A site where I get to complain about music I don't like.
I think I can go ahead and call myself a Kanye West fan. His five albums are all some of the best albums released in the last 20 years, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy currently being my no. 1 album of the decade so far. But so far, I must say I’m cautiously optimistic about his next release, the presumptuously titled Yeezus. With its bizarre cover art and debut songs that are very far from the norm, it’s at least bound to be interesting.
This is Kanye’s first album following his relationship with Kim Kardashian, and this worried me at first. I was afraid that Kanye would make a typical terrible I-got-a-baby album, filled with inner reflection and trite melodies. But based on the cover as it is known now, it looks like we’re getting nearly the complete opposite. There does seem to be the reflection, with the songs taking a more conscious turn, based on the titles “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”. But rather than relaxed beats, the music is harsh and loud, particularly on “Skinhead”, which is closer to Death Grips (an awesome Experimental Rap group you should check out) than to anything on the charts at the moment.
I definitely enjoy both the songs currently known after appearing on Saturday Night Live, particularly “Skinhead”, which is one of my favorite songs of the year. But what I’m anticipating the most is how these songs will sound on the album itself. Kanye is one of the best producers working today, so hearing these songs in a fully mastered form could really make the album a classic. However, you can only truly judge an album when it is finished and released. Who knows? Maybe the rest of the album really is as trite as expected. I doubt it though, since it would be weird to have two abrasive tracks surrounded by ballads. I think it’s safe to expect at least one “I’m a father now” song on there.
So overall, you could consider me hyped for this album. I doubt it will be as good as MBDTF, but than again what is. At the very least, it’s always exciting to see an established artist try something new with their music. And whether it’s amazing or terrible, you can expect me to review it when it’s released on June 18th.
Well, I’m back from watching the new Star Trek, and today, I feel like talking about one of the older and more bizarre pieces of Pop Culture connected to the series. Today, we’re looking at Leonard Nemoy’s “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, and why it really is what a song should be.
Simply put, “Bilbo Baggins” is fun, and is nothing more. It’s goofy and joyful, and is that a problem at all? People snarking at this song on the internet really are missing the point of what a song should be. The song tries to be fun, and succeeds. It doesn’t try to be meaningful, and it isn’t. It doesn’t try to be tearful, or triumphant, or grandiose, and it’s not any of these things. So why complain about it not being these things? You don’t judge Michael Bay for not being Orson Welles. This is an enjoyable song, and nothing more. And that’s all it should be judged on.
There seems to be a genre every decade that serves as the “up-and-comer”, the genre that starts to develop into the most important music of the time. The 50s had Rock ‘n’ Roll, the 60s had Garage Rock and Psychedelia, the 70s had Heavy Metal and Punk, and the 80s had Rap music coming into major prominence. After The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” popularized Rap in 1979, it was only a matter of time for a Rap album to be the first to top Billboard’s album charts. And what was the first to achieve this feat? A Rap-Rock album by three Jewish boys from Brooklyn. So today, we’re looking at that album, The Beastie Boy’s Licensed to Ill.
1. Rhymin’ and Stealin’
It’s rare to have an opening song sum up an album so well. Over samples of “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin and “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath, MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D rap about how awesome it is to be pirates. Does anything else really need to be said. The song is a perfect representation of how a song can be simultaneously ridiculous and completely awesome. It’s not meant to be taken seriously, and that’s what makes it work.
2. The New Style
With the second song the album, The Beasties highlights exactly what they were about in their early days. They weren’t the genre-bending icons they would become; they were mocking the stupid fratboys that were common at the time. The song also highlights the simpler production style common in many songs on the album, primarily based on one drum beat and a guitar chord. It’s all incredibly basic, though it does change for the last minute to a slower beat. It’s not required listening, but it’s still just a fun jam.
3. She’s Crafty
Continuing with the style of “The New Style”, the album continues with the silly, intentionally obnoxious style, set over an awesome guitar sample from “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin. The song really does function as a continuation of “The New Style”, and the album wouldn’t be any worse off without it. It’s not bad, it’s just kind of weak for the album so far.
4. Posse in Effect
And now we get a calmer version of the production work, based on more horn samples while still based on the drums. The second shortest song on the album, the song has length on its side, ending before it can get obnoxious. And I guess it would be good to mention The Beastie’s biggest strength, the work between each member for the verses. Each member constantly trades off lines between each other, showing the group dynamic that really was their best asset. And they show it off to marvelous effect throughout, particularly here.
5. Slow Ride
Showing a funkier side to the album, the song sample “Low Rider” by War, highlighting Hip-Hop’s place as a spin-off of Funk, serving as the underground form of Dance music at the time, as shown by early Hip-Hop’s fetish for sampling old James Brown singles. Anyway, the song isn’t really great, but it’s certainly fun, and it’s also a short song, so it still avoids annoyance.
“Girls” could be the best song ever written by anyone ever. The whole song is effectively high-speed Doo-Wop about troublesome girls (a reoccurring theme), over the goofiest piano ditty ever created. There’s no reason to hate this song. It’s perfect.
7. Fight For Your Right (To Party)
And here we have what would end up being the defining moment of the album. “Fight For Your Right” is the perfect summary of what the Beasties were, rapping about hating school and mom throwing away your porno mags. The song is a parody of the frat boys mocked throughout the album, over a stereotypical “I barely play guitar so I can pick up girls” riff. Sadly, it became popular with these people, coming to represent what it mocked. Technically, this song is probably the worst on the album, but it’s so infectious, it’s hard not to love it. Even if the solo is complete shit.
8. No Sleep Till Brooklyn
The other big hit off the album, “Brooklyn” serves as another “bro fist-pump” anthem, designed to get a crowd pumped and ready, over a great riff and some of their best raps off the album. The song is still dumb compared to what they would become, but it just serves as a big goofy song, almost designed to be played by a crappy High School band trying to be tough for the talent show. Together with two solos by Thrash legend Kerry King of Slayer, you got the ultimate in Frat-Rap.
9. Paul Revere
“Paul Revere” is a remarkably weird song, especially for such a landmark record. Telling the story of how Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock first met in a Western story of running from town on a horse and then stopping at a saloon that gets robbed, and I guess forming a band at some point, the three rap over a woozy beat consisting of a bass line and a hi-hat. The story is ridiculous, and the song does get kind of tiring, but it’s just charming.
10. Hold it Now, Hit It
Probably the weakest song on the album, “Hold it Now” comes off as a overbearing mashup of too many samples and rhymes. The song seems to stop and go randomly throughout, never forming a consistent melody and just turning into a mess. The major theme of the album is not giving a shit about life and having fun, but the album definitely could have benefitted from a form of cohesion, or at least stay on one element for a long enough time.
11. Brass Monkey
“Monkey” is another example of a song that shouldn’t work, but just does. Formed over a skonky horn riff and a drum beat, the song is the personification of fun, highlighted by the goofiest raps ever pressed to vinyl. Sometimes you just can’t explain why you love a song, it just fills you with a sort of aloof joy whenever you hear it playing, and you’re just left with a dumb smile until it stops. That’s how I feel when I hear this song.
12. Slow and Low
Returning to the sound of “She’s Crafty” and “The New Style”, the Beasties are back to that goofy style of slow drum beats, marked by the song title itself. The song serves as the same style as though two, bringing the album back to where it started, forming a nice symmetry. The song isn’t particularly interesting, but it’s still a heavily enjoyable song, marked by a classic chorus.
13. Time to Get Ill
And where we begin, we end again. Putting “Slow and Low” and “Time to Get Ill” together was a brilliant move, since the two songs work perfectly as a duo, similar to “Style” and “Crafty” or Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”. However, I definitely enjoy this more than “Slow and Low”, showing their fun nature to the extreme, even to sampling the Mr. Ed theme. It’s a perfect end to this landmark album.
So in conclusion. I wouldn’t call this a great album. The songs are kind of stupid, repetitive in that old rap way, and the lyrics aren’t as sharp as they would become. However, the sheer fun the group is having, combined with Rubin’s production work, makes this album a truly entertaining one. It’s an album you don’t think about and just enjoy for its duration. And really, is there anything better than that feeling of being a stupid teen again, listening to this album? I don’t think so.
Best Track: No Sleep Till Brooklyn
Worst Track: Hold it Now, Hit It
This past week, two musicians, Chris Kelley of Kriss Kross and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, died a day apart from each other. Now I would never disrespect the dead. These two seemed like kind people, and mocking the dead is something done only by the cowardly. So today, I’ll be talking about how these two both represented a midway point for their respective genres.
Chris Kelley and Chris Smith, better known as Kriss Kross, first came to prominence with their hit song “Jump” in 1992, which charted at no. 1 for eight weeks, the longest run for a Rap song up to that point. Jeff Hanneman and Slayer first came to mainstream infamy with their album Reign in Blood in 1986, which sparked controversy almost immediately, leading to the most controversial Metal band up to that time. See a similarity? Both artists represent a movement in two opposite directions, with Kriss Kross showing the move towards Pop-friendly Rap, and Slayer showing the constant attempts of Metal trying to 1-up themselves.
Rap wasn’t always a controversial form of music, but around the time of Kriss Kross, it certainly was. The early 90s were the years of Gangsta Rap, with Rap becoming more and more socially conscious, and occasionally just overtly violent. But also around this time was Rap becoming more and more “safe”, as some people would put it. There had already been MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice coming out with hit(s), but Kriss Kross moved it even further into Pop territory, possibly making the least offensive Pop song ever. And Rap continued this way commercially, moving closer and closer to Pop to now, where they’re 90% R ‘n’ B music with a rap verse thrown in.
Slayer, meanwhile, showed a different direction. Metal has always caused an uproar, from its earliest days with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin accused of satanism. Even right before Reign in Blood came out, Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden was being called “the work of the devil” due to its title song. But when Slayer’s third album was released, it reached levels of controversy like never before. The music was louder, the images were bloodier, and the first song was about Auschwitz. People threw whatever they could, calling them Satanists, Nazis, and whatever else was offensive. And teenagers loved it. The album gold like mad, peaking at no. 93, and Metal continued down, with genres like Death Metal and Black Metal still scaring parents today.
So there you have it. Both these acts played an important part in their genres of music, and both will be dearly missed. Rest in Peace.
Every decade, people get up in arms over a new genre of music that is accused of being “evil” and “corruptible”. Even Jazz was considered the worst thing that ever happened to our youth back when it debuted after World War I. Since then, we’ve had Rock’n’Roll, Heavy Metal, Punk, Rap, and even people like Lady Gaga for some of the more conservative folks, though now it’s less about secret satanic messages than it it about connections to the supposed Illuminati. It’s all bullshit anyway. But today, we’ll be talking about the genre that scared suburban white people the most, Gangsta Rap, and its originators NWA.
Back in the 80s, NWA broke into the mainstream with their release Straight Outta Compton, which almost immediately became the face of controversy in music. Due to songs like “Fuck tha Police”, people assumed that the group were advocating violence. The truth of Compton, in reality, is that it’s a hallmark in Rap not for its violence, but for reflecting life in the inner-city at the time. Gangsta Rap wasn’t about “shoot people, fuck bitches, get money”, it was about the daily life of its musicians. When Ice Cube talked about murdering policemen, he wasn’t talking about small town policemen who serve to help everyone, he was talking about the LAPD, the same police force that would soon spark the LA riots. They were rapping about reality, with no glamor to be found. But they also had a little man named Eazy-E.
Eazy-E was not interested in tackling socio-political issues like Ice Cube was. He was interested in telling you how great his daily exploits in the realms of bitch-slapping and police-fucking were. Eazy-E was one of the first to glamorize the life of tha boyz in tha hood, trading in the threat of racial violence and gangs with shooting down cops and treating women as objects. He effectively turned Gangsta Rap into everything that it was feared to be. And his death at the age of 31 of AIDS added more fuel to the fire, showing the dangerous lifestyle its musicians lived. You could die at any minute, be it from being shot on the street or from an STD.
And now, Gangsta Rap has turned into everything that was hated about it. Eazy-E is viewed as a true pioneer in music, leading to piles of generic rap about sex and violence. But the truth is that people are still dying all the time in these areas, and music like this isn’t helping. It makes this kind of lifestyle seem like glamorous and fantastical, when in reality, people could be doing so much better if they took the lessons of Ice Cube, rather than Eazy-E, to heart.
So my friend Henry asked me to write a review for Tyler The Creator’s new album “Wolf” which came out a few weeks ago. He asked me to do it I think the week it came out but I haven’t found time until today. Bear with me if this review sounds like shit, I’m still recovering from last Saturday’s 4/20 and my head sorta hurts.
If I had written this review when I was supposed to (two and a half weeks ago) I would have scored this album way differently. I just got home and listened to the rumored “prequel” to Tyler’s Album Trilogy twice and I feel a little better about it. My bar was raised high for Tyler since “Goblin” is basically the Fight Club of the music industry (which means it was awesome but only select people followed it). I was at first disappointed because it didn’t have the same vibe as “Goblin” did but now that I think about it…it’s better that Tyler is sort of reaching for a new ground and proving not only to himself but his audience as well that he can calm down and not rap about rape every minute and a half. The album starts off with it’s title track with a lot of epic horns and Tyler repeatedly saying “Fuck you,” which I think is a message to his fans, his critics, and basically anyone listening to the thing. We then get warped into this story about a new camper “Wolf” being introduced to characters like Sam and Salem. The whole story is sort of warped and isn’t as well weaved as the story told in “Goblin”. The whole thing is basically about Wolf having a hard time at the camp Flog Gnaw and falls for Salem (who is dating Sam). Sam finds out that Wolf is hanging out with Salem and they get into a fight. In the end, the camp counselor brings in Wolf to talk about why he has been acting out (which I think then leads into Bastard).
The album is very mixed with a lot of songs that pop up and then some that don’t please the ears as well. Tracks like Domo23, Answer, 48, and Rusty really bring the album to a new definition of what Tyler can do but the album falls short with not as well put together songs like Pigs, Cowboy, and PartyIsntOver. I feel like the hyped up song, Bimmer, fell short with length and creativeness since the song only gave us one verse. But guest vocals like Mike G (my favorite Wolf Gang member) and Earl Sweatshirt add to some of that falling short feeling. And you have to be careful with guest vocals and having too much of them which was too evident in the song Trashwang (and that song was basically a 5 minute advertisement for the band Trash Talk). The album is nicely wrapped up with the last three tracks Treehome95, Tamale, and Lone.
Tyler has grown in some weird ways but he is able to pull it together for another album narrative. It wasn’t able to immediately pull me in like Goblin did (which isn’t a fair argument since I listened to Goblin high as fuck the first time) but it’s still fun to listen to and has some amusing lyrics to rap along to like Colossus which deals with Tyler running into obsessed fans and Tamale which, to be honest, I have no idea what it’s about but has the best line “Tell Spike Lee he’s a god damn n***er” which references to Spike Lee’s ridiculous reaction to Django Unchained. Anyways….Tyler is starting to make his mark in the Hip Hop scene and this album is just the beginning.
48, Tamale, Answer, Domo23
Cowboy, Awkward, Pigs, PartyIsntOver
Overall Rating: B
It’s kind of bizarre how it’s been over 4 years since the last Fall Out Boy album was released. For 5 years, they were the face of the “Emo” movement that represented Rock for most of the early 2000s, which made sense, they were also easily the best. Their three main albums, Under the Cork Tree, Infinity on High, and Folie à Deux, all range from pretty good to pretty damn great, due to a mix of talented musicianship, Patrick Stump’s singing, and a penchant for having fun with themselves. But after a hiatus, they’re back with their latest release Save Rock ‘n’ Roll, which I believe is unironically titled.
First off, the first two songs are absolutely fantastic. “The Phoenix” and “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” are massive songs that are exactly what you would expect from a band this good at melodrama to start off with as a return. The songs are perfectly placed, with “The Phoenix” screaming to serve as a set opener. “In the Dark” is slightly weaker, but it works great as a large Pop sing-along. The album also keeps the tradition of Fall Out Boy in having general fun with their music, unlike other “Emo” bands like All-American Rejects or Simple Plan. The album always flirts dangerously close to Pop, but manages to stay on the rockier side of the equation, and the album reflects that, showing the side of ridiculousness that manages to clearly enjoy itself. The songs are also all distinctly Fall Out Boy, though this might be a negative for some people, since they are a very polarizing band.
The first problem with this album, meanwhile, actually comes straight from the title. In their typical melodramatic fashion, they promise to save Rock ‘n’ Roll from the Shinedowns of the world, but ironically, with this album they go popper than ever. Songs like “Sugar We’re Going Down” aren’t exactly Metallica, but it was a lot closer to Nirvana than it was to Rihanna, which goes for some of the songs here. Of special note is “The Mighty Fall”, easily the worst song on this album, featuring annoying musicianship and a terrible verse by Big Sean. The whole song comes off as trying way too hard to be scary, with its singing children and riffage. Secondly, there’s an overly high amount of guest spots on this album, with guest appearances from Big Sean, Elton John, Foxes, and Courtney Love, who ruins the other overly weak song on this album, “Rat a Tat”, with her overly forced and obnoxious dig at Britney Spears in the opening. And lastly, the album is mixed terribly. Every song is mixed at max capacity, removing many of the dynamics, which is practically what makes songs like these. This is easily one of the worst cases of the loudness wars I’ve ever seen, up there with the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Californication.
Overall, this album is slightly above average. There’s still the sharp songwriting from before, but it’s all layered under not only a layer of Pop shellac, but also a layer of muddy mastering, combining together to lower the quality of the music. If the album was mastered better, and Big Sean and Courtney Love were removed, I would’ve likely given this album around a B to a B+, but as it stands, I’d rank this under the cork tree.
Best Track: The Phoenix
Worst Track: The Mighty Fall
I’d also like to announce my intentions of bumping my article count to 3 a week, including a Modern Album review every week.
Every so often, a song comes out that gets the whole internet talking. The most recent song to do this is Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s “Accidental Racist”, a song that attempts to be meaningful, but ends up falling flat on its face. So today, I’m writing:
The 10 Worst Things About Accidental Racist (in Chronological Order)
1.You have to be prepared for offending someone when you wear a Confederate Flag.
The song begins with Paisley explaining that he doesn’t mean to offend when he’s wearing a shirt with the Confederate Flag on it. Now I understand that he doesn’t mean to offend with the shirt, but then he gets offended when someone at a Starbucks calls him out on it. And I’ll have to stop you right there. If you’re wearing something with a history like that, you have to be prepared for people to be offended at it. You can’t just say that they’re misunderstanding you when you’re wearing a shirt with a flag for a land based on slavery on it. Speaking of his shirt…
2. You don’t have to wear a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt with the Confederate Flag
At first, he uses the excuse that he’s just expressing his love for Skynyrd when he wears a shirt with the Confederate Flag on it. Well guess what? THEY HAVE OTHER KINDS OF SHIRTS. Not every Skynyrd shirt has the Confederate Flag blazing on the front. In fact, about 6 months ago, they explicitly denounced the Confederate Flag publicly. So guess what? His reasoning makes no sense, which is why he changes it right afterwards to Southern Pride. But to that…
3. Don’t get all defensive, just apologize!
After abandoning the Skynyrd argument, Paisley moves on to his next line of defense, saying that it’s just him taking pride from where he’s from. I have two problems with this. First off, why are you fighting? Just say you’re sorry and move on! All you’re doing at this moment is dragging the issue out. Just explain that you didn’t mean for it to be offensive, but you understand why they were offended, and move on. Simple as that. No need to drag it out by excusing yourself from what they have to say.
4. How the hell is this Southern Pride?
And secondly, what do you mean Southern Pride? There’s many ways to celebrate your southern heritage, and they’re all better than wearing a sign of oppression. What if the Germans celebrated their German Pride by wearing swastika armbands and jackboots? Oh right, they don’t because it was a dark point in German History that they never want to be reminded of. Maybe you could take a hint from that, hmm?
5. It’s SOMEHOW the Elephant in the Room for the Southern States.
Paisley then says that he feels that the Confederae Flag has SOMEHOW become the elephant in the room for the Southern States. You know. SOMEHOW. I mean for god’s sake. It’s a sign of oppression and slavery. And even outside of that, it’s a reminder to one of the worst wars we ever fault. So yeah, I guess there is a reason we don’t talk about it much anymore, alng with getting offended when we see it.
6. Really? Southern Blame?
During the chorus, at the end Paisley says that he’s caught between Southern Pride and Southern Blame. Seriously? Are you saying that the South is being blamed for what happened during the Civil War. Because, and this might surprise you, IT TOTALLY WAS THE SOUTH’S FAULT. And because of that, you can’t wear your Confederate Flag, so I guess you really do suffer the most, Mr. Christian Straight White Male.
7. Don’t Apologize, LL Cool J!
Suddenly, a wild LL Cool J appears. Seriously, what the hell are you doing here? Anyway, I have one major problem with this verse, and that’s the fact that he spends it apologizing for being so insensitive when he called him a racist for his Confederate Flag shirt. I’m sorry, but WHAT? This man just spent a good long while chastising you for being insensitive to him wearing a shirt with a flag that symbolizes hatred above all else, and you’re the one apologizing to his excuse-making ass? Bullshit. I think this verse would have best been handled by someone like Ice Cube, who would’vee told this man that he understands that he’s not trying to offend, but he still needs to understand the severity of what he’s unintentionally promoting. And speaking of this verse…
8. Dear Mr. White Man? Seriously?
LL Cool J opens his verse with the phrase “Dear Mr White Man”. Really? That’s how you open this conversation about race relations? Not only are you identifying him solely by his race, but taken out of its context, it sounds like you’re implying that only white men can be racist, which seems pretty racist itself.
9. A Doo-Rag Doesn’t Equal the Confederate Flag.
During the final repetitions of the chorus, LL Cool J shouts out two phrases, both of which I find really damn this song. First, he shouts “If you respect my doo-rag, I’ll respect your red flag”. This is not a fair comparison. A doo-rag is something used to cover hair after it was sprayed with chemicals that turned into a fashion. The Confederate Flag is a sign of oppression. But that pales in comparison to…
10. “If you don’t judge my Gold Chains, I’ll forgive the Iron Chains”
Are you god-damn serious. Are you implying that gold chains, a piece of jewelry, is in any way comparable to chains used for SLAVERY? This is beyond implications set by the Flag, this is outwardly invoking slavery, and saying that it’s not that big a deal, as long as you don’t judge the fashion he’s wearing. I don’t care what else you have to say, there’s nothing you can say after that.
For about as long as I can remember, Anniversary Editions have been an important part of the music business. If you have an album, it won’t take long for a company to release it again, with a bunch of new crap piled on, designed to celebrate whatever milestone it most recently hit. This year, two of the biggest Alternative albums ever, Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins and Elephant by the White Stripes are celebrating their 20th and 10th Anniversaries respectively, and I just made half my audience feel old. And you bet the record companies will release Anniversary Editions to make some more money.
On the face of it, I have no problem with Anniversary Editions. If the albums are out of print, then it’s the perfect opportunity to release a new edition, with maybe a few add-ons. I don’t see an immediate problem with this. Sometimes, the mastering of an album needs to be patched up with newer, better technology, if the original mix is overly tinny, or an instrument is nearly inaudible, or any number of reasons (though the mix might run into The Loudness War, but that’s a topic for another time). But there are two major problems I have with almost every Anniversary Edition:
A. Going Overboard with Extras
Sometimes, there are singles released from a band around the release of an album that aren’t on the album itself. And I fully understand including these on an Anniversary Edition. Hell, you could even include some of the b-sides of a single if you feel like they’re good enough. But the problem is that the people who make these Anniversary Editions go completely overboard with these. They include every demo, every single, every b-side, and even some covers recorded from that time. Probably the craziest version is King Crimson’s rerelease of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic in 2012, which came on 14 goddamn cps, containing everything the lineup recorded. At least it isn’t as bad as the deluxe editions that cost $600 and come with a punch of tat.
B. the term Anniversary Means Nothing
Part of a marketer’s job is to make something as presentable as possible. And there is no easier way to do this than by taking a neutral word with a positive connotation and applying it to your product. If you’ve ever tried to buy a house, or even just seen that realty episode of The Simpsons, you know exactly how this works. And in this context, “Anniversary” is the music industry’s “cozy”. Really, Anniversary means nothing but “this many years have passed since it came out”, but it sounds good to people, so they’ll likely buy it. My favorite example was the 20th anniversary release of Pocketful of Kryptonite by the Spin Doctors, an album that no one honestly likes at this point. But because it says “Anniversary” right on the front, people will assume it’s a classic.
And that’s what I dislike about Anniversary editions. So record executives, if you’re reading this, one, you have better stuff to do with your time, and two, try to cut down on these two mistakes.
NOTE: Instead of the song-by-song style reviews for older albums, I’m reviewing these albums as a collective whole.
Well, I guess it was about time that I finally review an album that came out in the last year. And what better album to start off with than Justin Timberlake’s return to Pop music after 6 years, The 20/20 Experience. It’s interesting to think that one of the few Pop singers to stay from the beginning of the decade is the guy from NSync, but I guess this is the world we live in. At least he’s been better on average than his former ex and fellow Pop elder statesman Britney Spears.
First off, when Timberlake called this album an experience, he wasn’t kidding. There are two songs under 6 minutes, and three under 7. Over half the album consists of 7 minute Pop epics. This would be weird for the standard Pop singer, but Timberlake has always been a little more than a Pop singer. Along with Lady Gaga, he’s a Pop singer who’s better described as an artist, crafting each song into his perfect vision, unlike someone like Rihanna, who cranks out release after release. A strictly commercial act doesn’t take 6 years to release a follow-up to a hugely successful album like Futuresex/Lovesounds. Timberlake serves as a modern musical Michelangelo, carving into a song until every note and sound is utterly perfect in his vision.
The album is absolutely overflowing with character. Timberlake shines on every song, clearly enjoying himself every step of the way through. And for once, the music lives up to that charisma. If the music was alive, it would be a Frankenstein Justin Timberlake. If he didn’t use a style or instrument on the album, it’s likely that he’s saving it for the 2nd half of the album in November. If Meatloaf made a Pop album, this is what he would make. “Suit & Tie”, the first single and easily the weakest song on the album, is actually the most cohesive. Every other song just sprawls into whatever thing it wants to do next. I can’t remember the last time I heard a guitar solo on a Pop album, but there’s quite a few here. The album reminds me of a stronger The 2nd Law by Muse, in that it’s an absolutely entrancing collage of music. But while The 2nd Law was eventually dragged down by its ambitions, Experience is exactly as silly as it needs to be. And every song reveals new fascinating elements of themselves with every subsequent listen. This is an album that might take a little while to get, but it’s worth it. Right now, my favorite tracks are the final two, the bombastic “Mirrors” and the gorgeous and ethereal “Blue Ocean Floor”, but every song needs at least one listen.
While you can already tell that I love this album, I do have one major problem with it. Every song goes on for too long. I understand that the album is an “experience”, but even a masterpiece needs at least a little trimming. You could probably cut about 10 minutes off this album and it would be improved quite a bit. And while not a flaw, since it’s a great, fun song, “Let the Groove Get In” is REALLY out of place on the album. While the rest of the album is more of a “swelling” bombast, “Groove” has a immediacy to it that makes it weird as part of this album, though I can see it working as a great radio single.
In short, this is one of the best Pop albums in recent memory. If you want to understand how a Pop star can also be a high-caliber artist, this is a required listen. It might go down as Timberlake’s masterpiece, especially if the 2nd half is nearly as good. I know that the end of the year is 8 months away, but if this isn’t in the top 10, I can likely declare this one of the best years in music. But no matter what, listen to this album.
Best Song: Mirrors/Blue Ocean Floor
Worst Song: Suit & Tie