Croon a Tune in June: Pop Music Reviews, Part II
Croon a Tune in June: Pop Music Reviews, Part II
We're getting to the end of June, and I have so much music still to review! Don't worry, I will get to it, but probably not until after the first. In the meantime, here's my take on some of the current contenders for song of the summer. Based on my recent past assessments, I would say things are looking up, as there are more offerings that I like than dislike.
Demi Lovato deserves a big round of applause for her Pride-Positive new video, which is an absolute delight. Also deserving of more than a nod, newcomers Clean Bandit, a rejuvenated and natural-sounding Enrique Iglesias, and the always praiseworthy Bimbo Jones' latest offering featuring lovely diva Beverly Knight. Enjoy!
PSY Featuring Snoop Dogg
Did he really have to go there? Did he really have to rap? And would someone explain to me what exactly is the appeal of this cartoonish pot-bellied far-eastern wonder? One would have thought that PSY’s fifteen minutes ended about two minutes into his career, but apparently this novelty artist is in it to stay.
‘Hangover’ represents his third U.S. top 40 hit, and boy, oh boy, is it annoying. The squawking, vaguely-middle-eastern sax works as an alarm to wake the listener up after being lulled to sleep by the snooze-inducing, rap of PSY and Snoop Dogg, while the reggae bed upon which it all rests is as formulaic as it comes. Clocking in at nearly five minutes, this one wears out its welcome at the two minute mark – you know, much like PSY himself. “Nothing left to say”, indeed.
I Found Out
Bimbo Jones & Beverley Knight
This is sort of a time machine in a blender.
There is a whole lot of Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 magic with merely a whiff of dance floor diva bravado percolating in this number. It is a unique combination, unlike anything else currently on the Club Play charts, save Justin Timberlake and Dead Michael’s ‘Love Never Felt So Good’.
Beverly Knight’s vocals are quick and skittish, save for that marvelous, belted build into the chorus while the production is very reminiscent of Martha Wash’s 1993 solo outing, with that weird scattershot echo sealing the deal. It doesn’t end up having quite the impact one would hope, but it is a welcome relief from all the paint by number stuff floating about out there on the dance floor.
So, by my count, Bruno Mars, Nico & Vinz, and now, Maroon 5, all owe Sting either a co-writing credit or some under the table royalty checks. ‘Maps’ rips off one of Sting’s signature sounds, though the boys try to mask their thievery by speeding it up a bit.
The production work here is claustrophobic and junky, leaving no room or time to breathe. There are no hooks, really, save for the cascading ‘falling, falling, falling’ part (well, that and the Sting stuff).
There’s something about this that feels a tad workman-like, even for Maroon 5, who seem hell-bent on getting that Guinness World Record for the most top 40 hits. That said, this strikes me as rather stale and tossed off, lacking heart, warmth, and interest on the part of the group. Could it be the beginning of ‘good-bye’ for Maroon 5?
You might know British singer / songwriter Charli from her work providing the vocals for brat rappers Iggy Azalea and Icona Pop. Here, she is looking for a U.S. hit of her own, aiming squarely at the tween market with this mindless piece of pop. And it’s working; it debuted in the top 40 and enjoys a second week there this week.
The backing track is a bit of clever pilfering, sounding like something Roxette would have come up during their heyday. The lyrics for the verses are actually quite broodingly dark, if a tad grammatically-challenged, while the Disney-friendly chorus is just as dumb as the song’s title. It does little for me, but I bet it sends all those tween girls who shelled out good money to see ‘Fault of Our Stars’ running to iTunes, Mom’s credit card in hand.
Daft Punk Featuring Negin
This 2010 number from Daft Punk’s Original Soundtrack Recording for the remake of ‘Tron’, gets a remake of its own at the hands of the ever-present Avicii, with vocals added by Negin. It’s slight to begin with, but Avicii (and Disney’s) tampering seems to have divided the EDM world into two fractions: those Avicii loyalists who think he can do no wrong and those Daft Punk fans who feel the vocals destroy the original melody.
The vocals, pitched high and whiney, are not good– nor are the lyrics, for that matter, deconstructing (or ‘Dconstructing’, as the kids say) ‘Derezzed’ into a would-be power ballad with twinkly synth fills. It fails on all fronts. So put me in a third group – the ones who could care less and simply want it to go away.
We Dem Boyz
This is a lazy slab of fairly well-articulated, culturally supported and celebrated sexism with plenty of drug and swag references to keep the cliché that is rap and “life in the hood” alive. Where men like Childish Gambino and Frank Ocean bring something fresh and new to the game, stunted adolescents like Wiz Khalifa continue to do a great disservice to their community.
Yeah, I know I am not the target audience for this one, I get that, but I live in a neighborhood full of dudes who are, and this - this makes me sad for them. Until people stop celebrating people like Wiz and stop buying into messages as hopeless and valueless as this: real change is never going to come.
Enrique Iglesias Featuring Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona
Just when I was about to give up on Enrique (remember ‘I’m A Freak’?), he comes out with this marvelously joyous bit of fun. It’s a breath of fresh air.
There’s a version out there with Sean Paul on it, but this is the one that I ‘heart’. It has great energy, some incredibly sexy tongue tripping, and an earthiness (thanks to Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona) that strips away all the smarminess that has threatened to obscure Mr. Iglesias’ true talents.
Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne
This is also rather refreshing. I heard this on the radio and it grabbed my ear immediately. Something about it took me back to the days of M People, although Clean Bandit’s brand of soul is scrubbed squeaky clean and they refrain from packing their arrangements with excess sound.
Sweet, plaintive vocals, bright bubbling flourishes of electronica, percussive piano, and well-placed strings make for a joy ride based on simplicity. Remixed, ‘Rather Be’ takes off, too; although the density of the arrangements tends to belie the song’s original while pushing the vocals to the background.
Ed continues to get funky with his bad self. With ‘Don’t’ he abandons all pretense of mixing styles. Justin Timberlake is the territory he has his eye on, which Mr. Sheeran manages to claim as his own, more or less. Over a fairly generic hip hop backdrop, Ed drops some sweetly syncopated verses before riding that lopping, almost-new jack chorus home.
The rap section overstays its welcome a bit, but no harm. It’s absolutely likable, but so what? ‘Sing’ seemed to signal that this artist was on a unique, singular path, capable of blending styles like no one else, so I feel a tad cheated. ‘Don’t’ feels like an easy way out, as if Ed simply didn’t want to dig any deeper that day.
Tiesto Featuring Matthew Koma
This is a bit different for Tiesto, as was his last near-hit, ‘Red Lights’ (which received quite a bit of airplay here in the Midwest). Jangly, and bright, with a steel drum feel, ‘Wasted’ is straight-up pop with a sing-along chorus for all those alcohol-soaked college kids to enjoy.
Matthew Koma, whom I last heard on RAC’s ‘Cheap Sunglasses’, has a pointed sound very similar to fun.’s Nate Ruess. Here he comes across a bit bratty, which given the subject matter seems rather fitting. The two work well together, coming up with something that I would never peg as Tiesto in a million years. Which saddens me, but then, artists must evolve, even if it means leaving their former selves behind.
Holding Onto Heaven
Zedd’s 2013 hit, ‘Clarity’ served as our introduction to the artist known as Foxes. Her own ‘Youth’ was a song that got a lot of buzz and bubbled under, but never broke huge. ‘Holding’ may change that, but I doubt it.
It’s pleasant enough, but even with the ache, break, and rasp of her somewhat thin voice, I don’t hear anything all that special. Remixed, it is currently climbing the Club Play charts, so it has found an audience, just not as big of a one as I think she’d like.
Really Don't Care
Demi Lovato Featuring Cher Lloyd
Just in time for Pride! Be sure to check out the video for this one; it’s a valentine to the LGBT community.
To tell the truth, I have not known what to make of Ms. Lovato, even after several substantial hits and all this time. And, other than creating ear-piercing pop that sounds great coming out of the speakers in my car – I still don’t.
‘Really’ is a great declaration of indifference, calculated as hell, but irresistible all the same. I dare you to not succumb to its charms. Cher Lloyd shows up near the end to liven things up with a rap that actually helps anchor Demi’s put-on defiance. It all works and something tells me we’re going to be hearing this one all summer.