Sunday, October 27, 2013

Venus | Lady Gaga

Rating: ★★★★★

Lady Gaga's new album is only two weeks away, yet the ARTPOP hype machine is just warming up. Last week, "Do What U Want" was unleashed as a promotional single and quickly was promoted to the second official single for the album, while the official release of "Venus" is just a few hours away.

"Venus," which was supposed to take the spot as the second single, was released for streaming on YouTube early this morning after multiple tweets from Gaga that spilled lines of lyrics and the three alternative covers to the single (two of which are most definitely NSFW). In all of the tweets promoting "Venus," Gaga repeated the name of the song's producer: Lady Gaga.

It's not often that you hear of a pop artist that writes his or her own music, let alone taking the time and energy to produce it by themselves. And for this being Gaga's first time riding solo behind the soundboard (She was, however, a co-producer of every track on Born This Way,) the song turned out extraordinarily well. 

The chorus of "Venus" is like no other, especially when it is expanded in the second and third repetitions. Gaga sings, "When you touch me, I die / Just a little inside" and "Cause you're out of this world / Galaxy, space, and time" before sprawling into a vocal run of "I wonder if this could be love / This could be love / Goddess of love." Meanwhile, a heavy electronic track bumps underneath her vocals that is nearly indescribable.

The bridge of the song mindlessly names off the planets of the solar system (plus Pluto, which isn't a planet anymore, Gaga!), but does serve up an immature yet inevitable Uranus joke: "Uranus / Don't you know my ass is famous?" Personally, I like the addition, but that may due to my slight affinity for vulgar humor.

I know I keep saying this with every ARTPOP song, but this is my new favorite song from the album thus far. From "Aura" to "Applause" to "Do What U Want" to "Venus," the songs just keep getting better and better, and if this pattern happens to continue, ARTPOP may just live up to that "Album of the Millennium" statement that Gaga made on Twitter a week or so ago.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Do What U Want | Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly

Rating: ★★★★★

Lady Gaga has been in constant promotional locomotion for the past few weeks: she released a schedule, revealing that there are plans to release a new song from her upcoming album ARTPOP every week until the album's release on November 11. However, that schedule may be slightly changed after the release of the first of the three songs, "Do What U Want," which features R. Kelly.

The song was originally released early yesterday morning to accompany ARTPOP as a promotional single, but it was now announced that it would be bumped up to a real single after it peaked at number one in multiple countries on iTunes and was met with critical acclaim, while "Venus" will be released next week as a promotional single.

When I first heard the song's title, I was quick to assume that it was entirely about sex and desire. That thought was proved to be somewhat incorrect when Lady Gaga took to Twitter a few hours before the song's iTunes release, posting tweets like "LADY GAGA IS A REDUCTIVE MADONNA COPY! SHE'S OVER NOW! #WriteWhatUWant #SayWhatUWantBoutMe #ImNotSorry" and "APPLAUSE didn't DEBUT AT #1! KATY IS BETTER THAN HER! #UWontUseMyMind I write for the music not the charts." 

It became evident that although "Do What U Want" does contain sexual metaphors, the song was meant as a subtle dig towards her critics. This is what makes Gaga so amazing, because she can take a song and derive so many meanings out of it. The lyrics to "Do What U Want" appeal to the masses, yet the meaning behind them all is something on the opposite end of the spectrum; I would like to see Katy Perry do that a song from Prism...

The cover art features a picture of Gaga's long blonde locks and her voluminous backside which many people may deem inappropriate, but it does ride along the theme of the song. And just as the cover to "Applause" was, there is a giant white border placed around the picture, making it seem like a piece of art from a museum. It is even hand-signed at the bottom by the photographer (whose name has yet to be disclosed, although it has been rumored to be the handwriting of Terry Richardson, a photographer Lady Gaga has worked extensively with in the past.)

From afar, "Do What U Wants" holds up a massive fa├žade that it is just another sexual pop song, but when you dig deep into the lyrics, there's so much more that opens up from it. The chilled-out 1980s vibe carries off of a theme started by Daft Punk with "Get Lucky," but obviously Gaga has done it better. I can't wait to see where this song goes on the charts, because it has the potential to be one of her most popular yet, especially now that she has a song that appeals to an R&B audience as well as her typical pop fans.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Prism | Katy Perry

Rating: ★★★☆☆

After almost two years of milking out the Teenage Dream and one year of a musical hiatus, Katy Perry is back with Prism, and album meant "to beam [...] light out through [the] songs to all [Katy Perry's] fans," retracting her previous statement that the album was going to be "real fucking dark."

The "fucking dark" statement was completely thrown out the window with the release of the lead single, "Roar," yet another cheap self-empowerment anthem that covers itself with a metaphor comparing people to tigers. The song's beat was a carbon copy of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and left a sour taste in my mouth for the remainder of Prism.

However, the follow-up single to "Roar" puts the album in a better light; "Unconditionally" is a power ballad that actually shines in the track-listing. The chorus is sure to be a killer on the radio, with Perry belting out "Unconditional, unconditionally / I will love you unconditionally / There is no fear now / Let go and just be free." The lyrics aren't anything to spectacular; they're on par with any other pop ballad out there, but the song is nice sounding. I love the studio track and those belts in the chorus, however, given Perry's track record in live performances, "Unconditionally" will be completely be butchered live.

Fans and casual listeners alike have all been buzzing over "Legendary Lovers" ever since it appeared on Perry's SoundCloud account with the rest of the Prism tracks; it has the most listens of all of the tracks from the album on the streaming site. Being the most diverse of the tracks, "Legendary Lovers" carries the spiritual sound that critics have been noting, going as far as breaking down into a tribal drum solo during the bridge.

Sitting at tracks number three and four, respectively, "Birthday" and "Walking On Air" draw influences from previous decades; "Birthday" is infused with sounds of 1990s bubblegum-pop, while "Walking On Air" goes for vibes of 1980s pop tracks. I feel like these two tracks in particular are the most exciting of the track listing, because they have the biggest choruses of them all and have the most prominent throwback sounds of them all.

The glazing problem I found with the entirety of Prism is that it is extremely evident that she didn't work very far outside of her small group of producers on the album; a lot of the sounds and concepts are used over and over again. The dream team of disposable pop music, Dr. Luke and Max Martin, touched nearly 75% of the songs on Prism, either through production or song-writing credits. Many talented producers can get away with producing an entire album without making it too repetitive, but we're talking about Dr. Luke and Max Martin here...

The other big issue I have with the album doesn't pertain to the music, but rather than album cover... Katy, what were you thinking? Leading up to the release of the album, Perry was using this fancy triangle emblem to promote Prism, which looks awesome. Then, she decided to put that on the back-burner to release the messy album cover, which I can't even completely describe. Her face isn't even completely visible thanks to the terrible white-balance from the sun, the flower-filled frame around her portrait looks cheap, and, worst of all, the interesting triangle logo makes no appearance. 

Taking all of the advantages and disadvantages into play, Prism relies on being a simple pop album; no more and no less. People have be begging to compare it to Perry's previous release, but it is not a step forward or a step backward from Teenage Dream. They are equals in the aspect that they're fun to listen to, but there's no real substance to back anything up. Many of the songs are all about love, but I don't feel like she even had a specific subject to sing about, just love in general.

But of course, people are going to love the album either way because it sounds nice, not because it has a giant hidden message behind it all. In short, is it worth a trip to Target and $11.99? Probably. Is it worth a Grammy nomination? Probably not.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Let Me Go | Avril Lavigne featuring Chad Kroeger

Rating: ★★★★☆

After releasing "Rock N Roll" at the end August, Avril Lavigne has been quite the hot topic. Although the single flopped on the charts, the music video was able to generate a buzz on social media sites, and now Lavigne is coming back... in a much more mature and dark manner with "Let Me Go."

This song is a big change of pace from the last two singles lifted from Lavigne's upcoming album. "Here's To Never Growing Up" and "Rock N Roll" both took a pop direction, with only former being the only one to chart within the scope of the upper half of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number twenty and certifying Platinum. 

Meanwhile, "Let Me Go" takes a harder approach, targeting  the jugular of contemporary radio stations. It builds up from a basic piano line to a forest of drum and string lines, then back down to end on a few notes of the piano, giving me some vibes of some select Evanescence pieces with a production style similar to Nickelback.

The song also features Lavigne's new husband, Chad Kroeger, whose voice is extremely annoying; I can't think of him outside of his awful work with Nickelback. As expected, his solo verse is no different and is just as annoying as ever, but when Lavigne sang the lead with Kroeger singing the harmonies underneath, the sound was immaculate. The blend between the two of them is amazing; I would have never expected the two to sound so well together.

At first, I thought Avril Lavigne was going to be filled with catchy pop tunes, but now I have different views; I feel like this could be quite similar to Goodbye Lullaby, but better. With all three singles being amazing at this point, I'm gladly going to pick the new album when it's released on November 5.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bangerz | Miley Cyrus

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Miley Cyrus has had a long year so far: she's been sticking her tongue in all the wrong places, twerking her booty on everything known to man, and swinging naked on construction equipment, but now Smilers will have something else to be happy about when Bangerz drops October 8.

Bangerz opens on a strong but slow start. "Adore You" is a ballad track highlighting Cyrus' voice. The lyrics aren't exactly exemplary, with Cyrus excessively overusing the words "baby" and "love," but the song as a whole is a soothing listen.

"Adore You" ends and the infectious "We Can't Stop" picks up where it left off, finally kick-starting the sound that Bangerz was named for. I have already reviewed the song, and I'm sure everyone has already heard the song before, so I'm not going to ramble on about it here.

Britney Spears is one of the many artists to make a cameo appearance on Bangerz, singing a verse in the track that the album's title was derived from: "SMS (Bangerz)." In all reality, the song is actually really stupid, but then again it is too infectious to ignore. It's like a Nicki Minaj song: you don't want to like it, but the chorus is irresistible and you have to like it anyway.

The song implements a sing-rap style that is often used by Ke$ha, and most recently by Spears in her latest single, "Work Bitch." A lot of the vocal lines in the chorus have been edited and layered, but the lyrics I've been able to get out of it were "I'll be strutting my stuff / Bangerz, bangerz." I didn't say it was the most complex song, I said it was catchy. (Shut up, I know you're judging me right now but I'm going to be strutting my stuff and jamming out to this song for a while.)

Even after listening to the entire album thanks to the free iTunes stream, I can confirm that "Wrecking Ball," the second single from the album, is the best song from the album, hands down. The production, the vocals, the lyrics... They're the best that Bangerz can offer. Some of the songs come really close to matching the quality of "Wrecking Ball," but each one of them fell flat in one category or another.

The video isn't that bad, either. The most people can ever comment on about it is how she's naked... Personally, I don't think this is a trashy way of conveying herself. The MTV Video Music Awards performance? Most definitely trashy, but the way she maintained herself in the "Wrecking Ball" video was not nearly as bad. The only thing that threw me off was the licking of the hammer... which I didn't really understand... at all.

Now, a problem I've noticed... What in the hell is "4x4" supposed to be? It carries a foot-stamping, knee-slapping beat with lyrics that would be appropriate for a bitchy bluegrass singer, not the new gangster Miley Cyrus. It completely switches gears, forcing Cyrus back into that country-girl image that she had tried to stray away from with a lot of the other songs on Bangerz. What are you trying to convey to us, Miley? That you're still a country girl but you like to do drugs and twerk in the inner city now, too? Because that's what I'm getting out of it.

One thing that stuck through the entire album that irritated me immensely, you may ask? Well, every single song produced by Mike WiLL Made It had to be orally watermarked by Cyrus with the uttering of his name somewhere in the song. Listen, it's cute in a song or two, but not all of them. There comes a point when it just becomes irritating, and Mike WiLL Made It reached that threshold quickly. We get it; you produced a lot of the songs. Having your names credited in the album booklet should be good enough to you, buddy.

When looking over our three grown-up Disney girls in a musical aspect, Cyrus is stuck in the middle of her peers. Bangerz may not have lived up to Selena Gomez's Stars Dance, but at least it was a bit more creative than DEMI. I've got to give Cyrus credit; she did try to go a bit outside of her previous safety zones. Some of the songs fell flat on their faces, but other ones actually came out as average pop anthems.