Sunday, November 13, 2011

MIXTAPE: Late In the Game Love

As I begin compiling a tentative list of my favorite songs of 2011 (can you believe it's almost over?), there were a smattering of relatively obvious choices that, while I do enjoy them, I never got around to feeling the need to write about them on the blog. You can probably guess the reasoning behind this. More often than not, the songs themselves were such a mainstay in the more commercialized avenues of music news (television, radio, etc.), it was a generally accepted fact in my mind that most folks have already heard the song and made a decision on its quality for themselves.

Rather than beat a dead horse (I hate that expression, and yet I use it again and that being redundant?), let's just take a quick second to groove to them one more time...

HOT CHELLE RAE - "Tonight Tonight"
There's a party on the rooftop
Top of the world tonight, tonight
And we're dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign
I don't know if I'll make it
But watch how good I'll fake it
It's alright, alright
Tonight, tonight

In my own mind, when I first was introduced to Hot Chelle Rae back in 2009, they were more on the quirky rock side of the pop/rock genre spectrum. Fast forward to 2011, and we are presented with the pure poppiness that is their breakthrough single "Tonight Tonight" off their upcoming sophomore album. It's reminiscent of the carefree "rock" (heavy on the quotes) that dominated the airwaves when I was in high school -- slightly ridiculous, kind of petulant, and very catchy. In a sense, they are a poppier 2011 version of Simple Plan during their glory years. In the case of "Tonight Tonight", I'm very okay with that, and can't get that "Whoa-oh-oh! Whatever! Whoa-oh-oh!" bits out of my head.

NICKI MINAJ - "Super Bass"
I said, "Excuse me, you're a helluva guy
I mean, my my my my, you're like pelican fly..."
Yes I did, yes I did
Somebody please tell him who the eff I is
I am Nicki Minaj, I mack them dudes up
Back coupes up and chuck the deuce up

I have a strange fascination with Nicki Minaj and the extreme opinions she spawns in all listeners. It appears you either love her or hate her, there is no in between...unless you're me, I guess. She certainly can create a sticky pop song, brimming with more-than-a-little-bit ridiculous lines that you find yourself memorizing and repeating unconsciously ("Pelican fly"? Where do people come up with this stuff?). "Super Bass" is undoubtedly the most commercially friendly cut off of Pink Friday, and never do I choose to skip it when it comes up on the ol' iPod. Say what you want about Nicki, but in a genre dominated by men, she holds her own, not just in terms of grabbing the attention of your eyes but your ears, too.

MAROON 5 - "Moves Like Jagger" (feat. Christina Aguilera)
Take me by the tongue and I'll know you
Kiss me till you're drunk and I'll show you
All my moves like Jagger
I got the moves like Jagger
I got the moves like Jagger

Maroon 5. Praising Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. With a feature tag nod to Christina Aguilera. And with a heavy whistled hook. I really didn't want to like this, mostly because it seemed so utterly...what's the word?...random. But when it works, it works, and there is no doubt that this is the cut that helped save Maroon 5's slumping third record Hands All Over (via re-package, of course). Plus there's the added bonus that it helped the public forget about the terrible year Ms. Xtina has had of late (the trash written about Burlesque, her divorce, public drunkenness, screwing up the words to the National Anthem, and oh yeah, that Bionic fiasco). It's the unexpected sum of seemingly strange ingredients, and has arguably become  one of the most successful cuts of 2011. Who could have thought?

FEFE DOBSON - "Can't Breathe"
I can't breathe if I'm not breathing with you
I can't sleep if all I'm dreaming is you
Can't you see -- I've got no air without you
I can't breathe, I can't breathe

Underappreciated pop goddess Fefe Dobson's underwhelming career is one of the most depressing subjects to talk to me about. She is phenomenally talented. Catchy chorus literally ooze of of this girl. While originally pushed with a "rocker" bent via singles like "Take Me Away" and "Bye Bye Boyfriend" from her debut set back in 2003, like a chameleon, she reemerged in 2004 with the decidedly 80's-infused "Don't Go (Boys & Girls)". Then was the undeserved "album limbo" that submerged her supposed-to-be-sophomore album Sunday Love until the project was pretty much abandoned. But one should never truly count out Fefe, who knows her own strengths (her catchy songwriting) and isn't afraid to stick to her guns. After penning hits for Disney-Gen Royalty in Miley Cyrus ("Start All Over"), and handing over scrapped gems to Jordin Sparks ("Don't Let It Go To Your Head") and Selena Gomez ("As A Blonde"), amongst others, Fefe returned to us with her "official" sophomore album Joy in 2010, a true smattering of genres that proves just how strong of an artist she is. Hype singles in "I Want You" (clangy, brash and kind of Ramones-esque) and "Watch Me Move" helped fuel my anticipation but one listen to the Kevin Rudolf (yes, the "Let It Rock" Kevin Rudolf)-produced single "Ghost" and I was sold. The latest offering from Joy is the album's centerpiece big power ballad in "Can't Breathe" (reportedly originally written by Dobson with Leona Lewis in mind), complemented by a searing guitar solo by another underappreciated artist, Orianthi. This song sounds best when played at 11.

BEYONCE - "Love on Top"
Everybody asks me why I'm smiling out from ear to ear
(They say love hurts) but I know
(It's gonna take a lil' work)
Nothing's perfect but it's worth it
After fighting through my fears
And finally you put me first

Okay, so perhaps Beyonce's fourth solo disc (titled 4) may not be as commercially consistent as her previous efforts (to put it mildly), but that doesn't mean the reasoning behind this was deserved. Bey was going for a more grown sound for 4, and considering she is now officially a married woman in her 30's (and an expecting mother) the more adult-contemporary sound featured was a welcomed change in my book. I could appreciate her risk-taking using bolder choices sonically, but when it comes to Beyonce, I always feel she's at her best when she's just flat out sanging. No track did that more justice than "Love On Top", which she performed at this year's Video Music Awards as a means to introduce the mini-mogul she's currently carrying within her. The joy of "Love on Top" is in the sonic journey -- vocal (and key) crescendo that kind of creeps up on you in a whirlwind of happiness where you want to scream along with Bey. Only someone with a strong voice could take a relatively innocuous (and repetative) melody and turn it into something exciting. That coupled with the vintage, summery feel, and I'm transported back to my younger days, listening to Stevie Wonder. Ahhh, nostalgia.

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