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2013/09/03

End of Summer 2013: Music Reviews

The top ten pop hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart have been fairly stagnant for the last two months of summer.  

I didn’t want to slip into autumn without taking a look at the highs and lows and those songs that never garnered enough interest to hit the mainstream.

Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke
#1 for most of the summer, this greasy, kitschy slice of vanilla mousse went down the throats of the American public like that noxious orange crap that passes as nacho cheese sauce at the movies.  Prince would like a songwriting credit, please.  And someone told me that Marvin Gaye’s estate was threatening to sue for wholesale larceny and theft of image.  This is a novelty song masquerading as a catchy, harmless homage to better music.

We Can’t Stop – Miley Cyrus
So, it seems Miley is hell-bent on killing off Hannah Montana – and who can really blame her?  This single continues her rather desperate quest to leave her past behind.  Unfortunately, while the subject matter may skate upon some rather racy stuff (as the video certainly does - like an ice pick to the forehead), musically, Miley is still stuck in pre-teen hell.  Had they upped the bpm, and given her a decent bass line to play off of, maybe they could have passed this off as a dance hit, but as is, it moves past one like a college coed doing her first walk of shame the morning after being roofied at an ugly frat party. Though I must give her props for giving a shout out to the larger ladies shaking it like it was a strip club.  Big girls don’t cry, but they sure know how to twerk.

Applause – Lady Gaga
Wearing her Bowie obsession on her sleeve, Lady G continues to try to carve out a career using remnants from the musical trail blazers of yore.  Something about this feels more authentic than much of ‘Born This Way’, so perhaps she is finally discovering her voice, but it also feels a bit like a page ripped from Marilyn Manson’s playbook a la ‘Mechanical Animals’.  The vid is a hoot, but still bears the telltale signs of amateur hour – sort of like a toddler playing dress up in Mommy’s clothes.  Still, I can’t help but like her and the song.

Roar – Katy Perry
Doesn’t live up to its title.  It feels flat and listless, thumping along the runway for an eternity without every taking flight.  Maybe she’s tired?  Maybe it will hook my ear with repeated listens.  Maybe she’s past her peak?  It doesn’t sweep me away or make me feel better about myself, and that would seem to be what Perry’s music is meant to do.  Oh, well, she was due for a misfire.

Holy Grail – Jay Z and Justine Timberlake
If ‘Suit and Tie’ is the best single of 2013, then ‘Holy Grail’ wins the honor of being the worst.  It is awful.  Jay Z phones in a bunch of bullshit about how hard it is to be wealthy and famous and  Jay Z while Justine Timberlake pays lip service in the form of a pretty/empty chorus that has nothing to do with anything Jay Z has to say, and then (Courtney Love approved this?) Smells like what?  My guess would be something my dogs routinely dump on the sidewalk.  Sin upon musical sin is piled up so high there is no way to decipher what the hell was meant to happen here.  A product of indifference, laziness or hubris?  In any case, an utter waste of ear space.

Wake Me Up! – Avicii
Avicii has had a couple of great years.  He is the go-to producer/mixer these days and ‘Levels’ was a brilliant swipe.  ‘Wake Me Up!’ on the other hand?  Yee-gawd, Ma!  This is cringe-worthy on so many levels.  It takes me back to the days when that corny hillbilly/techno mix sprang from Sweden/Germany in 1994 (Cotton-Eyed Joe, anyone?).  It was awful then, this is awful now.  Blech!

Safe and Sound – Capital Cities
This is a piece of warmed-over Pet Shop Boys robbed of all its weighty goodness, though I love those haunted horns (a PSB staple).  That said, Capital Cities has managed to create an earworm easy to warm up to, even if it would seem to belong to someone else.  

Vocal – Pet Shop Boys
This, on the other hand, is the real thing; a classic sound by a classic group.  Icy, biting synths, detached vocals, arch observations: all in place.  Not much has changed, but then… it hasn’t needed to, now has it?  Pristine, urbane, and cool as menthol.

Treasure – Bruno Mars
Take Back the Night – Justine Timberlake
A pair of homages to Michael Jackson, though neither is up to their idol’s standards.  Both carry a wonderfully nostalgic late-seventies disco/funk sheen, but beneath that polyester exterior, there’s nothing much to write home about.  Fun, yes.  Memorable?  No.

Royals – Lorde
A bit of a novelty song, I do enjoy this one.  There’s something extremely original in the melody, given that it is built on a standard fifties doo-wop build.  Whether it’s merely a one-off – and I’m thinking it might well be – remains to be seen.  Still, one of the better cuts as we move into autumn. 

Cups (Pitch Perfect's When I'm Gone) - Anna Kendrick
This one took forever to find its place on the airwaves and on the charts, and, for what it’s worth, tah-dah, here it is.  Personally, I find it as annoying as I find Avicii’s current hit, but obviously this kind of corn porn appeals to someone out there.

Same Love - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert
Wow.  I have to give props to these guys.  This was a total surprise.  I think 2013 may go down as the year of ‘The Summer of Gay Love’.   Macklemore manages to make some striking arguments; shedding light on this country’s engrained homophobia while shredding some long-held beliefs about gays.  The song got stuck on the charts at #11 for three weeks, which is a shame, for it would have been nice to see it break into the top ten.  Still, it received adequate radio play which – when you consider where gay folk were ten years ago – is simply amazing.  One of the best of 2013 and an example of what the genre should and could aspire to.  So heads up all you tired-ass rappers still talking about your bling and how hard it is to be you.  It’s 2013, suckers – not 1995.  And Macklemore is making you all look passé’.

Sweater Weather - The Neighbourhood
This has yet to take off, but I absolutely love this single.  It has punch and hooks and rocks – in other words – it is totally out of place on Billboard’s Top 100 chart.  Time will tell if I-Heart-Radio picks this one up.  It deserves to be a big hit.  Old school rock that pops in all the right ways.

#Beautiful - Mariah Carey Featuring Miguel
I liked this single and am not sure what prevented it from breaking bigger (it stalled at #15). Breezy and easy, it’s a breath of fresh air and certainly way better than Carey’s last ill-fated single, ‘Triumphant (Get 'Em)’(featuring Rick Ross and Meek Mill) which failed to break into the Top 40 and caused her label to put the release of her latest CD on pause.  Miguel is a good influence on Mariah, but I can’t help but think that the diva has simply lost interest at this point.  A little hunger is a good thing.

Crazy Kids - Ke$ha Featuring will.i.am Or Juicy J
This one spent a single week at #40 before going into free-fall.  There’s a reason for that.  While the chorus is okay, Ke$ha’s snarky club-kid shtick is passed its shelf-life.  The stale rap that overwhelms this whole juggernaut only helps send to the bottom a ship that was never seaworthy to begin with.

Woman’s World – Cher
It’s a tad old school, but unmistakably Cher.  She doesn’t wander far from the sound she established back in the halcyon days of ‘Believe’.  Still, it will speak to a certain market, so while it has not caught fire (and probably will not) it’s still a great deal of fun.  Best part?  The verses, which incorporate just enough smoky, percolating bubble to make it feel sleekly relevant and irresistible.

Let’s Just Dance – D’manti
I love to salsa!  This is a winner from the first note.  I was driving home from work one day and heard it blasting out of the car speakers in the car in the opposite lane.  It sounded so good.  It sounded like summer.   One of my favorites of the year.  Sure, it breaks no new ground, and you could quibble about the vocals a bit, but I simply choose to enjoy this one.

Everybody Loves the Night – Ultra Nate’
This is yet another slice of retro cheese and it seems all right enough.  But something is amiss in the land of Ultra Nate'; her vocals.  The woman has made a career based on her powerful voice, always registering strength and confidence.  Here the vocals (all her) are overdubbed so thickly the diva gets lost in the mix.  Maybe there’s a throat issue?  I detect more vibrato than before.  She has long been a favorite of mine and this is hardly a miss, but it seems to me there was a time when this would have sounded so much better – as in powerful and energetic.   Is it just me?

The Other Side – Jason Derulo
What a wonderful summer romance song.  I love this story of two friends dipping their toes into the world of becoming lovers.  The chorus is great, soaring fun.  Sure, it’s slight, but, hey, take a look at what’s getting radio play these days… depth is not exactly in high demand.  

Soothe My Soul – Depeche Mode
Hmmm.  Why does everything these guys do these days sound like a version of ‘Personal Jesus’?  I like this, especially remixed (Jaris Lacroix Remix), but it is so heavy, calling to mind the heydays of the likes of The Sisters of Mercy.  Still, there is comfort to be found in the familiar.  I guess at this point Depeche Mode is really not interested in appealing to more than their very well founded fan base.

It’s Not Over – Chaka Khan with LeCrae
Love my Chaka, especially when she gets a little religious.  This is a sweet, gospel-sounding ode to maintaining faith in the face of all the crap life can throw at you.  Can I get an ‘Amen’?  Vocally, our diva may not be what she once was (who is?), but she’s still a power to be reckoned with.   You add a little God-stuff into the mix?  You got yourself a reason to celebrate.

Right Now – Rihanna and David Guetta
This is how I like my Rihanna; tough and low in register.  The song doesn’t ask much of her.  Instead, it’s David Guetta that brings it home, creating enough sonic interest to keep my ears involved.  I really like the overall sentiment of the song (live in the moment) and was surprised when radio failed to pick this one up.

Miss Jackson - Panic! At The Disco feat. Lolo
Is this an homage to Janet (Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty!)?  I believe so.  And as such, it’s clever, if a tad indecipherable.  I have a hard time imaging Janet sneaking down the back stairs, let alone being at all interested in the lead singer of this band.  That said, the song crunches along nicely in a vein similar to what Fall Out Boy foisted upon the public this spring.  Life after Emo?  Apparently, there is!

Wild – Jessie J. feat. Big Sean
Love this song!  The chorus is so much fun to sing along to - it is the song of my summer.  Whether or not it ever graces the Top 40?  Imma thinking, no (it’s time to break has come and gone).  The video is strong.  My only issue with the whole package is – is this the real Jessie J.?   She’s molded herself into yet another persona with yet another sound and look – not a bad thing, but in order to evolve in the public’s conscious, an artist must first define who they are as a point of reference.  Jessie J. keeps changing so quickly, we still have no idea who or what she is.

Love Illumination – Franz Ferdinand
What a fun throwback.  It’s like they just discovered The Cars first album.  I don’t care for all the Beatles references, but it makes for an interesting listen.  Franz Ferdinand has a tendency to run amok and this feels very focused and driven.  It could be the breakthrough sound they’ve been looking for.  And that lead singer’s voice?  Truly original.

Love Somebody – Maroon Five
Adam is so clever.  He’s honed a radio-ready sound that permeates everything the group touches.  Thing is, that sound is well past its saturation point.  

In the life of a group like, for example, Huey Lewis and The News, there came a time when the public simply couldn’t bear to hear another Huey Lewis and The News song.  For their songs tended to sound enough alike to be branded ‘another Huey Lewis and The News song’. It finally got to the point that the public would rather rip their eardrums out than hear ‘another Huey Lewis and The News song’.  Maroon Five is this era’s Huey Lewis and The News.  And there is only so much radio-friendly, blandly-familiar pabulum that one can stomach.   Hey, here’s an idea, Adam!  Try adding a little substance.  Just a thought.

Need You Now (How Many Times) – Plumb
An interesting mix of Christian pop, modern country and dance beats.  First listen?  I was rather horrified.  It sounded like a remix of a Lady Antebellum/The Band Perry/Little Big Town/Sugarland song.  But Plumb has a very unique vocal quality, so the song remains unmistakably hers.  Once you get over the overt religious overtones (more than usual) and the slick country/pop sheen, you’ll find a bit of depth in there – and that’s always a welcome ingredient, as is any dance song Plumb graces with her voice.

This Is What It Feels Like – Armin van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie

I enjoy this kind of dance music.  It is wistful and bittersweet, propelled by a repetitive piano figure, featuring vocals with just enough weight to pull you in.  There’s hope and comfort to be found between the beats... refreshing for such cynical, snarky times.  

1 comment:

whkattk said...

Well, I'm not familiar with all of your entries. But, I will say somebody should've pushed the 'Reject' button on this one before it went to "take 2." It's tedious and annoying.
I've seen Lady G in concert (twice) and I gotta hand it to her: she's a trained musician and she's capable of writing some awesome stuff. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of music that gets airplay.
Haven't heard Cher's new one yet, for some reason. I've heard "it's good" but not stellar, but it's "definitely Cher."
I can leave Mariah Carey, thanks. Never did care much for her style.
I actually find myself wondering when the real talents (Elton John, Billy Joel) will get back to getting some airtime - but that's just me starting to get old! LOL.