in a way it makes sense that we’ve had three top ten singles in the last month about strippers. D4L and Eminem go at the more obvious lust angle, though from far different directions, while T-Pain, along the pattern of “I’m Sprung”, presents us with the haunted, romantic side, if there can be such a thing. I love the blues-styled intro, hate Mike Jones’ rap, and find the whole thing pleasant but not terribly engaging—or funny, which it really needs to be. I applaud T-Pain, however, for the bravery of his persona; it’s been a long time since we’ve had a soul man willing to own up to being whipped and wimpy. And, believe it or not, we need one.
2/10/06 #5

|

 


"Weird Al" Yankovic
White & Nerdy
Some people are giving Weird Al extra credit for updating his sound and reviving his career after nearly a decade—not that he hasn’t taken shots at rap before, but this is the closest he’s ever gotten to getting it right. I find it difficult to believe, however, that any pop parodist worth a third listen would take this long to catch up, and feel it’s worth pointing out that though the music, and some of the in-jokes, have been modernized, the humor is aimed at the same old targets as twenty years ago. The video works, but the record itself, without the visuals, is almost unlistenable. As a Mad Magazine-type sketch aimed at 12-year-olds, it isn’t bad, but for anyone else the joke will be over after two spins—and it may not last much longer for the 12-year-olds.
10/13/06 #9

|

 


Young Dro
Shoulder Lean (featuring T.I.)
Like The Game’s (remember him?) records with 50 Cent (surely you remember him?), this is essentially a T.I. record with somebody’s else’s name up top, and the record itself reminds me of “What You Know”, only recast as a dance track. That’s not terrible; “What You Know” is a great record, and this is better than most of the gangstas-don’t- dance-they-just-shuffle-back-and-forth-a-little tracks that are out there, though not by much. That particular attitude has almost become a separate genre, and though I don’t approve of it (there’s nothing wrong with dancing, guys, really), I find it fascinating that it’s become such a basic part of every rapper’s arsenal. Is it a power thing, an image thing, a homophobic thing, or, depending on the personality, a mixture of all three? Dro does get points, though, for one of the silliest pieces of rap bragging I’ve ever heard: “I take breath, I’m the opposite of Primatene Mist.” That should keep the asthmatics away.
8/18/2006 #10

|

 


yung joc
It's goin down (featuring Nitti)
More hip-hop bragging—better than some, worse than others, and who cares?
6/9/06 #3

|

 

all reviews copywrite 2005-2006 robert myers