Keith Urban is living a life that most musicians or straight men would kill for. He has put out seven #1 hits in the last four years, his most recent in February, he was just inducted into the Grand Ole Opry this week (a bit late, might I add), he’s married to one of the most beautiful women in the world, Nicole Kidman, and he has two precious baby daughters. So one wonders if Keith is looking towards retirement anytime soon, he is 44. After listening to the Aussie’s latest album, Get Closer, I think he should at least consider a hiatus. The album isn’t bad per se, it has produced three #1’s (only two of which deserved it in my opinion), but it definitely isn’t up to standard Keith.
His record company made some smart decisions in the singles they released from the album, with the exception of “You Gonna Fly” (the song I was talking about not deserving #1 status). The song is very chorus-driven and I somewhat understand what the song is trying to do, encourage a shy person to spread their wings, but it is not executed well. His best single, “Without You,” also a #1, is an emotional ballad about the devotion he has to Nicole and his daughters. It is a theme that has been done before, and it wasn’t done in a new way, but it is so simple and cuts straight to the heart, you can’t help but love it. This is the first of many times I will say that Keith Urban has such an emotive voice, one of the best in country or any genre, that you feel easily connected to his music despite never going through that particular situation.
Of the seven other new songs not released to radio from this album, “Right On Back To You” and “Luxury Of Knowing” could have easily been sent out and would have gone straight to the top of the charts without question. Though “Luxury Of Knowing” is a bit wordy, the sentiment that his woman knows him so well, but he can’t seem to figure her out, is poetic and gorgeous. Just when you think it’s going to be a song about whether he’s not sure if he can stay in the relationship, he begs her to not give up on him. A curveball out of left field in the best possible way. Typically, the best songs are kept away from radio so people will buy the album, but this is a song everyone needs to hear. “Right On Back To You” begins with the sound of a storm, making us think of one of his bigger hits, “Raining On Sunday.” While slightly cliche, a man begging for another chance, the melody and emotion behind the song make it all worth it, especially in the bridge.
The rest of the songs however, are not as good as these. Carrie Underwood said it best on this week’s Top 20 Country Countdown on Great American Country, some songs are just “static” and when you’re supposed to feel something, you just don’t. That’s the way “Shut Out The Lights” and “Big Promises” felt to me. “Shut Out The Lights” is another song about a divorce/relationship ending and how they might think of a solution to stay together if they sleep. THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN! A song where you’re supposed to feel some empathy for the strained couple and I’m empty inside. I don’t think that’s my fault. “Big Promises” is another one of those vague songs that I LOVE so much (sense the sarcasm). There’s nothing specific about why he loves her, or what she does to him, but something makes him want to make big promises. How very non-commital of you Keith. After “Without You” and a boatload of other beautiful songs, I didn’t expect this level of mediocrity from you.
The other songs on here really aren’t worth mentionong. So five out of eleven original songs and four live versions of old songs that are good. And this is a man who was just now inducted to the Grand Ole Opry? I am utterly disappointed. Rascal Flatts recently said they considered retirement because they couldn’t find any fresh music and it was becoming stale. That is until they found their fantastic current single “Banjo.” Keith Urban needs a major “Banjo”-esque hit on his next album or he might as well call it quits.
In what I deem as the “week of Gotye,” I decided to listen to his album in full, after hearing “Somebody That I Used To Know” four different ways on Glee, The Voice and American Idol, plus the original (in my order of preference). When listening to this Belgian-Austalian singer’s new album, Smoke and Mirrors, you can make several comparisons to other artists, but he does it in a way that is somehow unique. The album starts off a little slow, with “Making Mirrors” and “Easy Way Out” combining to a length of two minutes and 58 seconds. They had no effect whatsoever; I listened to them a half hour ago and can’t remember what they’re about. Then comes the monster hit, which if I’m being honest, I haven’t actually heard this version before reviewing this album. I must say, I’m a little disappointed, because after hearing the emotion that Darren Criss and Matt Bomer put into their cover, hearing the original was underwhelming. I believe that Gotye wrote the song, and that the experience actually happened to him, but it doesn’t sound like he cares that much.
Each song ends so abruptly that it leaves you wanting more, yet almost completely satisfied, which I guess is what an artist is always trying to achieve with their music. “Smoke and Mirrors” is a little cliche, but it has a bluesy vibe that I love. There’s a subtlety to the vocals that work on this track, but that show signs of a powerhouse voice that’s itching to come out. He clearly has mommy issues in this song, and he leaves nothing to the imagination about how he feels. In the last minute of the song there’s a random African drum that has nothing to do with the rest of the song, and as I stated before, ends abruptly. It’s so bizarre, but it makes you thinks it’s brilliant.
On “In Your Light” and “I Feel Better” he has a distinct Motown vibe that I wish he would’ve explored throughout the whole album. It showcases the potential of his voice, but is also a good fit for him as an artist. “In Your Light” is a far superior song, that almost sounds like a cross between George Michael’s “Faith” and something Phil Collins would do. It is also one of the first signs that Gotye doesn’t just write angry songs. Best track on the album in my opinion.
“State of the Art” left me puzzled as to what I should say about it. A part of me wants to tear it apart because it is so far outside anything on this album and it was thrown on just to sound futuristic and live up to its name. The effects bugged me, because the voice changer used makes it sound like something a hip-hop artist would do, and that is the last genre I think Gotye belongs in. But if I take it as a song by itself instead of part of the album, it’s very inventive and sounds like something out of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The video below explains the reasoning behind the lyrics and style choices he made on the song (starting at 5:19), which after watching it, make me lean towards Rocky Horror, not hip-hop.
“Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You” makes you feel like you’ve been drugged and this is a song that is being sung to you a you’re being stuffed in the trunk of a car. The last three songs sound like Enrique Iglesias, Sting and Chicago or Survivor, which make for a very interesting mix of songs, voices and themes. I can’t say I know what Gotye was thinking when he made this album, and I doubt anybody would’ve made the choices he did, but this album leaves me wanting more and waiting for the confusion and amazement I’m in for next.
Some time last month, The Ting Tings, a British duo that you swear is two women, but is actually a woman and a man, released their sophomore album, Sounds From Nowheresville. This title is fitting because after listening to it, there is no discernable cohesion to it whatsoever and one should question if they were trying to make an album at all. I think they just got bored and threw some decent songs together and decided to release it to the public. One album under their belt and a Best New Artist Grammy nomination (not win) must allow them to be as free as they want, even if the music suffers. The sounds heard on this album range from forgettable dance and subtle indie-pop to reggae-rap and glam-punk rock.
Songs like “Silence” and “One By One” are the most upbeat yet boring songs that should be ashamed to call themselves dance. Any listener can easily skip over them and not have missed anything significant. “Hit Me Down Sonny” had a very nice 90s throwback feel, but still very modern. With traces of TLC and a little of Nicki Minaj, the rhythm made me groove along with it. As most raps do, as well as some pop songs, the rhymes really drove the song home. The lyrics didn’t have emotional depth, but the hook and repetition of “Speedy Gonzalez” was stuck in my head long after the song was over.
“Give It Back” and “Guggenheim” are alternative rock songs, which is mainly in The Ting Tings’ wheel house. These songs are about empowerment and not needing anyone else to make them a better person. “Give It Back” is an angsty song about broken love and how the woman will get on with her life without the man who dumped her. “Guggenheim” is an anthem for all of those who want to pursue their dreams, but someone was holding them back until recently. My favorite thing about “Guggenheim,” besides its craziness, is that it can sound like The Supremes one minute in the verses and be punk in the chorus.
The airy pop songs like “Day To Day” and “Help” show off not only Katie White’s pretty good vocals, but they show versatility. The feel of both songs is very similar to something done by Marie Digby or Lisa Loeb. When listening to “In Your Life” I heard Christina Perri, specifically the song “1000 Years,” one of her emotive tunes about lost love. This song stood out to me as being the most unique in sound, because although there are different genres on this album, most of them you could tell it was the same singer, except “In Your Life.” It had a sophistication I had not yet heard, and it was a breath of fresh air. It made White sound like an adult who was taking her career seriously instead of a child who was outspoken.
Where in the past I have written off repetition as something that should not be done because songwriters should think of something more clever, on this album it worked. “Soul Killing” had a haunting chorus that reminded me very much of P.O.D’s “Youth Of The Nation.” The singing kids on this 2001 song drove the point home, and while it didn’t quite have the same effect for “Soul Killing,” it was a nice touch. And finally, “Hang It Up” basically repeated those lyrics numerous time in its chorus, but in a way that was far less obnoxious than most other songs. While there are four different remixes of the song on the deluxe album, a bit excessive in my opinion, the song is good enough to warrant an early placement on the album (the same cannot be said for “Silence”).
I don’t have a clever title for you this week readers, because after listening to Happy To You by Swedish-American trio Miike Snow, I don’t feel happy or enthused to be very clever. As my title does suggest, there were some bright spots in an otherwise snoozefest of an album. I thought electro-pop was supposed to be, oh I don’t know, poppier, and make you want to dance. On the first track “Enter The Joker’s Lair,” I thought I stepped into a psychedelic Willy Wonka concert with the Oompa Loompas taking lead vocals. The beats and very strange music had me turning around every few seconds, thinking one of those clowns in a haunted house was going to attack me. There wasn’t much to the lyrics; apparently the protagonist didn’t remember where he was, but knew something bad happened. And that same thing was repeated a few times, with no story progression, and only about half the song had lyrics. The other “music” in the song was reminiscent of either an ice cream truck going down the road or one of those children’s arcades. Advice for the song: don’t lure kids in with inviting sounds, then teach them to get drunk or high enough to not remember if something bad happened the previous night.
Songs like “The Wave” and “Vase” I can hear being semi-hit singles, at least on the radio stations that strictly play this genre of music. The echoing vocals and the cooing on “The Wave” give it nice layering and provide some depth to a song in a genre that might not necessarily have depth. The second verse has profound lyrics about finding your identity when you’re told you don’t have one, and the metaphors used are spot on. The heavy drum throughout the song give it nice attack and make it one of the most memorable songs on the disc. “Vase” reminds me of one those “bad” 80s songs you can’t help but love. It’s catchy and infectious, but doesn’t make very much sense. I thought at one point the song was talking about some sort of oppression, but it veered off as quickly as it was introduced. I had to listen a second time just to see if I could get the drum beat down, because it confused me (don’t worry, I got it).
Length of a song was a problem for some of these tracks, like “God Help This Divorce” and “Archipelago.” The former could have been a decent song, the main character admitting how he screwed up and ruined the marriage by not letting his wife spread her wings. That’s love song gold! About halfway through the four and a half minute song, I was bored. In “Archipelago,” there is a certain homage to singer-songwriters who do it for the music, not the fame. When Miike Snow sings “crack his head…,” undoubtedly the most powerful line in the song, I felt nothing, and continued to feel nothing for the rest of the song.
“Black Tin Box,” possibly the best song on the album, has a refreshing yet haunting sound. Miike Snow all of a sudden turned into Blue October and added the much needed sound of Lykke Li. Once again the song references a relationship, and somehow the longest song on the disc didn’t make me lose interest once. The futuristic sound, something you might hear when a UFO appears, is leaps and bounds better than the beginning of the album. If the entire album were like this song, I would’ve enjoyed listening to it much more than I did. While there were some hits, there were also considerably more misses. Instead of making me happy, it made me indifferent.
The debut album of One Direction, a British band and third place finisher on the UK’s version of the X Factor, feels like they released two albums. One album, the first seven songs is terribly nauseating, while the second, the final six songs, are passable at best.
It becomes clear quickly that the harmonies of this group are very boring and monotone. While listening to “What Makes You Beautiful,” you wish they showed off a little more vocal range instead of sounding like robots on autotune. Then when you hear “Gotta Be You,” you retract that last statement and wish you could erase that horrifying falsetto from your memory. Every theme in these songs are exactly what a bad bubble gum pop song contains, teenage love and sappy lyrics that nobody ever believes for a second because it’s usually not real. While listening to “One Thing,” I was confused and angered. It talks about this girl having one thing different than all others and that’s why the protagonist loves her, but it never explains what it is. When young people who hope to fall in love listen to this song, it will give girls a false sense of pride if they think they have the “one thing” or frustrate girls who don’t think they have it and convince them they will never fall in love. Then it will make boys set incredibly high standards, that probably will never be met, about the woman of their dreams. One Direction crushing the dreams of teenagers all over the world ladies and gentlemen. Disclaimer: I am not against love by any means, in fact just the opposite. I just think if love songs are to be sung properly, they should be sung with at least an ounce of feeling. Note to music producers: Autotune does not create feeling, it hinders it.
For a song like “More Than This” I just have one thing to say. Please see “All I Have To Give” by The Backstreet Boys. Same goes for “I Wish” and N’ Sync’s “Girlfriend“. They are the same damn songs except the songs not by One Direction are significantly better! Before explaining how much I hate “Tell Me A Lie,” I must reference my earlier critique of being realistic. Even if a relationship is ending, DO NOT TELL LISTENERS TO LIE ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS! This song is everything not to do in a relationship, even a terminated one, if you want it to end even remotely on a good note. And finally, “Up All Night”. I saved this one for the last of my evicerations because this song is where good music comes to die. The worst lyric involves Katy Perry and something about the DJ shaking the walls. And this was the supposed hook of the song because it felt like it repeated a thousand times. I can’t ever get that three minutes and twelve seconds of my life back. I almost punched my computer screen to make it stop, but then realized I had to write this blog.
I know I’m just a measly college student blogger, but can I beg a record producer to make a very talented singer-songwriter, one with actual feelings, re-record “Taken”? It is the best song on the album in my opinion, and would be served so much better by a great singer. Hell I’d take BBMak, a better Brit band than One Direction, on this song, because they’d at least do an ounce of justice to it. Even though the songs are better as the disc goes on, they falter to one fatal flaw, repetition. Apparently these songwriters had absolutely no creativity because they use recycled themes and the same words over and over. I guess they didn’t take their own advice after writing “Same Mistakes,” because they made them. The “club beats” on some of these later songs are relatively listenable, but that means nobody pays attention to the lyrics. Why couldn’t they have saved us the trouble and put those on the first half of the songs too?! I’d take moderately dancing over almost puking any day of the week.
After losing X Factor, and in my opinion third place was way too high, they made their version of a British Invasion in the United States. Aren’t invasions supposed to be a bad thing? It certainly was in this case. We already have Justin Beiber and The Jonas Brothers to torture us, they can go back to the UK and make them cringe in pain over there.
In honor of it soon being the month that St. Patrick’s Day falls in, and just because she released the album this week, I decided to review the newest release from Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?. You may remember her from her Pope picture-ripping incident on Saturday Night Live, her most recent on-again off-again marriage, or her memsmerizing rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which is her biggest hit. She ironically mentions her marriage in the first few songs of this album, obviously not knowing how it would turn out. “4th and Vine” is a good leadoff track, reminiscent of a little Florence + The Machine in sound. However, it seems like it was a “fun” track for O’Connor, and not something she could sink her teeth into emotionally. When someone talks so nonchalantly about getting married, that’s usually not a good sign. “Reason With Me,” the best track of the first half, reminds me of her biggest hit in many ways. It takes on a very bluesy feel though, and it makes the listener feel sad that she needs the person she’s singing about like a drug and she’ll do anything to have or keep that person. “Old Lady” talks of the future she forsees with her new husband and how she can be herself around him, which is sad in a different way, knowing what we know about the possible breakup of her fourth marriage. One thing Sinead is good at early in the record is channeling other artists, such as The Cranberries, on “Old Lady.” “Take Off Your Shoes” can give you nightmares, but is so enthralling that you can’t turn it off, for which I was successful at the three-minute mark of this entirely too long five-and-a-half-minute song. “The Wolf Is Getting Married” is by far the best balance of music and vocals, and they blend perfectly. It was the first and only song where I listened to the background more than the vocals. “Queen of Denmark” is the movie Juno meets random episodes of screaming. She wasn’t afraid to piss anyone off with that song and it seemed like it came from the most honest place. The best song doesn’t always mean it’s my favorite, and “Queen of Denmark” is my favorite song on this CD. “V.I.P.” is once again creepy and parents don’t let your kids listen to that song before going to bed, because they won’t sleep. Other tracks not mentioned here are so forgettable they aren’t even worth listening to, but overall it was a very decent attempt at a comeback.
I’m switching it up a bit this week by reviewing a television show about and containing music, rather than a CD. Glee, a show about a high school show choir, went Spanish this week with their episode “Spanish Teacher,” guest starring Latin Pop superstar Ricky Martin. The premise of the episode is one of the show’s main characters Will Schuester is a Spanish teacher and his abilities have been questioned by a student of Spanish descent and a glee club member, Santana Lopez. Schuester goes to a night school Spanish class taught by Martin’s character David Martinez.
Martinez is introduced to the glee club by singing an extra-creepy, biilingual rendition of “Sexy And I Know It” by LMFAO. I’m no prude, and I didn’t have a problem with the sex episode earlier in the season, but the suggestive lyrics and intense gyrations made this number hard to watch. Sugar’s push-ups and Rory’s hand gestures put it over the edge. And while I can respect trying to integrate multiple languages into some songs, it didn’t work for this one, or “A Little Less Conversation,” which had so many offensive stereotypes in the performance, they don’t even bear repeating. Vocally, “Sexy” didn’t do Ricky Martin justice, but the only redeeming quality of “Conversation” was that Matthew Morrison actually sounded pretty good.
Songs that did work in bilingual form were “Don’t Wanna Lose You” by Gloria Estefan (sang by Amber Riley’s Mercedes) and a mash-up of “Bamboleo” and “Hero”, by the Gipsy Kings and Enrique Iglesias respectively (sang by Chord Overstreet’s Sam). The songs were important in each one’s character development, because they are professing their love for each other through song, while Mercedes is still involved with her jock boyfriend Shane. Mercedes sounded especially good because she found the sweet spot of her voice that’s not over the top, but still powerful enough to let you know, in her words, she “ain’t no Kelly Rowland.”
However, the best performance of the night by far had to be “La Isla Bonita” by Madonna, and sang and danced beautifully by David and Santana. With this performance, I almost forgot her and Brittany were dating, because her chemistry with David was phenomenal. The song worked as a faster tempo, almost dance club song. And since there were already a few lines of Spanish in the original, adding a few more seemed very natural. The visual performance was able to highlight Naya Rivera’s dance ability, which is overshadowed always by Heather Morris (Brittany) and Harry Shum Jr. (Mike).
I liked the fact that Will was able to give up his job as the Spanish teacher to the more experienced teacher in David, while still maintaining what he’s good at, teaching glee, and all the while learning it through music. A little cliche, but it has an important meaning behind it. Will needed a storyline, and he finally got a good one. Until next week!