Pop song review

Pop Song Review: Demi Lovato, “Cool for the Summer”

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in terms of British weather this has to go down as one of the weirder summers of recent memory. I expected to be paralysed by August heat and yet I spent most of the month with my nose pressed to the window watching the rain. But anyway, enough about my sad life. Today’s pop song review is “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato.

First impressions: My gut is telling me that I should dislike this song intensely, and yet I don’t. What could it be? The bizarre vocal inflections in the verses? The aggressive synths in the chorus? The fact that Ms Lovato looks really rather fine in that outfit? Could be anything, I suppose.

The music: I don’t think I’ve actually enjoyed a Demi Lovato song since “La La Land” back in 2008, and I especially don’t like that she’s jumped on the EDM bandwagon when her earlier guitar pop sound was far more interesting, but “Cool for the Summer” is easily among the better efforts she’s put out recently.

The song takes, for the most part, a very typical dance-pop route from a performer not exactly known for stretching the envelope, even for former Disney wunderkind, but in a lot of ways, though, it’s also quite atypical. It starts out generically enough with the piano line establishing the motif before we sink into a plastic, sticky clomp of a beat with a very faint New Wave influence in the moody synths. With atmosphere and the beat established it’s up to the melody to carry the actual “music” quotient, and it’s here where the song starts taking a couple of intriguing turns. The way Lovato intones the words in that breathy voice… okay, it’s not exactly original, but it’s different enough to make an effect on me, especially that strange way she flattens the note at the end of each line.

Then we get to the bridge, which drops the beat briefly as the melody repeats the motif, eventually crashing right into the chorus where that same motif is transformed into an explosive, abrasive synth riff that borders on being some sort of dance metal (and don’t laugh – tell me you couldn’t headbang to that chorus) – and I really like it. Seriously, as out-of-place as it is with those verses, I do like it. In fact, maybe that’s why I like it, the fact that it’s just so odd for a song like this. I mean, name another song this summer that just goes for it in the chorus the same way this song does. I even like the second part of the chorus where the music mellows out a bit and Lovato cries out the melody the way she does. It’s catchy, it’s different, it’s… it’s downright likeable.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, though. I may have praised this song for taking a few more risks than others in its genre, but it almost certainly wasn’t written with that in mind. The likelihood is that this song was churned out, just the way all EDM pop songs are, to fill dancefloors, executive wallets and the heads of exhausted parents whose kids insist on playing Capital FM in the car on their drives to the beach. But there is enough going for “Cool for the Summer” that makes it stand out from the pack in my opinion, and if it weren’t for the fact that it’s nearly September I could easily see myself listening to this more often.

Mind you, summer doesn’t officially end until the autumn equinox on September 23rd, so this song’s still good for another month or so if you choose to see it that way.

The lyrics: I just realised that Demi Lovato is only a month older than me. That’s weird. That’s pretty weird, guys. I could’ve sworn she was about 26 or 27, which admittedly isn’t that much older than 23, but still, that means I was about 16 when she first broke out. I’m getting old. Bones are creaking, the hair’s getting all grey and wispy, it’s taking longer than ever for me to complete a sudoku, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all downhill from here. We make our own ghosts, people, and mine is slowly taking its ghoulish shape, reminding me of who I am and how fragile it all really is, this strange obligation we call existence. There’s nowhere to run to, either, and nowhere to hide when the thing you’re running from, the thing you’re trying to escape, is the very thing you’re so desperate to hang on to: yourself. It makes you think.

…Hm? The lyrics? Oh, they’re about love or something.

“Got my mind on your body and your body on my mind / Got a taste for the cherry, I just need to take a bite.” The cherry… hm. Okay, I know what the traditional metaphorical meaning of “the cherry” is, but what’s it alluding to in this lyric? If we’re talking about sexual temptation then surely “the apple” would have been a better choice of imagery. You could’ve gone with “the peaches” as well – you know, in the Stranglers sense – but I don’t think she swings that way. Unless she does and the other, traditional meaning is what she’s talking about, in which case, for the love of all that’s good and pure, Ms Lovato, reconsider the biting part of your plan.

“Take me down into your paradise / Don’t be scared ’cause I’m your body type.” Down into paradise? Wrong direction, surely, unless Lovato is also coming out as a Satanist (which, let’s be honest, is probably the crux of at least a couple of conspiracy theory websites out there). Also, I have a body type now, it seems, and if Lovato is anybody to go by my type is apparently “physically fit and highly appealing.” That’s, ah, that’s probably a few peoples’ body type, come to think of it. I’m beginning to think this song isn’t addressing me personally.

“Don’t tell your mother / Kiss one another / Die for each other / We’re cool for the summer.” It’s like Romeo and Juliet summarised in one pop song lyric. Well, the first three parts, anyway, unless there was an epilogue where Friar Laurence discussed his holiday plans.

Also, curious phrase, that, when you think about it. “Cool for the summer.” Does she mean a bodily coolness or an acceptance/preparedness of the situation? You know, when you’re cool about something, like you’re not massively fussed about it but you dig it nonetheless? A little like me and this song, actually. Wait, does that mean I’m cool for “Cool for the Summer”?

Verdict: I really don’t mind “Cool for the Summer” too much. I mean, sure, there’s nothing great about it exactly, but if you had to go with one EDM-pop song to soundtrack your summer this was about as good as it got. 3 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Summer’s Almost Gone” by The Doors, because this is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end. Of summer.


Pop Song Review: Charlie Puth, “Marvin Gaye” (feat. Meghan Trainor)

Piggy-backing on more popular artists: like snail gel masks and proper bantz, it’s what all the hip young kids are into these days, specifically hip young pop artists looking for an easy road to a wider audience. Case in point, today’s pop song review is “Marvin Gaye” by professional hang-on-wasn’t-he-the-one-playing-piano-in-that-Fast-&-Furious-7-song-yes-I-think-he-was, Charlie Puth, featuring Meghan Trainor who, as far as I’m aware, has not sung for any car movies to date. But the century is young.

First impressions: Oh, it’s that song. You know the one.

The music: Like a lot of Meghan Trainor’s music, “Marvin Gaye” is an upbeat, midtempo pop song whose retro-Fifties sound and aesthetic fits in well with her catalogue so far. The problem: this isn’t a Meghan Trainor song, or not technically at least. No, this is a Charlie Puth song, a performer you know so little about you’re not even sure how to pronounce his last name.

What I’m getting at here is that Mr. Puth (Mr. Pooth?) doesn’t have much of a musical personality or resumé beyond being the chorus guy on Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.” Now admittedly that song did do very well in the charts, so on achievements alone he’s doing okay for himself, but it’s still only one song in which his contribution basically amounted to plonking out a few piano chords while doing a passable Sam Smith impression.

Speaking of that impression, I can’t say it fits the music too well here. You can tell Puth is doing his best to rein in his vocals, presumably so as not to overpower the melody, but as a result he never sounds like he’s particularly enjoying himself, which you kinda need to in order for a song this exuberant to really work. Instead he goes for this husky, yearning baritone (is it a baritone? Sounds like a baritone) that’s all out of place. He does at least employ a higher register for the chorus, but it still sounds like he’s being coerced into his performance by a hefty-sized producer with a knuckle-duster.

Is it me or is the beat really askew in Trainor’s verse, too? Puth’s verse has a decent plod to it that, while not too exciting, is at least consistent. I can nod my head to it. But then Trainor’s verse comes in and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, sure, her voice fits the music more than Puth’s does, but for a woman who sang that she was “all about that bass” there sure isn’t much of it around when she’s taking her turn at the mike.

So, some positives? Well, the chorus hook is memorable, if not terribly catchy, and the production is generally quite smooth. And, er, the video has some pretty people in it. I… look, I’m sorry, guys, but this sounds like something that was written for a Disney movie. It’s simplistic, competently produced and just pleasing enough to the ears that you won’t even realise you’re sick of it until it’s lodged in your brain like an ice pick.

And by the way, if this is supposed to be some sort of tribute to the man, it’s a weird one. I haven’t actually heard a lot of Marvin Gaye’s music beyond the hits, but the little I have heard this doesn’t sound anything like. Marvin Gaye sang sensual R&B slow jams, not bouncy bubblegum pop with a vague whiff of doo-wop.

The lyrics: “You got the healing that I want.” Oh jeez, is that what this song’s going to be? A series of Marvin Gaye puns? If it is, I’m out. I’m out, people. There’s the door, right over there, and these boots? Pfft, well, they’re just doin’ what they do. Bootz, start a-walkin’! I’m-a coming, door! I’m-a… okay, fine, let’s give it a chance.

“We got this king size to ourselves / Don’t have to share with no one else.” I… that… what does this mean? “Don’t have to share with no one else”? Was that ever a possibility? What couple shares their bed with… I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?

“Don’t keep your secrets to yourself / It’s kama sutra show and tell.” Show and tell: a school exercise, common at elementary level, in which one pupil presents a personal item to their class and discusses it for a few minutes. The Kama Sutra: a popular ancient Hindu book of sex positions popular with married couples looking to spice up their love lives. These two things are a lot like sushi and ice cream: separately, fine enough, but put them together and you create something… unspeakable.

“And when you leave me all alone / I’m like a stray without a home / I’m like a dog without a bone / I just want you for my own.” Bet you really burnt the midnight oil on that one, didn’t you, guys?

“Just like they say it in the song / Until the dawn, let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on.”

Geddit? Because Marvin Gaye sang “Let’s Get It On.”

So yes, this might just top Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” for Dumbest Pop Song Lyrics of 2015, but is there really any point in analysing it further? It’s a doofy line in a doofy song. But let’s poke it a little bit. This line is the chorus hook of the song. It’s where the perfect cadence – you know, that bit at the end of the chorus where it sounds really good and satisfying – is created by the final two notes. This is the part of the song that your ears are waiting for, the part that makes the build-up of the verse and chorus worthwhile for them, and it’s hinged on a reference to another, better song. A gold star for anyone who can point out why this might not have been a great idea.

So from what I can see, the songwriters came up with one bad joke and built a song about it. How much money did they funnel into this? That much, huh? Jeez, that’s depressing. And how much did it make back? That much? Seriously? Where’s that door again?

Also, “just like they say it in the song” is a weird line. It’s just clunky and awkward to say, let alone sing. So… yeah. Let that one sink in.

Verdict: Again, here’s another song that isn’t overly good or overly bad but is more or less just there. It’s catchy enough but you wouldn’t miss it if they took it off the radio tomorrow, and while it might have a small nostalgic following years down the line I think even Heart FM might find it a little too sugary for their future playlist. The healthiest afterlife this song can have is as “that song that tried to make Marvin Gaye into a verb and failed.” A meh out of 5.

Today’s double-up would logically be some Marvin Gaye, but instead I’m going to go for a song that has about as much to do with the man as this song does: “Vincent Price” by Deep Purple, which at least makes the most of its own tongue-in-cheek premise. It also has a sexy nun doing a pole dance, so top that, Charlie Puth.

Pop Song Review: Ed Sheeran & Rudimental, “Bloodstream”

You know, I do have to thank Ed Sheeran. As little invested as I am in his music or his career, my review for his mega-hit single “Thinking Out Loud” remains among this blog’s most popular posts. It even earned me my first death threat. So let’s see how this one goes: today’s pop song review is “Bloodstream” by Ed Sheeran & Rudimental.

First impressions: I haven’t experienced anything quite this start-stop-start-stop since I first started learning to drive. Yeah, I was… I was a slow learner.

The music: Although Rudimental are given joint billing on this song, it’s technically a remix of the original version that can be found on Sheeran’s latest album, x (presumably to be followed-up by ÷ and That Squiggly Line and Straight Line Symbol That Means Equal To But Not Really). You can listen to that version here (or, you know, your own copy, given it sold over 2 million units in the UK alone) and make your own mind up about it but we’re reviewing the remix today, and the question to be asked, therefore, is whether Rudimental’s version improves on the original or not. Does it?

Well, to quote Reverend Lovejoy: short answer, yes with an “if”, long answer, no with a “but”. The original version wasn’t a great song but it had a minimalist acoustic vibe to accentuate its intimate, defeatist melody. The production was dry which gave the track a humbling drunken swagger, like a boozehound who walks the streets like he’s king of the world despite the fact he’s only out on the streets because he’s trying to walk off a brewer’s droop. The remix gives the song a bit of a pop sheen and some electronic bloops that, honestly, I’m not sure it ever needed, but if that’s what people want then it’s what they’ve got. It’s a little funkier in the verses, too, which I don’t mind.

And then it kicks in. If you know anything about Rudimental and the type of music they make you know exactly what I’m talking about here: that Red Bull-swigging, fifth-gear-pushing, Flash-speed, ecstasy-driven, turbo-charged dance beat that a stampeding herd of wildebeest would find breathless. I’m not sure these guys are capable of composing a beat slower than 180bpm and if they are they’re certainly not ready to give it a go here. Even Iron Maiden could kick back to write something like “Remember Tomorrow” once in a while. Haven’t these guys heard of Horlicks?

So no, I don’t care for the Rudimental addition here, mostly because I’m not sure what it’s actually supposed to add. Sure, you can argue that it actually fits the concept of the song, assuming the chemicals burning in his bloodstream are methamphetamine and not, I don’t know, aspirin, but it’s still distracting and doesn’t emphasise any of the music’s original qualities.

So what was the point? To make it more club-friendly? You know, not every song needs to be reworked for der clurrrb and not every song needs to be danced to to make it mainstream material. I couldn’t dance to the original “Bloodstream” but I still quite enjoyed it for what it was. The “mm-hmm” bit is fine on its own; it doesn’t need a stupid galloping beat underneath it. You might disagree but to my ears it just comes off as the production equivalent of Rudimental going, “look at us! Look at us! We’re all fast and stuff!”

So to answer my original question: does this improve on the original? Well, yes, if you like Rudimental; and no, because the dance remix wasn’t necessary and actually trips up the original music which was at least endearing, but it’s not awful, I guess. It just isn’t very good and actually comes off as a little weird.

The lyrics: Ed Sheeran has drunken sex with a random woman. Have we, er, have we been here before?

“I’ve been spinning now for some time / Couple women by my side.” Sounds like a fun game, that. Do the women hold you up by the arms and spin you around themselves? Oh, that’s not what he’s singing about, is it? *sigh* It never is.

“I’ve been sitting here for ages / Ripping out the pages.” Yes, I know Where’s Wally? can be frustrating, but that’s not how you find him.

“I’ve been looking for a lover / Thought I’d find her in a bottle.” Jeez, he really is drunk, isn’t he? You know you’ve had too much when you’re seriously considering trying to pull Tinkerbell. No, I’m joking, that’s obviously not what he means. He’s just helping to set up the story of his “sin” by explaining how he got so hammered that his inebriated lust felt like the deep sensation of love for this random gal. Admittedly he could have phrased it a little better, but then so could I have just now, so there we are.

“Lord, forgive me for the things I’ve done / I was never meant to hurt no one / I saw scars upon a broken-hearted lover.” So he feels shame for exploiting a vulnerable woman going through her own heartbreak. Well, it probably won’t put the creeps who do actually do this on a regular basis in their place, but at least he’s taking culpability, which is something John Newman was weirdly reluctant to do in last year’s aptly-titled “Blame“. Also, is this one of the women by his side at the beginning? Or maybe even someone else? Tell you what, if you’re going to go have shameful drunken sex, you might as well go all out, mightn’t you?

“Coloured crimson in my eyes.” Oh dear. See, I have a few choice words that immediately set off red flags whenever I hear them used in music lyrics and “crimson” is one of them. Ever since Evanescence moaned about “pouring crimson regret” in “Tourniquet” the word has come to represent, for me, one of the worst examples of cheesy, overblown cornball lyricism – the mark of a poet trying far too hard to come off as “poetic.” This isn’t a Byronic epic. Just say red, for crying out loud.

“Don’t leave me alone lonely now / If you loved me how’d you never learn?” Oh, Ed Sheeran, will you never learn?

“This is how it ends / I feel the chemicals burn in my bloodstream.” So he’s overdosed? Well, that’s a bit depressing. What a sad and strangely poetic end for this tragic and flawed but intrinsically human character. NOW LET’S GO NUUUUUTSSZZ!! WOOT!! RUDIMENTALZZ YEAH!!!1!1!

“Tell me when it kicks in.” I’m not your dealer. Figure it out for yourself.

Verdict: I don’t mind “Bloodstream” all that much, but this cynical EDM do-over and its dumb bursts of intense speed only serve to detriment what charms the original had. That version I’d give a 3 but this silly Rudimental version with its random fast bits I’m only giving a 2 out of 5. Silly Rudimental.

Today’s double-up is something a bit more relaxing in comparison: “Raining Blood” by Slayer.

Pop Song Review: Jess Glynne, “Hold My Hand”

Was there ever a time in chart history when things moved as glacially as they do now? I guess it’s not as bad in the UK as it is in the US, where the incorporation of streaming data into chart placement has acted like quick-drying cement, holding songs in place for weeks on end, but it’s still annoying and doesn’t give me a great wealth of choice for my reviews. I was going to look at Flo Rida’s “G.D.F.R.” but I kept getting a brain blister every time I tried to analyse it. I could have reviewed The Weeknd’s “Earned It” but I already did one Fifty Shades of Grey song. So let’s just go ahead and review the current UK number one single, Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand”.

First impressions: It’s always August in Popland, isn’t it?

The music: In my “King” review I said the sound of 2015 was apparently 1995. Jess Glynne is here to change that, however, and bring it bang up to date by dragging it all the way to… 1997?

In the grand tradition of female singers building an initial presence for themselves by piggy-backing on the exposure of established artists, a la Rita Ora, Charli XCX, Emeli Sandé, Ella Eyre, etc., we now have Jess Glynne whose claim to fame, until now, was singing on those two Clean Bandit songs and that one Route 94 song you’ve already forgotten. This would be her second official solo single, a shiny happy dance song to soundtrack those long, hot summer months. Shame that it’s still April, but I think Glynne’s management are playing a long game here.

That will, of course, depend on whether the song is even still in the public consciousness at that point, which I have doubts it will be based on just how “meh” the song is. A fairly generic dance-pop beat underpins the music while Glynne’s vocals ride at the forefront. The song is upbeat but not terribly fulfilling or memorable while Glynne, though a good vocalist with excellent pitch, often sounds like she’s struggling just a little bit, making the whole effort not bad but not good either, just underwhelming to listen to and difficult to bring back to mind once it’s ended. So of course it went straight to number one. Well done, Britain.

Am I the only one who’s bugged by those pauses between each line in the verses? I mean, yes, we have that “ooh-ooh-ooh” hook filling the space so it’s not just dead air, but it still doesn’t serve the song in any real way. All it does is mask the fact that they didn’t bother writing a melody for the verses – the notes just escalate slightly with every other beat. Speaking of melody I don’t mind the pre-chorus, even if I swear I’ve heard it a thousand times before in marginally better songs, but the chorus has pretty much no discernible hook. Sure, the “I’m ready for this” part might get stuck in your head after hearing it on the radio a hundred times a day, but then so would anything.

Overall this really isn’t a very well written song. In terms of sheer atmosphere and production it’s great: the sound is full and polished, the piano beat is punchy, Glynne’s vocals are crisp and clear and the whole recording has a breezy, shimmering vibe that screams summer. In terms of catchiness, memorability and all the other things that give a song long-term longevity, however, it falls very flat indeed. Of course, they had to go and put a horn section in the chorus, didn’t they? They just know I’m a sucker for horn sections. Actually, it’s almost certainly the case that they didn’t know that and in fact have no idea who I am, but the point stands.

The lyrics: Jess Glynne wants you to hold her hand. Now, when the Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” we all figured there was more going on to what they were asking. Here, though, the music is trying so hard to be earnest and uplifting that I have little other choice than to believe all Glynne wants you to do is just hold her hand. I could be wrong, of course. Let’s find out.

“Standing in a crowded room and I can’t see your face.” Yeah, that’ll happen in crowded rooms. Your point being?

“In my mind I’m running round a cold and empty space.” That’s not a very nice thing to say about your brain, Ms Glynne. Of course we could analyse this image further, but all I can think of now is Jess Glynne with her arms out, making aeroplane noises and running circles around a random empty patch on the floor, which would have also made for a far more entertaining music video.

“Soul is like a melting pot when you’re not next to me.” Wait, what? A melting pot? What kind of image is that? So, essentially, whenever he’s away her soul turns into a cauldron, or at least one of those pots they use for fondues. So when he’s away her soul turns into a tasty centre-dish for parties? That sounds great. This bloke of hers should stay away more often. Also, personally speaking “soul is like a big bowl of melted cheese you can dip bread cubes into” would be a far more interesting image to play with, though they’d have to work to make it fit the metre. That said, what else are these people being paid for?

“Break my bones but you won’t see me fall / The rising tide will rise against them all.” Okay, so we’re getting Biblical in this sweet summery love song. Apparently there are people out to hurt Ms Glynne but you, her beau, are here to… wait, is this “you” a different “you” to the one she was singing to before? Does she think I’m going to hold her hand so hard it’s actually going to break bone? Who am I, Lenny from Of Mice and Men? It’s like Hemingway’s iceberg theory here: there’s a far more interesting story below the surface that we’re just not getting.

“Trying to find a moment where I can find release.” Ahem. Er, I think if you ask your fella you’ll find he’s willing to help you find it too. In fact you might find he’s really rather eager to help.

“I’m ready for this, there’s no denying.” Wow, she’s really ramping herself up for this hand-holding, isn’t it? What’s he got, Hulk hands? Unless this actually is more than just a simple “holding” of “hands” and this has just been one big double bluff, not to mention the same bluff the Beatles made fifty-two years ago. The future of music!

Verdict: “Hold My Hand” is a triumph. A triumph of consistent and tireless marketing and a calculated production over songcraft and artistry. It’s not a bad song but it’s certainly not a good one either. At best it’s competent, serviceable even: it’ll do what it needs to do for however long it needs to do it and nothing else. “But it’s number one on the charts,” you say. Good point – but it can’t be number one forever. Some day it’s going to drop, and when it does I don’t see it troubling the charts, or any other list for that matter, ever again. I’m sure Glynne has better songs in her… so why couldn’t one of them have been her first big hit? 2 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “The Hand That Feeds” by Nine Inch Nails, because the only other song I could think of with “hand” in the title was that horrible song MJ did with Akon before he died. Also With Teeth turns ten in May, which means 2005 was ten years ago and I think I found a grey hair in the mirror this morning. guys.

Pop Song Review: Usher feat. Juicy J, “I Don’t Mind”

Let’s talk about Usher. I quite like Usher. Got nothing against the man. I couldn’t care less about Juicy J but I like Usher. That’s about all I have to say, really, so without further ado let’s get down to today’s pop song review: “I Don’t Mind” by Usher featuring Juicy J, because heaven knows they couldn’t leave him out.

NOTE: No official music video for this one, apparently, so enjoy reading some soulless static text instead.

First impressions: This is surprisingly upbeat for a slow jam, isn’t it?

The music: “I Don’t Mind” is a minimalist R&B love jam accentuated by percussive handclaps, a pillow-thud beat and a single repeating synth chime that changes its note to signify some semblance of musical movement. This is a long-winded way of saying that “I Don’t Mind” doesn’t have a great deal going on.

That could work, to be honest. Often less is more and I appreciate that the song holds back more than it does push itself onto you. Admittedly there is something oddly warm and charming about the sheer space that’s been left in this recording and I could easily imagine someone using this as the soundtrack to an intimate moment with their beloved… or at least I could if the melody were up to scratch. As it happens, however, there’s no discernible hook (beyond the weird way Usher sings “I don’t mind” in the chorus) to make this a worthwhile or enjoyable experience. It’s not catchy and it’s not syncopated enough to dance to; matched with the equally underplayed accompanying music it all dissolves into a formless wash.

Usher’s vocals are fine. There are moments where he overdoes it and it sounds silly, but for the most part he keeps restraint on his voice and it suits the song nicely. Unfortunately he hasn’t been given anything good or memorable to sing and as a result the whole effect is pretty underwhelming, like a filler track from one of Michael Jackson’s weaker albums. Then Juicy J’s obnoxious rap cameo comes in, ruins what atmosphere there was with his ugly monotone voice and we can all go home.

Also, why does the time signature change between the verse and the bridge? The verse notes are written in 12/8 but the bridge and chorus are in 4/4. Why do that? The sudden change is just jarring and distracting. There’s no need to show off here. This isn’t a Yes song, it’s an R&B crooner.

The lyrics“Shawty, I don’t mind If you dance on a pole / That don’t make you a ho.” Huh. Well, that’s a change of pace for a modern R&B song: actually acknowledging a woman’s worth beyond her sexualised profession. Now that is actually pretty–

“Shawty, I don’t mind when you work until three / If you’re leaving with me.” Oh. So you don’t mind that she’s a stripper and that she works late as long as she’s having sex with you later? That way you get to be the big man who doesn’t mind that his girlfriend strips for money as long as she is a stripper and as long as she is in fact your girlfriend? That’s just having your cake and eating it, dude. You fool no one. (Or, according to the YouTube comments, apparently you do.)

“They be lookin’, but they can’t touch you, shawty, I’m the only one to get it.” I’m getting some pretty bad “Steal My Girl” vibes here. Even if the sentiment has the best intentions in mind, which I like to think it does, it still comes off as patronising with a strong dose of male fantasy. “No, girl, I don’t mind that you’re a stripper. I don’t mind that other guys fantasise about you, because you’re mine and I get to have sex with you. Not them, me! I truly am the bigger man here.”

“You want your own and you need your own, baby, who am I to judge? / Cause how could I ever trip about it when I met you in the club?” See, he’s trying to be thoughtful, but there’s always this caveat, isn’t there? Some specific clause that allows her to be validated as more than a mere sex object on the predicate that we never forget she is having sex with him and only him. What about all the women in her line of work who aren’t riding his junk for free? Are they still hoes until he validates their existence beyond their sex appeal?

“I make enough for the both of us, but you dance anyway.” Ah jeez, he couldn’t have just let her have that, could he? I mean, “you dance anyway?” This is her job. It’s not some after-hours hobby of hers, it’s how she makes her living. Does he genuinely think he’s being thoughtful with this condescending garbage? He’s rich, has sex with a hot stripper and he gets the moral high ground. Why doesn’t he just give himself wings and the ability to breathe fire while he’s at it?

“You can twerk it while in a split, you racking up them tips / Your body rock and your booty poppin’, I’m proud to call you my bitch.” And I bet she’s totally proud to call you her boyfriend as well. What a considerate guy Usher is here, focusing solely on her body and monetary worth and calling her a bitch. Just the best guy, truly.

Aaaaand here comes Juicy J to trip over the point of the song, not that it wasn’t a banana peel of a point to begin with:

“I’m just tryna cut her up, tryna bust a nut / Tryna take somebody bitch, turn her to a slut.” Cut her up? She’s a stripper, not the Black Dahlia, you psychopath. Coupled with the Jeffrey Dahmer mention in Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” I’m seriously beginning to worry about this guy’s frame of mind… or is “cut her up” a rap term? Eh, who cares. He’s still screwing up the song’s message: apparently if you strip for money then you are, in fact, a slut. Well done, Juicy J. You’ve made the rest of your pals in the Pleistocene era proud.

“It’s okay if you work late, we can still party like it’s your birthday / We can still party hard in your birthday suit.” Juicy J is a witless moron. That is all.

“Knock that pussy out the park like my name Babe Ruth.” Hey, while you’re at it why not knock her straight to the moon like your name Ralph Kramden, you dunce?

“When we in the bed she like to roleplay, tell her friend to join in both ways.” And of course it wouldn’t be a brainless male fantasy without the promise of a guy-girl-girl threeway for no reason. Hey, Juicy, if she’s bisexual then that’s twice as many people who might be able to steal her away from you. Do you want to take that risk? She is yours, after all.

Verdict: I suppose it’s at least a progressive message for the modern rap/R&B scene to hear that strippers aren’t just sex objects (though given now Neanderthalic the scene is right now that’s hardly saying much), but the clear ego inflation, the tedious music and Juicy J in general make this a 2 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Another Piece of Meat” by Scorpions, which at least flips the angle and gives the woman the chance to be the sleazebag for a change. (And yes, that’s the second Scorpions song in a row I’ve used as a double-up. In my defence, it’s my blog and Scorpions rock, so deal with it.)

Pop Song Review: Mumford & Sons, “Believe”

Two singles reviews for you this week to make up for last week’s dearth. Today’s pop song review is “Believe”, the comeback single from Mumford & Sons.

First impressions: Huh. Turns out Mumford & Sons without the banjo is… actually pretty tepid.

The music: Much has been said about Mumford and Sons going “electric”, a statement obviously intended to draw comparisons with the infamous “Electric Dylan” hysteria of 1965. Here’s the Wikipedia article on the subject if you’ve nothing else to do today. Does it all mean anything, though?

Well, they’re not exactly sounding like Black Flag, but it is kinda different, I guess. The majority of the song is comprised of these sleepy electric organ chords accentuated by faint guitar highly reminiscent of Coldplay. In fact, is it me or is Marcus Mumford doing a Chris Martin impression? The song is very synthesised, which makes me wonder if by going “electric” they didn’t actually mean “electronic.” Then the guitar slices the tranquility and the song lifts into a soaring Edge-esque guitar crescendo with a decent, if not spectacular guitar solo (still, Mumford & Sons doing a guitar solo? Crikey) before the drums and a slightly-less lethargic Mumford vocal bring it all home. The melody is melancholy and admittedly quite lovely and, personally speaking, if they hadn’t bothered with the finishing whoosh and kept this as a minimalist chamber-pop ballad it would have made for a beautiful album track. Instead it’s the lead single from their first album since the London Olympics ended, and I’m not convinced it works as such.

As for other sources, the NME describes the band’s new direction as “a beefier, straight-up more rock and roll sound,” which only confirms my suspicions that the NME has no clue what rock and roll actually is; while one of the most upvoted comments on YouTube (at time of writing) describes it as “a perfectly evolved sound.” Well, considering that the basic definition of evolution is “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form,” I have to disagree: this wasn’t gradual, it’s not particularly different and it’s hardly any better or more complex than “The Cave” or “I Will Wait“. I’m beginning to think people don’t understand evolution.

Am I being too negative? Possibly. I didn’t care for it at first but, after a couple of listens, I have to admit that “Believe” is growing on me. However, I’ve called this a pop song review deliberately: despite what people have been saying “Believe” is not a rock song and Mumford & Sons are not a rock band. If you disagree, please familiarise yourself with some Virginmarys and then get back to me.

The lyrics: “You may call it in this evening but you’ve only lost the night / Present all your pretty feelings, may they comfort you tonight.” So “Believe” is one of those “no, you suck” diatribes that modern metal bands are so weirdly fond of. Done right these can be quite cathartic, expressing the writer’s frustration and exhaustion with deft maturity; done wrong they just come off as whiny and kinda pathetic. I’m still not sure where this line lies, though the references to “evening” and “night” do at least tie in nicely with the weariness of the music. Also, did these guys just rhyme “night” with “tonight”?

“And I’m climbing over something, and I’m running through these walls.” Is he by any chance climbing over the same walls he’s running through? Wait, hang on, I read “running through these walls” as some sort of fenced maze scenario. Do I get the impression, then, that he can actually smash through walls like the Kool-Aid Man? Why would he need to climb over anything if he had that sort of strength? I’d never open another door again.

“I had the strangest feeling your world’s not what it seems / So tired of misconceiving what else this could’ve been.”  She’s delusional about her personal reality, he’s exhausted with misguided expectations. It’s the original Odd Couple! It is nice that they’re at least hinting at what’s caused the friction, though. I appreciate that.

“I don’t even know if I believe / Everything you’re trying to say to me.” I think “anything” would’ve been a sharper word choice there. It gets the desperation of their fraught relationship across better than “everything” does. “I can’t believe everything you say anymore. Some stuff I can, of course, but not everything like I used to. I was pretty gullible, wasn’t I? Yeah, I’m in a better place now.”

“So open up my eyes, tell me I’m alive.” Now there’s a weird image for a pop song. Great for a horror flick, though.

“Say something, say something, something like you love me / Less you want to move away from the noise of this place.” Move away! Make it work! This place sucks and I know there’s still something good between you two. I know there–sorry, just gushy, touchy, romantic Archbudgie slipping out of his cage for a second there. All apologies. It won’t happen again.

Verdict: “Believe” is a fair, if not great comeback for Mumford & Sons. Despite the promised bells and whistles of the electric direction it’s too bland and too similar to their earlier work to win over a legion of new fans, while those who enjoy the band’s brand of pop-folk might actually be put off by–eh, who am I kidding? With the pull these guys have this’ll easily hit top ten, regardless of how good or bad it is. Speaking of which, 3 out of 5. I’m really going to have to start handing out a different rating soon.

Today’s double-up is something a bit livelier: “Don’t Believe Her” by Scorpions.

Pop Song Review: Years & Years, “King”

Well, the BRIT Awards have come and gone, as has the resultant chart-clog by last year’s greatest hits, and we can finally look forward – or at least, the direction “forward” we’re being pointed in – with today’s pop song review, “King” by BBC Sound of 2015 winners Years & Years, which has already hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart. I’m sure, of course, that that sudden success had nothing to do with the massive marketing push the BBC and Radio 1 have put behind this track. No, absolutely not – it must be the music, right?

First impressions: Okay, not bad. Still, so far 2015 is sounding pretty much the same as 2014 did. And 2013. And 2012. And…

The music: So pop music’s fairly irritating insistence on getting everyone out of their seats and dancing staggers on into the night, riding as it does the latest trend of expressing sensuality via a singer with a trembling, high-pitched little voice – see also Ellie Goulding and the Weeknd. I have to ask, is that what’s considered sexy these days? (And yes, I’m a guy who reviews pop songs in his spare time – I do have to ask.)

Anyway, “King” is fairly standard dance-pop with shimmering synths, a full bass beat and a passionately sung and constructed melody. Those trumpeting synth sounds don’t do it any favours, sounding as they do like something from an Eighties prog album, though they are at least warmer than many other songs on the chart; while the central groove sounds as if it was culled from some Nineties Ibiza dancefloor sampler. I quite enjoy the chorus, though the verse melody is a little too aggressive in its panting staccato attack, synchronising as it does with the keyboard, er, riff; overall it feels like the song is slobbering in my ear, trying to paw at some girl sat one seat over. All the typical rises and falls you’d expect in a dance song are here, though they don’t overpower the melody, which I appreciate. Dance-by-numbers it may be, but it’s still pretty hard to dislike this song.

I’m still a little puzzled as to why these guys were chosen as the Sound of 2015, though, honestly. Oh, it’s catchy, sure, and it’s got a decent beat to it, but there’s nothing new here: it’s the same retro-synthpop anyone who isn’t a DJ seems to be writing these days. According to the BBC, at least, the sound of 2015 is also the sound of 1985, which isn’t the guys’ fault and, I guess, isn’t even that big a problem with me. Heck, rock music’s been living in the Seventies since the Eighties. A little retro style is always cool with yours truly. Just… look, stop calling us rockers “retro” and “old hat”, all right? Everyone’s nicking something from the past nowadays, so why does our music have to be saddled with these descriptors?

Anyway, mini-whinge over. On to…

The lyrics: “I caught you watching me under the light / Can I be your line? / They say it’s easy to leave you behind / I don’t wanna try.” So it’s about two lovers meeting, presumably, in dah clerrb, as so many other modern pop songs are prone to set their stories. I don’t know what being somebody’s “line” means – these kids and their slang, honestly – but despite her reputation as being someone who’s easy to leave behind (classy), he doesn’t want to. He wants to hang on, you see, because love. Still, despite my evidently patronising tone I do acknowledge that this could at least be a nice subversion of the whole “love ’em and leave ’em” dynamic that club culture is based on. Let’s read on.

“Cut cover, take that test / Hold courage to your chest / Don’t wanna wait for you / Don’t wanna have to lose.” Okay, there’s a bunch of stuff going on her and I’m not sure how much of it makes sense. What does cutting cover mean? What test? Why does anybody need courage? Last I checked you were trying to build a serious relationship, which I suppose traditionally takes some courage to admit. Still, you seemed so keen just now – what happened, pal?

“I was a king under your control.” So… she’s Lady Macbeth? Or a chess champion? Is this song about chess?

“I wanna feel like you’ve let me go.” Hang on, you were just talking about how you didn’t want to try and leave her behind – now you want her to let you go? Or is this the lyrics actually progressing their narrative by presenting a relationship, once exciting and new, now deteriorating as the power balance starts to get shifty, with the protagonist feeling equally like the ruler and the ruled, like the most powerful piece on the board yet ultimately a piece all the same, his rule a facade as he is empowered yet easily defeated? Or is it just because “go” kinda rhymes with “control”?

“Don’t you remember how I used to like being on the line? / I dreamed you dreamed of me calling out my name / Is it worth the price?” I thought you were the line, and now you’re on it? Eh, it’s a nice callback, I suppose. Also, there is a theory in the YouTube comments for this video that the song is actually about drugs, which would help to illuminate lines such as this. Being on the line, worth the price, that bit about feeling “another high”… vague and tangential, perhaps, but there is something there. I’m not sure how drugs would watch you “under the light”, though. Also, does the line “I dreamed you dreamed of me calling out my name” make anybody else’s brain hurt?

“Take this from me tonight / Oh, let’s fight.” Sorry, what’s this song about again? Is he being ironic or is he actually inviting her to fight him?

“Let go, let go, let go of everything.” Well, I’m guessing the relationship didn’t work out, then. Ah, well – plenty of fish and all that jazz.

Verdict: 3 out of 5. It’s no better or worse than much of what else is out there right now but, all the same, I wish these guys the best in their career and hope that the pop music machine doesn’t crush them too badly. That said, can we have a new sound for 2016, please, BBC? I’m hearing good things about Cuban salsa.

Today’s double-up is “Kill the King” by Rainbow, which actually is about chess. Just goes to show you can make an ace song about anything if you put your mind to it.