Thursday, January 7, 2010

Week of January 9th - Inaugural.

The allure of pop music is too hard to resist sometimes. I know that over half of the Canadian Top 50 in any given week will range from forgettable to horrible, yet each week I'm gonna try to work through it and offer cogent critiques of a few of the songs that strike my fancy at that given time. Full breakdown can be found here.

The Top 10

A new year, a new number one single on the charts. Unfortunately 2009 went out on the highest of high notes with Gaga's stellar "Bad Romance" having a 4-week run at the top (#2 this week) so no matter what replaced it it was gonna be a step down. I don't know what it is about her but I never hated her previous singles despite having quite a few reservations about her as a performer/personality. "Bad Romance" is the first time I've a) not considered any of that while listening to the song and b) loved something of her's unreservedly on first listen, 5th listen and 25th listen. Say what you will about her as a person, the song itself is class; full of both that trademark Gaga-ness (random non sequitur Hitchcock references, the bridge shifting into French for no reason) and undeniable hooks of both the mildly annoying yet not (the RA-RA-RA-AH-AH part) and undeniable (the chorus) varieties while also being probably her best constructed single on a production level. Easily the best thing in the top 10.

It's replacement, however, is...well how to put this? Not good? Deplorable? Unlistenable? Catchy in a way that makes it hard to ignore in spite of all that? Ke$ha's "Tik Tok" might not be the worst thing in the top 10 (that goes to either David Guetta and Akon's hypocritical house stomper "Sexy Bitch" - #6 - or Miley Cyrus' incredibly off-putting "Party in the USA" - #10) but it's definitely the worst #1 the chart's seen since "Boom Boom Pow". The cheap-sounding production, Ke$ha's Katy Parry-as-trailer-trash demeanor, the's all horrible, but I can see why the demographics that decide on chart placement has elevated it to this position. It's a party song, and those do well regardless of quality. Even more weirdly, I can imagine a universe where this song is actually kinda good...different vocalist, better production (read: not based on the cheapest Casio loop this side of a bedroom electronic project circa 1977) and maybe a bit of actual feeling to the lyrics would make for something at least half as good as "Bad Romance" where this is far from that threshold.

Not much else to say about the rest though. Bland male R 'n' B (Jason Derülo's Imogen Heap-sampling "Whatcha Say" at #7 and Iyaz' forgettable "Replay" at #5,) the two less egregious recent Black Eyed Peas singles ("Meet Me Halfway" and "I Gotta Feeling" at #8 and 9 respectively,) Owl City's fake Postal Service breakthrough ("Fireflies, #4) and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' NYC repping "Empire State of Mind" (good, but not as good as "Run This Town," #3) round it out, but only "Empire" and - shockingly enough - "Meet Me Halfway" have any sort of notewortiness to them. The former is pretty much Jay-Z by numbers but not in a bad way and the latter approaches sounding like it was made by human beings on a few occasions which is a feat I'd never thought BEP capable of accomplishing - plus there's either a "Maps" sample or a very close approximation of one that pops up at a few points that makes the track interesting in a good way. Less said about the rest the better.

New Shit

Seven new or resurgent entries in the top 50 this week...two courtesy of Justin Bieber whose popularity is confounding until you realize that he's got both the resurgent teeny-bopper market and their parents firmly in his grasp thanks to that whole non-threatening thing. That also means that "One Less Lonely Girl" (#47) doesn't come across as the obsessive stalker anthem it would be in anyone else's hands - seriously, the background 'I'm comin' for ya's should tip it into that territory even if the kid's barely a teenager - and that I'm sure none of his audience realizes that "Love Me" (#43) rapes one of the best pop songs of all time (Cardigans' "LoveFool") and dilutes its greatness til it's vanilla. Shame on both counts. Below that is the middle of the road "Devil on My Shoulder" (#50) from Billy Talent who can and have done this kind of thing better in the past, and just above it is the best single that Stereos have released so far (it's still utter shit though, "Turn It Up", #42) and P!nk's much better than a fourth single should be "Funhouse" (#41). The other two are more noteworthy at least - OneRepublic's "All the Right Moves" (#39) is kind of great if not for Ryan Tedder's overly affected vocals and Drake's posse joint "Forever" (#38) is top tier stuff from a bunch of people I'd all but written off recently - but I'll wait for next week to do a dissertation on the whys of that (if they stick around).

Old Shit (Good Shit)

It goes without saying that as long as "You Belong With Me" (#25) is still around it's gonna be my favorite thing in here (and "Fifteen" (#22) is pretty great as well), but K'NAAN's "Wavin' Flag" (#27) is close behind it in the grand scheme of things. Passionate vocals, excellent hook and one of the most ear-catching arrangements in a mainstream hip hop song out now. It's also the kind of song I'd have never expected to be a hit even with its position a the official World Cup 2010 theme song, and that's a quality I never ignore here. The other major highlight that I haven't already mentioned is Lady Antebellum's great "Need You Now" (#49) which is the best demonstration of what I look for in a country ballad since Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy" - no overwrought performances, no maudlin arrangement, no unnecessary major-key shift in the last verse, just a low-key song that happens to be slower than normal and kinda sappy. It seems to be on its way out of the top 50 - sadly - but until it goes I'll keep repeating that it's not one to be ignored even if you're allergic to twang.

A step or so down from those three is Faber Drive's lightweight stomper "G-Get Up and Dance" (#28) which takes the Canadian Good Charlotte into the processed-to-hell realm of dance-"punk" in a way that makes it sound like actual fun as opposed to utter shit. The Canadian Fall Out Boy, on the other hand, take a detour into balladry with similarly unexpectedly good results ("Beside You", #30) mainly due to the lack of maudlin and an excellent arrangement. Rihanna's "Russian Roulette" (#33) would be in the upper tier here if not for that weird inflection she puts on the chorus ending 'trigger' kills the tension the track has built up to that point every single time, but I'm growing more and more fond of her work on Jay-Z's "Run This Town" (#36) which is in and of itself growing on me more and more with each listen. Yes, even Kanye's verse. Also growing on me is Jay Sean's "Down" (#17) which would be relegated to the faceless male R 'n' B pit with Derülo and Iyaz if not for that absolute monster of of a hook and to a lesser extent Lil' Wayne's cameo (no such luck for his follow up single "Do You Remember?" (#14) which is just bland as fuck). And Gaga's other entry in the top 50 this week ("Paparzzi", #32) isn't near as good as "Bad Romance" or even "Poker Face" but still manages to work better than it should.

Old Shit (Bad Shit)

On the other end of the spectrum, I have no idea what Sean Kingston thinks he's doing but going away again should be higher on his to do list ("Fire Burning" inexplicably jumps to #19). Same for Hedley who went from mildly respectable fake-punk with what appeared to be actual talent in the songwriting and arrangement department to one of the worst things in the top 20 (twice over even) with the dated reality show decrying "Cha-Ching" (#16) in the running for worst in the top 50 and it's follow up "Don't Talk to Strangers" (#12) not far behind. More reasons for you to be glad you're not Canadian come from the inexplicably labeled hip-hop/progressive music (shut up wikipedia, they're pop-punk) group Down With Webster, whose "Rich Girl$" (#21) imagines an alternate universe where "Common People" had not social criticism or insight and was produced to death in order to further suck the life out of it, and Karl Wolf's "Yalla Habibi" (#40) which seems to think that Arabic touches make up for utter blandness (they don't) and weak vocals. And while we're dumpig on every other Canadian act in the charts I'd be remiss to not mention that Nickelback are in there too, but "Never Gonna Be Alone" (#37) is more forgettable than it is bad, which automatically makes it better than half their singles.

Personal Top 10

10. Jay-Z f/Rihanna and Kanye West "Run This Town"
9. Lady Gaga "Paparazzi"
8. Faber Drive "G-Get Up and Dance"
7. Taylor Swift "Fifteen"
6. Marianas Trench "Beside You"
5. Lady Antebellum "Need You Now"
4. Drake f/Kanye West, Lil' Wayne and Eminem "Forever"
3. Lady Gaga "Bad Romance"
2. K'NAAN "Wavin' Flag"
1. Taylor Swift "You Belong With Me"