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Ushering in More Hits: Pop Music Reviews for the Dawning of Summer Part III

Ushering in More Hits: Pop Music Reviews for the Dawning of Summer Part III

A couple bright spots on the horizon, though it remains to be seen if DJ Cassidy has what it takes to break into the mainstream.  With the help of Robin Thicke and Jessie J, and one of the most joyous dance odes in ages, one would hope that would become a reality, but I've been wrong so many times before.

Also, Tensnake, with a great deal of help from Chic's Nile Rodgers and in a move that would make Daft Punk proud, manages to borrow from the past with an eye on the now.  Their slinky beauty is sublime, indeed.

On the down side, Usher continues to hide behind a battalion of clever tricks and vocal tics instead of offering anything of substance, ZZ Ward and Katy Tiz mimic Adele, and My Crazy Girlfriend fail to deliver on the promise of their breakthrough hit.

Nope, I'm still not hearing the song of the summer, nor is it anywhere on that horizon... but then, the season is young, so we got time, right?

The Rising
Five Knives
A ton of razor sharp synths bite into your skull as punkish, treated female vocals threaten to “burn down the disco”.  Those synths – which vacillate between radio frequency squelch and chugging, chunky dance fodder - get to be a bit much, as in, annoying as hell, especially between verse / chorus. 

Check out the ‘Mad Max’ inspired video and see if it doesn’t bring to mind Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatic; which is apt, given that this is a piece of calculated manufactured dance punk delivered without apologies – a rarity in the clubs, for sure, but if this ear-shredder got a spin, I wouldn’t be headed toward the dance floor - I’d be headed toward the nearest exit.

Love Sublime
Tensnake Featuring Nile Rodgers And Fiora
This has a marvelous old school feel to it, no doubt thanks to the Nile Rogers ‘Chic’ era guitar that anchors this ghostly smooth groove. The handclap click track and occasional ‘Thriller’ like flourishes also add to the atmosphere, creating a piece that feels nostalgic and relevant at the same time.

Fiora’s vocals on the verses are reminiscent of Lorde’s, while the chorus gloriously opens up, echoing the glory days of Rodger’s classic band.  Daft Punk has mined a similar sound to great success, so this one will probably find its way onto my I-Pod.

Tell It To My Heart
Jason Walker Featuring Bimbo Jones
Boy, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard from Mr. Walker.  Last time I was obsessed with him, he hit the number one spot on Billboard’s Club Play Chart twice with ‘Set It Free’ and ‘Foolish Mind Games’.  His unique voice was a revelation and I’ve always wondered what became of him.  I’d see his name occasionally pop up on the charts, but it would disappear before I had a chance to check him out.

And he was such a cutie back then.

His looks have changed significantly, as his sound has become more industrial.  A storm of icy synths propel this hyper-energetic remake of the Taylor Dayne classic, sending Jason’s helium vocals into the stratosphere.  This setting clearly robs the song of its soulfulness. Yes, it’s loud and perhaps a tad too strident, though it must play well in the clubs, as it has been shooting up the Club Play chart at warp speed.

Last Love Song
ZZ Ward
With an Adele like ache in her voice, ZZ declares that ‘this is the last love song I will write for you’.  In fact, everything about this one, from the restrained strings, to the subject material screams of Adele’s last effort ‘21’.  So much so, that had I not known it was ZZ Ward, I would have thought it Adele.  It isn’t until near the end of the song that Ms. Ward exhibits a sign of her uniqueness, and by then it’s too late.

If mimicry were something to strive for, than this is sort of an amazing accomplishment.  In this case, it makes for a pleasant listen and certainly helps fill the gap as we all(?) wait breathlessly for Adele to drop some new material. 

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this than that, but… eh.  I wouldn’t kick it out of bed, but I also wouldn’t want to admit to dating it. Maybe it works better as a dance mix, because it has been doing really well on the Club Play chart, and, yes, it sort of does – oddly enough all those Dave Aude whooshes and swirls actually unmask a bit of ZZ’s own personality in the process.

The Big Bang
Katy Tiz
A little retro-Russian gypsy pop gem.  The song sounds a bit like Kylie Minogue’s ‘Red Blooded Woman’, while Ms. Tiz’s voice reminds me of Res (remember her?) with a bit of Adele (again) thrown in the mix.  It sounds fresh – as in, different from everything else – on the radio, so it has that going in its favor.  Harmless enough, but not the sort of thing that’s going to launch a career… but then, I could be wrong.   I ‘Heart’ Radio has been spotlighting it on several of their shows, so it’s anybody’s guess.  Worst things (looking in your direction Coldplay) have happened.

Crazy Stupid Love
My Crazy Girlfriend
Aww.  I was hoping for another ‘Go F**k Yourself’, instead, this colorful, highly photogenic quartet aims right at the middle of everything and end up sounding like something the Disney Channel might build a television show around.   The chorus is all rather by the numbers punchy pop while the lame raps certainly don’t help matters (“We could be groovy… we could make a movie”). 

At this point, MCG are all image and little else.  And, hey… will somebody tell me what the blue haired girl does?  I mean, I know she’s part of the group, but… she just seems to be there as eye candy and to guarantee a demographic.

Good Kisser
I don’t know.  Sometimes I like me some Usher, sometimes I hates me some Usher.  At this point he’s chased so many trends and incorporated so much of whatever is working on the radio at the moment that all I can truly say is, I don’t know me some Usher.  I mean, really… who is he? 

He certainly is talented.  His falsetto is out of this world.  He can out Marvin Mr. Gaye.  He can hold his own on the dance floor with a hologram of Michael Jackson.  But his sound?  His POV?  I don’t see it.  It’s like he takes the temperature of the room before deciding who he’s gonna be this time. 

‘Good Kisser’ is a lot of fun.  It’s all over the place with a scatter shot approach that will keep you guessing.  But that isn’t the same thing as etching its way into your psyche or having that indelible stamp that declares this is Usher.  This… could be anybody.  This could be Chris Brown.  This could be Jason Derulo. 

One would think that at this late date in his well-established career we could point to something that is uniquely Usher, but, based on this little trifle of a song, clever as it is, well performed as it is, something tells me that ain’t happening anytime soon.

Aftermath (Here We Go)
Dave Aude Featuring Andy Bell
Oh, this is a shame.  Andy Bell is one of the finest, purist vocalists of all time.  His is an instrument that can make the most mundane pop song come alive.  A voice such as his needs the proper musical surroundings in order to do that. 

He’s in great form here, but sadly, Dave Aude brings nothing to the table that adds any weight to this little fling of a song.  As is, it doesn’t work as dance floor fodder or great pop, but ends up existing in a sort of musical limbo where it fails to make any impact.  Should have worked, doesn’t.  A wasted opportunity here. 

This is so slight, with vocals pitched so incredibly high it almost fails to register as anything but an annoyance.  Still, there is a lot of air in there between space bleeps, so, I can’t look away.  And there’s plenty of room for remixers to put their stamp all over it. 

Somebody needs to.  This is one faceless piece of flotsam.  And I’ve seen the video: a sort of homage to countless club /dance crazes.  At one point she strikes one of Cyndi Lauper’s signature poses… and I’m still asking myself ‘why’?

Calling All Hearts
DJ Cassidy Featuring Robin Thicke & Jessie J
Oh my  gosh… I so wanted to bash on Robin Thicke, but… guess what?  This is a total winner. 

It’s disco, without apologies, with plenty of funky horns to keep the joint jumping.  Jessie J morphs into yet another persona and, based on the video, has never looked or sounded better.  The presence of Robin Thicke even fails to smarm up the proceedings. 

DJ Cassidy helms it all, making it feels like an updated version of KC and the Sunshine Band at their zippy best.  I find this joyous fun – something that will have everybody running to the dance floor.

(Does anybody else think Robin Thicke is the modern day Tom Jones?  Think about it).

Sia – Chandelier
She’s no longer ‘just the girl you lost to cocaine’.  Sia has come a long way.  When I first heard 'Titanium', I could not believe how much she had grown as a vocalist.  It ended up being one of my favorite songs of that year. 

‘Chandelier’ finds her in fine form, treading the same waters as many of Rihanna’s biggest hits.  It works.  It’s not all that original, but there is that distinctive rasp within Sia’s ‘little girl’ voice that lends a great deal of credence to this rather bombastic, dramatic slice of modern pop.  Whether it finds a place on the radio remains to be seen, but stranger things have certainly been happening. 


whkattk said...

Thanks, Upton. I'm enjoying your reviews! (You can have Robin Thicke - take him. Please!)

SEAN (The Jeep Guy) said...

Are you sure that's Jason's voice? He sounds so much like Taylor - I saw in concert in 1991! If I heard this on the radio, I'd have thought she just rerecorded it.