Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Quarterly Report - Singles

New rule: if I've seen it on at least a couple of mp3 blogs, it's fair game.

1. Pink: "So What." What a weird career this chick has had: great liquid Destiny's Child synth&B into confessional sub-Indigo Girls dogshit into Try This, the amazing third album that nobody bought, the one where she wrote half the songs with Tim Armstrong and came closer to nailing an honest-to-God punk/teenpop fusion than anyone since. And then she jumbled all three phases together on an uninspired fourth album, but she scored on a fluke single about jerking off, the only reason she still has a career. And now this: every strain of that weirdo showoff personality smashed into a delirious Max Martin banger of a breakup track, one she now has the swagger to pull off. I always liked Pink's voice; she outsang Christina Aguilera on that Moulin Rouge song by not oversinging every note, just straight-up wailing it instead. And "So What" is a near-perfect distillation of everything I've ever liked about her: goofy self-deprecating fart-jokes, borderline embarrassing self-disclosure, cartoony cheap-seats shamelessness, huge stomping beats, bloopy synths, gratuitous references to more-famous blond chicks, an anthemic widescreen chorus, and a general willingness and ability to turn what I can only imagine is genuine personal misery into something fun. Heroic. And the video is on some golden-age-of-MTV shit, so bonus points there.

2. The Gaslight Anthem: "The 59 Sound." Pretty much everything I said about the album yesterday holds for the song: strained-roar vocals, chunky guitars, all that good shit. But then there's the added caveat that this is the saddest song I've heard in a good long while. It's about a friend dying, about hoping he got to hear his favorite song one last time on the way out. The "ain't supposed to die on a Saturday night" coda just kills me. I'm sentimental like that.

3. Sugarland: "Already Gone." Speaking of sentimental, this is some top-shelf Nashville country power-ballad mush right here: Jennifer Nettles realizing she's made all the same mistakes her mom made, feeling powerless to stop any of them, knowing you've got one foot out the door all the time. It's formulaic as hell, of course, and in this case that's a strength: the big elegiac build, the swollen lighters-up chorus, the bit at the end where Nettles howls the chorus while the dorky mandolin guy brings the first verse back. It's the details in songs like this that always get me, and one line in one of the quiet bits just fucks me right up: "Pictures, dishes and socks / It's our whole life, down to one box." I'm noticing a pattern here: I get older, and my resistance to unabashed corn like this erodes further and further. Just a beautiful song.

4. Keri Hilson: "Turnin' Me On [feat. Lil Wayne]." Polow's beat is eerie and minimal and repetitive, all menacing empty space like the Pack's "Vans" or something. Except he keeps adding these little pieces throughout, like a barely-there synth-twinkle on the second verse or a tuba-fart thing right before the second chorus. A beat like this works just perfectly for Hilson, whose voice sounds best when it just hangs weightless. She's not a robo-diva type like Ciara or something, but she's got this really subtle snap to her voice, and a beat like this just lets her hooks sink in. Another big plus: Wayne's awake for his guest-verse, not exactly something we can count on these days. "Someone better play the fence, someone better tell em bout me / Baby I'm the shit and that's the only thing you smell around me." Lil Wayne smells like shit. Good to know. If Keri Hilson is not one of the biggest stars in the world by one year from today, the major-label system is officially irreparably broken.

5. Ciara: "High Price [feat. Ludacris]." Another rapper-assisted R&B-chick song that should be huge if her label isn't asleep at the switch. I guess Ciara doesn't want to be a robo-diva anymore, huh? This isn't one of those slow-crawl bangers like "Oh" or something. The beat is all smeared digital rumble, but Ciara goes all over-the-top operatic, singing total brag-rap lyrics in this absurdly theatrical alto. Also she says she looks softer than a McDonald's burger bun, and those things really aren't all that soft. Just a really weird and unexpected move, and it works for reasons that I can't begin to comprehend.

6-10: Kanye West: "Love Lockdown"; Capone-N-Noreaga: "Follow the Dollar"; Asher Roth: "I Love College"; Taylor Swift: "Love Story"; TV on the Radio: "Golden Age"