Singles Going Steady
his week on Singles Going Steady: John Legend delivers an ode to 1980’s best picture winner, Lindsay Lohan delivers a ballad that may or may not be about That Dude from That 70s Show, Akon shatters pre-conceptions about the hood, Sum 41 do their obligatory slow tune, Killah Cam shows he really knows what the Girls want, and Simple Plan just can’t take it anymore (again). All this and our #31 single of 2004, this week on Singles Going Steady!
Ian Mathers: I remember when these guys were fun. I have no objection to them going all serious if it still sounds good (and on “We’re All To Blame” it did), but “Pieces” is just boring angst-by-numbers. Deryck Whibley still has a better voice than most emo singers, it turns out, but although this is still loud the drive that has marked all of Sum 41’s good singles is gone. Hopefully this is just a temporary failure of nerve rather than a new direction.
Erick Bieritz: Guys, what happened? You could have ridden Blink 182’s coattails to the finish line. Instead you’re trampled under Simple Plan’s feet.
Nate De Young: No no no. I hate to have such an immediate and intense reaction, but everything on this just sounds awful. Can anyone really be satisfied with Sum 41’s painful stab at stadium with predictable overdubs, “meh…evocative” guitars and hooks that just tread around doing nothing? The song ends with “I’m better off on my own” and I can’t really argue.
Matt Chesnut: This reminds me a bit of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” without the growling and yodeling (growdeling?) So, negligible verses mostly but very big and very singable choruses.
Akiva Gottlieb: Introspective Sum 41 is like a salad at McDonalds. You admire the effort but...naw.
Andrew Unterberger: Sum 41 try to write a Coldplay song, with OK results. Unlike Blink-182, however, who are just as convincing as maturing twenty-somethings as they were as bratty sixteen-year olds, this phase of Sum 41 just has me wishing for “Fat Lip” re-writes.
Ian Mathers: If you’re going to rely on repeating the same, not particularly stunning for much of your singles four and a half minutes, please have more going on than just your voice and a piano. As a rule, at least. I’m sure some could make that work, but this is dull. The lyrical content kind of sucks, although Legend’s voice isn’t bad. I shudder to think what the rest of the album is like if this is the single, though.
Erick Bieritz: This is basically an ode to being boring.
Nate De Young: John Legend. The name had me expecting another awful singer-songwriter ballad, and although “Ordinary People” could be called a ‘ballad,’ but it surprisingly works. The piano shimmers along, but it’s the track’s bareness that really supports and emphasizes Legend’s engrossing voice.
Matt Chesnut: Man, this is a risky song. No beat. Nothing but John and the piano. When was the last time this arrangement was used for a single? It’s ridiculously old school and I can’t imagine this being a hit, but if it does, more power to it. It’s a well-written tune and one of the few times neo-soul has felt, you know, soulful.
Akiva Gottlieb: Is Kanye really into this? This track doesn't grab me, though the minimalist in me likes the idea of hearing a piano-and-vocals-only song on mainstream radio. Alicia Keys should give this guy charisma lessons, pro bono.
Andrew Unterberger: Without Kanye’s phoned-in production to mask it, Legend emerges here as a genuine talent of sorts. It seems unlikely that anyone (short of Alicia Keys, anyway) would be able to get away with a ballad this bare and retro sounding, but maybe that’s a testament to the song’s quality. Thumbs up to the gutsy move.
Ian Mathers: Simple Plan continue to write the most risible lyrics in all of emo-dom, but at least this isn’t as eardrum-rupturingly awful as “Welcome To My Life”. Purely because it’s, you know, fast. I can’t shake the feeling the chorus is an outright steal from a better song, but after eight plays I can’t place it and I’m unwilling to subject myself to this any longer.
Erick Bieritz: The requisite slow section two-thirds through ruins a potentially decent song. If this was just two minutes of obnoxiously catchy “shutupshutupshutup” it could be pretty good. As is, it’s, well, pretty tolerable.
Nate de Young: Every time I hear Simple Plan, I have this innate desire to approach them and tell them to quit being such douche bags and get real jobs. Also, I’d feed their Nerf balls to a dog and tell them that Santa was killed by Colombian druglords. Incidentally, the introduction was very listenable.
Akiva Gottlieb: The worst thing about Simple Plan is that there's no way to even ironically appreciate their music. By this point, aren't they the only mall punks who haven't left the mall?
Andrew Unterberger: This is surprisingly un-atrocious. That’s not exactly to say that it’s good, but it’s fairly close. Fun, energetic angst is always gonna be an improvement on slow, overwrought angst, even if neither is terribly admirable.
Ian Mathers: Lohan’s voice is more generic than her peers Hilary or Ashlee, but this is (surprisingly) at least as good as their singles. After the mess that was “Rumours” merely competent, reasonable catchy pop-rock goes down in the win column. It’s tempting to rate it higher just because I keep hearing how bad her voice and music are supposed to be, but really this is merely decent.
Erick Biertiz: The eerie notes at the beginning and the hobbled beat at on the verses are great, but the chorus lays on the sugar at the worst possible moment. Lohan’s second wasted opportunity after “Rumors.”
Nate De Young: Although “Rumors” let Lohan's thin voice add a layer of vulnerability to her retract, the same voice makes "Over" sounds pale and lost. Power chords fly around the song for her aide, but Lohan sounds husky. While she looks like a proper 13-year-old in all publicity photos, in “Over” she sounds like an overdue seasoned veteran, chain-smoking for the last 20 years.
Matt Chesnut: Do you reckon this song is about Wilmer Valderama? Anything that’s possibly good is totally overshadowed by the fact that this could be about Fes from That 70’s Show.
Akiva Gottlieb: Lindsay doesn't quite have the pipes of her contemporaries, but "Over" is pretty atmospheric for an exuberant single. (Am I the only one who hears vague Cure undertones in the verses?) The whole thing sounds more contemplative than bratty, certainly a step up the Avril ladder.
Andrew Unterberger: In contrast to Simple Plan, this is actually a case where the music would benefit from a little more melodrama—the lyrics and melody call for it, but the music’s stuck trying to maintain some sense of energy. It’s questionable whether or not Lindsay’s voice would be able to fit such a ballad, but if she’s gonna go ten rounds with the JoJo’s of today, she’ll have to do better than this.
Ian Mathers: “Livin’ in the ghetto” is a common song form for modern R&B;, but rarely is it this pretty. There’s a slinkiness to the singing and a wail to the backing vocals (Akon is on this thing what, seven or eight times over?) that might have something to do with growing up in Senegal rather than New Jersey (but might not, admittedly). A strong follow up to “Locked Up”, this establishes Akon as a singer whose work is both more beautiful and more despairing than most.
Erick Bieritz: It’s big and obvious and self-important, but what’s wrong with that? This must be remixed with some rappers on that “I love the hood / I hate the hood” dichotomy.
Nate De Young: Here’s some Soulful r'n'b, but this sounds like a far cry from social upheaval tales of Marvin Gaye back in the day. Somehow the song makes me feel completely indifferent to the half-assed tales of ghetto. Akon doesn’t stray far from clichés, musically or narratively and it grates overtime. But there are a couple little nuggets in the song, like the squeaked violin during the choruses that keeps the song evocative.
Matt Chesnut: Perhaps the one thing that would make Akon better is the beats because these just aren’t cutting it. The musical backing is pretty interesting for the most part (many insane harmonies, some subtle string stab during the chorus that comes out of nowhere), but it tends to get samey.
Akiva Gottlieb: First he's locked up, now he's in the ghetto...when will Akon catch a break? Not today, not from me, not for this dull retread.
Andrew Unterberger: So I guess this means that Akon was the soulful guy on “Locked Up,” not the hard dude? Too bad.
Cam’ron / The Diplomats feat. Jim Jones, Cam’ron & Juelz Santana
Girls / Crunk Muzik
[6.5 / 8.3]
Ian Mathers: I now wish I’d heard “Crunk Muzik” before we voted for singles last year, as I think it may have been my #1. I love every little thing about it, trying to list them all would be pointless and take forever, so let’s just mention the awesome synthesizer sound and the way Juelz Santana says “One word to describe me / Spectacular, yes!”. “Girls”, meanwhile, confirms that while I may only understand a third of what Cam’ron raps (if that), that’s a key part of the appeal – the sheer sound is intoxicating, even if you don’t know what he’s on about. That Mona Lisa makes chorus helps immeasurably, but it’s hard not to miss Juelz & Jim (quick, someone make a Truffaut joke!).
 / 
Erick Bieritz: ”Girls” is so much better in execution than it looked on paper. The chorus is as low-key as can be and most of the rest of the song is jettisoned in favor of some of Cam’ron’s trademarked nonsensical syllable-short rhyming. But it pales in comparison to “Crunk Muzik,” a blurting, blunted splat that says nothing but says it pretty fucking loud. “Rock ‘n’ roll like Bon Jovi” indeed.
 / 
Nate De Young: Both Cam’ron’s absurd monosyllabic flow (something that inexplicably rhymes words like focus, and hocus pocus) and making Cindy Lauper into a ghetto-fabulous queen really seals the deal for me with this song. Its pop rap, Puffy-style, but I don’t hold these things against people. “Crunk Muzik,” on the other hand, sounds so large that it’s hard to think of playing it anything less than maxing out a sound-system. The hop-scotch synths, sub-bass dropping beat, handclaps and tapped-out bongo rolls fit together to make every Diplomat sound much much much larger than they have any right to be. This is a good start to the year.
 / 
Matt Chesnut: Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was and is an infectious and lively ode to masturbation, probably. Here, Killa Cam strips it down considerably to a buzzing synth and hi-hats and claps. Once the novelty wears off (“HEY I RECOGNIZE THIS SONG WAIT SOMETHING’S DIFF’RENT”), you may notice how the ADHD delivery of Ms. Lauper is exchanged for the passive and quiet R&B; princess style (see: Ashanti ca. 2002), thus sucking most of the life out of it. “Crunk Muzik,” despite having very little crunk in it (where are the shout-alongs, hm?), is a pretty sweet number. More buzzing synths except made to sound like busted and digitized trumpets.
 / 
Akiva Gottlieb: Cam'ron's Cyndi Lauper tribute is about 15% less fun that it looks like on paper, but the novelty is jarring enough to guarantee some radio play. The aptly titled "Crunk Muzik" is a sincere distillation of the dirty crunch, but the background riff is too repetitive to be able to smack booties a la Trick Daddy's "Let's Go". I want my crunk to work as a sports anthem.
 / 
Andrew Unterberger: The flow of Cam and the rest of the Dipset crow is something that really needs to infiltrate rap in general—that sort of laid-back confidence and surreal humor that finds the perfect halfway point between 50 Cent and Ludacris, it’s almost narcotic. But the Dipset song is still only as good as it’s production allows, as demonstrated by “Girls,” which is a pretty distraction but doesn’t leave much in the way of impression, and “Crunk Muzik,” which is one of the most exciting, invigorating rap singles of recent memory. I really hope these songs take over the world.
 / 
By: US Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-01-28