Singles Going Steady
he radio. MTV. The single format in general. They're not just for the teenyboppers anymore. They never were, of course, but it took some of us longer to discover that than others, the cruel mistress that is indie credibility not helping one step on the way. In any event, whether we've been in touch with pop culture our entire lives or only tuned in again recently, Stylus is officially once again on the radar, and we're here to share our reports on the singles of the past week that made us sing, dance, cry, and feel nauseated. The good, the bad and the ugly are all represented without discrimination. So make sure not to touch that dial as we at stylusmagazine.com bring you the the first edition of Singles Going Steady.
(STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM SINGLE OF THE WEEK)
Kareem Estefan: Like J-Kwon’s “Tipsy”, Young Gunz’s “Friday Night” manages to celebrate the party life with its beat alone. Unlike J-Kwon, though, Young Gunz focus on the energy and exuberance of Friday nights, exchanging “Tipsy”’s sultriness for bounce, its decadence for puerility. To demonstrate this, not only does “Friday Night” move at dizzying speed, replete with record scratching and a chorus of “Ho!”s, but it even adopts cowbell from the disco world, lending it a sense of innovation uncommon in the hip-hop party anthem. The yin to “Tipsy”’s yang, “Friday Night” is a necessity for any night out this year.
David Drake: This is an earth-shaking dancefloor-rocking thunderous percussive avalanche of a party banger. It’s got one chant-along chorus that never gets old - a fairly obvious old-school homage, but on the other hand, the beat has a cowbell. Just Blaze could teach Kanye West a thing or two about drum programming. “It was a Friday night and the bass was pumpin’…” This is the song where you bust out the harlem shake.
Sam Bloch: Young Gunz are on the beatbox, I just hit the weed spot, I’m in some dude’s basement, there’s a few girls there, and there’s a new crew. The Young Gunz are my life. This is what the Beastie Boys are supposed to sound like.
Gavin Mueller: Now this is how you make a throwback beat. Just Blaze hooks up Chris 'n' Neef with some stripped down boom-bap, which gives the duo the energy they sorely need. It's only a matter of time before The Roc's youngest in charge peter out completely, but recycled flows from "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" sound fresh enough to these tired ears. Beats any G-Unit track hands down.
Gabe Gloden: For all of you listeners out there contemplating what exactly those Young Gunners enjoy doing on a Friday night, they’ve finally offered to “set the record straight”. Phew. Well, for those of you who’ve figured they spend the weekend sitting quietly at home with their children playing canasta, I’ve got some sobering news for you. They smoke marijuana and go to “the club”. I know, I know… I’m afraid that rapscallion Jay Z has gotten to them too. My question, however, is this: Who else goes to these clubs? From what I’ve been hearing on the radio recently, patronage primarily consists of half-assed rappers and hoes. All would be forgivable if these guys were babbling over a more intriguing production, but you know you’re in trouble when the only hook comes in the form of a cowbell.
Andrew Unterberger: Oh god. Awesome breaks, incendiary scratching, shout-out choruses, and…cowbell! “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” was great, but this fucking burns it to the ground. They don’t call him Just Blaze for nothing—this is without a doubt the hottest single released so far this year.
Cold Hard Bitch
Kareem Estefan: At least “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” ripped off Iggy Pop. “Cold Hard Bitch” is just as unoriginal as its predecessor, but instead of giving us another “Lust For Life”, Jet swaggers its AC/DC love, pumping out standard power chords and declaring “Cold hard bitch / you’re just a kiss on the lips” with enough bravado to make the cock rock legends proud. But the melody falls short of even the most tepid ‘70s FM hits, thus earning “Cold Hard Bitch” impressive status as one of the most pathetically chauvinistic and thoroughly boring rock songs in years.
David Drake: It sure is great how these guys brought back real rock ‘n’ roll.
Sam Bloch: If there was a music video for this song, I’d be the old codger standing up front with my arms crossed and eventually get doused in a pitcherful of beer by nubile, scantily-clan tan coeds.
Gavin Mueller: Any bar that stocks this track and no AC/DC albums should burn to the ground. Jet brings some riffs, but no charisma or hooks. Profoundly shittier than "Are You Gonna Be My Girl," "Cold Hard Bitch" will fortunately not find its way into every third commercial as its predecessor did. The time to forget this band forever begins now.
Gabe Gloden: Not much to say here other than that “Cold Hard Bitch” sounds like a rougher version of a Sloan single. It employs way too many start-stop dynamics to cover up the fact that it doesn’t have a solid hook. At its best, it makes me regret that Supergrass never had a huge crossover hit, and at its worst, I long for the days when Australian rock meant Silverchair. But when the neo-grunge mainstream rock stations only offer The Vines as an alternative, I guess Jet is what we have to settle for.
Andrew Unterberger: And I remain the only person in the world willing to stick up for these guys. OK, yes they’re phony and no they don’t have an original idea in their head, but as some critic I was reading recently pointed out, they actually try to have fun in a genre that recently has seen nothing but moping, emoting and angst-venting for the last three or four years. So maybe I’m willing to give them a bit more slack than they deserve. I just really enjoy this song.
Take My Breath Away
Kareem Estefan: If it makes any sense, the main reason “Take My Breath Away” doesn’t seem sinful to me is that there are so many others like it. Whether Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, or Jessica Simpson is singing it, this song has been filling radio airways, proms, and weddings for countless years. That said, “Take My Breath Away” is pretty terrible, struggling throughout its 3-minute duration to come up with any notable observation on the subject of love and settling for awkward lines in order to rhyme “motion” with “ocean” and “game” with “shame”.
David Drake: Its one thing if a song is bad; it’s another if it is totally unnecessary. I don’t even mind Berlin’s version, but this is just unforgivable. The first song was in Top Gun, so this one should be in recent Tom Cruise’s ego-vehicle The Last Samurai. It’s only fair. Here is a list of things I’d rather do than listen to this song:
Sam Bloch: I’ve never heard the Berlin original, but like, this is still really awful. Simpson’s delivery is too airy to dictate any sort of catchiness, that key change is just so cloyingly manufactured, that acoustic guitar is really god damned annoying, and worst of all, you can’t see cleavage through computer speakers.
Gavin Mueller: This (smooth) jazzed up version of the Top Gun soundtrack classic offers no surprises. Jessica Simpson still can't sing, but she's content to stick to her crude approximation of Britney's tarty tongue, but with an irritating poutiness that's all her own. Who knew Berlin's original could get even whiter? I'd much prefer Linkin Park covering "Danger Zone" or Ludacris rapping over the Harold Faltermeyer's "Top Gun Anthem."
Gabe Gloden: When I heard Jessica Simpson had covered “Take My Breath Away”, I was hoping (in vain) she would speed up the original and turn it into a club banger. No such luck. The other-worldly synth line has been pushed into the background and boringly replaced by (what else) an acoustic guitar. And gone is Terri Nunn’s enchanting vocal delivery. Instead we get Jessica Simpson’s showoff-y, American Idol audition. Dreadful.
Andrew Unterberger: I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for the Berlin original of this. I don’t have much of one for Jessica Simpson, though. Maybe it’s her look—total plastic, about 1/5 the personality of even Britney—but more likely, it’s the songs. This just isn’t going to do it.
Burn / Confessions, Pt. Two
Kareem Estefan: When an artist has three singles in the top 50, it’s proof that (s)he’s got a formula perfected, and Usher is no exception. “Burn” and “Confessions” seem to suggest that songwriting is incomparably easy for Usher, as they glide by smoothly and effortlessly, each telling its own story of ruined love with facility heard only in the best pop singles. Usher’s confessions - whether of his grief at losing his lover to another man (“Burn”) or his shame at cheating on the woman he loved (“Confessions, Pt. Two”) - are surprisingly touching, and although the songs might be too standard for some, they are executed with the skill of an artist who’s got it figured out.
David Drake: Neither of these tracks is an impressive genre-crashing revelation like his first single. Usher, however, has grown into an incredibly impressive vocalist. He never really falls into histrionics and his voice is consistently honey-sweet. “Burn” is the superior track by far; Jermaine Dupri’s production is innocuous for the most part, which makes it a nice showcase for Usher’s impressive vocals, although Dupri does utilize this cool little descending sonic sizzle that sounds like sweat dropping from a lover’s body as she feverishly waits on Usher’s return. There’s also this hot breakdown in the middle. “Confessions Pt. II” is considerably worse – although Usher’s voice is impressive, the bland production and awkward lyrical allusions to the fact that this song is “part 2” of Usher’s confessions makes for one unimpressive cut. He should drop the Just Blaze-produced “Throwback” as his next single.
Sam Bloch: Here, Usher—Urrsher—is here to give his woman something. Part two of my confessions. Because however you say it, it's clear that this dude is smooth. Smoove. This beat is really cool and glittery. Ice cold. He throws barbs at the bitch who did him wrong. Bitch talked smack about me on the internet. And he’s man enough to admit that he doesn’t know what to do about this baby she’s gonna have. There ain’t room in the world for two Urrshers. He’s brave enough to pull the old "at least I told the truth"card on his woman, because he’s got to give her something. Part two of my confessions. After he confessed (confessed) to the woman, she wasn’t too happy. She burned down the playback in the studio, and Urrsher came out with this anyway on blind faith. Nobody fucks with Urrsher.
Gavin Mueller: Usher's slow jams aren't bad, but they often pale in comparison to his more upbeat work. Not a problem with "Burn." Even my heart melted as I was draped with elaborate vocal arrangements, which curled around my body like a translucent silk sheet gently falling from the ceiling in slow motion. Breaking up never sounded so good. "Confessions Pt. 2" is hampered by its heavy-handed R&B-expository style, making no effort to conceal its narrative in any semblance of figurative language. Perhaps it adds to the "confessional" aspect of the song, but it detracts from overall catchiness. Good intentions, bad form.
Gabe Gloden: It’s hard for me to comment relatively on an Usher song because I don’t listen to this type of sultry, super-produced R&B on a regular basis… only on the radio, but I guess that is what this is about. In that case, I can confidently say that “Burn” fills the void left by “Ignition (Remix)” and resurrects the ghost of K-Ci & JoJo, summoning the chorus of “All My Life” in my head. A good thing, I guess. “Confessions Part 2” progresses that fine urban tradition of updating the themes in “Billie Jean” to music that harks back to Ushers days with Babyface. Very, very tolerable.
Andrew Unterberger: Was this guy always good? I mainly remember him for “Nice and Slow” from about eight years ago, which was damn near intolerable, but he’s got a series of singles right now that are laying siege to the charts and to radio, and they’re all pretty great. Neither of these are as good as “Yeah” (though to be fair, they also lack Ludacris and Lil’ Jon, and are therefore by definition going to be a lot worse) but they’re still kind of exciting—the ballad isn’t even too saccharine or anything. I guess Urrsher really does have the voice to make your booty go [smack].
Don’t Tell Me
Kareem Estefan: “Don’t Tell Me” unfolds the story of a guy who “wiped [Avril’s] tears, got rid of all [her] fears”, but actually only wanted sex, thus leaving Avril no choice but “to kick [his] ass and make[him] never forget”. It’s in the chorus where she really gets him, though, as she asks “Did you think that I was gonna give it up to you?” over an EXPLOSION of electric guitars that illuminate her angst for those who might have missed it underneath her famously subversive lyrics. But I won’t poke any more fun at “Don’t Tell Me”, since it seems somewhat unfair to criticize a song that clearly accomplishes its basic purpose. For 13-year-old girls across America, “Don’t Tell Me” will be life-saving for about two weeks.
David Drake: Avril is better off alone anyway, you sleazy molester. Why don’t you take a shower to cool off? The creepiest part of this song is when she talks about the guy’s arm being on her neck.
Sam Bloch: I know we’ve been going out for a while, and like ... well, duh I love you, but I don’t think I’m ready to do this yet. Sorry, it’s just not me. But I mean, if it’s going to make you upset, maybe you should think about if I’m really the one for you. I won’t do it! NO! I mean, please, don’t be mad at me, I love you! I mean no, okay? I already let you see my tan line, isn’t that enough? I’m the boss of my own body, all right? Why do you have to betray me? I thought I loved you! I’m strong! Don’t tell me I’m prude, bitch, I love you! I love you! Can I get a ride home?
Gavin Mueller: It's a pretty sad state of affairs when a Canadian brogue sounds exotic on the radio, but Avril stands out from the rest of the fair pretties by putting some oomph into her vocals, like she quite possibly cares about what she's saying. Unfortunately, it emphasizes how unbelievably bad some of the lyrics are: "I'm gonna ask you to stop, thought I liked you a lot, but I'm really upset" followed closely by "Get off of my bed / Yeah, that's what I said." But I guess a song about not giving into pressure to have sex has to off as at least a little cloying. Still, I can't forget one of my first distinct impressions of Ms. Lavigne was her belting out "Tell me!" needed… something. Sigh.
Gabe Gloden: Listening to this, it seems Avril is adhering to her dream of becoming the teenage Alanis Morrisette. Not only does she occasionally sound like a dead ringer (that “I-EE-I-EE-I!!” voice thing), but she’s following the same career arc by releasing a great debut single and proceeding to release a string of lesser, “safe” songs. Using the “Complicated” template, “Don’t Tell Me” begins very ballad-y with acoustic guitar and piano scales before it launches into a rocking indictment (this time it’s leveled against her hormonally pushy boyfriend). At least her songs actually speak out against pre-marital sex rather than simply giving it disingenuous lip service like Britney.
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll probably be prefacing everything I ever write about Avril with the statement “it’s no Sk8ter Boi” until I realize that she’ll never match that piece of pure pop honey (the greatest mall-raid song since “You Get What You Give”) ever again. Still, she’s great—I dunno what it is about her, but everything about her—the way she enunciates, the way she belts out that chorus, the way she uses some really lame rhymes—is just so damn cute. The chipmunk princess of punk rock, Avril’s reign over my heart continues with this one.
Ch-Check It Out
Kareem Estefan: These guys have been gone for six years?!?! And they’re how old?!?! “Ch-Check It Out” is absolutely remarkable given its circumstances, and what’s more, it’s pretty great even putting such considerations aside. Although it lacks the group’s patented cleverness and it makes little effort to break new ground, “Ch-Check It Out” manages to stand alongside nearly all of the Beasties’ previous singles in terms of catchiness and DJ prowess. In fact, if this song is any indication of what June will bring, To the 5 Boroughs is sure to be more than a comeback album.
David Drake: My expectations for this were not high to begin with, to the point where it would be hard for them to fail. But yo – this song is pretty good. I don’t really mind that they seem to have slept through the latter half of the 90s and the early 2000s, because this quick breakbeat and repeated horn blast is cool in a nostalgic, I-remember-when-the-beasties-were-cool sorta way. Too bad the Boys themselves sound like they’ve been smoking a pack-a-day since freeing Tibet. Insert your own favorite Viagra-popping, diaper-wearing old-man joke here.
Sam Bloch: Why so staid, thou Beasties? Why are your vocal cords so strained and anemic? Why your beats so lazy? As I wax poetic in your names, it’s sort of obvious you’re not twenty-four anymore—though closer to half-century than half-baked, you claim to be sonned—and I guess I sort of wince when you ask me to grab my backstreet friend and get loud. "Let’s party," but come on. You don’t really want to party.
Gavin Mueller: Ho hum, the new Beasties track. I had no hope for the verses, but I really expected something more from the beat. If you're going to use such a simplistic throwback break (culture, man!), you've got to bring something more to the table than the same flows they've been using for a decade. And the boys sound alarmingly aged; MCA needs to cut back on the cigarettes, and Ad Rock needs to fucking eat something.
Gabe Gloden: “Ch-ch-ch-check it out! Wh-wh-wh-what’s it all about! Wo-wo-wo-work it out! Let’s turn this, turn this party out!” Sounds like a Young Gunz chorus, doesn’t it? True, it’s a very similar track. Same type of skeletal boom-bap percussive production and generic party rhymes. But the problem here is that it’s the Beastie Boys… and we expect a little more from them. Now I know they’ve never been the best lyricists, but with each new release, they’ve surprised their listeners with a refreshing sound. But it seems that since Ill Communication, they’ve been falling behind, and “Ch-Check It Out” sounds downright stale.
Andrew Unterberger: This really is better than any of us had any right to be expecting. 18 (eighteen!) years after Licensed To Ill—an unheard of level of longevity matched in the rap world pretty much by LL Cool J alone—and they still sound pretty fresh. I mean, not totally—the rapping is definitely tired-sounding—but I would be pretty tired if I was trying to keep up with that shit-hot beat as well. Between this, “Friday Night” and “99 Problems,” the old skool is totally fucking the n00bs up this week. Well done, Beasties.
By: US Stylus Staff
Published on: 2004-05-14