Singles Going Steady
his week on Singles Going Steady, it’s all superstar producers and comeback singles! U2 write a song that isn’t about 9/11 (not obviously, anyway), Franz Ferdinand try to repeat the success of “Take Me Out,” Fabolous and Just Blaze struggle for breath, Pharell goes all Bjork on us, and KoRn cover “Word Up”—yes, that “Word Up”! All this, and the first hit rap song to sample “Crazy Train”! Can you believe it took this long?
Snoop Dogg f/ Pharell
Drop It Like It’s Hot
Kareem Estefan: It seems Snoop Dogg and Pharrell are fans of Bjork’s latest album: on “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, the two manage to transform weird throat sounds into an altogether natural backdrop to Snoop’s callous rap. In effect, this song is all about The Neptunes’ production, with a hesitant beat and retro keyboards totally outshining Snoop’s verses. Even so, they drop the beats hotter than they have since “Milk Shake”, making this one of the best hip-hop tracks of the year.
Matt Chesnut: If “Flap Your Wings” was any indication, the Neptunes are headed into a direction where hooks appear maybe thrice in a song and the strength of the beats and rhymes are crucial. Now, I defended Nelly’s lead-off single because it was a stellar beat. But This is at best interesting and at worst not terribly engaging. The tongue clicks are a good example of this: it’s a neat trick, but I’d trade them in for a “Milkshake” in a second.
Ian Mathers: Not only does this boast the best unexpected synth I’ve heard in a while, and the first time Snoop has sounded authentically menacing on a single in longer, but the whole hissing/minimalist percussion backing is perfect, those weird falsetto sounds saying “Snoop”, even Pharrell’s guest verse: It’s all great. The weirdest thing either performer’s been involved in recently, and not surprisingly also the best.
Josh Love: Goddamn, the Neptunes do this minimalist shit so well, I think they could make a cover of John Cage’s 4’33” sound like a thug-ass club banger. When they drop a beat this ridiculously monolithic, you really have no choice but to stop dead in your tracks and let it pound you into submission.
Andrew Unterberger: Though I like the Neptunes’ more hooky numbers more than most, it’s still nice to see them returning to their awe-inspiring minimalism (especially when the song is taking off the way this one is). And it’s always great to see Snoop back in action, especially with such a great chorus—this song just can’t lose.
Kareem Estefan: Like just about any other Franz Ferdinand song, “This Fire” stands above most modern rock hits, but I’m disappointed that the group chose such a typical track as a single instead of a more dynamic song like “Jacqueline”, which has been begging release ever since it hit The O.C..
Matt Chesnut: Franz Ferdinand is continuing to try to show everyone that angular riffs and almost-David Byrne impressions can find their way into mainstream. A decent showing, this song doesn’t pick up until the end with the dueling noise guitars. By then, the song is over.
Ian Mathers: Okay, I admit I’ve come around to “Take Me Out”; it is genius, yes. But this? The rest of Franz Ferdinand’s album succumbs to the fatal flaw of being exactly as boring as I’d feared it was, and “This Fire” is no better or worse a single than the rest of them. Why would you listen to this? Go put on “Take Me Out” again.
Josh Love: From the SGS archives: “In no way does this score imply an endorsement of Franz Ferdinand or their supremely overrated self-titled debut as a whole. Mostly I’ve got no time for such self-consciously manic post-punk nonsense, but ‘Take Me Out’ definitely sticks out like a sore thumb, an irrepressible, highly danceable sore thumb.” So yeah, I think I’ll stick with that.
Andrew Unterberger: There are two types of songs on FF’s first album: Those that are “Take Me Out” and those that aren’t. Unfortunately only one song on the album is “Take Me Out” and they already used that as a single, so our next best option is “This Fire,” still an incredibly enjoyable and tight rock number (even if it doesn’t pack the wallop that “Take Me Out” still does some 200 listens later.)
Kareem Estefan: In case anyone doubts it, Korn has nothing to say in 2004. “Word Up”’s music is passable, but possesses none of the aggressive allure the band regularly swaggered five years ago, while Jonathan Davis’ vocals are bland enough to make you long to hear some standard nu-metal angst (which, if you’re like me, is not a common desire).
Matt Chesnut: Does this get filed under ironic or genuine? Either way, it’s a decent Cameo impression with some Korn guitars put on top. It’s too bad I don’t really like Cameo. Or Korn.
Ian Mathers: About the only thing that makes this ill-conceived cover bearable is the clear relish with which Jonathan Davis and company rip into it. Yeah, Cameo are/were great, but who needs a metal version of this song? Worth it only if the thought of Davis declaiming about “sucka DJs” gives you the giggles.
Josh Love: In KoRN’s defense, this cover of Cameo’s deathless “Word Up” is way more musically supple than I woulda thought possible from these guys. Unfortunately, Jon Davis’s horribly aping vocals render the idea of flogging this dead disco horse about as necessary as, well, the continued existence of KoRN’s career.
Andrew Unterberger: This is a long way from “Freak on a Leash,” huh? Recently more or less made dinosaurs by nu-nu-metallers like Linkin Park and Evanescence, I guess KoRn thought the smart thing to do would be to pull out the forgotten-80s-funk cover they had up their sleeve. Surprisingly it doesn’t suck, but it’s not exactly hit formula enough to pull their career out of the gutter. Bye bye, dudes, thanks for “Got the Life”.
Trick Daddy f/ Lil Jon
Kareem Estefan: The idea of sampling Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” seems somewhat pointless since the song is too familiar to ever acquire a new character, but at the least, Trick Daddy pulls it off pretty well. “Let’s Go” would serve as a nice crowd pumper at sports games, but it’s too kitschy to listen to in just about any other setting.
Matt Chesnut: So, this is the crunk rock I’ve been hearing about? The Jonman cometh with some Ozzy sampling. If only he knew how to put guitars in the mix! Someone get Rick Rubin on this and the guitars won’t sound so tacked on. Otherwise, this is another great idea from Lil Jon, just not executed as well it can be.
Ian Mathers: It didn’t occur to me until “Let’s Go”, but crunk is basically southern bounce times Andrew W.K., isn’t it? Or in other words, completely awesome. I actually like the Trick Daddy of “Shut Up” and “I’m A Pimp” a bit better, but that Lil’ Jon chorus is just irresistible. And that’s listening to it at home – I can’t even think of what this must be like in the club.
Josh Love: Whasthisscreaminyell inbullshitmumblemumblemumblefuckinhi phopnonsensestupidbastardsu sinCrazyTrainfuc kinRandyRhoadsspininhisgoddamngravem umblemumbl emumblefuckinSHARON!!!!
Andrew Unterberger: The rock implications in crunk have always been there—like Lil’ Jon says, black punk rock, right? Well, sampling Ozzy isn’t exactly the most punk thing he could do, but it’s a start, and it sounds fabulous. Trick Daddy puts forth a good effort, but it’s still the Lil’ Jon Show. And he knows what he’s doing.
Kareem Estefan: Predictably, this is far from terrible, but even farther from great. Although U2 continues to vary its sound after twenty-five years together, there’s nothing striking about “Vertigo” or, for that matter, any of the group’s recent material.
Matt Chesnut: Were it not for the bridge two minutes in or The Edge, I would not be able to tell you this was a U2 song. It reminds me a lot of the LL Cool J song in that venerable old gents are working on keeping up with the times (in this case, U2 sounds a little like U2 covering The Hives) and in the process lose some of their identity.
Ian Mathers: Not as good as “Electrical Storm” or “Elevation”, but much better than most other recent U2 songs. Everything for these guys has been downhill ever since “All I Want Is You”, but at least they’re tolerable again. Durable, sturdy, with a decent chorus; it’s sad that this counts as a highlight for modern rock radio.
Josh Love: I’m just amazed U2 ripped off a really solid rock song in just over three minutes and then somehow had the wherewithal to get the fuck out before they turned it into one of their customary five-and-a-half minute Bono Christ Pose jerkoff sessions. It’s a damn shame R.E.M. died six years ago, I’d love to have heard them try and top this.
Andrew Unterberger: I must admit to being kinda shocked at how cool this is. Well, truth be told, it’s not that cool, but considering this is a band so recently responsible for atrocities like “The Hands That Built America” and “Walk On,” I’ll take enjoyable Hives-lite riffing any day. Unexceptional, but for 00s U2, that’s sort of a good thing.
Kareem Estefan: While there’s nothing wrong with “Breathe” – the beat’s pretty good and the delivery’s tight – Fabolous seems to think the song is spectacular enough to spread across five minutes with no discernible variation. About three minutes through, it becomes clear just how wrong he is.
Matt Chesnut: Fabolous wants to sound urgent and he quite nearly does. The piano riff and bass drum-heavy beat set it up. But some moments sound flat, such as when the mix gets pulled out from under him during the “One and then the two/two and then the…” verses. It feels like a good opportunity has been squandered.
Ian Mathers: Fabolous is normally the most boring rapper in America, and this track isn’t even doing anything that interesting, but the backing female exhortation and the countdown and the fact that he just keeps going without any other MCs stepping in for like five minutes is all very impressive. Ultimately this winds up being the most impressive rapper’s showcase of the last month or so.
Josh Love: One week only: Neptunes vs. Just Blaze--FITE! You really can’t lose, and I’m happier than Eminem watching I Love the 90s for new song ideas, but if I gotta choose I’m going with Chad and Pharrell this week. Then again, I can’t see Blaze tossin’ a “Change Clothes” out there anytime soon either.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m always pleasantly surprised when I hear a hot Just Blaze beat—probably because he’s not half as ubiquitous as Kanye or Pharell, content to just let his presence be known. This is a great one—the hook even reminds me a bit of the urgency of Ghostface’s “Run,” that same fabulous kind of tension and excitement. And that was one of the best singles of the year, so this has got to be pretty great.
By: US Stylus Staff
Published on: 2004-10-08