Posts tagged: pop

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

By , November 1, 2011 10:00 am

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

Parlophone 2011

Rating: 8/10

Mylo Xyloto is perfectly designed to blow up in your face. Eleven proper songs, all named after the biggest and the best, like landmarks tumbling side by side: holy lands, flames, princesses, waterfalls and uh, Charlie Brown? Each song hits some sort of ridiculous climactic hotspot that seemed impossible the second before it happened. Just listen to “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” the moment the drums kick in for real. It seems completely implausible that a song that started so big could become any bigger. It sounds like the exact Coldplay song that you want to get made over and over again, and for Mylo Xyloto, it finally gets made. It’s Coldplay at heart. Nothing strung together by flimsy concepts; no X axis and no Y axis, no violent Spanish conquests. It’s just huge.

In that sense, the record feels like “Fix You” eleven times, exploding from all sides. There’s something about that song that can easily hit at the gut, and it’s more about when that moment comes in than how, the organ-like sounds shuffling off stage for a climax made glorious by Will Champion’s drum-kit. On Mylo Xyloto, however, Coldplay don’t dedicate much time wondering when their songs will hit their glorious peaks, for this time they appear confidently boisterous, at large when they go in and larger when the drumbeat kicks. It’s a powerful thing, hearing a band this way, so it’s a moment such as “U.F.O.” that kills the record’s infinite momentum, putting a band that seems energized at all corners into a state of contemplation too reserved for the bright colours they’re splashing their graffiti with. Mylo Xyloto was not a record made by a subdued band, and so when this acoustic number creeps in- along with the restrictively controlled beats of “Up in Flames”- it feels like too much thought and not enough waterfall.

To hell with the contemplation; what makes this record so good is the complete abandonment of making Coldplay a leftfield band. Viva La Vida might have had us begging them to take us back- our very own Adam Downer complimented Coldplay for their ‘balls’, and later their guts- but Mylo Xyloto completely refuses the listener a moment alone with their brain in that way. There’s no time to be surprised by any experimental balls when “Hurts Like Heaven” strikes full force, no time to ponder where Eno weighs in on this one. Interludes aside, every song is designed to bash you over the head rather than to let you use it. Mylo Xyloto is a big, broad album, with songs founded on themes no less than the greatest conceivable. And who doesn’t fall for that Coldplay? I mean, it hurts like heaven? It’s us against the world? This is a Coldplay in their very own world. It’s huge and relentless, and they’re wrapped up in it.

It makes perfect sense, too, that they’re so wrapped up in it. Chris Martin can sing that every teardrop is a waterfall on any track he likes, and so when those lyrics come on “Paradise” for the first time, it doesn’t feel one bit phony. If anything, the lyrics flow; just as Arcade Fire could engross every song on The Suburbs in its theme- the same words for the same problems- Martin’s newest record (and first since his favourite band’s third) is a successfully didactic and direct body of work. The lyrical themes that circulate like a broken record on Mylo Xyloto may be the first poetic success of Martin’s; on any other Coldplay record, it might be hard to take a line like “you use your heart like a weapon / and it hurts like heaven” into the gut, but Mylo Xyloto isn’t trying to get under the surface. It’s just searching for the biggest reaction and the most fantastic feeling. Everything Martin says here, whether or not he says it over and over again, is justified by how every song on Mylo Xyloto pushes the same buttons. Every song aims to make a waterfall of a teardrop, so why can’t he say it over and over again?

It’s kind of great how at ease I find myself with a Coldplay that can be this repetitive and use the same trick a hundred times over. To hear Rihanna’s absolutely stunning performance on “Princess of China” isn’t a surprise because it simply bolsters the style Coldplay are playing with on this record. Her spot amplifies a song to heights it wasn’t already at, and that’s what Mylo Xyloto seeks in every move it makes forward. This is a Coldplay that wants to build and build to a point like “Fix You” over and over again, a Chris Martin who only cites influence in ideas as ambitious as graffiti and The Wire. The results don’t have to be the same as those things, and so it’s hard to get caught up in the trippy, colourful artwork that the record tries to reflect. Instead, we just bask in “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” a song splitting at the sides, huge from start to finish. “Turn the music up!” is Chris Martin’s command on Mylo Xyloto, and it’s probably the only lyric he’ll ever get us nodding to.

Coldplay – “Charlie Brown”

Florence and the Machine – Lover To Lover

By , October 27, 2011 10:00 am

Florence and the Machine’s long awaited followup to 2009′s superb debut Lungs leaked online last week, and early reviews have been stellar. I haven’t had time to really get down and dirty with Ms. Welch yet, but from my cursory time with it Celebrations is just what I want from a Florence and the Machine sophomore record. The focus is still on Ms. Welch’s lovely, ethereal vocals, but the group’s penchant for complicated arrangements and truly epic sounding songs hasn’t weakened one bit. “Lover To Lover” is a bluesier number, with a prominent piano part and the kind of singalong chorus Florence has been making in her sleep.

Florence and the Machine – “Lover To Lover”

Coldplay – Hurts Like Heaven

By , October 26, 2011 3:30 pm

I’m not much of a Coldplay fan but damn if this isn’t one of the catchier songs I’ve heard from then. Yes, Chris Martin describes new album Mylo Xyloto as being inspired by “American graffiti, the White Rose movement . . . and [legendary HBO series] the Wire,” but that’s typical grandiose Martin bullshit and “Hurts Like Heaven” is just good old fashioned pop music.

Coldplay – “Hurts Like Heaven”

M83 – Wait

By , October 25, 2011 10:00 am

One of the best songs from one of the best albums of the year. Get Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming now if you haven’t had the chance and you love pop music.

M83 – “Wait”

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

By , October 18, 2011 10:00 am

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Mute 2011

Rating: 9/10

There’s a point a little more than a fourth of the way into Anthony Gonzalez’ latest art-pop manifesto where it all starts to make sense. The day-glo synths, the cavalcade of gated drums and chintzy keyboards, the near-slavish devotion to ‘80s pop tropes – it’s not just flattery, not merely a homage meant to evoke the sounds of the past that 2008’s Saturdays=Youth satisfactorily accomplished. It’s fitting that it’s not Gonzalez who lays out Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s mission, but a young child. “Do you want to play with me? / We can be a whole group of friends,” the child asks on “Raconte – Moi Une Histoire,” and it doesn’t matter whether this kid is male or female, where he is from or what her intentions are. “We would be hundreds, thousands, millions / the biggest group of friends the world has ever seen / jumping and laughing forever / it would be great, right?”  It’s an undoubtedly immature statement, but that’s what makes it so perfect. By stripping away the concerns of adults, of age and background and history, it becomes primal and universal: love and hope. Has there ever been a better argument for music?

A cynic would see this as cheesy, much like Gonzalez’s musical influences, or suggest a clever metaphor for drug use (or a blunt one – “blue becomes red and red becomes blue / and your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy / and everything looks like a giant cupcake.” Kids – aren’t they just the darndest?). Those people are missing the point. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a classic bedroom pop record, but not for its Breakfast Club-inspired musical scenery, nor for its confessional attitude. It’s bedroom pop in the sense that it’s constantly dreaming – of a better time, of a better world, of a better place where that group of a million friends jumping and laughing forever isn’t so ridiculous. It’s a tribute to the music of Gonzalez’ youth that still sounds fresh and vital in ways that its own inspirations never did. It’s a celebration of that same youth and that state of mind, a wide-eyed look at what could be. Most of all, it’s Gonzalez’s imagination run wild, and in that respect, it is a colossal achievement.

Could Gonzalez have trimmed the fat down a little? The double-album conceit is almost never necessary, and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is no exception. The various interludes are some of the most interesting bits of music on the record, but their length is what does them in. Given Gonzalez’s seemingly effortless way of creating a pop hook out of nothing, it would have been fascinating to see the sketches of “Train To Pluton” or “Another Wave From You” develop further. Instead, they’re simply teases: beautiful, gorgeous ones at that, but still unnecessary to the overall arc of the album. The 22-song length is intimidating, and Gonzalez never gives you a chance to catch your breath – pop anthem after pop anthem is the order of the day here, massive multi-tracked walls of sound and spacey synths that stretch on into fields of reverb. Occasionally there is a comedown; the lovely minor-key “Splendor” comes to mind, so oddly placed between “Another Wave From You”’s cascading build-up and the upbeat guitar pop of “Year One, One UFO;” and “Wait,” where an acoustic guitar does more for the song than any of Gonzalez’s surging keyboards. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is, quite frankly, a titanic record, and Gonzalez would have it no other way.

It has to be, of course. If Saturdays=Youth was M83’s take on the ‘80s, all those wonderful spoken word bits recalling the best of ‘80s schlock and the synths the best of that era’s vapidity and material glamor, then Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the ‘80s. At times here, Gonzalez sounds almost like a relic – his yelp recalls Peter Gabriel, and his penchant for bombastic choruses and bigger, better hooks emphasizes the best of soon-forgotten ‘80s pop music. The sequence that kicks off the album, from “Intro” to “Reunion,” is some of the best pop music ever made, ‘00s or ‘80s or otherwise. The saxophone that closes out epic first single “Midnight City” would have to be considered intentionally ironic if anyone other than M83 had included it – here, it just sounds so damn right. Elsewhere, it’s the little things that pop out at you, even over the walls of sparkling production that Gonzalez has so meticulously crafted – the funky bass that propels “Claudia Lewis;” the effervescent keyboard line that weaves its way over the top of “Steve McQueen”’s noise pop; the way Gonzalez, never the most powerful of vocalists, holds his own on a duet with Zola Jesus on “Intro.”

Yes, for all the gloss and layers of sound thrown onto track after track here, sometimes to excess, M83 have done this before. Saturdays=Youth was just as brilliant in its conceptual execution and in its painstakingly detailed production work. What separates Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming from that record and the rest of M83’s catalog is in its consistency, something that a double album would seem to make impossible. Yet every song here hits close to home, to the record’s goal of celebrating the past by creating music that resonates so perfectly in the present. Few people could so totally ape the sounds of a bygone (not to mention much-maligned) era and come out with something that sounds so pulse-poundingly fresh as Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. In its execution, the record is near flawless, an essential distillation of the sounds of Gonzalez’s youth, nostalgia and melancholy and happiness all mixed up into a sparkling pop stew. In its spirit, it’s incredibly heartening, the musical equivalent of inspiring people to think back on their past, their childhood, that one moment where playing together as one wasn’t such a laughable notion. It’s hopeful and heartbreaking all at once. You don’t have to have lived through the ‘80s to appreciate Gonzalez’s aim – you just have to have lived.

M83 – “Reunion”

Florence and the Machine – What the Water Gave Me

By , August 30, 2011 10:00 am

Nice to see that fame hasn’t gotten to Florence Welch’s head  - teaser single “What the Water Gave Me” would have stood out nicely on superb debut Lungs, meaning I’m more than just a little excited at the prospect of her second album. The as-yet-unnamed sophomore record is due out November 7. Can’t wait to hear The Voice again in concert

Programming note: law school is probably going to have some effect on my daily postings, but I’ll try to be as regular as my commitments can make me. It also gives me less time to keep up to date on everything new and improved out there, so as always I welcome e-mails and submissions. Thanks for sticking with us!

Florence and the Machine – “What the Water Gave Me”

Owl City – All Things Bright and Beautiful

By , June 20, 2011 11:00 am

Owl City – All Things Bright and Beautiful

Universal Republic 2011

Rating: 2/10

“Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there,” Owl City visionary Adam Young sings on opener “The Real World” off his new album All Things Bright and Beautiful, and, honestly, has there ever been a more relatable line? As critics everywhere have lamented, originality has gone by the wayside, the stagnation of art and culture seemingly omnipresent, in throwaway pop music, vapid, cardboard cut-outs of rock stars and regurgitated influences. The truth is, reality is a reused, recycled place, sadly enough, but for a little over forty minutes on Adam’s new record, he manages to transport us somewhere that isn’t so stale. All Things Bright and Beautiful is painted in bright watercolors, day-glo synths and candy-colored drum machines backlighting lyrics that speak to the eternal optimist in all of us, the starstruck inner child who believes that anything is possible. It’s what Owl City is all about, and with this sophomore effort, Adam is living his dream, and we’re all invited to join!

If All Things Bright and Beautiful has a mission statement, it’s that we should always be appreciative of the everyday joy around us. Adam has always been a bit of a naturalist, referencing nature metaphors and the wonders of creation throughout his promising 2009 debut Ocean Eyes, but here his intertwining of relationships with evocative imagery is promise fulfilled. “If the green left the grass on the other side / I would make like a tree and leave / but if I reached for your hand would your eyes get wide? / Who knew the other side could be so green?” Adam croons in a delicate duet with Breanne Düren on “Honey and the Bee,” effortlessly combining natural imagery with his own unique brand of humor and a heart-on-his-sleeve approach that we could all take a lesson from in this cynical world. Lyrically, however, Adam refuses to be pigeonholed. The juxtaposition of “Kamikaze” with the Ronald Reagan vocal sample on “January 28, 1986” tastefully compares the bravery between Japanese suicide pilots and the crew of the doomed U.S. space shuttle Challenger, respectively, while on “Hospital Flowers” Adam fearlessly lives the role of an emergency-room victim: “The curtain decayed, the daylight poured in / I was never afraid of the darkness again / my burns were third degree, but I’d been set free / ‘cause grace had finally found its way to me.” At times, Adam’s lyrics approach near poetry, no more so than on this opening stanza from “Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust,” where Adam calls out all those who have lost hope in their aspirations: “Splashdown in the silver screen into a deep dramatic scene / I swam through the theater, or maybe I’m just a dreamer / like a kite in the bright midday, Wonder stole my breath away / shy sonata for Mercury; the stars always sing so pretty.” Inspirational, to say the least.

Adam’s lyrics may be poetry, but it’s All Things Bright and Beautiful’s array of effervescent electro-pop backing tracks that make them into an organic artistic statement. The album has suffered multiple release-date setbacks, but the extra time has actually ripened the final product. As Adam mentioned in an interview, the additional time allowed him “to better connect the dots and ensure that every cloud in the sky is stitched together with its own special silver lining.” The care and attention show; where Ocean Eyes was often (perhaps unfairly) criticized for its one-trick pony electronic angle, All Things Bright and Beautiful leaves no musical stone unturned. “Honey and the Bee” builds up to its delectable declaration of love with a light fingerpicked acoustic melody, cleverly drawing a thematic connection between the lack of electronic elements in the tune and its message of irrepressible love via animal metaphors. Closer “Plant Life” is an epic rocker replete with stadium-sized keyboard chords and a chorus that calls to mind similarly positive artists Train, while “Hospital Flowers” and its gentle piano melody remind us all of the fragility of human life and the eternal hope of redemption. First single “Alligator Sky,” meanwhile, is a daring venture into hip-hop, a firm notice to his critics that Adam is not afraid to delve into unfamiliar territory.

His roots haven’t been forgotten, however; on the contrary, All Things Bright and Beautiful is a new voice for electro pop, from the pounding four-on-the-floor of “Deer in the Headlights” to the appropriately spacey vibe of album centerpiece “Galaxies.” It’s his calling card and, if anything, the sound already present on Ocean Eyes has been refined, a finely glossed sheen of high production values polishing Adam’s potent “bedroom-pop” sound without losing any of his emotional intimacy. All Things Bright and Beautiful is just what Adam has shown flashes of since “Fireflies” took the world by storm: a groundbreaking, original artist not unafraid to sing what he’s feeling, unfettered by societal constraints and the cynicism of the 21st century, all buttressed by a fresh take on pop that combines the best of Beatles-esque songwriting and modern electronics. The messages are universal: love everyone; notice the little things; take nothing for granted. The feeling is as primal as unwrapping presents on Christmas morning or freebasing Prozac. Most importantly, what All Things Bright and Beautiful encourages us to do is much what Adam Young has been doing his whole career: getting better and growing, as a human being and member of this crazy little world, each as unique and equal as the next.

Owl City – “Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust”

Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

By , March 21, 2011 8:00 am

Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

Jive 2011

Rating: 7/10

 

Britney Spears occupies a weird, unique space in the pop spectrum. She’s been compared to past greats like Madonna and Kylie Minogue, but she lacks the latter’s self-aware creativity and mentioning her in the same breath as the former is, frankly, insulting. A common complaint with Spears is that she doesn’t write her own songs, which, the argument goes, somehow equates to a lack of talent, but the same can be said of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra… the list goes on. She isn’t blessed with the preternaturally skilled vocals of a Mariah Carey or a Tina Turner, but her music has never been about her voice so much as her personality. And her personality is just what has carried her this far, when contemporaries like Mandy Moore and Christina Aguilera are becoming Starbucks whores and public laughingstocks, respectively. Spears is the ultimate pop chameleon, transforming from sly school girl with enough sexual innuendo to inspire thousands of illegal fantasies to a robotic dance-floor dominatrix, confident enough to overcome tabloid dramas that have ruined lesser stars. In many ways, Spears needed that separation from her past self to become the four-on-the-floor mistress she is on Femme Fatale. Calling Britney a pop singer is doing the term a disservice; she is much more of a pop bellwether, subject to the whims of the Top 40 crowd and more than happy to adapt to environments that have cruelly undone lesser icons. There’s a reason Aguilera’s last album sold barely north of 110,000 copies and Spears’ single “Hold It Against Me” has the most aggressive beat on mainstream radio today. Spears shows a willingness to reinvent herself that belies her fragile personal life and, most importantly, keeps her on the cutting edge of pop music.

Sure, “Hold It Against Me” has the kind of dubstep breakdown that only the most naïve listener would consider representative of the genre, but the fact remains that Spears is the first to introduce such a rapidly rising phenomenon to the mainstream. She’s become a pop juggernaut not by being the most talented, or the most charismatic, or even the one with the best songs, but by simply listening to the people who know the pop pulse best: her stable of producers. Blackout became such a great modern pop album because Spears finally submitted entirely to her songwriting team, choosing to become the entirely sexualized instrument through which their massive hooks would be transmitted to neon dance floors worldwide. And for Spears, that is just what she needs: a Max Martin and a Dr. Luke to write a track like “Till The World Ends,” one that throbs with trance-y synths, a thumping electro beat that is pure sex and a chorus that goes and goes as only the best club hits can do, sensible lyrics be damned. Synths as dirty as the ones on “Trouble For Me” or as unashamedly Eurotrash as “Trip To Your Heart” are just what pop music needs right now, in a year when electronica is becoming bigger than ever and a pop song is not just about the hook but about how much it can make you move.

Yet while one can be assured that Spears’ lyrics remain as one-dimensional and cheesy as ever, it’s the sonically varied production work that prevents Femme Fatale from being a one-hit factory with a bunch of electro clones. It helps that Spears’ sounds much more involved than she did on the rather dispirited Circus, with even a by-the-numbers Dr. Luke jam like “Gasoline” showing some Spears vocal pizzazz, as much as a Auto-Tuned sexual android as she tends to sound. The real treat of the record lies in the more off-kilter tracks, like Bloodshy & Avant’s (better known as indie band Miike Snow) skeletal, vaguely African-flavored “How I Roll” and their rave day-glo specimen “Trip To Your Heart,” a track that would make Tiesto blush. For all its obvious chart-topping intent and single-minded dance directive, Femme Fatale is an eclectic record, and that’s why for every ill-advised will.i.am guest spot (“Big Fat Bass” – how the fuck this isn’t a Black Eyed Peas song is beyond me) there’s an out-of-left field flute (!?!) solo that actually works (“Criminal”). It isn’t exactly the progressive stylings of a Janelle Monae, but damn if it’s not catchy and interesting.

So, Britney Spears: pop icon or pop puppet, someone with the genuine foresight to see where the winds are blowing or one lucky enough to have a team of handlers to decide which direction she should go in? It will always be hard to tell, even though I’m inclined to lean towards the former considering Blackout had her pushing the pop boundaries years before electronic music was truly a driving force in mainstream culture. Perhaps it’s easier to just say that Britney is Britney and nothing more – someone who is more a distinctive sound and a driving force of sex nowadays than a genuine musical talent. Femme Fatale, after all, is a flawed album, with lyrics that barely clear the level of a Ke$ha and a maturity level to match. But it’s a pop album that’s supposed to make you dance, and when it comes to that, there’s not a star out there that can match Ms. Spears.

 

Britney Spears – “Trip To Your Heart”

Britney Spears – Hold It Against Me

By , January 11, 2011 8:00 am

Fuckin’ Britney, just trailblazing pop music everywhere she goes. I actually had to listen to multiple streams to verify what goes down around 2:05 is legit, but color me surprised. Hello mainstream, meet dubstep.

Britney Spears – “Hold It Against Me”

Taylor Swift – Speak Now

By , October 26, 2010 8:00 am

Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Big Machine 2010

Rating: 8/10

Over 13 million in album sales, multiple Grammy awards, media saturation unheard of since Britney Spears’ heyday, and Taylor Swift still wants us to see her as the proverbial girl up the block. “We got bills to pay / we got nothing figured out,” Ms. Swift laments on first single “Mine,” and if there’s a few of us in the audience rolling their eyes, who am I to blame them? That’s always been the first step in accepting Swift as a legitimate artist and not a prefabricated Top 40 icon, that realization that, for all this girl’s justified success and eye-popping numbers, it’s just this down-to-earth, eerily relatable quality that makes Taylor Swift, well, Taylor Swift. Lady Gaga may have stolen the pop crown by doing everything in her power to mask herself under a veneer of shock fashion and shock statements, but Speak Now has Swift doing just what she does best: being herself, and Swift has come far enough as her own artist to make Speak Now the best pop record of the year.

On its surface, not much about Speak Now is that different from Fearless. Swift still prefers to write about her own broken love stories, the production is still a glossy pop-rock with only the faintest of country tinge to harken back to her roots, and Swift herself is still as dead-to-rights honest as she’s always been. But this isn’t the Taylor Swift of Fearless; millions of record sales and high-profile hook-ups have hardened Swift from the effervescent free spirit of “You Belong With Me” to the regret-filled apology that is “Back to December” and the raw heart and feeling behind “Last Kiss,” a song that would’ve been impossible on a record like Fearless. It’s hard to imagine that this is a girl who has yet to even turn 21, but already has the experience and self-confidence to pen a firebreather like “Dear John” and not sound utterly contrived. These aren’t the musings of an invisible Swedish svengali looking to find some choice lyrics to match to his next chart-topping hit – Swift has seen the world that comes with superstardom, and for all those who complained that Fearless was a one-dimensional teenage love affair, Speak Now takes that experience and wallops the critics with it. Swift can write, and perhaps no song signifies that more than “Dear John,” evidently directed after that man-whore of the female singer/songwriter world, John Mayer. Swift beats the heartbreaker at his own game, throwing darts like “all the girls that you’ve run dry with tired, lifeless eyes ‘cuz you burned them out / but I took your matches before fire could catch me so don’t look now / I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town” while a bluesy electric guitar swells underneath in a ironic parody of Mayer’s own genre of choice.

No longer is Swift rushing blindly into love or advising other girls to look to their futures – hell, it’s hard to believe that Taylor Swift has become jaded enough to pen a song like “Never Grow Up.” It’s the antithesis to Fearless’ maturity anthem “Fifteen,” and it makes a line like “wish I’d never grown up” not the whining of a coddled pop star but the distress of any college-age kid whose realizing that yes, this is real life and they’d better find a plan for it quick before it comes to kick them in the ass. This is Swift’s truest accomplishment, finding that chord in a lyric or hook that strikes a universal note, and pairing it to some of the most gorgeous, effortless arrangements around. Arrangements that, let it be said, stretch Swift’s boundaries more than would seem to even be necessary, but nevertheless succeed in framing Swift’s voice with a punk rock vibe here (“Better Than Revenge”) or a dash of chamber pop there (“Haunted”). And that voice? It just might be the unsung hero behind everything here, showing a remarkably improved power and versatility that many thought lacking in her previous releases. I’m not sure the Taylor Swift of Fearless could pull off a slow burning blues kiss off like “Dear John;” here, she does it like she belongs, standing up in a backwoods bar telling off a dirtbag lover to a sweaty crowd. That signature lilt of hers, meanwhile, that cutesy up-and-down accompanied no doubt by a flicker of the lashes, has never been better, and it takes only perfunctory listens to songs like the title track or “Mine” to verify that this is Swift at the peak of her abilities.

This so easily could have been just more of the same. Small-town pop star makes good, follows up with a safe album to satisfy her legion of fans and critics. Indeed, Speak Now is not something out of the ordinary for Swift, not so out of her comfort zone as to applaud her as a visionary pop artist in the Gaga vein. But will I ever know what is going on behind an artist like Gaga’s façade, or what the hell she’s even thinking at any given moment? This is Swift’s trump card over any pop artist in the new decade, and it’s one that Speak Now uses like a pro. No one has been able to replicate the personal experience so well and so universally as Swift, translating her celebrity loves and fears into the everyman’s experience with the ease of a songwriter with decades of experience on her belt. Swift isn’t able to even legally buy a drink in her home country yet, but I’ll be damned if she isn’t already shaping up as the voice of her generation.

Taylor Swift – “Speak Now”

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

By , August 24, 2010 8:00 am

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Capitol 2010

Rating: 4/10

Dear Katy,

I thought you were different. I used to think your sprightly personality, subtle sarcasm and jabs at more established musicians, and defined sense of style suggested a deeper dimension than your average pre-fab pop star. Despite admittedly simple, straightforward pop like “I Kissed A Girl” and “Waking Up In Vegas” along with lyrics and photos meant to stir up controversy and firmly place you into the bracket of commercial whore, I always thought there was more to you than your run-of-the-mill Ke$ha or Pussycat Dolls. You even sort of look like my future wife Zooey, and that’s always a plus.

I really wanted to like “California Gurls” when I first heard it, although there hasn’t been a more mechanical formula to Billboard success all year – faux anthemic qualities, high-priced “cool” guest spot, vapid lyrics and a brainless melody aimed straight at adolescents desperate for the sing-a-long of the summer. I dared to think Teenage Dream could be one of the better pop albums of the year. And for the first four minutes the title track actually led me on for a bit, a lovely slice of synth pop made even better by Kaskade’s remix tacked on at the end of the album. Then what did you do, Katy? You throw out a song like “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” a song so repulsively crass and soulless that it makes “Dirrty”-era Aguilera look like Mandy Moore. I used to think I partied pretty hard, but you’ve truly upped the ante on me. Maxing out your credit cards, streaking in the park Frank-the-Tank style, and threesomes (nothing screams rebellion like an Eiffel tower)?  I know you’re all for giving the finger to middle American sensibilities and expressing yourself, but when the song itself is about as musically progressive as “Hot Cross Buns,” the focus is squarely on those wretched lyrics. Tell Dr. Luke and Max Martin that that faux-saxophone solo might be the low point of their careers.

I can forgive a couple of transgressions if Teenage Dream redeemed itself with songs that were more than trashy, one-dimensional pop, but, alas, the rest of the album is just as predictable as the VMAs and only marginally more entertaining. I would bet money on “Firework,” with its inoffensive electro beat and massive chorus, on being the next single. I would also place money on “Peacock” never seeing the light of day, primarily because it’s a terrible song with a double entendre so blunt it would make Ke$ha blush but also because it doesn’t exactly flatter Ms. Perry the lyricist (I’m almost 100% certain “cock” cannot rhyme with “biotch” or “payoff,” ever). I get that “E.T.” is supposed to be “space-themed,” what with its cheesy synths and cool sound effects, but lyrically it seems more Alien Sex Files 3 than Solaris. I do like your attempt to be more of a serious artist with songs that just reek of edginess and dark, heavy emotion, songs like “Who Am I Living For?” and “Pearl,” but these are songs that nevertheless would work better in the hands of a more versatile vocalist. Plus, front-loading your record with terrible tracks makes it even harder to get to the (relatively) enjoyable tunes that close out Teenage Dream.

So, sure, I guess you could say I’m a little disappointed in you. You could have been the next Gaga, albeit less talented, less hideous, and certainly less crazy, if only you could direct that don’t-give-a-damn personality and charismatic vibe to songs that didn’t rely on hormone-baiting lyrics and sing-a-longs that collapse on their own frothiness. Maybe don’t rely on producers like Dr. Luke, who shouldn’t have been allowed around any reputable studio after his work on Animal. The potential is all there, and the American public is in the palm of your hand, bought and paid for with your limelight-stealing presence and a Snoop Dogg guest spot. You can do anything you want, so why do you spend four minutes demanding to see my tool? I hope Teenage Dream is just a minor speed bump in your career, because there’s nothing sadder than wasted talent. Get it together.

Katy Perry – “Firework”

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (Kaskade Club Mix)

By , August 20, 2010 1:00 am

So Teenage Dream finally leaked and I can finally listen to what I’m sure will be one of the best albums of the year…but first I had to put this on repeat because it’s an epic mix. Makes me wish I had seen Kaskade back at Electric Daisy Carnival.

Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream (Kaskade Club Mix)”

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