Thursday, March 8, 2012

Radio Daze Vol. 10: March/April 2012

I missed the January/February frame this year, but the series returns for its first installment in 2012. And what have we learned over the past few months? Well, Adele basically rules the world now, and some new players are now rubbing shoulders with established pop stars. Oh, and it still pays to have your music featured during the Super Bowl, as our #1 can attest.

The following is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated March 17, 2012.

1. "We are Young," fun. feat. Janelle Monae

A posh spot in a Super Bowl ad for the Chevy Sonic (not to mention a Glee cover back in December) has lifted this pop-rock trio to the top of the charts, and though I'm some have lost their patience with it's omnipresence, I'm still thoroughly enjoying. Though the song talks of making the most of a situation because "tonight, we are young," it almost sounds like a desperate plea from a guy who can barely take one more night alone. All of this is set to perfect mood music, with trippy R&B chanteuse Janelle Monae providing the bridge and backing vocals. This is set to be the anthem for everyone, but really it's for the last-call hanger-ons hoping for a break from the loneliness. A

Also, the band's newest album, Some Nights, is a killer. Go get it (legally, of course).

2. "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," Kelly Clarkson

Wow, how long has it been since we've had a Kelly Clarkson song dominating the radio? Answer: not since 2009, when the ridiculously-titled-but-perfectly-done "My Life Would Suck Without You" was inescapable. Clarkson has actually pretty much made a career out of taking overwrought, eighth-grade-poetry lyrics and singing them with such conviction that you can't help but believe every word she's saying, as if by pure spunk and attitude she's turned them into universal truths. "What Doesn't Kill You" is a kiss-off to an ex, and once again Clarkson makes lyrics like "what doesn't kill you makes a fighter, makes you even lighter" sound proudly defiant. There's nothing new here, but there's enough attitude in her voice and exuberance in the undulating beat that it works as a delicious piece of bubblegum. And I dare you not to sing along. A-

3. "Set Fire to the Rain," Adele

Earlier this year, "Set Fire to the Rain" - the third single from 21 - reached number one, becoming Adele's third consecutive charttopper. Of the 10 Billboard 200 charts for this year, 21 has topped nine of them, selling over 2 million copies in 2012 (the highest tally for an album this earlier in the year since 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' in 2003), and entered its 23rd non-consecutive week at the top since its release last year, the most of any album since Prince's Purple Rain in 1984. Clearly, Adele is not finished dominating the musical landscape. "Set Fire to the Rain" is another great torch number that shows off her fantastic voice, but unlike "Rolling in the Deep" and "Someone Like You," this one lacks the, well, fire behind those songs. It also feels overproduced; the strings come in, the piano crashes, the drum kicks in, and it all seems to be extraneous, drowning out the vocals and robbing them of their power. It's still a great song, but its not the instant-classic that her other two singles were. B+

4. "Glad You Came," The Wanted

All things considered, I suppose its not all that surprising that the boy band could be making a comeback. It arose from the synth-pop of the late '80s the first time around, building on pop's newfound love affair with electronica, peaking, of course, at the turn of the millennium. And now that pop has come back around to be heavily dance-influenced, well, it just makes sense that a group of five soulful guys with looks tailor-made to be put on locker posters would have a pop hit. Here they are, The Wanted, and "Glad You Came" is an infectious little ditty that sounds as if it were imported straight from Ibiza. Granted, its that beat that makes up half the reason this song works as well as it does, and its likely to be much more appealing under the strobe lights of the club. As it is, its fun if repetitive; what better way to make the perfect earworm? B

5. "Part of Me," Katy Perry

In 10 installments of Radio Daze, only one of these columns (Vol. 8) did not feature a Katy Perry song. She's back this time around with "Part of Me," the first single off her deluxe reissue of Teenage Dream. A breakup anthem perfectly timed for her split with Russell Brand (which, honestly, we all saw coming, right?), it features lyrics that seemed to be ripped straight from the Facebook statuses of high schoolers across the nation. Perry, however, doesn't quite have the voice and attitude to sell it a la Clarkson, but she does a fine job anyway, with a pulsating beat that gives it all life, even if she doesn't seem particularly heartbroken. She actually sounds like she's ready to start the party. We wouldn't have you any other way, Katy. B

6. "Starships," Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj is a lot of things, depending on your point-of-view: a fierce rapper, rap's Lady Gaga, an obnoxious pestilence, a Dadaist poet with rapid-fire delivery, a man. The one thing that we should all be able to agree on is that she knows what sells records and what gets her on the top of the charts. "Starships" falls in the vein of last summer's megahit "Super Bass," trading in the lyrical acrobatics and skittering beats in favor of production from RedOne (responsible for Lady Gaga's "Poker Face") and singing. This is music to rave to, and its much more accessible than the other singles from Roman Reloaded that have debuted so far (the free-form "Roman in Moscow," for example, or Lil' Kim diss "Stupid Hoe"). She has only a limited vocal range, but that hardly matters here. You can debate whether or not she's original, but there's certainly no one else like her right now. B+

On a side note, I personally prefer batshit-gonzo Nicki to please-the-masses Nicki. Though I understand why the latter is necessary, in terms of sales.

7. "Young, Wild, and Free," Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa feat. Bruno Mars

In most cases, a movie's soundtrack album is meant to be a companion piece, something of an afterthought as a way to make a little more revenue. In the case of Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa's Mac and Devin Go to High School, it seems to be the opposite: the soundtrack debuted in December, and there's no official release date for the movie yet (and perhaps it should stay that way). "Young, Wild, and Free" is the soundtrack's first single, and it is exactly what you would expect: a paean to smoking weed and not caring who sees, with a hook by Bruno Mars and a gently rolling piano melody over the beat. I think its all time we admit that Snoop will never be as good as he was in the '90s, but he and Wiz have a nice chemistry trading amiable verses. Maybe we don't need the movie, but I wouldn't mind seeing what this partnership produces musically. B+

8. "Turn Me On," David Guetta feat. Nicki Minaj

As he did with Usher in "Without You," French DJ/club guru David Guetta supplies the beat while Minaj sings over it. The lyrics are really unnecessary, though; I feel as if Minaj - who, as I stated before, has a fine but limited singing voice - was chosen just so more focus could be placed on Guetta's production. And that production features the standard Guetta hallmarks that he employs to great use; once the bass comes back in, its hard to resist tapping your toes. But where "Without You" had a certain soulfulness to it, this just feels like another clubbanger meant to light the dancefloor on fire. It all just feels...done, though. B-

9. "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye feat. Kimbra

Sometimes, an artist just kind of manages to sneak into the mainstream just by word of mouth; never mind that they sound like something completely different and are probably destined to become one-hit wonders (Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and Owl City's "Fireflies" immediately come to mind). Belgian-Australian alternative artist Gotye looks to join the ranks with "Somebody That I Used to Know," in which he details the injustice he feels from a breakup, only to be retorted by the ex in a verse sung by New Zealand artist Kimbra. Its an interesting concept for a song, and its all sung over a track that sounds a bit like a low-key White Stripes outtake. I genuinely wish nothing but the best for both of these artists, but I wouldn't be surprised if this charming little ditty was their only US hit. A-

10. "We Found Love," Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris

You know what, I think I underestimated the attraction of this song in my first review of it. This is definitely Ri-Ri's finest hour, coming off of Talk That Talk, which is her best album to date. It's good to see that Rihanna has finally found a sound she fits in. Rihanna, club queen, is by far her most engaging iteration. Stay the course, Ri, and never let the party stop. A

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