Archive for April 2012
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.