Singles Going Steady
his week in singles—10 Years is both the newest of the nu-metal wrecking crews and about how long it took that damn song from RENT to hit the top 40, Nelly and Paul Wall give dentists their first ever musical rallying cry, and Matisyahu and Trace Adkins create entirely new musical markets, for better or worse. All this and the return of Mary J. Blige, on today’s Singles Going Steady!
Trace Adkins - Honky Tonk Badonkadonk
John M. Cunningham: The country/hip-hop crossover trend (fueled by Bubba Sparxxx, Cowboy Troy, Big & Rich, and Nelly/Tim McGraw) reaches an apogee here, as Adkins's sly growl inflects a term more commonly used by Missy Elliott. That Nashville now has a tribute to big asses is welcome enough, but the blazing guitars and rollicking beat keep everything cookin'.
Mike Powell: The reasons why you are powerless to do anything short of shutting the fuck up and enjoying this song, despite the fact that it’s basically “Legs” or “Girl Watcher” or any number of meat market jingles where a line of dudes all lower their sunglasses in unison to ogle a woman:
1. The title, duh.
2. It’s a meta-narrative; snake-charmer style the song is actually supposed to make said Honky Tonk Badonkadonk dance.
3. The line “Got it goin’ on like Donkey Kong,” while being completely WTF to begin with, reminds you that like a bewitchingly beautiful vixen, Donkey Kong sits on a perch and throws barrels at you to keep you from the passive, pretty Princess; unlike most bewitchingly beautiful vixens, Donkey Kong’s arm-length to leg-length ratio is a startlingly unattractive 2 ½.
4. The entire room practically becomes ill when she starts moving.*
5. Trace Adkins wants to make her illegal; I’ve got a hunch that the guy’s a libertarian, so she must be extremely dangerous.
*This might actually be the onset of delirium tremens.
Alfred Soto: C.W.! Where ya been?!? We were just talkin' about you the other day. I see them city slickers talkin' into them cellular phones like they're C.B radios and shit, and I got as mad as I did that first time I heard that Billy Ray Cyrus guy rippin' off your song. They best not be line dancing!
John Seroff: Although nominally a stab at country/hip hop crossover, 'Badonkadonk' is more novelty Southern rock than anything else. With lyrics that suggest that yon fair maiden's keister has "got it goin' on / like Donkey Kong", a cornpone fiddle desperately competing with an electric guitar and a poorly edited video mix (replete with dubbed in pseudo-reggaeton/electro/disco beat and a ten gallon hat full of awkward white-gal ass shaking), you COULD make a case that there was some ironic enjoyment to be culled here. You'd be wrong, though. Nashville's Muzik Mafia (which this is clearly trying to rip off) makes cheap throwaway pop with a country flavor that keeps its savor for a long time into the chewing. This, on the other hand, kinda sucks. Don't be fooled by cheap imitations, kids.
Nelly ft. Paul Wall, Ali, Gipp - Grillz
John M. Cunningham: Who says hip-hop stars don't rap about bling anymore? Here, Nelly wisely jumps on the Houston rap bandwagon, where a dark faux-cello loop and a smart, laid-back cameo from Paul Wall, the grillmeister himself, have an invigorating effect. And yet the breathy, anonymous "smile for me daddy," an allusion to the Ying Yang Twins' "Pull My Hair," sounds vaguely out of place within a less overtly sexual song.
Mike Powell: Nelly is not a very good rapper. Paul Wall is a pretty good rapper. The best line in the song is when Paul says “open up my mouth and you see mo’ carats than a salad” because it’s a pun, and Paul is very sensitive about his puns. This is the most opportunistic thing I’ve heard in a while, but I’m glad to see people are still writing songs about teeth.
John Seroff: All three verses are reasonably clever ("where i got ‘em? you can spot ‘em / on the top and the bottom. / Got a bill in my mouth like I'm Hillary Rodham") and it's about time that somebody got Gipp and Paul Wall on the same track to discuss orthodontia, but 'Grillz' is still a little disappointing. Most of the blame for that can be laid at Jermaine Dupri's not so def barely-there production, which recalls the similarly boring Neptunes single “Flap Your Wings”. I'm not against minimalist hip pop ('Laffy Taffy' is still on heavy rotation around the house), but these guys deserve something better to rhyme over than 'Urban Preset 42', no? Anyway, I tend to prefer Nelly's "let's get freaky and fuck" anthems over his fashion statement/advertising jingles; I can't pretend to care about fronts and tennis shoes, but sex is a product even I can stand behind.
Mary J. Blige - Be Without You
John M. Cunningham: This is Mary J. doing what she does best: classy R&B that highlights her smooth, full-bodied voice. The meta moment ("call the radio" presumably means to request this song) is also a nice touch.
Mike Powell: Blige sort of has me going for a little bit on the whole “love is good” thing because she’s got a nice voice, but the dryly earnest approach rather than the dreamy one made me think about my friends that actually can’t sleep until their significant others get home, at which point I wanted to not only pull the reins on the white horse of romance, but actually get off the horse, bring it behind the old shed, bite my knuckle, shoot the horse, and get a Segway.
Alfred Soto: The original R&B chanteuse returns to show the Keyshia Coles of the world how it's done. Poise, strength, minimal bathos - she's got 'em, and more besides: shelving the melisma in favor of a gritty low end suggests she's got the intelligence to match the chops on which she could have coasted for years. But she's always lived or died on her material (not a broken heart or the "you" to whom the title refers); this song is no exception, meaning, it's unexceptional.
John Seroff: If anybody's earned the right to coast on sheer harmony and talent, it's Mary J, one of the few women in modern R+B with the longevity to have serenaded two generations of spurned baby mamas. Blige may have stopped growing artistically quite some time ago, but she's still plenty capable of connecting the quiet storm dots with more panache, emotion and skill than any four bubble-crunk pretenders to the throne. On 'Be Without You,' Mary cries a little, raps a little, channels a little Aretha and does what she does best: crafting an nth iteration inner-city-couples-only-skate-jam that wouldn't have sounded any more out of place in '94 than it will in '06. It's nothing special, but the musicbox-dancer piano, on-the-three handclaps and Mary's sweet, soulful voice make this more than kind enough to merit a listen and a lap around the roller-rink.
Cast of Rent - Seasons of Love
John M. Cunningham: It's a bit odd to review for this column a song that I first heard nine years ago, the summer before college when I drove around the suburbs with my fellow drama nerds and sang along to West Side Story. But it's not mere nostalgia that leads me to give this a thumbs up: as treacly as it may be, it's also catchy as hell, based around jaunty piano chords and bright, uplifting harmonies.
Mike Powell: Yeah, five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes is about how long this song sounds; of course, after the first few minutes of silence, a blonde girl with a Gap sweater and a stretched smile walks in, collects your back fat with a few clothespins, and pricks the skin with sewing needles for the next five hundred twenty five thousand five hundred and fifty minutes or so. After she unties you, you make out in a snowglobe for four minutes and then spend the last minute realizing she is definitely not going to take off your pants, but she will ask you to come to her recital next week.
Alfred Soto: June 1996: I'm interviewing a theater student for my college paper. "Rent is the greatest thing to happen to musicals since Cabaret!" he gushes. October 2004: Two friends can't stop talking about goddamn Nellie McKay. "She writes such witty lyrics!" one says. November 2005: flushed after finishing a bottle of a corky but excellent Merlot, I sing along to David Bowie's "Time," flexing like a whore. The law of diminishing returns, this.
John Seroff: When I was in college, RENT had just hit in a big way and you couldn't escape the soundtrack at any of the theater kid parties. One night, curious as to what all the fuss was about, I isolated myself next to the stereo and forced myself to listen to the full score to find out what all the fuss was about. About an hour and a half later, I still had no idea. The audio equivalent of jazz hands, this overblown up-with-people pap is as unlistenable, soulless and calculated as anything I've heard this year. Evicted.
10 Years - Wasteland
John M. Cunningham: With few emo touchstones to at least make it interesting, this crunch-riff confection comes off as the sort of generic hard rock that led to the genre's stagnation a couple of years ago. Unremarkable.
Mike Powell: This is a perfectly sound example of why we need more money to be put into after school programs. Give a kid enough sports or chess, and they’ll move right from their family’s Beatles tapes to either the Smiths or Zeppelin; anything to save them from this garbage.
Alfred Soto: Sticky lips, sticky hips. If love is the drug, then the withdrawal is something awful, especially for white men composing elegies of homoerotic yearning with earnest power chords.
John Seroff: The pain of the wounded middle class has so much to answer for: self-inflected cigarette burns, eyebrow piercing, the fashions of Hot Topic and "Next... on the WB..."-style tracks like this. So wrought with vapidly introspective Shelley-by-way-of-Sevendust lyrics; so predictable in their rising and falling guitar riffs; such meaning in their plaintive, echoing torment... oh, the humanity! Alright, obviously I can't take Ten Years too seriously; but I do have to admit this track is morbidly entertaining. 'Wasteland' is catchy, well-structured and melodramatic enough to hold your interest while it's on; but skirts relevancy and further review by dint of lack of depth. I need an Amy Lee guest-vocal, a demonic vocoder chorus or something similarly and pleasantly batshit-crazy (isn't anyone doing emo-banjo solos yet?) to bust up the tedium of a well-done formula that's getting a tetch tired. Otherwise, this is nice but hardly noteworthy enough to stand out in a too crowded field.
Matisyahu - King Without a Crown
John M. Cunningham: When Stephen Malkmus contempated calling his first solo record Swedish Reggae, I'm not sure he could have imagined his jokey cultural incongruity would surface for real in this Hasidic reggae group. For their part, Matisyahu seem comfortable with the musical tropes of old-school Jamaica, but the lyrics are a tiresome mishmash of inspirational aphorisms, and at five minutes plus, it gets old fast.
Mike Powell: Pennsylvania-born Hasidic reggae singer fails to distinguish in any way despite the fact that payos are inherently cooler than dreads (thanks in part to the co-optation of the latter by granola types), reminds us that the biblical imagery and devotional bend of the Rasta faith is kinda like Zionism (except for the whole “we are the true children of god” conflict); still, dude doesn’t exactly make kosher hamrock out of the whole thing. Next year in Jerusalem, I guess.
Alfred Soto: The track's most haunting section is its opening bars: notes bended with a minimum of exotic kitsch. Dancehall's not my thing, so I'm probably missing something.
John Seroff: I came for the kasha, but I'm staying for that skankin' dub: against all odds, Matisyahu's odd mix of pro-Yahweh, anti-drug Hassidic reggae is touching, sweet and eminently fun. Though Matisyahu gets his foot in the door on gimmickry, he keeps your interest getting by on skills and songwriting, not novelty; the guy can sing, he can scat and he can flat out rock the beat. Worth a listen for even the slightly curious, you may well walk away a believer.
By: US Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-12-12