Thursday, October 20, 2011

Radio Daze Bonus Tracks #2

All tracks taken from the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated October 22, 2011.

19. "Strange Clouds," B.o.B. feat. Lil' Wayne

B.o.B.'s debut last year was one of the more interesting rap albums: he was clearly a pop-minded rapper/multi-instrumentalist, unashamed of chasing crossover success with the help of Top 40-approved guests such as Bruno Mars and Hayley Williams. But, as album cuts such as "Don't Let Me Fall" and his new single, "Strange Clouds" show, he's actually a fairly gifted rapper in his own right. Sure, he can be clumsy at times, and guest Lil' Wayne steals the show with a verse that's even subpar for him, but he's not entirely untalented. However, this song probably won't win him the same kind of crossover success he's previously enjoyed, nor do I think it's going to necessarily rock rap radio. It's solid, but not necessarily great. B-

31. "Just a Kiss," Lady Antebellum

The reigning champs of bland country are back, and blander than ever. A spiritual and sonic sequel to last year's hit "Need You Now," which won a handful of Grammys for making a drunken hookup sound like the most inane thing imaginable, "Just a Kiss" is a promise to take it slow in a new relationship, which the trio also manages to make sound tedious. Built on the pop-country blueprint of piano, strings, and trading verses (oh, and a sort-of-not-really twangy guitar, because this is country music, yes it is), the song is not altogether unpleasant, but it's the kind of sap that you never really listen to but still goes on to sell millions of records. It's just that one wishes they'd step it up and do something fun for once. C-

36. "Crazy Girl," Eli Young Band

I don't actually know all that much about Eli Young Band. They were a free download on iTunes a couple of years back, with a song called "When It Rains," which wasn't terrible but not memorable either. And here they are again, this time with country hit "Crazy Girl," which isn't about an actual crazy girl so much as it is about the fact that lead singer Mike Eli loves a girl like crazy (see what they did there?). Similar to "Just a Kiss," this is middle-of-the-road, wholly inoffensive pop-country, neither terribly great or greatly terrible. It just exists, which is apparently good enough nowadays. Though points for actually having twang. C

48. "Work Out," J. Cole

After two years of work, Jay-Z protege J. Cole has finally released his debut album. And as a lead single, "Work Out" couldn't be a more strange choice. Sampling Kanye West's "New Workout Plan," Cole doesn't really bring anything new to the table, as this is a standard "I'm famous, come home with me" jam that pretty much every debut rapper makes. What sets it apart, though, is Cole's icy flow, clearly something he picked up from Hova. It's certainly not his best work (check out his verse on Jay-Z's "A Star is Born" to understand why he is so hyped to begin with), but he has the guts to sing the chorus of Paula Abdul's 1989 smash "Straight Up" at the end, so that's got to count for something. B

50. "Easy," Rascal Flatts feat. Natasha Bedingfield

If the Black Eyed Peas are the evil geniuses destroying pop music with their dumbed-down, grating hits, then Rascal Flatts is their country-music equivalent.  They came in with the bland-country - let's just call it blandtry from now on - that would later inspire other blandtry acts such as Lady Antebellum, selling millions of albums without anyone really saying they were fans. And songs like "Bless the Broken Road" and "What Hurts the Most" became schmaltz anthems that soundtracked every prom slow-dance of the back half of the Aughts (that and Sugarland's "Stay," which is disturbing given the context). Now there's "Easy," in which they pair up with the songstress that paved the way for this to happen and belt out how hard it is to see an ex happy when they're still so miserable. It's bombastic blandtry at it's worst. D

55. "Remind Me," Brad Paisley feat. Carrie Underwood

As you've probably gathered from this column and the previous Bonus Tracks, I'm not a huge fan of country music. There's a very long-winded reason for that, one that will probably get an article of it's own one day, but the gist is this: too often country artists rely on cornpone cliche or schmaltz, cranking out music more like machines than like musicians. Brad Paisley's an interesting case: in all senses, he looks like every other male country star, but his music is often truly outstanding. For one, he's without a doubt the best country guitarist working right now, and perhaps ever. And he's a talented songwriter as well: "Alcohol" would easily make my top 5 country songs of the last 20 years. Carrie Underwood usually doesn't get great material, but she's got a beautiful, soulful voice, and when she gets a chance to utilize it she soars. There have been songs like "Remind Me" before, and perhaps they've been done better, but what a breath of fresh air it is to hear the passion and desperation in their voices in this song. There's still an element of schmaltz here, but when Paisley launches into his shredding guitar solo, it strikes the sweet spot. B

60. "Tattoos on This Town," Jason Aldean

No awkward rapping a la "Dirt Road Anthem" here, but the sentiment is the same: Aldean reflects on his hometown and all the memories he made there, and between the two songs one suspects he must be really homesick. This is familiar territory he's treading to begin with, but Aldean does it with enough energy to make it work for him. That's not to say that this is great work; it's still mired by cliche. But it's not hard to enjoy either, and it's actually more anthemic than his previous hit. C+

65. "Best Thing I Never Had," Beyonce

With all the hype surrounding her pregnancy (Baby By Beyonce will be dropping next spring), it's easy to forget something very strange: her latest album, 4, has yet to produce a major hit. There's been no "Crazy in Love," no "Irreplaceable," no "Single Ladies." "Run the World (Girls)" was dead on it's Major Lazer-sampling arrival (I maintain it's underrated), so it was up to "Best Thing" to be the savior of the album in terms of radio play. Instead, it only peaked at 16, which is low for the Queen B. Perhaps it's because "sucks to be you right now" is a far cry from "to the left, to the left," or perhaps it's just the nation's preoccupation with pop-tarts like Katy Perry. This isn't necessarily Beyonce firing on all cylinders, but it's certainly a worthy entry in her canon (as is the album, which is a departure from her usual work and, in my opinion, her best yet). B+

87. "Sail," AWOLNATION

Because Styx was awesome, right? Actually, I have fond memories of "Come Sail Away," the Styx song that "Sail" alludes/pays tribute to, thanks to high school chorus. A solo project for Under the Influence of Giants' Aaron Bruno, AWOLNATION brings twitchy electronica and plucky strings together for a scuzzed-out jam about being approached by extraterrestrials. Bruno doesn't necessarily sing so much as wails like a bargin-bin Kurt Cobain here, and lyrically there's just not all that much to the song. The music strikes a moody chord, which gives it some much-needed life. Still, it really just makes one wish for the cheesy prog-bombast of Styx's anthem. B-

96. "Papi," Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez had a minor resurgence earlier this year, when "On the Floor" became a smash hit even though she was really a guest to the track's true star, producer RedOne. So she's going with a new clubbanger, "Papi," in which she encourages all the ladies in the club to get up and dance for their men. Backwards gender politics aside, this is the J. Lo that always seems to crop up after something good happens: the one that is all brand, no personality, and not much real talent to boot. This'll probably find its way into a club mix, but not much else. C-

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