The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

NEON BUNNY - LOST IN LOVE
[5.71]


DRAMA~!…

Sonya Nicholson: This drama soundtrack song (is it even a single?) doesn’t have the immediate pop impact of Neon Bunny’s actual singles like “Oh My Prince" or "It’s You”, but it’s also lovely (and a grower). Extra point because it’s funny to think about these 80s soundtrack synths once again being used as background music after being appropriated by a transformative vaporwave artist like Neon Bunny. Two points off because the result ends up sounding like a genre exercise put through an Instagram filter, something lots of other musicians who aren’t as good as Neon Bunny could have done equally as well.
[7]

Anthony Easton: This is about as safe and low-key as a child’s cartoon of the Easter Bunny. Bunnies can be mean — they bite, they have been known to cannibalize their young — and in fiction they are depicted as sly, often tricksters/thieves. I am disappointed for rabbitkind that this is so fluffy.
[3]

Iain Mew: It’s more straightforward than "It’s You" in a way that’s not surprising for soundtrack duties, but Neon Bunny keeps enough of the same gorgeous sighing in the rainy day city sunset aesthetic for it not to matter too much. She also adds a full-on swoon of a chorus that’s its own peak.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: Sweet, slow-burning synthpop courtesy of one of the best K-pop acts operating just outside of the mainstream (though “Lost In Love” appearing on a drama soundtrack might help). It doesn’t come close to matching the syrupy highs achieved by this year’s still-masterclass “It’s You,” but it’s a solid introduction to what Neon Bunny does so well, which is using an 80s synth-pop base to create music just right for her airy vocals.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Normally, Neon Bunny’s songs tend to cruise and glide with a sense of production that really holds an edge, whether it’s the post-Joker sheen applied to “It’s You” or the metallic Mudd Club scratching-funk pulse present on “Plastic Heart”. So it’s really rough to hear how plodding and limp the disco beat on “Lost in Love” is. Here, we see her breathy puffs of voice become a bit too wispy without the ability to ride along on something more combative, and like that, the vividness of Neon Bunny seems to fade back into dreamland.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Cooed melancholy over analog beats — sign me up, as long as it’s cut a minute.
[6]

John Seroff: Here’s a good example of how a single element can completely drive a song. Take away the bassline and there’s virtually nothing left. Of course, leave the bassline in and you’ve not much to play with in the first place.
[5]

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NERINA PALLOT - LOVE ELECTRIC
[5.71]


Don’t worry, we still love "Peg"

Josh Langhoff: Shocked by you know what, Pallot finds herself intoxicated and complicated, impulsive and reckless, running away into a hurricane and presumably forgetting important tasks like balancing her checkbook and resolving to the tonic. Driven by an even less resistible force, her synth track finds itself pounding out a clave/Bo Diddley/”Shave and a Haircut” rhythm.
[7]

Anthony Easton: My laptop is on the slightly wrong ampage, so every time I accidentally unplug it, it turns off. My cellphone does not complete a signal, and so it takes forever to charge. Both of these items are electric. They function as well as this song, which is not a hurricane but the mildest tempest in the smallest teapot.
[3]

Megan Harrington: “Love is electric” might be a metaphor — perhaps even a bit of shallow description that’s not totally supported by the sunny disco meant to prop it up — but I can remember not just feeling twenty-two, but being, and being so lovesick that it felt like my stomach was undergoing electrocution. “Love Electric” was part of how I felt, but there was a much heavier, darker current shot through the light, glowing pulses. Pallot is carefully curating only the colorful string of lights that decorates your local dive bar, only remembering the excitement of possibility, and preserving only the fondness. It’s an act of self-preservation.
[8]

Alfred Soto: With synthesizers as enthusiastic as any on a Javiera Mena single, “Love Electric” promises a pleasure it doesn’t quite deliver. First, Pallot’s voice is not electric. She wants a love that intoxicates, that’s like a hurricane; for the moment she sounds buzzed while waking through a drizzle.
[5]

Dan MacRae: Agreeable fizz that could probably be sold at Claire’s as a snazzy looking bracelet.
[5]

Will Adams: In which Nerina Pallot grins mischievously, puts on socks, shuffles across the carpet and delivers a tiny static shock to your forearm. Simultaneously endearing and annoying, ultimately inconsequential.
[5]

John Seroff: Not pop merengue but pop meringue of the lemon pie variety: frothy, sweet, weightless and last in vogue in the Madonna-90’s. If it cloys when you eat too much, what more could you expect?
[7]

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ARTY FT. ANGEL TAYLOR - UP ALL NIGHT
[4.91]


Up all night to get biblical…

Katherine St Asaph: The combination of crushstuff, Michelle Branch cadence, and Jock Jams EDM is giving me severe middle school flashbacks. Except even in middle school I knew the angel/devil-on-the-shoulders conceit belonged on the funnies page.
[6]

Iain Mew: The unusual piano shuffle and tendency towards exaggerated Drama make me think of a certain strain of post-Winehouse UK pop, and this is the song we cover today that strikes me as the most obvious route for a Paloma Faith move into dance. As it is, Angel Taylor uses a grizzled John Newman directness that at least gives the song’s devils and angels on shoulders some proper heft. The best bit is how the breaks carry on the spirit of the piano loop even at the point of maximum compression.
[6]

Crystal Leww: “Up All Night” is very straight-forward vocal EDM, except wow is that vocal fantastic. Angel Taylor is dramatic, humming and hawing, emotions totally heightened, metaphors turned all the way up to 100. Her vocal is raspy and rich, unlike the Foxes and Matthew Komas of the world, but not very much like the Kelli-Leighs and Yolanda Quarteys of the world either. I like how weird this is: “There’s a demon in me telling me to believe that you and I are more than just friends.” What a wonderful image.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: She says she’s waiting for someone to fix her relationship with this mystery fella. Which is funny, because I found something that will fix the infernally squeaky quality in her voice.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: One of those weird moments where singing pales heavily compared to the drop, even when the drop in question sounds like a million other drops heard at Ultra Music Festival.
[4]

Anthony Easton: I love the vocals, which sound like early Pink, and the writerly details. When it moves into semi-bosh, it’s expected, but it isn’t awkward. Add the finger snaps, which complicate the rest of the percussion, and this isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard.
[5]

John Seroff: Brash and brassy Angel Taylor holds up her end of the bargain, providing strong pace, buoyancy, and legitimate diva energy. Then Arty steps in with the inevitable and unimaginative EDM crescendo to nowhere. From that point on, where they overlap, Taylor suffers for it. So did I.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Pretty standard trance-pop with a stronger-than-usual-for-this-genre singer. I wouldn’t actively listen to it, but I’d put it in a cardio playlist.
[5]

Alfred Soto: If “forced hilarity” isn’t on your list of worst things in the world, then “pneumatic EDM” should be.
[1]

Will Adams: The past few years have seen a handful of trance producers, most of whom operate under Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats label, crossing over in tandem with the rise of EDM. Producers like Mat Zo, Audien, Tritonal, and Arty have dialed down the tempos, scaled back the atmospherics, and blown up the drops: in short, they went house. (This micro-genre has been dubbed “trouse,” because the only thing people love more than a binary is a portmanteau). A pessimist might view this as the crumbling of uplifting trance; an optimist will get excited. I’m mostly in the latter category: these producers’ trance backgrounds allow them more sensitivity in their mixes. Where many big room producers beef up the low end to speaker-blowing proportions, the trance kids seek balance. “Up All Night” easily falls to the house end of the spectrum — with many thanks to Angel Taylor’s fantastic soul vocal — but Arty’s drops ebb and flow, as if the synth chords and vworp bass are dueling.
[7]

Brad Shoup: An internal rhyme that uses the same word twice is a bad one, especially if that word is “me.” Which is a crying shame, cos this is a fun homeopathic-disco tune with stops at a blasting boshy riff. But the world needs more songs about getting stiffed on a ride!
[6]

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DJ KHALED FT. CHRIS BROWN, AUGUST ALSINA, FUTURE & JEREMIH - HOLD YOU DOWN
[4.89]


Anyone interested in having the Jukebox endorse their brand of headphones should DM us on Twitter…

Josh Love: I guess this is an R&B posse cut; I kept expecting to hear Wayne or Nicki or Rozay jump on it, but nope, just five minutes of crooning. As for who is here, Future’s underused and Chris Brown alluding to events from his life is always the worst because I have to be reminded that Chris Brown’s voice belongs to Chris Brown, unrepentant asshole.
[4]

Crystal Leww: All four singers on this track have spent the summer on the radio getting seriously turnt up, and mostly within the space of r’n’bass music, so it’s nice to see them doing something a little more traditional R&B, both in terms of aesthetics as well as content. I know that “hold you down” is being used here to mean getting boo’d up, but I much prefer interpreting this song where “hold you down” is similar to holding her back from reaching her potential. What’s better than these dudes knowing that they’re dating up, than knowing that their ladies could do better? Bonus points for proving what I’ve been trying to say for ages: Chris Brown’s got jams, but he’s also redundant. His vocals are nice, but there’s nothing here that Jeremih or August couldn’t do just as well.
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s an R&B Royal Rumble hosted by Paul Bearer, aka DJ Khaled. The thing is, this isn’t really an even match, or a satisfying one! Everyone’s favorite scumbag Chris Brown’s sloppy swinging and delusions of grandeur are a washed-up version of his prime, while his understudy August Alsina continues to weakly force out breath in the resemblance of sounds that, if you pay close enough attention, mimic the human voice singing. But, then again, when you’re a golem in the shape of Chris Brown’s colossal ego, it’s difficult to function like us normal folk do. Jeremih pokes in and out of the song with piping glee, more or less just having fun and enjoying the ride. Meanwhile Future, a man who is not an R&B singer but continues to be mistaken for one, mugs it up with his best charm and over-exertion, turning in a lackluster but still endearing performance. Khaled is a lazy promoter of “event records,” and yet he still succeeds. Bless his heart.
[4]

Brad Shoup: I dunno, I’m thinking there was a better way for Khaled to celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Lovers and Friends.” Maybe a Stereogum article?
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: A potentially serviceable mood-setter ruined because DJ Khaled keeps yelling in your ear before things get heavy.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: DJ Khaled would do well to learn to leave well enough alone and stop yelling all over his songs like a more aggro Puffy. That said, I wondered when he’d do a pure R&B posse cut akin to his all-star rap records. He’s finally done one, and it’s a classic example of a record being greater than the sum of its parts. I actively dislike most of Future’s records, and have never been particularly impressed by either Jeremih or August Alsina. Chris Brown, despite his personal failings, which are myriad, is the only one of the four who I think has made some good singles in his time. But this plush R&B track is pretty much the best thing any of ‘em have had a hand in. Even with the Halloween-esque stabs, this is a really warm cut, and Khaled picked a quartet of good singers (well, three, plus Future’s Auto-Tuned ass, but even he fits here nicely) to lace it. “Hold You Down” is incredibly listenable, and awfully hooky to boot. Nicely done.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Talented performers in a joyless rehash of the least interesting pop sounds: hints of EDM, seesaw synths, hook tossed like a deflated basketball over and over. If I thought the creators clever, I’d suspect them of doing it to kill several careers in one fell swoop.
[4]

John Seroff: Leave it to Khaled to assemble the best known young R&B crooners of the moment around what amounts to half a track that he didn’t even produce. To be fair, this is no one’s finest hour; Jeremih acquits himself best with the heavy lifting on the hook but it’s something of a waste sandwiched between Khaled’s barking, Future’s warbling rhyming dictionary recitation, Breezy’s distracted verse and Alsina’s drive-through to pick up his check. The non-radio version we reviewed ends with Khaled hawking his endorsed headphones. For a cash grab as baldly presented as “Hold You Down,” that’s an appropriately romantic denouement.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: As smooth and inconsequential as a Tinder swipe. DJ Khaled would be a pop-up ad.
[4]

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SIGMA FT. PALOMA FAITH - CHANGING
[3.80]


Just ride…

Will Adams: Did you mean: Lana Del Rey drum & bass?
[4]

Josh Love: Approximates the experience of Lana Del Rey on molly, so I’m glad I pass on both. Might’ve been tolerable if it didn’t go from zero to sixty in a nanosecond.
[3]

John Seroff: Another big-bodied blue-eyed soul voice shoehorned into a clockwork dance engine with minimal melody or originality.
[3]

Iain Mew: The best thing I can say about this is reminded me of the pleasure of “Feel the Love,” even if I was initially going back to work out why this feels like such a poor imitation apart from that Rudimental got there first. A lot of it is basic and structural. “Feel the Love” took a full minute to get to its d’n’b drop and didn’t even put the full chorus over it then, plus it had plenty of room for a reflective trumpet solo. “Changing” blows everything at once after thirty seconds, and Paloma Faith has already hit the moment of maximum outrage even before that (“this ain’t what I signed up to!”). It’s left with nowhere else to go apart from haphazardly sticking on some vaguely gesturing strings and gospel bits.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The way-too-early dip into hardcore breaks demonstrates two problems with this sort of attempt at dance pop. Number one: Paloma is too interested in making her stamp. This is not a spacious record, though the production is very light and sparse. So rather than emphasize the air, she sucks up every bit of it and thrusts her face into the center as much as possible. The relentlessness of her ambition is nice and all, but there’s no moment for the dance to take priority; it’s all about her. Number two: Sigma has no idea how to effectively use that break, placing it as a build-up, rather than using it for the peak of the intensity. It cheapens the break, and leaves us with Paloma’s weak chorus as a reward for making it through the volley of drums.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: Without the words, sure to soundtrack Football Focus profiles of future Scott Sinclairs for literally months to come. With them, almost as corny as Chris Lake’s similar effort from a few years back. It isn’t clanging enough to prevent going with it though, and Paloma Faith could sell it all year round — not just at this serendipitous cusp of autumn.
[6]

Mark Sinker: It’s instructive fun hearing how d’n’b — once very much the posterchild for radically disruptive afrofuturist something-or-other — can be so neatly and efficiently tidied into just another technical element in a by-no-means-bad string-driven ’60s pop-soul arrangement. But there’s something about Paloma’s bony single-strength elbow-flex of a voice that flattens out all the levels and builds and dramas being so studiously architected round it.
[5]

Brad Shoup: It’s three-and-a-half minutes that sound like 90 seconds, with Faith rushed through a sunset saudade. We both should have been able to savor the cello thrum and the cod-gospel backing vocals, but the effect is actually kinda comic, which I can get behind.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: “Oversinging” is a charge leveled primarily — and enthusiastically — at women. Generally there’s some overlap with personality attacks, “oversinging” becoming a proxy for “taking up too much space” or “being desperate.” It’s why Britney is a critical and public-image darling and Christina is not, why crossover R&B starlets tend to be the ones whose voices are tiny or studied, and why Sam Smith gets to NAAAAOAOAOAOAOOWOW-I’ve-got-you-in-my-space all over a perfectly acceptable Disclosure song and have people call that a climax, while when Faith does the same she’s oversinging. So while Faith isn’t the greatest vocalist — she sings like she’s airing out a mouth ulcer, and her bratty intonation on “cool” sounds much more natural than her Duffy impression — she is not the primary issue with “Changing.” That would be the dated vocal stutters and canned orchestral nonsense, or the same cod-gospel breakdown that the UK music industry is foisting on everyone from Smith to Jessie fucking Ware, or the lack of emotional oomph to any of this. Hm, that probably is Faith’s fault. Sigma you’d never even expect it from.
[4]

Alfred Soto: “Known for her unique, retro, and eccentric style” and distinguished at none of them; she’s a singer in search of a context, a performer who hasn’t figured out the audience or even what house audience she wants.
[2]

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NICKELBACK - EDGE OF A REVOLUTION
[3.55]


But they’re better groomed than Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Maxwell Cavaseno: When I used to work at Pathmark, one of my co-workers was this dude who really rode for Nickelback, Tool, and Yes. Strange union there, but weirder shit has happened. Anyway, when he mentioned Nickelback I was of course judgmental, but he offered the argument that while he knew the singles were terrible “on their albums, they’re a really good bad AC/DC cover band.” Such self-awareness! So, the single is ‘real’ Nickelback as their fans know them, and that’s cute that by this point they know their fans will support a really clumsy, hamfisted, pigheaded madlibs of a ‘political’ single. I can’t be too mad at that weird gesture of mutual appreciation when the whole world is laughing at them. In a way, Nickelback are like ICP with no identifiable qualities save being trash.
[1]

Jonathan Bradley: #OccupyNickelback
[3]

Anthony Easton: I didn’t expect something so actively political from the people who gave us “Rockstar.” This either means that my politics is unsophisticated, or that the NSA is so egregiously evil that Kroeger could notice it. I suspect it is the latter.
[5]

John Seroff: The sonic equivalent of that one guy at the rally who smells janky, has to lead every chant, gets super aggro with the cops and won’t stop hitting on your sister. I don’t mean to be paranoid, but dude is giving me hella narc vibes.
[3]

Leela Grace: The Nickelback of “Rockstar” made themselves approachable via aspirational excess, but there is no touchable imagery here, no goals or plans, no feeling of desperation. And why would there be? Do these Canadian millionaires really care about constraining the NSA?
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: Playing with the form to unparallelled degrees of irony through steadfast refusal to adapt, wrapped in a straightfaced assertion that no-one could smash it up harder, it’s the height of camp — the unintentionally intentional. The mechanics of its absurdity work so smoothly even Kroeger and co needn’t notice, part of a perpetual performance; not made, but lived. They can’t help it: they are the Canadian Status Quo. Only not as good.
[5]

Megan Harrington: I don’t understand why no one ever accuses Nickelback of irony.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Metallica’s “Sad But True” rewritten for “relevance.” Oooh, references to Wall Street! And the 1% on their yachts! And change!
[1]

Alfred Soto: The chanting convinced me; so did the power chords backing the part decrying “Pentagon confusion,” which happens to be true. And Kroeger gives the impression that reading the NYT one morning pissed him off. The friends who were and remain part of #Occupy won’t listen to “Edge of a Revolution” — they regard Nickleback as suspiciously as Crosby, Stills and Nash — but this is one of the few topical songs in recent years that succeeds on its terms. Of course it’s hamhanded and silly — so was “Ohio.”
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Who, exactly, are fans of Nickelback? The har-har-ing crowd of “Nickelback are THE WORST!” meme-shouters long ago became more vocal (and annoying) than whatever crowd keeps sales up, and I really can’t imagine what the “average Nickelback fan” looks like, other than they either have very thick skin about their musical preferences or don’t connect to the Internet to much. “Edge of a Revolution” isn’t a good song…and “Nickelback - but political!” is about as cynical as you can get…but maybe the message, as generically “shit’s bad, guys” as it is, is what some people need to hear? Like, the sort of person who doesn’t know what a Tumblr is and could potentially hear “Edge of a Revolution” and say “Chad’s right…shit is fucked” and maybe go vote sometime. I don’t know, but one bonus point for trying.
[4]

Brad Shoup: They know Mutt Lange’s in the 1%, right?
[4]

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YOU + ME - YOU AND ME
[4.20]


You + Me + Pink = ?

John Seroff: It took a while to get past the perhaps intentionally Google-proofed nom de plume to determine that the reason we were reviewing this po-faced Once outtake boiled down to the band’s colorful alter egos. I don’t begrudge Pink for moving out of her comfort zone and lord knows we all have our burdens to bear but I’m finding it hard not to snarkily dismiss this bit of thematically vague, sylvan fluff as the lament of a couple that finds a 45 minute wait for brunch at Roberta’s.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Mercenary shit always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. P!nk never could make it as a white R&B singer in the post-Mary lane like she’s always secretly wanted to (watch her live concerts, you can see she who she models herself after), her mall-rock got played out, and the Max Martin dalliances led to her making eye-rolling records about affirmation with gross hooks and endlessly cliche statements that felt more like hoarser Kelly Clarkson records. No matter how hard she tries, P!nk always finds a new spin, but overdoes it to irritating excess. Now she turns to Dallas Green, the former singer of a band who went through five different stylistic evolutions yet never learned how not to suck (why does that sound familiar?), who’s been pedaling this hokey folk-maturity as City & Colour for, what, five years now? So rather than just follow her muse, fanbase notwithstanding, she releases this attempt at starting another new PHASE, in the hopes she can avoid a reality where she is not liked at her best, a concept that goes against an image that took years to create.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Twice a week I’ll review singles blind. When I heard the female singer’s rather emphatic harmonies I pegged her as a comer, way too powerful to intone the folk tropes with maidenly restraint. Songwriting tip: avoid the “They say that…” cliche introduction; you’re still trying to get away with one (maybe using a plus sign instead of an ampersand is revolutionary). Career tip: the NPR sincerity market doesn’t give a shit about you anyway. You’re more honest as a loudmouth.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s P!nk and Green, get it? I can’t seem to write a blurb about P!nk without mentioning Try This and how earth-destroying it was and how P!nk should get back to destroying earths, and now she’s gone and made something even farther from that album than The Truth About Love. But as a duet partner and career role model, Dallas Green is less concerning than Nate Ruess, and more pressingly, I am a person who uses the Lilly Pulitzer browser skin (which is also pink and green), has that browser autocomplete to the Talbots sale page, owns a copy of Once and uses the same autumnal Instagram filter on basically everything. I am part cliche, and thus I love this too. Though I might love more the fact that when I search for this on streaming the first hit is Nero.
[6]

Crystal Leww: Growing up, P!nk was the coolest pop star because she was so goddamn alt. Now we’ve both grown up a little bit, P!nk has grown into the most boring pop star with the worst taste in collaborators. Between Dallas Green and that dude from fun., all I want to do is put my arm around P!nk’s shoulders and shout, “COME ON GIRL LET’S GO THESE GUYS ARE BAD NEWS.”
[4]

David Sheffieck: The harmonies here are great, and I’m always down for some steel guitar. But both sound a bit too mournful here, more like a breakup than a love song, and, worse, those choices are the most memorable thing about the song - cognitive dissonance aside, this is slight.
[4]

Megan Harrington: Let he who is immune to the autumnal charms of “You and Me,” he who feels no longing for another Civil Wars album, he who has no lack of love, he who needs not an acoustic guitar and a lonely lyric cast the first stone.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: No, I wasn’t particularly hoping that P!nk would get together with the guy from City and Colour to make a semi-acoustic folk-ish album, but thanks for asking. Oh wait, they didn’t ask.
[2]

Brad Shoup: When I want to hear country dabblers lowing at each other, I will always reach for "Who You Love," not the sonic equivalent of two dusty blankets sitting in the corner of a timeshare cabin.
[2]

Anthony Easton: P!nk has always had a little of an inspirational bit, a desire to be more than a rock star, to be the moral leader. She also has also one hell of a voice. This willowy ballad moving somewhere near Carpenters harmonies and the Cali folk that never made it out of Laurel Canyon makes an argument in favor of technical skill and against novelty — and kind of succeeds.
[8]

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JUSTIN MOORE FT. VINCE NEIL - HOME SWEET HOME
[3.75]


if 1-800-DIAL-MTV still existed, would this return to the top?

Josh Langhoff: Aside from certified real good album Dr. Feelgood and hearing an endless procession of kids wander into the choir room after class and start pounding “Home Sweet Home ‘91” on the piano — they never made it to the chorus’s trademark flat-VI flat-VII progression, the burliest cliché in a song full of ‘em — I never clicked with the Crüe. Maybe because they used the words “devil” and “hell” in a couple titles, they kept showing up as scabrous warlocks in these Rock Music is Satan’s Playground videos we’d watch at youth group. High school me would be confused and relieved to see them hailed “Nashville Outlaws” and covered by Hootie, though he just takes the “socially conscious” album closer my friend Johnny once called “the song that lets you know it’s time to change the record.” As for this one — well, Rattail Justin is a second hand bro.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: “Without You” is the better Motley Crue ballad, Nikki Sixx is up there with Holland-Dozier-Holland (#NoKlosterman), and this hayseed clod can’t power-ballad for shit. Hit the bricks, then take the brick to your own face. I’m going to listen to Hanoi Rocks to cleanse this filth from my life.
[1]

John Seroff: A good cover song should at the very least aspire to hew to the line of the apocryphal Hippocratic Oath and do no harm. This corn pone rendition of “Home Sweet Home” dings my junior high memories of the original Mötley Crüe version by dint of twangy over-enunciation, deflation of all-important cock rock hubris in service of sentimentality, and by trotting out the vocally bedraggled Vince Neil as a half-hearted background singer-cum-hair metal mascot. It’s not as if the source material demands better treatment but this is Star Wars Special Edition levels of degrading.
[3]

Alfred Soto: As a concept this duet/cover isn’t risible. Aimed at condescending assholes who dismiss contemporary country as hair metal, the song sticks and spins its finger in their asses. But the best lack all conviction and all that. The guitar and piano sound like they were themselves Pro Tooled, which should offend those who ply their trade on the authenticity circuit, and Vince like a Guitar Center employee bumming a smoke during break.
[1]

Anthony Easton: I don’t really care about Vince Neil, and the slop over of ’80s metal and nuc-ountry has been talked about for almost a decade, and so all of the points for this, is how much fun Moore is having, and how dedicated his voice is: awkwardly fitting into the howl of guitar, but owning that as his sound. There is a certain power in a working class boy as a man being able to bend genre and using any pull that he has in order to get what he wants to do—and not even pretending (with lyrics like this) that he is even doing country anymore. This is synthesis rather than a mutual drag act.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s a cute idea, but turns out a country-fied version of “Home Sweet Home” sounds unremarkable and pretty straightforward, the unique touches (organ, choir, Justin Moore’s drawled-out voice) failing to make this more interesting.
[4]

Brad Shoup: The original’s OK, but I’ve had this clip running as a low-level process in my brain for about 20 years, so I’m fond, put it that way. It’s sturdy, but its construction is so out of fashion that it actually points to new possibilities. I mean, does Moore ever let loose on those held notes like he does here? Ask those proto-metallers about how much heaviness they conjured with an organ and a regular old drum kit. There’s a grimness here that a lot of current country dudes blow right past with their dropped tuning and their croaks. Oh, and speaking of grim, Vince is just part of the fog here, a really nice scratch vocal that made it to mastering.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Akin to 1994’s Common Thread: Songs of the Eagles, the new Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue serves more than anything to show just how far contemporary country’s evolved these days because this makes total sense. Country is the arena-rock of 2014. “Home Sweet Home,” however, was never one of the Crue’s best songs, and Justin Moore, somehow, dumbs it down musically. Vince Neil’s backing vocals just prove how raggedly his voice is these days - and he was never a particularly strong singer. Moore provides no personality here; this might as well be a performance on American Idol's hair metal (or “‘80s”) night, barely a notch up from karaoke.
[3]

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TWISTA FT. TIA LONDON - IT’S YOURS
[4.75]


We don’t want it.

Megan Harrington: The focus on Twista’s work has always been the incredibly technical speed of his delivery. This is a triumph, of course, but it undermines how emotional he often is. “It’s Yours” is an unabashed love song with Twista and Tia London as two opposites that intertwine in a tale of sweet romance. Reducing Twista to a robotic statistic is dehumanizing, especially when his flow is timed to a fluttering heartbeat.
[8]

John Seroff: Kanye knew a decade ago that putting Twista on “Slow Jamz” required a counterpoint with the velvet smoothness of Luther Vandross to keep the song balanced. Neither the murmurs of Tia London nor The Legendary Traxster’s musicbox-‘n’-bass melody offer enough resistance for the grandfather of Guinness Record rap to maintain that sort of equilibrium. Twista runs so far ahead of the track that by the time the listener puzzles out o_0 lyrics of the “whenever I’m up in your hall/I feel the ripples up on the wall” variety, we’re too spun to decide if “It’s Yours” is meant to be Songz seductive or Fab punchline-funny. I’m regretfully voting neither.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The R&B production — tinkling keyboards and organs and the popping production from latter-day R. Kelly - is the star, Twista’s motormouth second billed lead, and Tia London giving the kind of performance so insistent on projecting vulnerability that of course the Academy of Motion Picture Farts and Biases can’t resist nominating her. And, boy, is she dopey. Who else could put up with Chester Chatterbox praising a body like a Maserati?
[3]

Dan MacRae: Just so you’re on the trolley, Twista prefers women with a body like a Bugatti and not like a Buick. Be sure to keep that in mind if you see the least important “Slow Jamz” guy having sex with a high performance automobile in your neighbourhood. I’m actually quite fond of the woozy Tia London chunklets of “It’s Yours”, for what it’s worth.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Twista is going to be making this same song and doing it long after we’re all dead. I don’t know how he does it, I don’t really know if it’s doing what he wants it to, and I can’t promise you it’ll ever feel as fresh as it did a decade or so ago. But it’s gonna happen! Maybe next time, it’ll have a much better singer on the hook b/c YEESH.
[2]

Brad Shoup: This is Tia London’s song, a tinkling contraption stuffed with the most labor-intensive placeholder verses conceivable. I’d be happy with Twista minus Twista here, especially with the way London makes the hook sound like “your status/your status/your status,” an epic bummer of a conciliatory gesture. The organ coats the walls, the keyboard lilts like a stuck convenience-store chime.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: The Universe’ Fastest Rapper… Ever! and a singer slower than the slowest of his jamz, competing in a juxtapository intelligibility contest with the only winners surely sufferers of chronic insomnia. Twista, with little revelatory besides the lost Dr. Seuss title “kush in her bush,” isn’t even going that fast, but anything would seem quick next to such syllabic drizzle. The chorus serves as tone setter, and that tone is insipid.
[4]

Anthony Easton: Quickness does not suggest one is listening anything worthwhile — the fairy light twinkling, the snapping percussion, even Tia London’s pillow softness, is Disney Princess as seduction routine, so soft that it absorbs any of the aggro ludicrousness of Twista’s tired player game. That it reinforces a shop worn gender binary makes the split even more difficult to enjoy. 8 for her, 2 for him, Split the middle.
[4]

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LEONARD COHEN - ALMOST LIKE THE BLUES
[6.89]


Almost like a [7.00]…

Mark Sinker: His voice is beyond superb now, of course: the dust of ages creaking up at you as you pad the dark trackless maze of corridors seeking the tomb of the lost pharaoh. And if that’s kitsch, well, kitsch is the line he’s trodden from the start, back in true 60s when people were beginning eagerly to argue whether and when pop and rock lyrics can be poetry, and he emerged to entirely muddy the question by already being a poet. The words here are evasive and playful — self-mockingly weightless gestures in the direction of the darkest matter — and if you can’t really begrudge an elderly man giving himself so serenely untroubling a time, you can still maybe feel a bit cheated, because he’s not giving you much either, beyond two or three half-good surprises in the way certain couplets unfurl.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The voice crumbled into a rasp that makes Bob Dylan after 2001 sound like Mary J, Cohen heaves paradoxes over bongos and a Patrick Leonard piano line. When he boasted more vocal, ah, nuance, he would have ironized the “torture, killing, and all my bad reviews” and burning villages instead of letting his guilt carry the tune, as it were; at the moment it sits there, daring us to find it offensive. I do. But most octogenarians don’t regard the act of recording as a benediction, nor do they admit to admit to distance to keep away the rot.
[7]

Anthony Easton: This pains me to say, because Cohen is one of the best song writers in the last half of the 20th century, with an aesthetic that has both flexibility and a strong consistency—and this has some fantastic lines, and one amazing gag line. But I am still a little bored of the production; he hasn’t really moved from the female back up singer/cocktail piano background since the mid-1990s. I wonder what would happen if he finagled that a bit.
[7]

John Seroff: Octogenarian Cohen lately flourishes enough vocal fry and Bukowski poetry to give sextagenarian Tom Waits a run for his money. It’s a likely necessary affect he’s leaned heavy into since 2010 and reflects the prevailing sound and mood on his latest album, Popular Problems. I rather like nu-Cohen’s gruff and gentle songs of experience; “Almost Like the Blues” feels shorter than its running time (always a good sign) and sits easy on the ears nestled among the Jukebox’s status quo crop of EDM firework shows, Brooklyn hipsters and bitches catchin’ bodies ‘bout a week ago. More old-folk pop, please; it’s good for the digestion.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Cohen does his gravelly-and-getting-gravellier-voiced thing at age 80, singing lyrics that only he could’ve written — say what you will about him, but the man has quite the distinctive lyrical (not to mention singing) voice. But what does him all the favors here is Patrick Leonard’s sympathetic production, full of touches and nuance that show he gets it: the lightly hit bongos, the surprising and subtle horn stabs, the jazzy piano. This is a superb match of singer, song and production.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s interesting that whereas your average classic singer-songwriter artist from those legendary times goes into jazz or country as the ‘root’ of their work, Cohen’s always enjoyed playing with schmaltzy kitsch. Here if feels almost Barry White-like, how he’s this titanic figurehead, except with such a uniquely perfected non-presence vocally. I wish he held a lot more of his black humor, instead seeming to forgo that for a sense of dignified melodrama that leaves me scratching my head. As Cohen’s twilight of years approach with every minute, is sentiment starting to chip away at the edges, or is the morose and moribund just not as appealing?
[6]

Edward Okulicz: If the world feels darker than it was 20 years ago, all the more reason for an even blacker “Everybody Knows.” Play this on some 80s synths and drum machines and it would fit quite nicely on Various Positions — and I dig that kitschy trumpet that pops up every so often. Cohen intones this with even more bleakness and gruffness than that description would suggest and the female backing vocals are exquisite counterpoint. Sound-wise, it touches all sorts of different buttons that make me confused as to whether it sounds modern or a period piece, but the problem is that while it’s always good to hear Cohen’s voice, this song’s not gripping; it doesn’t go anywhere because each verse is more or less the same. There are good lines, there are lines that may not be good but sound great in Cohen’s voice, and there are some that are downright dodgy (the second verse has all three). You’ve heard the first 50 seconds, you’ve heard the song. You’ve heard the last 50 years of Cohen’s career, you can predict the last stanza of each verse based on the second.
[6]

Megan Harrington: You won’t find much writing to suggest this, but it’s my strong suspicion that most of Leonard Cohen’s later career is the work his partner Sharon Robinson. She’s his longtime collaborator and back-up singer, and though this song is credited solely to him, she’s all over it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of his gravelly voiced gravitas, but what sets apart and refines “Almost Like the Blues” is Robinson’s wordless coos. Cohen is a well respected shrivelled husk and Robinson is the ribbons wound around the maypole. Together, they’re deeply affecting; I just wish we spent more time talking about her and her thoughts and her vision and her legacy.
[9]

Brad Shoup: Ta-da, he’s mordant, he’s sharp, Sharon’s still here. Dark was the night, ghoulish was the vicariism. Love is like a bottle of gin, but a bottle of gin is still awake at 4 AM. The bass flips through the international headlines while Cohen squeezes a grapefruit and notes the absolute distances between this place and those. This is pretty good; it’s not boring.
[8]

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