Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
One theme I noticed this year, at least with my list, is an appreciation for bold single choices. Although Girls Aloud is one of the poppiest groups ever, this was a very curious choice. At almost seven minutes long, Untouchable is the longest song the girls have ever recorded. I was stunned that such a mammoth song was put on a Girls Aloud album. I was even more taken aback when it was selected as a single. Sure, it was trimmed for radio, but the song is still very epic. Starting soft, Untouchable is a master class in build-and-release. When Nadine begins to wail at the end of the song, she creates one of the most dramatic musical moments this year.
Well, I had a hard time here. Both Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling had amazing showings this year. Although the Grammy committee may disagree, I find Boom Boom Pow to be the better work. Bluntly, this song is weird. There are some sound effects that I’ve never heard before. The lyrics are meaningless but the beat is IN. SANE. Somehow everything manages to work together to form something odd but extremely enjoyable, even without a mazel tov reference.
I’ve had an issue with Lady GaGa. I’ve always felt that her off-the-wall artistic persona did not match her music. For all the insane fashion choices, I still thought her recorded work was pretty standard pop fare. Until Bad Romance. This was the first song where I felt like her music and her style were more congruent. Because, again, this song is weird. The “Ga ga ooh la la” and references to Alfred Hitchcock are simultaneously disarming, ridiculous, and very catchy. Let’s see where she goes from here.
Yes, this song has been out for only a few weeks. Nevertheless, I feel confident declaring this one of the best songs of the year. I don’t count December releases for this list, so the fact that Kelis dropped this in the final days of November just barely qualified Acapella. I tend to have a stiffy for quality reinventions. Clearly Kelis has gone from R&B bad girl to potential disco queen. I can’t wait to see what 2010 has in store for her, because this is a slice of pop perfection. Gay clubs, beware. Kelis is coming. And on one final note, singers, this is how she spells the title of her song. I’m not making a typo.
Ms. Swift has had quite the year. Her sophomore album, Fearless, was the highest selling album of the year (well unless Susan Boyle keeps her momentum up) and she had some incredible singles. None was better than this, which showed that Taylor is one of the best songwriters in the business today. The lyrics are amazingly relatable and the hook is strong. Paired with one of the most adorable music videos of the year (sorry Kanye, did you even bother to watch this?), it’s clear that You Belong With Me is her crowning achievement.
Remember what I was saying earlier about reinvention? Well, this is another example. Shakira went from Latin goddess to electropop princess with this twitchy, strange track (on a side note, I also have a stiffy for bizarre songs this year). I prefer the Spanish version, so for those that don’t know what a loba is, I’m referring to She Wolf right hurr. And let’s be honest. As kitschy as the wolf howl is, you know you love it.
Miranda Lambert is my musical Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nobody wants to give her a fair chance but the few that have generally find that her music is varied, heartfelt, and funny. Country music haters may never give her a listen, but they’re missing out. To fully appreciate her, I recommend listening to an entire album to really see the depth of character to her songs. However, this track is one standout. It’s a mature, poignant look at a dying relationship. Plus, Lambert sings the hell out of it.
Considering I just reviewed this song for my blog and gave it five stars, I don’t have a whole lot to add. This is such a brave single choice. It’s too angry for radio. It’s too slow for the clubs. This would normally just be a standout album cut. However, Rihanna chose it as her declarative musical statement after the Chris Brown incident. And wow, does it pack an emotional punch. Somehow in the course of four minutes, Rihanna manages to come across strong, vulnerable, resolute, and frightened. This is powerful stuff and proves that Rihanna is a fully-fledged, mature artist. I’d say this gamble was successful.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good build. The layering on this song is amazing. Just when you think the song can’t pulse any more or that Karen O can’t wail any harder, the song manages to surprise you. Discovering this song was one of my successful ventures outside of the mainstream. What did I learn? I found that a good hook transcends genre. I could hear this song on Hot 100 radio. Sadly, genre conventions won’t let it get there. They’re a zero.
Despite all of my proclamations that I’m exploring new music and discovering new artists, at heart I am a huge sucker for a great pop song. It doesn’t need to blow me away lyrically and it doesn’t have to break new ground sonically. As long as the hook is strong, the singing is genuine, and I can’t get the song out of my head, then it’s a success. To me, this is the single best piece of pure pop this year. The chorus just steamrolls you. Kelly sounds fantastic on it. And although this isn’t lyrically brilliant, I do love that the word “suck” managed to make its way into a song title. It’s got a piece of me, and honestly, my life would suck without this song. OBVIOUS PLAY ON WORDS!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Maybe you can blame All About Steve for this, but I did not expect The Blind Side to work. From the previews, it looked like Sandra Bullock was putting on a cheesy accent and starring in another chick flick. Yawn. Yet, when push came to shove, positive reviews and good word-of-mouth convinced me that maybe this movie was worth watching. So, instead of seeing the depressing story of a black teenager forgotten by society (Precious), I opted for the wholly uplifting story of a black teenager forgotten by society. Let me say, you’d have to be one of the most cynical people alive to leave The Blind Side unaffected. It’s a charming movie that defies expectations and gives Sandra Bullock the chance to shine. And boy, does she shine.
Based on the second sentence of this review, you’ve hopefully deduced that The Blind Side is not a traditional chick flick. Rather, it is a sports biopic that has more in common with Remember the Titans than The Family Stone (ok, I had a hard time thinking of a reasonable chick flick parallel…but that further proves my point that this is not a chick flick). The movie centers on Leigh Anne Tuohy, played with grit and charm by Bullock, and Michael Oher, played by newcomer Quinton Aaron. Leigh Anne is a socialite who takes Michael under her wing after she sees him walking home alone in the freezing cold. Michael has just entered into a new school, but shuts himself off from those around him. Per usual, I won’t go much further into the plot, but the core of the film is the relationship between Leigh Anne and Michael, and director John Lee Hancock plays it out beautifully.
My biggest gripe with the movie is its tendency to play things a little bit too optimistically. Michael’s troubles are not substantially delved into and any of the challenges that the family faces are overcome easily and without a great deal of sacrifice. The family’s immediate acceptance of Michael is believable given the performances and script, but since this is based on a true story I wonder if the reality of the situation was a bit more difficult. This movie was built for the holiday season, so I suppose imposing a bit of the Hollywood formula is to be expected.
All that being said, the film is amazingly inspirational. Not only is Michael’s journey out of poverty very motivational, but also Leigh Anne’s commitment to Michael shows a strength of character that should inspire many people to be generous this winter. Bullock really does a wonderful job making Leigh Anne seem like a real person. For the first time in her career, I forgot that I was watching Sandra Bullock. Not all the time, mind you, but there were moments. An Oscar nomination might be too much to ask for, but I think she deserves all of the critical attention she has received thus far. Aaron also does a nice job with Michael. He plays him very reserved, a gentle giant of sorts. But he opens up as the film goes on and Aaron makes his character changes seem very believable. Finally, it was a treat seeing Kathy Bates appear towards the end of the film in a small, but important role.
So, go see The Blind Side. I think movie criticism these days has veered towards rewarding films that are particularly artistic or inventive. Perhaps The Blind Side sticks with convention for most of the film, but it is convention executed in the most effective manner. It reminded me that a predictable film can still soar if it is filled with wit, charm, and good performances.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
5. Paper Planes-M.I.A.
When it comes to alternative music crossing over to the Hot 100, it doesn’t get any better than this. I’m sure M.I.A. was more surprised than anyone else when this gunshot-toting gem hit Top 10 on the Billboard charts, partially propelled by Pineapple Express. If you had asked me three years ago if a Sri Lankan rapper could release a song about the mistreatment of immigrants and have a hit, I would have spit on you. I guess I was wrong.
4. Hollaback Girl-Gwen Stefani.
Haters, you’d better cope. Because this song, for all its gaudy ridiculousness, inspired a trend of over-the-top jams. Fergie probably wouldn’t have a career without Hollaback Girl. This song was the first digital download smash, breaking new records on the iTunes charts, and taught a legion of kids how to spell. Correctly. Even Fergie doesn’t do that.
3. Hey Ya!-Outkast
It was this or Bombs Over Baghdad, and I like this song better. Either way, Outkast had a profound impact on the rap crossover movement and this song is one of the highlights of that transition. Plus who doesn’t love shaking it like a Polaroid picture?
2. Get Ur Freak On-Missy Elliott
I officially declare this Timbaland and Missy Elliott’s magnum opus. I don’t just mean the best collaboration they had, but rather the best thing that either of them ever created. The best rap song of the decade, to this dude, and hopefully to several others. Plus this was when Timbaland really started to take off.
1. Beautiful-Christina Aguilera
I chose this song for its message. Self-love is the most important kind of love and, although the point of this song is simple, it said something that many young people needed to hear. This guy included. Seeing someone present a music video that showed gay love as acceptable was powerful and hopefully the other body image declarations were equally inspiring. This may not have changed popular music like many of the other songs on this list, but it said something so succinctly and powerfully that I think it is the most important musical work this decade.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
It’s very clear from the first beats of She Wolf that I am not listening to the Shakira that I’ve come to know and love. It seems that Shakira has traded her blatantly Latin beats and influences for twitchy eletrcopop. Although this switch might disappoint some hardcore fans, this reinvention is a good thing. She Wolf is a remarkable pop album, because of the way each of its nine songs (twelve if you include the translated songs) work together cohesively to redefine Shakira’s sound while still remaining true to her previous efforts. Don’t worry, Shakira hasn’t gone anywhere. She just sounds a little different
On She Wolf, Shakira is constantly on the prowl. Sex is a very prominent theme of the disc, and Shakira rhapsodizes the subject with her signature vocal ticks. She coos, growls, moans, and whispers her way through various lusty situations. On the title track, Shakira claims that all women contain wild animal that’s itching to escape and ravage unsuspecting men. On the excellent second single, Did it Again, Shakira chastises herself for succumbing to a dangerous man, yet it’s clear that she loved every second of passion with him. What elevates this from a Flo Rida song is that Shakira, no matter how love hurts her, seems to be in charge of her sexuality. She never preaches dependence. A she wolf needs no man.
As I write this, I do feel like there’s one potential exception to the point of my previous paragraph. The final song (before the Spanish translations kick in) is Mon Amour, an extremely spiteful song about Shakira’s ex-lover. She cries that she’s “fragile” and that “you broke my heart.” This might seem like a contradiction to what I just wrote, but the real message of the song seems to be that even though he broke Shakira’s heart, he’ll come crawling back to her. She won’t subvert herself to him. However, the real reason I bring this up is to segue into another important aspect of this album: the lyrics.
When the title track was released as the first single, I instantly preferred the Spanish version of the song. The lyrics were more poetic and logical. I was unimpressed with the awkward phrases in the English translation. However, I realized that this “kitschy” English was a constant theme of the disc—one that I appreciated as a deliberate effort. You see, to the American market, Shakira represents Latin flavor. However, a good deal of that has disappeared from the production of these tracks. A few retain some instrumentations and phrases that evoke older Shakira songs, but most do not. In other words, the lyrics constantly remind the listener of Shakira’s Columbian roots. Mon Amour is this most extreme example of this. “And every night I pray that you don’t knock her up/cause I still want to be the mother of your child.” Somehow Shakira’s delivery makes that line seem a bit awkward—entertainingly so. Moments like that remind the listener of Shakira’s foreign origin.
Overall, She Wolf is odd, sexy, and ultimately very entertaining. To me, Shakira has finally proven that she can conquer the world in both English and Spanish. All hail the She Wolf
Rating: 4/5 stars
Savage Songs: Loba, Did It Again, Gypsy, Spy
Thursday, November 19, 2009
10. Crazy in Love-Beyonce
It would be foolish to deny Beyonce’s musical influence this past decade. From her Destiny’s Child roots to her movie career, Beyonce has dominated pop culture in many different ways. Picking her best moment is almost an exercise in futility, because there are so many options and it’s hard to go wrong. Although Single Ladies and Say My Name were both strong contenders, I could not ignore her first single. Crazy in Love dominated 2003 and helped elevate Beyonce from Desinty’s Child front-woman to international superstar. It’s also a damn good track. Those horns…they’re inescapable.
9. Since U Been Gone-Kelly Clarkson
She-rock had a very strong showing this decade. Avril Lavigne and P!nk both made some excellent tunes that showed tougher women could dominate the pop charts. Now, Kelly wasn’t always a badass. After winning American Idol, she was poised to be America’s Sweetheart—the likeable Texas girl with strong pipes. Although Miss Independent hinted at her rock leanings, it wasn’t until she cut loose on this song that she really showed some new depth. Additionally, this song is further evidence that Max Martin is a musical god.
8. Try Again-Aaliyah
Timbaland wasn’t always the production monolith he is today. In the 90s he was just beginning to break into the mainstream and had a few hits here and there. Most of those revolved around his muse: a young R&B princess with a smooth voice. This muse may not have been the strongest singer or the most emotionally available, but something about her hypnotic delivery sat well with Timbaland’s beats. Yes, Aaliyah managed to bring something out in Timabaland’s music that very few could. This song is perhaps their greatest collaboration and a sad indication of Aaliyah’s potential had she lived longer.
7. Maps-The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
When it comes to music outside of the mainstream, I don’t think it gets much better than this song. Even though it’s very lyrically repetitive, the instrumentation and layering perfectly captures the anguish that Karen O is trying to convey. The guitar line is incredible and this song manages to portray heartbreak more minimally and effectively that almost every pop song this decade.
6. Biology-Girls Aloud
This is probably the least influential song on the list, particularly in the United States, but it is also the most perfectly crafted and interesting pure pop song this decade. Taking a leaf from the Supremes, the structure of this song is subtly atypical. It takes two minutes for the chorus to hit. The beat is an odd mixture of Europop and Muddy Waters. It seems so mashed together that you’d think it would never work as a song. Yet, somehow it does. Brilliantly.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Single Review: Russian Roulette
Rihanna’s new single was, sadly, met with apathy. As a Rihanna fan, I understand her fans’ disappointment. They expected something catchy and danceable in the vein of Disturbia, SOS, or Umbrella. Instead, Rihanna’s upcoming CD is being preceded by a barely midtempo song with some of the most depressing and intense lyrics ever recorded. This song has little hope of commercial viability. It would be a buzz-kill in a club or on the radio. The references to domestic violence are so thinly veiled that only a real idiot wouldn’t pick up on the allusion. Perhaps the pure emotion of the track will grab listeners, but this choice of single was a huge gamble. And yet, I love it. There’s a genius to this song that I will do my best to sort out here.
When it comes to the subject of domestic violence, I find this song can be seen as a bit of a paradox. I applaud Rihanna for releasing a song that so clearly evidences the emotions of being trapped in an abusive relationship. The interplay between her fear and her determination to complete this “terrible game” completely ties to what I understand are common emotions of women in abusive relationships. I feel both her desperate desire to escape and simultaneous unwillingness to do so. Yet, I can see how some would argue that this doesn’t quite send the right message to women in a similar situation. In the song, Rihanna chooses to play Russian roulette. She doesn’t walk away.
However, the gunshot in the final seconds shows how Rihanna is destroyed at the hands of the game. Although she emotionally cannot escape, it’s clear at the end of the song that she should have left while she could. I think this song will emotionally resonate with many people and hopefully those individuals will correlate staying with someone physically and emotionally abusive to playing with a loaded gun. In the song, Rihanna chooses the more common path—the path destined for tragedy. She makes her decisions based off of the same emotions that the abused men and women experience. Anyone who saw the picture of her post-beating knows where her path ended. Hopefully Russian Roulette makes the abused see a little more clearly how important it is to leave an unhealthy relationship. Thank God Rihanna had the courage to pick this song.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Alexandra Burke is the next big superstar to come crashing out of the X Factor machine. Although the show is currently working to produce its next star, this former winner is working to win over the UK and (hopefully) the world. She’s just released her debut album, Overcome, and it’s already hit #1 in the United Kindgom following the success of her amazing single, Bad Boys. Does this album deliver? In essence, yes. However, like most debut albums aimed at chart domination, its lack of coherence and artistic identity ultimately make it a safehaven for strong singles as opposed to a disc worthy of critical acclaim.
All that being said, a near majority number of the songs on Overcome have massive potential. I’ve already expressed my feelings on Bad Boys, the lead single from the disc. The fun does not stop there. Good Night Good Morning is a sexy midtempo song about finding that special someone for a night of intercoursing, The Silence is an epic ballad of Biblical proportions (yes that was sacrilegious), and All Night Long is an electropop song that’s extremely catchy. Etcetera. By the way, I’ve just referred to the first four tracks on the album. I could list every song on the CD and laud their pop and R&B sensibilities. However, that would get redundant. Let me just pick a few highlights. Broken Heels is an infectious club number about female empowerment with a chorus that will haunt you for days. You Broke My Heart is a bit of a soul throwback about a relationship that has gone sour. If you’re going to start somewhere on Overcome, I’d start there.
Additionally, Alexandra’s voice is in great vocal voice (to quote the esteemed Paula Abdul). Although not all of the tracks afford her the opportunity to wail, she does when she can. The aforementioned song The Silence shows that off, as does the title track. Her instrument vacillates between smooth and husky, vulnerable and soulful. She may not have the polish and maturity of more seasoned performers, but she definitely has the raw talent. I’m excited to see how her singing develops in the coming years.
With all this said, Overcome sounds more like a greatest hits CD than an album. Sure, that’s a compliment to the songs, but Alexandra beach balls between styles so often it’s a bit disconcerting. One minute it’s electronic, then it’s R&B, then it’s 60s throwback, then it’s piano ballad, and on and on. There is no cohesion and no sense of who Alexandra is. It’s vapid concoctions like this that mark the death of albums. I enjoy listening to most of these songs and I could even enjoy listening to them in succession, yet it’s so highly commercialized that it almost hinders one’s ability to relate to the material on a personal level. Say what you want about Taylor Swift, she at least has an artistic identity.
Well, those are my two cents. Sample the songs on iTunes or YouTube and download your favorites. There are many to choose from and a lot of them are great. There’s just no sense in going for the whole album because you don’t gain anything by doing so. My rating is generous out of respect for the overall song quality, but I am personally disappointed that this disc represents the sad future of albums in the music industry.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Savage Songs: Bad Boys, The Silence, Broken Heels, You Broke My Heart
Well, I think it’s close enough to 2010 that I can publish this list without risk of repercussions. If one of the best songs of the decade comes out in the next two months, I’ll eat my words and you can laugh at me. Anyway, this list is a pretty fair hybrid of subjectivity and objectivity. There are hundreds of songs from this decade that I think could be included on a “Best of the Decade” list. So, whittling that group down inevitably includes a degree of subjectivity. That being said, I tried to pick songs that were the strongest representations of musical trends from the past ten years. Admittedly, some of my personal biases crept into the list. In fact, I would say that the most subjective choice is the number one song. Well, without further ado, here is the start of my list.
20. We Belong Together-Mariah Carey
I’ll say it. In a subjective world, this song wouldn’t have made my list. However, considering how many epic musical comebacks occurred in recent years, I thought it was important to highlight the song that epitomized perhaps the most successful return in the 200Xs. Since Britney never truly left and Whitney is still trying to get off the ground, I think the Mariah’s 2005 CD, The Emancipation of Mimi, marked the most dramatic comeback I’ve ever seen. Multiplatinum sales, eight Grammy nominations, and a slew of hit singles all prove that this diva did it right. Ignore her lagging sales and impish boyfriend…four years ago, she had it right. This song was the biggest and best part of that. Perhaps the needy undertone of the song highlighted her urge for public approval. Whatever the case was, the American audience lapped this up. Comeback achieved.
19. Don’t Know Why-Norah Jones
I have no idea how this song became popular. Utterly mellow and seemingly fit just for adult contemporary, somehow this song managed to charm both critics and consumers alike. Although the song only peaked at #30 on the Hot 100 chart, it’s still a pretty remarkable feat considering how unfit for pop radio it is. Combine that with the fact that most people know this song and it’s hard to deny that the tune wormed its way into ubiquity.
18. SexyBack-Justin Timberlake
Let’s be real. There were a lot of JT songs worth considering. Between the spiteful Cry Me a River and the inventive My Love, Justin really made his mark on this decade. And let us not forget his meaningful *NSYNC contributions. However, given this decade’s tendency towards reinvention (see Nelly Furtado and, again, Mariah Carey) I thought it was appropriate to pick the best reinvention song of them all. If the cover of Future Sex/Love Sounds shows JT smashing a disco ball, this song is the musical equivalent of such an action. It’s an exciting meld of hip hop, pop, and (for lack of a better term) futuristic beats. I know this song offended Prince, but I think I have to go with JT on this debate. Sexy left. Justin brought it back. And how.
17. Bleeding Love-Leona Lewis
I would like to take this time to talk about Ryan Tedder. The One Republic front man may be a bit of a one-trick pony with song writing and production (a fact most hilariously emphasized by comparing Already Gone and Halo), but damn. It is a great trick. I don’t think one person got so much mileage out of one idea since the Saw franchise started. When looking at the Tedder discography, there is one clear choice for the alpha dog: Bleeding Love. There’s a perfect meeting between Leona Lewis’s empty deliver and the lyrics about being, well, drained empty. The touch of hip hop made the song all the sweeter.
16. Toxic-Britney Spears
One of my good friends in high school, who I would describe as an indie music snob, loves this song. Don’t get me wrong, I love some B-Spears, but she is so clearly a consumer product that it’s almost obnoxious. However, this song was so well produced and written that an indie snob loved it. That’s all I need to say.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Movie Review: Zombieland
Woody Harrelson’s character in Zombieland, a man that goes by Tallahassee, is pretty simple minded. He likes to enjoy the little things in life, whether it’s driving a Cadillac, eating a Twinkie, or railing on a ravenous zombie with a banjo. Much like Tallahassee, Zombieland doesn’t have a whole lot of substance. However, again drawing a comparison with Harrelson’s character, that shouldn’t suggest that Zombieland isn’t a great deal of fun and a thoroughly entertaining movie. It is, simply said.
All that considered, Tallahassee is not the film’s main protagonist. It’s a young boy named Columbus, (played by Jesse Eisenberg, doing his best Michael Cera impression) who has learned to survive on his own by being extremely paranoid and self-dependent. A classic movie nerd, Columbus has had limited and awkward experiences with girls and does not show a great deal of self-confidence. Enter the supremely confident Tallahassee. You can probably guess how their relationship develops. Then two badass sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, (played respectively by super hot Emma Stone and super young Abigail Breslin) show up and serve to further develop Eisenberg’s character.
The plot isn’t terribly unique. Based on those previous character descriptions, you can figure out how things develop. Rather, the plot fills in gaps between the movie’s main draw: killing zombies. Yes, as you can probably guess, Zombieland is a fanboy’s fantasia—a symphony of blood, guts, and violence, all executed with a comedic tone. Hedge clippers, sledgehammers, and even pianos play a part in defeating zombies. The overly theatrical violence evokes feelings of Tarantino in some brief instances. Now, comparing Zombieland to a Tarantino is probably blasphemous, but the treatment of violence is definitely comparable. For a movie that could be rife with suspenseful scenes, Zombieland tends to avoid those moments and is more content as a grotesque comedy. To that end, the movie succeeds remarkably. The laughs come frequently and the violence is disgustingly hilarious. The movie certainly delivers on its promise.
So, if you’re looking for two hours of fun, zombie killing, and an unexpected (yet brilliant) celebrity cameo, Zombieland is the film for you. If you’re hoping for something else (I don’t know why you would be), then go next door and watch The Invention of Lying. From this reviewer’s perspective, Zombieland is a riot even if it doesn’t have much of a message. But to be fair, I didn’t really think I’d be getting one. It’s that simple.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Saturday, October 3, 2009
If there’s one artist I wish people would take a chance on, it’s Miranda Lambert. For the third time in a row, she’s created a CD that expresses a range of emotions through incredible craftsmanship, witty lyrics, heartfelt singing, and slick production. Even more impressively, she manages to do this while maintaining one of the strongest artistic identities in the country genre. Her unique brand of defiant feminism makes another blond reality show winner seem like a cardboard cutout. No name-dropping here, but you can probably guess the reference.
The title of her third LP, Revolution, is both a misnomer and the perfect name for this album. Upon learning the title, I assumed I would be in store for the same defiance and rebellion Lambert’s superlative second disc, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, exhibited. Alas (or fortunately), Revolution takes Lambert’s sound in a softer and more mature direction. Granted, her personality shows through, but she’s grown up now. Love, loss, and relationships are treated with a greater degree of nuance and subtly. The lead single, Dead Flowers, laments a relationship that does not seem to quit. “I feel like the flowers in this vase/He just brought ‘em home one day/Ain’t they beautiful, he said/They’ve been here in the kitchen and the water’s turning gray/They’re sitting in the vase, but now they’re dead. Dead flowers.” It’s this sort of powerful imagery and creative writing that makes Revolution feel like a more even and complete CD than any of Lambert’s earlier efforts.
That being said, the only slight disappointment is that Revolution doesn’t contain any songs that are as dramatic as some of the best moments of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This time, there aren’t any bar fights, yet Lambert does manage to inject her special brand of spunk on a few numbers. Only Prettier is a kiss-off to some sort of rival. Perhaps is a political statement, perhaps it’s a message to a certain blond singer, and perhaps it’s just directed at anyone. The writing is good enough to translate the song to a variety of situations. Her choice to cover That’s The Way the World Goes Round also shows her feisty side.
I do have to say, I think I prefer Revolution for its artistic consistency. Two of the best songs Lambert has ever recorded appear here, yet they’re both subtle and elegant—characteristics that didn’t apply to her previous works. Heart Like Mine has Lambert accepting her flaws with dignity and a bit of humor and The House That Built Me is perhaps one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this year (or ever, for that matter). With Revolution, Lambert shows that she’s the real deal. This is one carnival ride actually worth taking. Get the hint?
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Savage Songs: Dead Flowers, Only Prettier, Heart Like Mine, The House That Built Me
Monday, September 28, 2009
Furthermore, Circus is similar enough to Blackout that it doesn't really seem like we're getting a reformed Britney with this album. Extravagant production, robotic vocals, and sexual suggestion permeated her last album. If this is her chance to break free from her past and show the world that she's in control again, it sure isn't happening musically. Hell, the closest thing we've ever had to a confessional from Britney occurred on Blackout (Piece of Me). I think my biggest frustration is that I was really rooting for Britney to pull her act together and show the world that she was ready to be a superstar again. As her most recent live performances have shown, she is taking baby steps towards success, but she isn't quite ready to be in the public eye. If this album were given another six-eight months to perfect, I think Britney easily could have had the comeback she deserves. Unfortunately, this is too little too soon.
Now, I understand that I've been judging Circus (up until this point) based on it's release date and relationship to a previous album. Admittedly, that isn't a very objective way to review an album. From this point on, I'll focus my thoughts and opinions on the individual songs and the way they work together on the album. Honestly, I like the album and think it's nothing that Britney should be ashamed of. However, I don't think it has the impact that Britney's career needs at this point.
Circus, by Britney Spears, is a pretty good album anchored by about five or six great songs. By now, most people have heard the album's best track: Womanizer, the catchy single that proves that lyrical diversity isn't a prerequisite to infectious pop (Although, Gimme More proved that already). It's hard to find fault with a song that has set download records and is Britney's first #1 single in about a decade.
After Womanizer, it's obvious that Britney has front-loaded her album with all of the strongest tracks. The title number is a potential dance hit, and slated to be her next single. She's tapped the director of the video for I'm A Slave 4 U, so I have high hopes that this video will be a success. As far as the actual song goes, it does effectively sum up that which is Britney: "All eyes on me in the center of the ring/just like a circus." Considering what a spectacle her career has been, it's clear why this track and album equate her life to a circus. It's just a letdown that this song values style over substance and doesn't dig a little bit deeper with the message. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. This is Britney Spears, after all. At the very least, this should be a hit.
There are two other tracks that jump out as dance hits: Kill the Lights and If U Seek Amy. Although Amy is clearly the better track, it's probably too lewd for radio airplay (and if you don't know why, I'm not telling). I think that bodes well for Kill the Lights' future as a single, however the song strikes me as a more upbeat and less meaningful version of Piece of Me. We get it, the paparazzi sucks. However, we're dealing with Britney Spears here. Does it really matter what a song is about if we can dance to it? Isn't that all she really wants?
Apparently not. Two ballads appear on Circus, which is the biggest different from Blackout. Out From Under is a surprisingly effective song, and perhaps one of the strongest ballads of Britney's career. With the proper music video, this could be a huge hit. If the video shows how the lyrics of this song could represent Britney's personal life and her struggles, then I really think people would respond well to it. "I don't wanna feel the pain/What good would it do me now?/I'll get it all figured out/when I'm out from under." However, Brit is only batting 50% with her ballads on this album. My Baby is a dreary piece that is meant to be an ode to her children. It evokes the feeling of Everytime (rightfully so, because both songs have the same producer), but lacks the lyrical power of that song. Instead, My Baby contains such moving quotes as "my baby boo" and "I smell your breathe/it makes me cry." Gross. The latter quote sounds like it would be more effective as an insult. The only positive aspect about this song is that Britney actually appears to be giving a genuine vocal performance. It barely convinces me that she cares about her kids. Barely. However, that doesn't mean I want to listen to it. If Britney would take this vocal and apply it to a song that doesn't sound like Dear Diary 2.0, then she could have a hit (Note: I actually like the song Dear Diary, despite it's cheesiness. However, I think the fact that she was a teenager when she recorded that made it seem more legitimate).
The rest of the album is a bit of a mixed bag. Blur and Unusual You take Britney's sound in a new direction, which could have made for an interesting album concept. Unusual You is particularly good, but probably doesn't have the hook to make it as a single. Mmm Papi and Mannequin seem very average. Mmm Papi actually has a pretty catchy beat, but the second you pay attention to the lyrics, things get weird. Is the song about a lover? Her actual father? Either way, I'm uncomfortable. Also, who says "lovey"? Lace and Leather is enjoyable for its bass line, but that novelty wears out after about a minute of the song. Shattered Glass is another potential single, but with the obvious choice of Kill the Lights and my personal hope that Out From Under makes the cut, I'm not completely optimistic that Shattered Glass will get the attention it deserves. None of these songs are complete disasters, but nothing jumps off the page.
Here is the bottom line. Circus is a return to the classic Britney formula: An album with very clear singles, a few above average tracks, filler, and the obligatory cheese factory ballad. However, if Britney really wants to bounce back, she'll have to try harder than this. Nevertheless, this isn't a weak Britney album by any means. The songs are great for dancing and the hooks are well crafted. By itself, Circus is on par with the Britney albums of years past. However, I wouldn't call it a comeback just yet.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Savage Songs: Womanizer, If U Seek Amy, Out From Under.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
With all that could have gone right, where did Jennifer’s Body go so wrong? I mean, the movie had so much going for it: A script by Diablo Cody, a role that Megan Fox was born to play, and rising star Amanda Seyfried. When the red band trailer came out, the movie looked incredibly promising. It seemed to be a dark comedy of epic proportions, ripe with catty dialogue and biting social commentary. Then the theatrical trailer was released and I began to worry. You see, the new trailer played the movie off like a horror film. Unfortunately, my instincts proved to be accurate. Jennifer’s Body should not be a fright flick and its biggest downfall is the way it amateurishly adheres to some of the conventions of horror movies. Granted, the desired dialogue and commentary is there on a basic level, but the movie tries too hard to be too many things all at one and falls short on every front.
Let’s start with the good. Overall, the movie has some funny moments. Many of Megan Fox’s lines are priceless. Her character, the titular Jennifer, is crass and offensive without any regard to those around her. Many of the moments with her and Needy (Seyfried’s character) at school showcase Cody’s penchant for dialogue. Additionally, I do think the movie manages to strike some chords/universal truths with its messages…youths are desensitized to violence, some people will pay any price for fame, female empowerment, etc. Blah blah blah. I just can’t help rolling my eyes because these themes are presented without any subtlety and yet manage to have very little impact. I think the reason for that comes from the biggest flaw with the film. Without further ado, see the next paragraph!
Wow! Diablo Cody may be able to write dialogue, but homegirl really needs to work on her storytelling abilities. There is absolutely no suspense in the movie because you immediately realize who’s behind all of the killings. One would think that revealing the killer so early on would make the movie about, oh I don’t know, the comedy and commentary. Yet, the film still tries for suspense and unsurprisingly fails. Hell, the first scene of the movie gives away the ending. Yep, most of the movie is a flashback. NO SUSPENSE!!! There’s no terror! This movie could have easily ramped up the tension and fright if it so desired. Also, Ms. Cody, if you’re reaching for social commentary, try further explaining Jennifer. It’s never clear whether or not her actions are motivated by her or the demon within. Is she trying to expressing her teenage desires with the strength and brutality of a monster, or is the monster controlling her? That would have been nice to know. Also, Needy’s transformation seemed a bit abrupt and underdeveloped. Just saying.
The real bottom line is that I was entertained. However, I couldn’t decide if I was laughing at the movie or laughing with it. In some instances, the dialogue is so over-the-top it seems unintentionally hilarious. I think the movie would have been best served to reject all horror movie conventions and play all of the scenes in a comedic manner. Perhaps Cody set out to create a camp classic. Perhaps she succeeded. However, the muddling mess of a story makes me think that Juno was a fluke and we might have a one-hit wonder on our hands. Did screenwriting kill the Megan Fox star?
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Monday, September 21, 2009
Hello, criticism fans! It’s been a little while since I’ve written something, but I’d like to think I’m back with a vengeance. The creative juices are finally flowing, and it’s not just because I had Olive Garden for dinner last night. I have several things I want to say, but I’d like to start with some TV reviews. Instead of busting my balls to write a full review of new TV shows, I think I’m just going to write one long entry that addresses several TV treasures (or trash heaps). Without further ado, here are my snap judgments of fall TV ’09.
Read my review for more thoughts. Rating: 4.5/5 stars.
Ditto. 3.5/5 stars.
Ah, another CW remake is taking shape. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be pulling in the ratings that 90210 is managing. Fortunately, it’s off to a much more promising first season than its comrade. With murder, prostitution, theft, and bitchy dialogue, Melrose Place is definitely somewhere I’d want to move in. 3.5/5 stars.
Of course, Heidi and Tim always seem to make it work. Even with Michael and Nina constantly MIA and a generally blah cast of designers (both personality and talent-wise), somehow our German bombshell and gay Oprah manage to still create consistently entertaining TV. Even on Lifetime. Rating: 3.5/5 stars.
Now that Projway has said auf Wiedersehen to Bravo, Top Chef is the new alpha male. As a new Top Chef fan, I have to say that I’m really enjoying this season. The challenges are interesting and the chefs are compelling. My personal favorite is Jen, the bitch who knows it and works it. Sadly, it seems like the top five chefs are extremely obvious at this point, so some of the dramatic tension is lacking. However, it’s still mouth-watering television. Rating: 4/5 stars.
Parks and Recreation
I don’t think there’s a show that I’m rooting for more adamantly than Parks & Rec. I’m rooting for Amy Poehler’s sitcom to truly hit its stride and become as hilarious and compelling as its ancestor, The Office. It is definitely making baby steps towards becoming a surefire hit, but it’s still pretty tentative at this point. The laughs are hit-or-miss, and some of the tertiary characters need to be fleshed out more. That being said, the show is still very new so I’m optimistic. Rating: 3/5 stars
The Office came back in fine form this year. The premiere was touching, outrageous, and involved many of the side characters who had been benched in recent seasons. To me, I’ve always thought showing more Kevin, Angela, Meredith, Kelly, etc. is the show’s ticket to comic gold and I think this season seems to be on that path. Rating: 4.5/5 stars.
So far, Community is runner up for the award for most promising season premiere (I’m technically counting Glee’s premiere as a part of the tail end of last season, so there's another first place prize). The characters seem quite varied and the writing is extremely snappy. It also seems to be a show that has slightly more sophisticated humor, so the audience might actually have to think in order to get some of the jokes. That’s what makes 30 Rock and Arrested Development so great. Perhaps Community is on that path? Rating: 4/5 stars.
Modern Family just inched out Community for my favorite premiere. This show is ripe with laughs and relatable characters. I think I about peed myself with the Circle of Life came on. If you watch the premiere, you’ll know what I mean. Rating: 4.5/5 stars.
The Vampire Diaries
Sadly, I might not be able to watch this show as consistently as I’d like. It conflicts with too many other programs and I might lose touch with it as the year goes on. However, I will do my best to keep up with it based on the first episode. Granted, the originality factor is missing because this show is Twilight minus the bad acting plus great dialogue. Yet, any show that references “tranny mess” deserves bonus points. Kevin Williamson might have another hit on his hands. Rating: 3.5/5 stars.
Well Upper East Siders, our favorite chic debutantes are back at it again. This time, at college. Although Serena, Blair, and company don’t get to school until next week, there was a bit of good drama this week. However, it seems like the storylines are running in circles and the show could use a good dose of originality. Perhaps college is the ticket? Rating: 3/5 stars.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
At this time last year, I thought the CW’s remake of 90210 was one of the worst shows on television. The characters were flat. The storylines were clichéd. The acting was atrocious. Look at how far we’ve come. 90210 has gone from one of TV’s biggest disappointments to a must-watch show. If the show’s season premiere is any indication, TV audiences are in for a wild ride this year. Without giving away the plot, the first forty two minutes of 90210 featured sex, alcohol, infidelity, teenage motherhood, lying, stealing, inappropriate texting, and sexting (sex texting). Talk about drama, no?
Well, the most noticeable difference is the dialogue and the acting. The characters on the show seem to pop off the screen more because their lines are filled with wit and life and the performers are much more seasoned. AnnaLynn McCord is particularly devilish as Naomi, the bad girl you hate and love at the same time. She’s manipulative, conniving, horny, and takes particular joy in telling one lady that women over fifty shouldn’t show off their arms. However, she’s emotionally vulnerable and is very human. Glee, take note. Ms. McCord, please come to the podium to accept your award for most improved performance.
It also seems like the show has repositioned Naomi, Silver (Jessica Stroup), and Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) as the alpha females. Given that Adrianna was the most interesting character last season, Naomi has developed—character wise, not boobie wise—a great deal, and Silver is no longer crazy, I think this is a wise move…especially since Shenae Grimes is the most insufferable actress on the show and her character, Annie, is currently miserable. The dynamic between those three ladies is really great and their banter is particularly enjoyable. Unfortunately, this is 90210. In the pilot, Adrianna claims that she doesn’t want any more drama in her life. In this zip code, drama in unavoidable. We’ll see how this happy trio holds up because it looks like the seeds of future strife were deftly sown in the pilot. I’m oddly proud of that last sentence.
As always, the show’s biggest downfall is its tendency towards the same plot lines. Naomi and Annie are friends. Then they’re fighting. Back and forth. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they’re buddies again. To pontificate upon that, the show does seem on the predictable side. Newcomer Teddy is Adrianna’s ex-boyfriend but Naomi likes him. Drama. I’m going to predict now that he’s more interested in the third member of their trifecta. Mark my words now. Although thematically there’s a sense of familiarity, the other improvements make the show exciting and somewhat fresh.
So, if you wrote off 90210 after last year, I don’t blame you. It was craptastic. However, I think that zip code is worth one more trip.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Fox is brilliant. By teasing millions of people with the pilot of Glee, the network’s most promising new show, Fox managed to mount a maelstrom of enthusiasm for last night’s season premiere. Twitter was abuzz with posts about Glee, Facebook was abuzz with posts about Glee, and my pants were abuzz because I think Matthew Morrison (who plays teacher Will Schuester) is super hot. All in all, people were excited.
However, did the show live up to its expectations? Overall, I would say yes. The show delivered some great musical numbers, particularly Lea Michele’s interpretation of Rihanna’s Take a Bow. Indeed, Michele is blessed with the best voice on the show so it should come as no surprise that her song stood out. The group’s version of Push It was hilariously raunchy and their take on Golddigger was very funky, despite Morrison’s tendency to over-enunciate the rap lines. A valid concern that a friend pointed out was that the musical numbers are very obviously recorded. It does tend to be a bit distracting and seems only to serve as an advertisement for the tracks on iTunes. Perhaps in later episodes they’ll give the music more of a “live” feel. Half of this last paragraph is the intellectual property of ALR, but I fully agree.
The show seems to be setting itself up for some promising storylines. The tension between Quinn, Rachel (Michele’s character), and Finn will no doubt provide some great moments. Additionally, the burgeoning relationship between Jayma Mays’ Emma and Will has to eventually cause marriage problems for Will. It’ll be exciting to see where that goes. I would like to see the other Glee members more fully developed, but a few other reviews have indicated that the show will explore the other characters more fully. The students are the heart and soul of Glee, because they're the ones we're rooting for and they're the ones who are struggling through high school.
I have two small criticisms that I hope the show addresses. First of all, I feel like a few of the adults are becoming caricatures. Jane Lynch, who is delicious wicked as the Cheerios coach, may become a bit one-note if her character’s motivations aren’t explained. She’s evil, and Lynch has some of the best lines on the show, but I think her character could use a bit more depth. The same could be said for Jessalyn Gilsig, who plays Terri Schuester. To be blunt, she doesn’t resemble any real human beings I’ve ever met. I think she could, quite easily, if we get to learn more about her backstory and what makes her tick.
My other worry is that the show might have a hard time sustaining itself. The concept seems to lend itself much more easily to a movie than to a TV show. Hopefully the songs and storylines will stay fresh. Nevertheless, the show right now is a clever, heartfelt, and musical delight. It definitely keeps me full of glee.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Monday, September 7, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
I started writing my review of Whitney Houston’s I Look to You three times. Each time, I was unhappy and had to start over. One time I did not think I was writing well enough. Another time I got tired of thinking about the CD and deleted my progress in frustration. Once I wished I had a stronger opinion about the album. So it goes. Each time, I was thwarted by the same realization: This album just does not inspire me. It's a bit sad, really. I find the uptempo numbers well-produced yet uninteresting. I think the ballads are well-sung but not particularly well-written. Overall, I think that I had really high expectations for Whitney’s return and I was rewarded with a serviceable album. The metaphorical crack to the cocaine of Whitney's earlier efforts.
Sure, Whitney isn’t an album artist. Almost all of her CDs are stuffed with filler and three to four amazing singles. Perhaps I Look To You has less filler, but it also lacks any surefire radio jams. The album’s opener, Million Dollar Bill, is the song most likely to tear up the radio waves. Nevertheless, I find myself skeptical that it will really take off. As a good friend described it, “it sounds like an Alicia Key’s reject—which it is.” My friend is pretty wise when it comes to music, and I find myself agreeing with him. The song is objectively catchy, but to revive a career after a seven-year hiatus, you’d think it would need to hit a bit harder.
Another Whitney staple is the bombastic ballad. Here there are two: I Look to You and I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. I’ve already made my thoughts clear on I Didn’t Know My Own Strength in an earlier review. I Look to You isn’t much better. I find I Look to You to be more melodic, but it doesn’t solve any of the problems presented by I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. The lyrics are horribly vague and Whitney’s voice isn’t what it used to be. In some cases on the CD, it works to her benefit, adding grit and soul to an otherwise pedestrian track. However, when she reaches the bridge on both of these songs, it’s painfully clear she can’t sing like she used to.
Yet, through all of my frustration with this CD, there are a few gems that show promise for Ms. Houston. The best of the lot is Salute, the album’s final number. With the ballads, Whitney basically hits us over the head saying how difficult things have been these past few years. The self-referencing is obvious, yet the emotional substance is lacking. With Salute, it seems like she’s just recording a song about a love gone wrong. Somehow, though, it hits harder that she might have intended. Clearly Bobby B is the one she’s saluting. Also, I Got You is a surprisingly enjoyable song because it has a unique reggae vibe that suits Houston pretty well.
As I mentioned earlier, there really isn’t filler on this album. Each track has some value, even the ballads. To that end, the material here is better than a typical Whitney album. However, without huge singles and her pristine voice, this just doesn't feel like Whitney. How uninspiring.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars.
Savage Songs: Salute, I Got You, Million Dollar Bill
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
So, Inglourious Basterds reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. How, you say? Easy. If you draw a parallel between Quentin Tarantino’s body of work to the entire run of Buffy, Inglourious Basterds is like the sixth and seventh season of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s magnum opus. Although those seasons were stronger than most everything else on television, they didn’t quite compare to Buffy’s earlier (and superior) offerings. I suppose that’s just an elaborate way to say that I didn’t think Inglourious Basterds was quite as good as Taratino’s other films (Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction in particular), but it was still one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. However, I’ll use any excuse to make a Buffy reference. Deal with it.
Before I get into my justifications, let me quickly describe the plot for those who haven’t seen the film. Essentially, Inglourious Basterds is a film that serves as a vehicle to punish Nazis. The Basterds are a group of Jews led by Brad Pitt that capture Nazis, torture them, and kill them. Another plot line involves Shoshanna, a Jewish girl who escaped slaughter at the hands of Hans Landa, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz. She plots revenge against the Nazis. Finally, the British are also trying to take down the Nazis. Got all that? Basically, all of these plots to eliminate Nazis culminate in a final showdown at Shoshanna’s theater. Phew. Let’s move on.
In typical Tarantino fashion, the movie juggles outlandish violence with long scenes of dialogue. Tarantino is famous for his banter, so most scenes are particularly effective. There are two notable scenes with Waltz that are unbearable tense and brilliant. However, the pacing of the violence and dialogue is slightly uneven. There are long scenes involving Shoshanna and an unwitting Nazi soldier that do not hold up to Tarantino’s usual standard of excellence. The entire development of the film is back-to-back dialogue, from the last scene of the Basterd’s brutality until a stunning scene set in a bar basement. More effective Tarantino films have played with the temporal order of the movie to create a more even sense of pace. Part of me wishes he had employed that here.
As for the plot, it really just serves to set up the grand finale, which is a smorgasbord of brutality. The last chapter of the movie is exciting, suspenseful, tragic, funny, and very bloody. However, I did have a moral qualm with the ending. I really do not want to spoil anything, so let me just say this. Tarantino, especially in the past, has very successfully established the moral compass of his characters. In situations of extreme violence, the perpetrator is either someone very evil or something very justified in doing something outlandish. However, in Inglourious Basterds, there was a great deal of carnage that I didn’t quite find necessary. I cannot say more without feeling like I’m giving too much away. If you want to see a Tarantino movie that is all build-up to a huge payoff, check out Death Proof. Somehow (for me) three girls in a Dodge Challenger facing off against Kurt Russell provided more catharsis than all of the slaughter at the end of Inglourious Basterds.
So, the movie builds up to the final act. Perhaps, to some, the long stretches of dialogue were necessary or consistently enjoyable. However, I found a few scenes to be excessive. Perhaps a more morally digestible ending would have made the lead-up seem more appropriate. It’s hard to say. The bottom line is that Inglourious Basterds is extremely well-shot, acted, and directed. The dialogue is generally excellent and the movie provides a satisfying experience. However, I expect more from Tarantino because I know he’s capable of slightly better. I left the theater content, but not exhilarated. Things were better when Uma Thurman was involved. Do you think that’s an appropriate parallel for David Boreanaz?
Rating: 4/5 stars