Speaking of music, as I went back to link up the Worst Song Ever section of the blog to my last post, I noticed I haven't picked any "worst songs" in about a year. A year. Which means, I think, that I've been surprisingly successful at eliminating especially lame music from my listening base! Thank you Pandora! And Thank you, Pulse 87!
Still, listen to New York radio for extended periods - as I do in the car - and it's hard to deny that they're still out there: examples of dreck so lame and so weak, you have to run, screaming to something, anything else.
And so... it's time. Let's dive back into it (but don't forget the Ground Rules):
- Miley Cyrus, The Climb. For what it is, I've never completely dismissed Cyrus or her music career; since she burst on the scene as Hannah Montana (similar to Clark Kent no one can tell Hannah is secretly a pop star... because she wears a blonde wig), Cyrus has provided her share of tuneful ear candy. But this overblown ballad from The Hannah Montana Movie does more to play up her limitations than her strengths. Cyrus' thin, slightly tuneless voice and often somewhat flat singing work better in the mechanical eighties pop and "riot grrl lite" tracks which made her a star than a traditional pull out the stops ballad. The song is all buildup and no particular climactic payoff - she certainly can't deliver it - and the message of "it's all about the climb" rather than reaching the top of the mountain is actually something of a pointless downer. Cyrus is never going to be a belter - or for that matter, Taylor Swift - and hopefully someone will get her to stick to what her producers do better - formula pop with a rough edge.
- Kings of Leon, Use Somebody. In recent years there's been an unironic return to the power of male solo singing; at the height of the Boy Band craze it was virtually impossible for a grown man to succeed as a solo act on the popcharts. And the real engine for changing that, I think, was American Idol: after early seasons of fey singing from the likes of Justin Guarini and Clay Aiken, the show broadened its search to include more passionate male rock gsinging, probably cuminating best in Chris Daughtry, perhaps the most successful of their non-winners... as well as the recent finale successes of David Cook and Kris Allen (and his competitor Adam Lambert). Of course, now the needle is veering the other way, and so we get... Kings of Leon, to remind us that oversinging and a bad rock power ballad are a deadly mix. Indistinguishable from bland Idol "winner" songs, Use Somebody has allowed the band - four albums in - to finally cross from alt rock to the pop chart... but the debatable qualities of oversinging and so-so lyrics have been with the band all along. And if you think it's no big deal... remember, we're still stuck with Nickelback.
- Nickelback, If Today Was Your Last Day. I mean... does it really ever change with these guys? Isn't the whole raspy, urgent quality of Chad Kroeger's color-by-one-number vocal beyond predicatble? If today really was your last day... is that what you'd want to spendit listening to? I thought not.
- Mariah Carey, Obssessed (original version). Since Carey fled her marriage and her record label, made bad movies and had a meltdown... things have never been quite the same. Oh, she's managed to resume her recording career with The Emancipation of Mimi and E=MC2, but something's seemed a bit ... off. Often, it's her clothes, but never mind; it does (they do?) nothing for me. Perhaps that's why "Obssessed" seems so weak - compaining that someone (Eminem, by all accounts) is too fascinated with you when you seem determined to have that effect, is at least somewhat naive. But the real drag is that the song's repeat of what's been working for Carey for a while... breathy vocals over a hip hop beat which is heavy on the base goes beyond tired, and the "what did she say?" aspect of trying to hear her lyric is mostly frustration for no payoff ("like you bathing in Windex"? Seriously?). Carey's a strong singer - perhaps the strongest working - and capable of much more, and it's dispiriting to see her go through the same tired motions when the payoff is essentially "sex kitten on my own terms." That's hardly emancipating... and no, it's not even interesting. Though the remix, I should point out, actually is interesting, and ought to be the real story here.
- Black Eyed Peas, I Gotta Feeling. Perhaps it was the Fergie solo album, or the ubiquitousness of Will.I.Am showing up everywhere during their "haitus", but didn't the "break from the Black Eyed Peas" tend to underscore how unnecessary they were, rather than make the heart grow fonder? As much as Elephant provided a kind of exuberant, anything goes notion of upbeat pop and dance, most of the lyrics were light as air, and the basic message "whoo hoo, let's party!" hardly amounted to a powerful statement... and it's been downhill ever since. And the fusion of rap and singing, while interesting, has been well eclipsed by further hybridization across rap, hip-hop, dance and pop. "Boom Boom Pow" wasn't much to write home about, though at least "I'm so 3008, you so 2000... and late" was brilliant trash talk. I Gotta Feeling is even less, not really a song, with instantly forgettable exhortations to jump up, go out, and have a ball. If it takes this much energy and effort to get people motivated to go out... and your best payoff is "and then... we'll do it again"... I think you may have managed to underscore how lame the club scene can get, these days. I get the feeling it's over... and we should probably just move on.