Singles Going Steady
his week on Singles Going Steady, Usher tries to catch lightning in a bottle for the fifth time, Fabolous makes some very indecent proposals, Unwritten Law make a desperate cry for help, Lostprophets plead ignorance, and Kelly Clarkson becomes the first American Idol to make a single that doesn’t suck! Seriously—not even in the slightest!
Erick Biertiz: The beat is so odd that I first thought I might have gotten a mash-up by accident. But this is the real thing, a pretty punchy song on a sharp smart beat. Usher flips some neat vocal tricks, including the entire first ten seconds; the noise just after the 20 second mark that sounds like “nwah”; the high-pitched “aw” at the 40 second mark; the “I was so wrong” in falsetto at one minute, 30 seconds; the little pitter-patter vocalizations at two minutes, 35 seconds; and the “shugit” at two minutes 50 seconds. Low horn sounds in hip-hop and R&B were so long overdue. God bless the Oughties.
Nate De Young: Pulled together by insistent drum-programming, the instruments underpinning "Caught Up" are so strangely disparate, with the chorus' plumbing horns and the verses' pulse-synths, that it's hard not to get a little pop-ist for a moment. Usher holds his own within the cacophony and even parts some advice from his mama - "be careful who you do." You hear that kiddies? "Who" means farm animals are still on the bill.
Sam Bloch: This is such a disappointment! This is what we get after three wild futurepop songs--no, what’s "My Boo"?--a return to Usher, ca. 1997. The silly synthetic horns, all sorts of vocal postures: that isn’t really what we want now, is it? And aren’t you just in love with the new Usher, the neurotic Usher who still cheats on his girls like all the time? Well, at least, it’s much more endearing: I love the way "Burn" trembles and the "Confessions II" beat forces the moment to its crisis, but this, this one, not so much.
Ian Mathers: I’ve never been a big fan of Usher, but after Mario and Omarion it’s honestly good to have him back. They are the Peter Lawfords to his Sinatra. This is pretty basic oh-shit-I’m-in-love-and-thus-not-in-control stuff, but the grace notes (that brief blat during the chorus, the backing vocals, “this girl is pimping me/she’s really turning me out”) really lift this above the recent competition. Maybe Mr. Raymond can just afford better producers, but as long as he stays this far ahead the point is moot.
Kareem Estefan: Surprisingly, “Caught Up” is neither a “slow song” nor a “club track.” And that might be its highest praise; finally, Usher is avoiding tokenism, melding his strengths together instead of separating them into easily marketable packages labeled “ballad” or “banger”. Unfortunately, it’s not as alluring as his simpler singles.
Matt Chesnut: In this, the next chapter of “Usher Controls the Universe,” dude employs what the Godfather affectionately referred to as HAWNS! That doesn’t hurt. I should be moved much more than this, though. I mean it’s nice enough, all the elements of a good song are here. Maybe I’ve been over-saturated with Usher. Is that possible?
Since U Been Gone
Erick Bieritz: It took the American Idol camp long enough to excrete something that was worth hearing. Realizing that ballads alone do not an idol make, Clarkson pitches a song underhand to the Avril and Ashlee fans--not to mention poptimist bloggers. The latter party are drooling at the chance to bait their foes across the aisle with a full-blown AI “rock” song, and while it’s not quite as good as they might make it out to be, it’s still surprising. Is rock the new teen-pop?
Nate de Young: Taking the staccato chords that has led many a "indie rock" band into stardom, American Idol Kelly Clarkson is taking Interpol to school. Or maybe I'm just picturing Anthony Miccio jumping around, trying to get his Paul Banks on to "Since U Been Gone." The song's build-ups are better than the anthemic choruses and even the synth wankery of the second verse is hard to dismiss.
Sam Bloch: I remember when she came out with "Breakaway," that co-write with Avril. Pretty slack, as I recall. Yeah, well, let’s take a page from Karen O, and see how much ... oh, I can’t keep up this esoterospeak. I love this song!!!
Ian Mathers: Leaving aside the fact that the “U” in the title and the (mis)use of “so” in the chorus are both pet peeves, this song just confirms that Kelly Clarkson is the Ashlee Simpson I actually like (at least based on singles). She’s got a better voice, slightly less Avrilesque lyrics, and knows that if the chorus is going to go all BIG like that, there should be a little restraint in the choruses for contrast.
Kareem Estefan: Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson never did much for me (well, maybe “Sk8er Boi”), not because of their terminally awkward and insipid lyrics, but because the image that was on one hand exalted by unfairly maligned teenagers and on the other hand too reservedly praised by critics who tried to get down to “the real rebelliousness of Avril” simply left me indifferent. But I know nothing about Kelly Clarkson and this song has been stuck in my head for weeks now, and I will ignore everything I hear about her so that I can keep things that way.
Matt Chesnut: First American Idol product whose carriers finally get the hint! We don’t need any more Whitney Houston knockoffs. Not in 2005. Not ever, for that matter. Ditching the larynx gymnastics for some ‘tars (dang, they even use feedback well), Cowell and Co. have finally given me a reason to care about what happens after someone wins the greatest televised karaoke contest.
Erick Bieritz: ”Save Me” kicks into a nice punky bounce and sounds alright for about half of its runtime. Unfortunately the sticky acoustic slowdown at the two minute mark kills off the momentum and goodwill the band builds up. This could have been average rather than just slightly foul.
Nate de Young: It's hard enough to resist writing some awful pun on 'Unwritten Law.' But with a song titled "Save Me"? Damn. When the most exciting shifts in "Save Me" are pulling out some stop-start guitar part and an acoustic breakdown to break up the monotony, it makes it REAL difficult not to read the song's title as a painful stab at meta.
Sam Bloch: I suppose that bashing emo-punk ballads is really passe at this point, but, eh, I digress. Why any self-respecting high-schooler would find solace in these lyrics ("whoa whoa yeah / write it write it / whoa whoa everything's my fault") as opposed to, say, the latest Simple Plan number is beyond me. In fact the so-wallowed depths of “Save Me” sets the bar pretty high for the next band that’s going to do this. Might as well just put a little pillow in the jewel case.
Ian Mathers: Hmm. Uncharacteristic moment of restraint before the first chorus; they wait just a second after you expect them to really rip into it to actually start. The lyrics aren’t great, but I love the way the verse melody occasionally brings to mind “Mexican Radio”. You can really tell Unwritten Law have been doing this for fifteen years; everything is just a bit better than it has to be. The best example of the genre since “A Decade Under The Influence”.
Kareem Estefan: Within the first minute of “Save Me,” vocalist Scott Russo alludes to his “little black heart”, calls himself sick and asks his lover not to touch him because “you’ll get it”, and even executes a swift and unexpected shift from “I hate you” to “everything’s my fault”. In your words, Russo, “fucking thanks a lot.”
Matt Chesnut: Nope, not today fellas.
Trillville feat. Cutty
Erick Bieritz: ”Some Cut” is a confusing choice for a single - there are much catchier songs on the album. But it was only a matter of time before someone built a chorus around creaking bedsprings.
Nate de Young: Since I'll probably never get the chance to say it again – creaky mattresses are FUCKING SICK. Framing the baby-rocking bassline and prurient tales of deflowering, the creaky mattress takes me back, all 2 Live Crew-style.
Sam Bloch: You know about sloppy seconds, but have you ever heard of ... scrappy seconds? "I want to cut you up like you ain’t been cut"--yikes!
Ian Mathers: Too goddamned long by half, but not bad; yes, the idea of using mattress creaks during the chorus is about the only interesting thing going on here (and what’s with the constant lyrical reference to balls?), but the chorus, complete with Andre 3000 imitator is nice the first few times. The next dozen wears at your patience.
Kareem Estefan: I love the audacity of beginning a song that aspires to be “smooth” with an insistent creak. Better, the sound effect continues throughout “Some Cut”’s duration. Trillville and co. are so confident of their track’s effortless glide that they sabotage it repeatedly just to illustrate its indestructibility.
Matt Chesnut: Bed rocking as percussion? Nice. But release “F.I.L.A.” or “What the Fuck” as a single already! The world needs more Scrappy.
Erick Bieritz: I was deathly afraid that Fab would have a horrible, embarrassing drop-off after the mostly great “Breath,” but “Baby” is only mildly cringe-inducing. “Goo-goo ga-ga” notwithstanding. I wonder what happens when non-celebrities go into clubs and try to pick up women by saying the equivalent of “I WANT TO PUT MY BABIES INSIDE YOU NOW.”
Nate de Young: I'm all about the pastiche and shit, but since Fabolous is from the 'East Side' like Notorious BIG, he's got the right to rock an over-bite of "Big Poppa"? Nah Nah Nah. Even over a painfully slinky production with perfunctory xylophones, I can always count on Fabolous pulling out of his b-grade courtship for a second to say "Goo-goo Gaa-gaa."
Ian Mathers: Oh, so “Breathe” really was a one-off. Pity.
Sam Bloch: Beat’s pretty chill, but the best part is during that smoove chorus: "I need the kind of girl you find in the club, rocking those fat jeans." Ha ha! You’re the one for Fab, fatty! Or maybe he just loves girls in maternity wear ...
Kareem Estefan: The Notorious B.I.G. reference – “I see some ladies tonight that should be havin’ my baby, baby - cues us towards “Baby”’s nostalgic production, but Fabolous is reaching even farther back than Biggie, to a soulful groove Stevie Wonder would have endorsed. This song is an absolute anachronism, its grandiosity and old-school sound combining to make it a rare find in the often uninspired category of self-consciously “sweet” rap love songs.
Matt Chesnut: Oh. Wow. Upright bass (if not a convincing imitation)? Awesome. Lifting a line from the immortal of Biggie Smalls? Ballsy. Everything shimmers. Fabolous is on point. Truly wonderful.
I Don't Know
Erick Bieritz: What gives? Is it good singles week? The solos are a bit too flowery, but this is a pretty tight don’t-call-it-nu-rock song. It will tide the nation over nicely until System of a Down completely takes over rock radio later this year.
Nate de Young: Knee-deep in the realm of alterna-rot, "I Don't Know" has all the standard trappings of what you'd expect in a Linkin Park fallout. Sensitive choruses, lame scratches, and one of the most bizarrely intoned shouts of "Yeah, Yeah" before the ending guitar solo. If 2004 was the year of "Yeah," only now do we get to hear the buzzed-out side-effects.
Ian Mathers: They sound, right down to the vocals, like a slightly less offbeat and less annoyingly hippy Incubus. Mainstream rock’s identity crisis continues to be expressed through its proponents’ lyrics, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting. Keep fighting for hearts and minds, boys; some better singles might help.
Kareem Estefan: When you take trite narrative, commoditized angst, and ostentatious guitar solos as nu-metal givens, it becomes easy to see that this is a catchy, well-constructed pop song. But I’m not at that point yet.
Sam Bloch: See? This isn’t so bad. Nu-metal needs to sound a lot more like Good Charlotte. Less goofy brooding, more shreddin”
Matt Chesnut: They say they’re Welsh, do they? Could’ve fooled me. Sounds a lot like American alt metal stuff. So, you know, not great.
By: US Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-01-21