Saturday, June 5, 2010

Taio Cruz and Ke$ha Take Some "Dirty Picture"s (Single Review)

Taio Cruz and Ke$ha may not initially seem to have a ton in common - he's a dude, she's a chick, he's black, she's white, he's British, she's American, he's a producer, singer/songwriter and sometimes rapper who largely wrote and produced his recent hit album, she's a singer/songwriter, rapper and sometimes producer who largely wrote and co-produced her recent...hit.... album.... Hmm, perhaps this unlikely pair isn't such an odd couple after all: indeed, they make up two of the seven lead artists to have a single hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2010 (although Ke$ha's nine week reign with "TiK ToK" slightly outperformed Cruz's one-week stay at the peak for "Break Your Heart").

Cruz and Ke$ha have another more direct connection at the moment of which not many here in the U.S. are yet aware: namely, their collaboration on the Cruz-penned and -produced dance romp "Dirty Picture", produced by the great Fraser T. Smith. Cruz has stated that he originally had Lady Gaga in mind when he penned the song for his album Rokstarr, which was released in October 2009 in his native UK and just last week (June 1, 2010) in the States. After hearing "TiK ToK" and getting a strong nudge by megaproducer Dr. Luke (the driving force behind most of Ke$ha's strong debut album Animal, which debuted in January 2010), Cruz instead called on the up-and-coming Nashville singer.

Ke$ha, of course, is no stranger to feature spots; indeed, her big break came rather perturbingly (for her) on the heels of an uncredited, UNPAID turn on Flo Rida's 2009 number one hit "Right Round" (a slight that she says prompted her ironic stylization of her moniker), and the ubiquitous singer can also be found in a scratch mine/scratch yours turn on 3OH!3's new single "My First Kiss." Cruz was thoroughly pleased with the result, and the two ended up recording a version of the song for the UK release of Animal, with Ke$ha singing the main verse as well as her regular part from the Cruz-helmed take, which was released in the UK as a bonus track entitled "Dirty Picture Pt. 2." The Cruz featuring Ke$ha cut became the third single from Rokstarr in the UK, vastly outperforming the dud of a second single "No Other One," which failed to reach the top 40 ("Dirty Picture" currently sits at number 6), but no plans for single release in the U.S. currently exist (another track, "Dynamite," was released last week as the second official U.S. single, the same date as the album).

Skeptical as I am of Taio Cruz' merits as an all-around solo artist, "Dirty Picture" is a clear standout from an otherwise forgettable album, benefiting from an ostinato bassline and beat that would make Benny Benassi proud, and from the solid performances of both artists, whose relaxed but playful delivery are such stuff as club smash hits are made on. A personal favorite is the syncopated repetition of "oh" and "snap" as the utterly danceable chorus pounds away between verses and chanted chorus. This is the increasingly rare track that ends just as you start to wish you could dance to it for hours, leaving worked up clubbers wanting more and geared up for whatever track is fortunate enough to follow (not to mention dying to hear it play on the radio once more on the drive home before giving it a few spins on the iPod before bed).

I'm only gonna break screw it.

Ultimately, Ke$ha outshines her suave British costar with her featured segments, which effectively rescue the track from being an initially exciting but eventually dull affair, as it likely would have been with Cruz's  vocals alone. The 26 year old has the requisite smoothness but not quite the swagger, which Ke$ha has (or is able to manufacture to order) in spades; even without her effortless scene-stealing in the official music video (in which she sings one verse atop a graffiti-doused toilet in stilettos and gets doused with vodka during the final bridge) she commands the attention - and brings most of the enjoyment - on the track itself.

Your drug is my love.

Cruz demonstrates the comfort and skill for studio recording one would expect from a well-regarded producer; Ke$ha, on the other hand, is not only competent (that has been proven already), she sounds as though she has spent her entire life in front of a microphone with headphones on. From barely noticeable things like the way even her breaths keep with the beat to her uniquely dependable high range backup vocals and that unmistakable voice that purrs about her "dairty pictcha" until you can't help but tune out the superfluous noise beyond her and the glorious rhythm plunging over and over down into the club floor. Not incidentally does Cruz grant her the majority of the second half of the tune, because once she's entered the track she has the control.  Her lead vocal version of the song is, predictably therefore, the stronger of the two versions, although it is unlikely the fact will ever become widely known. It is a situation with which the vastly underrated 23-year-old pro is not unfamiliar.

Listen to the version with Ke$ha on lead, a bonus track from the UK release of Animal:

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