Thursday, June 7, 2012

Popologist Panel: Adam Lambert, Azealia Banks, Ke$ha

My critical opinion is obviously par excellence, but so much of it is informed by the intelligent critical thinking done about pop music (yes, it does happen elsewhere, however rarely) by some of my peers and leaders in this largely online world of specifically mainstream pop music criticism and commentary. Sure, we have links on all our pages to the ones we deem worthy of esteem, but it's hard to get much more than a one-sided stance on any one blog or website (as stellar and educated as that stance may be). Where there's a problem vexing enough, though, Vertigo Shtick does tend to find solutions. Taking notes from (initially) The Singles Jukebox and, more immediately, Slate.com's fascinating by-the-sexes weekly recapping of the HBO series Girls, I have pulled together the best and brightest voices on the scene for this debut edition of a new monthly series, the Popologist Panel.

A panel of pop miscreants.
The members of this panel have been hand-selected because not only are they excellent, credible and reliable music writers, I believe that they, in fact, view pop with the kind of critical angle and import that Vertigo Shtick founds itself upon. More importantly, these are people whose opinions about music matter to me, not because I always agree with them, but because they are reasoned - and explained - sufficiently for the thoughtful, open-minded critical thinker to absorb, acknowledge, and ascertain a response. This first panel, which has come together far more splendidly than I'd hoped to imagine, provides perfect example: never do we all agree, nor do the same people always agree or disagree on any one topic or another. That's how you know people are thinking and listening, not just feeling. Feeling is a great and perfectly fine way to approach pop music - I highly recommend it - it just ought not to be distributed as expert critical insight.

For this month, I arbitrarily pulled together some of the last month's big releases as well as some interesting lesser-known releases about which I thought we'd have interesting things to say. This certainly isn't an exhaustive collection - however, I encourage you to visit the panelists' own blogs and websites because they do collectively cover a much vaster area of current pop music releases. I encourage comments, your thoughts on these selections or on our responses - feel free to call us out for bullshit or stake a new claim we've all left out on something. It sounds terribly hokey, but the final member of the panel, as it always is on Vertigo Shtick, is you, the reader, and we welcome your thoughts.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

-David

*   *   *   *   The Popologist Panel   *   *   *   *

  • Unapologetically POP! - Gregory and Minna provide plenty of reliable critical insight with an intermittently stinging sense of wit and unerring sense of positivity, but a main strength of their blog is its overall sense of questioning. They're not here to tell you how it is; they're here to find out. (@unapologeticpop)
  • Techno School - You may know Techno School from their contributions on Vertigo Shtick as our dance/electronica correspondent. Based in Detroit, Techno School's blog is an interesting look at life in a new city woven into insights on today's EDM and the state of techno. (@itstechnoschool)
  • Taking Over the Universe - Gaosalad's fabulously enjoyable young blog is another interesting mixture of two interests pop music and drag queendom.(@gaosalad)
  • Popledge - Sarah carries the UK and Europe by extension on this panel, running as she does one of the hardest-working pop music news blogs around; follow her on Twitter and you can get top-notch critical thought in betwixt posts like "ONE DIRECTION - SHIRTLESS!" (v.g.) (@popledge)
  • Vertigo Shtick - The spark that grew into Vertigo Shtick came when one overly critical-thinking arts writer noticed that there were almost no pop songs on Pitchfork's Best of the 2000s list, nor most other outlets either; it now exists to question, decipher, explicate and dispense the critical and artistic elements of mainstream pop, down to the nitty gritty details. (@vertigo_shtick)
  • The Pop Messiah - Dean Boudreau is our lone Canadian panelist, which means he's pretty much like us but can't get Spotify and you can't send him iTunes gifts. That doesn't stop him, and his witty but wise blog, from getting it right when it comes to pop music (if not Ke$ha, who is in fact the pop Messiah). (@thepopmessiah)

NOTE: All the music discussed in this article can be heard by clicking on the album artwork provided. Of course, we also encourage you to patronize those you enjoy by buying their material. (I did). Dates and label info are for US releases.

*   *   *   *   Album of the Month   *   *   *   *

Adam Lambert - Trespassing (RCA, May 11)


Unapologetically POP: Generalizing this album is close to impossible. The finer moments are the ones produced by Pharrell Williams, namely “Trespassing” &Kickin’ In.” As for radio earworms, the Katy Perry-esque “Cuckoo” takes the cake. The rest is just not that memorable. Sadly, we expected way more funk from the Sam Sparro songs.

Techno School: How is it that the same album that starts with me on my feet, struck with the dancing bug, end with my helpless pleas to my speakers: Why?!?!? What is this?!?!!? How could you do this to me, Lambert?!?! The one common thread was that I couldn't help but laugh at how ill-fitting the lyrics were for a wannabe badass more known for his ballads. The progression of track themes from being a rule-breaking badass who likes to party to someone falling in love and then getting hurt by said love...coming from Lambert...it is so The Lost Score From Rock of Ages (close enough). Still, the syncopated synth melodies answering to those funkadelic wompy bass beats were pleasantly reminiscent of French electro powerhouse DJs Justice and Daft Punk. And did anyone else notice how the breakdown from “Pop That Lock” was copy/pasted from the Cirkut remix of Ke$ha's Blow? It makes me wonder if Cirkut had their hands in on this whole album. Some techno spots are dead on (the intro to “Cuckoo”) while some are utter failures (the bridge in “Broken English” that sounds more at home on a Muse playlist than anything). And, by the end, the album fell into so many yawn-worthy, predictable tunes that I found myself skipping through tracks, in hope of finding the techno redeemer that never came.

Popledge: Adam really tells his story through this album, it’s personal and emotional but also contains a sense of fun and naughtiness at the same time. This could be a hard balance to strike for some but Lambert and his team deserve credit for the structure and execution of this album, we are taken from lighter tracks like ‘Naked Love’ through the darker times of ‘Chokehold’ to a final state of ‘Nirvana’ without feeling like the process is rushed or forced, it just feels like a very natural process of discovery and learning. I truly hope he picks up some new fans with this album, he deserves it. One of my favourite albums of 2012.

Taking/Universe: I actually have already reviewed this album in great detail. It has been a while since I gave the album a full listen though (I already added my faves to a playlist). As much as I am in love with this album, it really felt divided. Think of it like [Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday:] Roman Reloaded; one half is super fun upbeat pop and the other half is... well, not so great. I like slower ballads, but apart from the lyrics, the second half wasn't as spectacular. I would advise people get the Deluxe Edition, however. The bonus tracks really are worth the couple extra bucks, even if the cover art for that version is rather unappealing, as I'm sure Dean will agree.

Vertigo Shtick: Truth be told, I put off listening to this until the last possible moment (literally), and the reasons why are abundant and occasionally complicated (Jealousy? Residual homophobic issues?), but often simple (American Idol; the twink boyfriend; gay sex/relationship album hitting too close to home; Dr. Luke). It wasn't bad; the Pharrell tracks were interesting (not as much as I'd hoped), and the glam dance-y bits were intermittently fun, and the boy can sing. “Shady” had me at its perverted guttural bass hello (Sam Sparro=yum) and was the one moment I particularly perked up during my listen; it sounds like a good Scissor Sisters song. The Michael Jackson tribute show gets old (and Cirque du Soleil is already doing one anyway), as do those wailing/whining high notes, and “Better Than I Know Myself” is essentially a recycling of Ke$ha's “Hungover” (of all Ke$ha songs, why go to one of the only true stinkers?). As for the material, been there, done that, got the sequined t-shirt and the black eyes. It's hard to enjoy the romantic, the breakup or even the naughty tracks because to me he's singing about him and his boyfriend, and I can't really internalize that. It was a challenge to get to the end of the Deluxe Edition with all those endless goddamn BALLADS, which is a shame because as ballads go, “Nirvana” isn't terrible.

Pop Messiah: Yeesh! I already crafted a 1600-word review of this album; now to sum it up in a few sentences. Having formerly been resistant to Lambert's charms (though I did enjoy a few from his Debut) I have fully boarded the Glambert wagon after hearing this album. It's a modern and inspired set of tracks that references artists like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder but adds an edgy, rock-and-roll sensibility and sounds like a whole lot of artistic freedom. I would say I love every track except for "Kickin' In" and if your interest is piqued I highly suggest getting the deluxe edition. I've reserved "Trespassing" it's very own glittery cloud in Pop Heaven. Check out: “Trespassing,” “Cuckoo,” “Shady,” “Underneath,” “Outlaws of Love” & deluxe edition tracks “Runnin'” and “Nirvana.”

*   *   *   *   EPs   *   *   *   *

Queen of Hearts - Neon/Tears in the Rain (Nightmoves, May 14)


Unapologetically POP: Everything we wanted from Little Boots we found in QUEEN OF HEARTS. In a year fundamentally lacking in disco bliss, this Brit came out of left-field to rule our hearts & our disco balls. We’d like more, thank you.

Techno School: I got a strong-ass 90s vibe from this EP. It's like techno's earlier, long-forgotten attempt to break into the mainstream. What really bugs me the most is that, were the volume of each bizarre layer of techno sound more strategically controlled, this could have been a decent set of tracks. Instead, the piles of echoing vocals, hyperactive chime scales, and thumping bass feel muddled and heavy. I give Queen of Hearts an A for effort, incorporating tones resembling raindrops and thunder into “Tears in the Rain” and smartly fading the background snare in and out of “No More,” but overall I have to pass.

Popledge: The first time I listened to this EP was for this review - I enjoyed her voice on the tracks, very ethereal, not sure if it is main-stream chart pop but there is definitely a market for her. Reminded me of a very sophisticated Girls Aloud EP - I will be listening to this again.

Taking/Universe: Was this produced recently? This legit sounds like it came out of the 80s -- maybe with a few more complex synths. Her voice is dark and mysterious, and I have a hard time believing I've never heard of her before now. I sort of feel like this song is a double a-side single with two bonus b-sides. The last two tracks just don't feel as strong to me. As short as EPs are, each song should be single ready. Sadly, I don't feel this is the case here.

Vertigo Shtick: Queen of Hearts (what IS her real name, anyhow?) just keeps putting out really really GOOD electro-pop stuff, and it's really encouraging, not to mention a bit surprising. There were weak spots on her debut EP The Arrival (“Where Are You Now” is kind of a snooze) mixed in with the brilliant “Freestyle” and the inescapable “Shoot the Bullet,” and she hasn't put out a real dud since her debut. “Neon” may veer a little closer to Goldfrapp pastiche than might be wise for an accused Goldfrapp swagger jagger (see “Train”), but it's simply perfect in terms of structure and execution. “Tears in the Rain” is a bit mopey for my taste, but it's good at what it does. The bonus tracks are solid too (I like “No More” quite a bit more than “Forgive Me”). She's probably the emerging artist by whom I'm most excited at the moment.

Pop Messiah: There's something very mysterious and alluring about Queen of Hearts; both image and music-wise. She has this way of blending melancholy and seductiveness in layers of cooing vocal harmonies worthy of a British girl group, but oftentimes better. "Neon" is probably my favorite of the tracks she has released since she was brought to my attention last year and it stands out from it's EP release along with "Forgive Me" which feels a tiny bit like an ode to Madonna's "Sorry" with a multilingual spoken word introduction. All of the tracks are worth checking out, however. 


Azealia Banks - 1991 (Polydor, May 28)


Unapologetically POP: The 1991 EP, named after the year God gave us with Azealia Banks, prophesies world domination & is as overrated as Banks herself. Being the half-sister of Jesus, naturally, Azealia can rap quite well (we’re sure her older brother had good flow too). But no matter how well-produced, 1991 leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Probably from all the cunt-licking.

Techno School: Confession: I have a crush on Azaelia Banks. She's brings back a long-missed attitude and sound that brought Missy Elliott to fame. Banks one-ups with her own rapid-fire, gasp-worthy lyrics. And, oh my God, the backbeats to all her songs are genius. That shimmer of beeping in “Licorice”? The fading trumpet-y sounds in “212”? All the beats could be standalone house tracks, Banks' voice just chugging along with the other instruments. I wanna be all like "well duh, house and rap have basically grown up together" but after the very lyrical tracks released by mega-giants Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Drake, it's nothing short of a delight to hear something a bit more old-school in true hipster fashion. The only thing I can't figure out is whether Banks is using those in-your-face sexual lyrics as a subversive commentary on the hyper-masculinity in the rap scene, or if she's just a really horny bisexual chick. Either way I'm down.

Popledge: To be honest I don't feel qualified to comment too much on the structure and influences of this track so I will just talk more about whether I like it or not.  I like the 90's dance vibe across her tracks but it would never appear on my iPod - I'm just not that cool!  I do respect the production and the thought that has gone into this much delayed EP though.

Taking/Universe: What is this? Is this a joke? She sounds like a bad Foxy Brown. Does anyone remember, or even know, who she is? Anyway, how dare you make the king of everything pop listen to... this. OK, so it isn't that bad, but it really wasn't what I was expecting. The beats for the entirety of the EP are very nice. For this one, I suggest you turn the bass way up, the treble way down, and ignore all the lyrics. I think I may just not "get" rap. Like at all. Oh well. I guess I should pass this one off to someone who is more versed in this type of thing.

Vertigo Shtick: I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. I love the beats and production – they almost outshine the rapping at times, but I'm okay with that. The Nicki Minaj comparisons are off-base: she sounds to me more like Lil' Kim and even Lauryn Hill, especially on the title track, my favorite of the bunch and the one that'll probably make its way into my rotation. It really has it all, and it keeps changing all the way throughout – one minute minimalist trip-hop, next minute “Doo Wop (That Thing)”-style harmonies, next minute 90s nostalgia beats and Salt-N-Pepa swag. “212” has its Nicki-esque moments (although I'll take Nicki's “pussies is throbbin'” over Azealia's “cunts getting' eaten” any day – one sounds like a feast with bbq chicken and watermelon, the other like vultures picking at carrion). For some reason though, her (deliberate?) spine-straight rapping on “212” reminded me of... Lana del Rey. I know, right? Oh, and I appreciate the ballsiness of putting the extended spoken diss riff after the second track, making you hear it leading into the main single rather than tacking it on the end like most would do. As for this much-hailed Messiah of hip-hop, call me at least preliminarily intrigued, although little of what I liked on this EP was directly the work of Banks (the rapper, at least) herself, so...hmm.

Pop Messiah: This whole EP sounds a bit like someone found a dusty box full of three-and-a-quarter inch floppy disks full of house beats and random sound effects and decided it would be a good idea to make a very dated, sparse and completely unmemorable handful of songs out of their contents. I get that it's throwback, but Banks fails to make it modern. While she sounds a tad like Missy Elliott in some moments and Nicki Minaj in others, she lacks the personality (and the hooks) that would entice me to give the others my repeat listens. With nothing divine and nothing terribly wicked, 1991 falls into the darkest parts of PopLimbo! The Pop Gods have forgotten it's existence already.


Florrie - Late (Xenomania, May 31)


Unapologetically POP: Minna glowingly reviewed this EP when it came out last week, & with good reason. Our biggest gripe with Florrie, though, is the fact that we still don’t really know who the hell Florrie is. On one track she sounds like Annie, on another she sounds like Girls Aloud, & on another she sounds like Ladyhawke. What the hell makes you tick, Florrie? Thankfully, in Late she comes the closest yet to finding her own voice. Those glimpses of individuality are enough to make us crave more.

Techno School: I can't quite make my mind up about Late, but the bottom line is that I'm underwhelmed. It's very...art school. Like Florrie is trying so hard to make a statement, but everything she says is something I've heard before. Whereas “Shot You Down” and “I'm Gonna Get You Back” border on aggravating to my ears, the heart-pumping electro beats propelling “Every Inch” and “To The End” leave a more pleasant ring behind them. And that transition from near silence to gently chugging bass around 1:50 in “To The End” is just sublime. A few moments of genius, though, don't make up for an otherwise painfully trying-too-hard EP.

Popledge: The only track I liked on this EP was 'I'm Gonna Get You Back' I thought the rest were just a little too repetitive in terms of the underlying beats. At this stage I would say 'potential' is the word I would match with Florrie.

Taking/Universe: I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this release. It's not bad by any means, but I couldn't get myself into it. The vast majority of British pop music (Cheryl being the obvious exception here) just doesn't excite me as much, probably due to it being much harder to access in the States. She has some good beats, and a great musical resume so far. I think she will go far, but for now, I didn't find a lot of the things I personally look for in music.

Vertigo Shtick: I think I was bound to be at least a bit let down by this, considering how much I adored her previous EP Experiments (which topped my list of the Best Pop EPs of 2011). It's not as good a set in terms of sound or structure, overall or in part, although I don't think it is supposed to be a song cycle in the way Experiments was. There are bits I really like – the groovy side streets of “Shot You Down,” the deliciously ambiguous lyrics of “I'm Gonna Get You Back” which keep you guessing to the end, the tidal wave-of-sound moments Xenomania does so well. I think Florrie's songwriting is a singular treasure and the best of her seemingly infinite qualities (she should be killed). Her songs are like novels that are exhilarating to hunker down and safari through, and that's so rare in pop. If all in all it's nowhere near as memorable or compelling as Experiments, it's not really a loss if you see it as part of something bigger than its perfectly respectable if largely unremarkable self: I can appreciate Late as a completion of the experimentation Florrie has admirably undergone in order to develop herself as an artist who knows what she's doing, what she wants to say, and how she wants to say it, before signing up for her big-label debut, which we now hope is next. Jessie J would have done well to have followed Florrie's path, but she didn't, and that's why we have “Domino.”

Pop Messiah: No puns intended, but I'm a bit late to board the Florrie train. I've been reading her name on pop blogs for a year or so and until today I have not actually heard any of her material. Like a heroine on a neon chariot, the EP's opening track "Shot You Down" starts with hooks-a-blazing and immediately makes me feel better about the last hook-less mess. While the first track is the most catchy of the set, the others are beautifully produced, emotional, dark and dreamy bits of Pop Heaven! Check out: “Shot You Down,” “I'm Gonna Get You Back,” “Every Inch,” “To The End” (P.S. That's ALL of it!)

*   *   *   *   Singles   *   *   *   *

Cher Lloyd - "Want U Back" (Sony UK/Epic, May 22 (US))


Unapologetically POP: Good lord its about TIME for Cher to make her mark in the US! After the Brits invasion (One Direction / The Wanted) we need a British female solo artist to take the stage. No offense to the boys, but Cher has far more swagger than even the best of the boy bands could dream of. “With Ur Love” would have been a better first single, but at least its not “Swagger Jagger,” the song that started her off on the wrong foot in the UK.

Techno School: I don't care how impeccable the emotion in Lloyd's delivery is, or how infectious is her Brit accent. I cannot forgive whoever decided to put such an awkward, nasty grunting sound in an otherwise cookie-cutter “Let's start the summer, guys!” kind of pop song. And how uninspired is the theme of obsessing over an ex-boyfriend? C'mon, talk about how much you're enjoying going to all those restaurants with your friends, not having to worry about who's picking up the bill this time! Don't get me started with that helicopter bit.

Popledge: You Americans got a way better visual for this track than we did over in the UK! I think Cher Lloyd could really make it in the US, the only thing I think she is lacking is that killer instinct and drive for success. But as a fresh pop track with some attitude this ticks all the boxes...thank god they dropped Astro!

Taking/Universe: I came into this situation judging her for using the letter "U" instead of the word "you." I am not a grammar nazi but text-speak is so lazy. The song is very underwhelming. I never gave her fist single a chance, and I'm wishing bad thoughts towards David for including this one. She sounds like Miley Cyrus, looks like Miley Cyrus, and has lyrics like Miley Cyrus. We don't need two of those. I firmly believe the song would be lackluster even if someone else had been singing it, because the lyrics are so desperate and annoying. The constant "shh" left a dent in the wall from me hitting my head against it over and over. It's usually against my policy to trash talk any artist, but I really don't know if I could find something positive about this song to say. She... makes a nice helicopter noise?

Vertigo Shtick: I was among the half (?) of folks who thought “Swagger Jagger” was brilliant (although I'd gag for anything Diplo has touched), so I'm tentatively on team Cher Lloyd. “Want U Back” is pretty charming, very US-friendly (thanks to Shellback, of Dr. Luke's merry band of Swedish pop carpenters), and I like the atypical sentiment behind it (I thought I was hot shit and dumped you, now you appear to be over it and doing pretty well, now I want you back if only so I can feel like I'm winning again). The new video is fun, although did they have to reuse Cee Lo's “Fuck You” diner? Oh well. It wouldn't be a Dr. Luke-related item if there wasn't some sort of recycling going on.

Pop Messiah: Ok, this is my first time hearing Cher Lloyd, but I feel like I have read so much negative about her that I never expected she would be as adorable or fun as she is. This track is fresh (it's 1998, right?) and it's starting to seem like the Brit's may be the ones to try and save us from North American radio's obsession with club beats. As much as I love dance music, it's time for change! Lloyd drips with pop-forward bubblegum swag. It's cheesy and funky and kind of amazing. Have I had too much communion wine again?


Richard Vission vs. Luciana - "When It Feels This Good" (Solmatic, May 29)


Unapologetically POP: This track is just too disorganized & chaotic, even for Minna, who loves anything outlandishly electroclash. We’ll give Luciana this, though: she manages to wear an orange wig without looking like a Nicki Minaj wannabe. Kudos.

Techno School: I love when Luciana chimes into anything with her snarky lyrics. The word "stripper" has never sounded so appealing to me. I don't know anything about Richard Vission, but I'll certainly be checking him out now. This is truly a contemporary techno song, similar to Steve Aoki and Bloody Beetroots. A relentless beat, high pitches, zips and sirens are meant to provoke club-goers and command them to dance. The music may not be particularly unique, but the Luciana-Richard Vission pair is a match made in Heaven. The music is so in-your-face that only Luciana's lyrics could stand up to it ...Licky lick my guitar? Oh? Have you met Azealia? I think she's into that.

Popledge: Not my English cup of tea at all - just sounds like a bunch of noises after a while. All that talk of 'swagger' tends to turn me off as well..if you have to tell people you have it then you probably haven't.

Taking/Universe: I heard a mix of this song recently that I like far better than the original. The breaks are fun, but the heavy distortions in the background are too distracting and annoying. The lyrics are hilariously dirty, talking about licking her guitar, sticky fingers, and wanting his candy. These kinds of cheesy, yet raunchy lyrics are what I live for in songs. That being said, I feel the song has the right ingredients, but over does it in a few spots. Some music just -is- club music, and some try too hard to be that way. It didn't feel natural to me musically, despite the spot on vocals.

Vertigo Shtick: Luciana could recite Paul Ryan's Dickensian federal budget and I'd vote for it, but this is...not her best. “I Like That” is great, and it's not even my favorite by any means (I prefer Luciana's collabs with Bodyrox or her work with Dave Aude), and this doesn't have that spark, that zeitgeist immediacy, or much else really. It's even lazy techno. It sounds like someone took NERVO's “We're All No One”, spliced it up, tossed in Luciana and a wig, and said “$2.69 please!” Luciana is still hot, and she's much better than this.

Pop Messiah: Pretty sickening beat aside, this is the kind of song that would have me running for the dance floor ready to show-off all sorts of flashy arm-over-head moves in the club but wouldn't likely be on my radar for casual listening at home. I have a feeling it has earworm potential, though, and accept that it may be stuck in my brain for the rest of eternity and I just haven't realized it yet. 


Cheryl - "Call My Name" (Fascination, June 10 (Official UK))


Unapologetically POP: We’ve answered Bey’s command, and occasionally reminded Rihanna of her own (Long night, RiRi?). Sorry (well, not really), Cheryl, but this song title is totally unoriginal, as is the track. Calvin Harris gave you some leftovers. It’s as if Rihanna went out dancing to “We Found Love,” came home, and puked this up. No wonder it sounds like a hangover. At least the video’s choreography is cute (a.k.a. ah-FRIGGIN-mazing!). Miss Cole, you can DAYNCEEEE (but please don’t drop the Cole. Cheryl Cole sounds so much better than Cheryl, the name of a pre-schooler, or in your case, a sexually advanced pre-schooler).

Techno School: Now, I don't know if this will mean anything to those of you unfamiliar with the rave scene, but I found myself closing my eyes, rubbing my neck, and bopping my head to the beat of this song. “Call My Name” is the antithesis to many electro-inspired pop songs on the radio nowadays; if anything, the music overpowers Cheryl's voice, and the track leans more towards techno than pop. From the choppy, extended introduction to the bright ringing harmony to the zipping bass in the background, everything in this song just feels right. Every last layer of sound sits in its rightful place, and the whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts. I'm buying this song. Like right now. And playing it on repeat next time I walk into town.

Popledge: Oh Cheryl, I've just watched her literally murder her duet with Gary Barlow for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, but our country loves her as a person, she could literally fart on a track and people would lap it up. I can't see it being any different with this single. Myself I love this track! I think it's a strong lead single for her album - Calvin Harris's influence is apparent on the track and what she lacks in vocal talents she makes up with the ability to sell herself and her music. Oh and 10/10 for the boob-ography in the video!

Taking/Universe: I certainly hope the audio only version of this song doesn't have a full minute intro of obnoxious industrial sounds. This is actually the first I've heard of this girl, and I have to say I'm a bit impressed. She's everything I love about Kat Graham (Sexy) and everything I love about Kimberly Cole (a voice made for pop music). The song has such a great retro vibe to it, having a lot of actual disco overtones vocally (not the radio music people are blindly calling disco), as well as name dropping one of my favorite songs in the universe -- “Poison Arrow” by ABC. Lyrically, it is on par with the rest of the current theme of pop music -- nothing too deep. Then again, as king of horrid pop music, I don't expect or long for such lyrics. Anybody know when this is coming out in the US?

Vertigo Shtick: We Americans don't have a strong foundation for Cheryl, who has understandably dropped her cheating ex-husband's surname but found her maiden “Tweedy” too, well, tweedy to return to and decided to say “fuck it” and do without. A lot of contestants on The Voice tried to do that this season too and I just want to say to all of them, including Mz. Cole, “honey,” (collectively) “you're not Madonna. And you're not Cher. So you'll use a last name like the rest of us plebians.” Anyway, I'm ho-hum about this track: I don't mind it being on but I forgot it the moment it was over...several times. It really adds grounds to my theory that Calvin Harris, being a typical man, shot his wad with “We Found Love” and he's just not gonna get it up again any time soon.

Pop Messiah: I was completely bored by this track the first time I heard it, despite having read multiple tweets from other bloggers preaching it's supposed perfection. It's a good-enough dance track, don't get me wrong, but doesn't it just sound like it's trying to be the new "We Found Love?" All that said, by listen #3 I was coming around and after watching the music video I think it may make it onto my iPod, but not for its originality or for Cheryl's rather lacklustre vocal performance. 


Kylie Minogue - "Timebomb" (EMI, May 25)


Unapologetically POP: Kylie’s new single as inoffensive (*ahem* BORING *ahem*) as she is. Yes, the video is sexy; despite having absolutely zero stage presence, Kylie’s conquered the art of the sexy pose. Still, we’re completely unimpressed. Where are “In Your Eyes” or “Red Blooded Woman” Part 2? Probably on Madonna’s tour / in the backroom of the club snorting coke with Rihanna (allegedly).

Techno School: Kylie Minogue has been ahead of the curve since her electronically influenced 2001 hit “Can't Get You Outta My Head.” It's no surprise, then, that waves of what sound like heavily modified electric guitar harmony support her angelic voice (Yeah, I called Kylie Minogue's voice angelic. Whatever). Or that volume of the supporting music strategically climbs each time the track approaches a chorus. Every musical statement, as it were, acts like a timebomb. How fitting. This song walks the techno-pop line leaning heavily toward the latter side of things. Still, overall, “Timebomb” is a pleasing track that I'd look forward to hearing on the radio.

Popledge: I loved the way Kylie released this in the UK...BAM like suddenly it was out there with no promotion.  Not the strongest Kylie single ever but a nice addition to the K25 era...I love the 'whoops' in the track and Kylie looks phenomenal in the video!

Taking/Universe: I love this song's unique take on sex. Most of the time, when a girl is singing, it's about the more romantic side of sexual contact. Here, we just have Kylie (at least a bit more tactfully) saying that the world is ending and time for sex is now! I'm not sure, but I think she is calling her vagina a timebomb. Jokes aside, the song is peppy and fun, and will hopefully be the comeback Kylie needs here in the United States. Her music shaped my feelings towards the pop genre when I was young more so than the other big players at the time, so seeing her back in the spotlight with a solid and generally well liked single is a great feeling.

Vertigo Shtick: This one didn't click for me the afternoon it landed (though it did rear the second or third highest one-day hit count in Vertigo Shtick history); at first it seemed like a decent, “Keeps Gettin' Better”/”3” kind of placeholder. But the next morning it kind of sunk in that this was a pretty major single whose power and instant popularity went well beyond simply that of “here's something new by Kylie Minogue whom we all love (except in the US, for some reason).” It's pretty well done all around: writing, production (I love the “chug chug chug chug” before the second eight in each verse, ramping up the build), performance (whoop!), even the video. Even if I stand behind my initial feeling that it's kind of a Luciana-as-solo-pop-act song, everything about it exemplifies and utilizes what makes Kylie Minogue great – the whispered, ageless sexiness, the thrilling electronic dance beats, the feeling that time might well just end altogether once the song is over.

Pop Messiah: Leave it to the Queen of Aussie Pop to do in one track from an upcoming hits collection what Madonna did in the whole of recent album MDNA; "Timebomb" manages to reference Kylie's previous work and show her evolution in 3:32 of glory. (Note to Stans: I also adore Madonna & MDNA, please hold your pitchforks and torches!) It's classic Kylie and yet exemplifies 2012 and may be one of my favorite Kylie singles. 


Ke$ha - "Pretty Lady" (Demo)


Unapologetically POP: Pretty Lady,” thank God, does NOT sound like what we expected. Even staunch Ke$ha-disbelievers cannot deny that this is a ballsy track (pun intended). It’s soulful & bizarrely theatrical, like a gay club in the Deep South. Assuming what we heard was a demo, the final production edits really shouldn’t touch it up too much; Ke$ha sounds her best when raw & unrefined.

Techno School: This is not the first time that Ke$ha has released a track about transvestites (see: “Take it Off”). The song isn't my favorite, and these aren't her most inspired lyrics; I don't particularly appreciate the way the self-described sleaze queen describes the trannys with wonder, but at least it's in equal part admiration. The minimalist background music and extremely repetitive lyrics would fit in well with the current radio music landscape., and I can see “Pretty Lady” riding the coattails of the next Black Keys or Foxy Shazam single. That is, if radio execs can handle a song about fucking fabulous boy with a nice rack. I have my doubts.

Popledge: I quite like Ke$ha as she brings something different to the female pop scene - plus anyone who invents 'cock pop' is good in my books! I would describe this track as fun, towards the end of the track I actually found myself chucking at the 'I'm a real woman' lines. I'm not a drag queen myself but if I was I'd like this as my anthem/entrance song!

Taking/Universe: There is a reason I don't listen to Ke$ha demos. It seems like there is only one good demo from her for every six I come across. This one falls somewhere in between. I like it's wonky beat for the lyrics, but I really wish she wouldn't scream most of them at the top of her lungs. It amuses me that the song is about drag queens, and since drag queens are kind of my thing, I feel like I should have more to say. The song points out everything "fake" about men dressing as women and praises it, showing her support for all of her friends, family, and fans no matter how they choose to live their lives. Once again, Ke$ha, at least in my eyes, bests Gaga in the gay world by making a song that sounds more like she is friends with homosexuals rather than exploiting them.

Vertigo Shtick: I cannot WAIT for Ke$ha's return. The majority of her unreleased material shits on most pop music out there, and this supposed demo is a solid addition to that vast warehouse. It's unabashed drag-loving reminds me of Garbage's “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go),” another great alternative-rock love song to the sexual counterculture. I love how its rough-draft sound fits perfectly with its transgressive attitude (Ke$ha's attitude in general, I guess, when she's not too shellacked), and I LOVE her yelling “pretty laDAAAAAAAAAAAY” (which I have grossly overused in print and shall now retire), probably for the same reason. Like Madonna's “Vogue” and Lady Gaga's “Heavy Metal Lover,” this song demonstrates a true ally and not a patronizing or exploitative poser. Don't be a queen, just be pro-drag.

Pop Messiah: I will try to be civil here after pressing play, because I know I'm in mixed company when it comes to Ke$ha. I went from loathing her to accepting she wasn't going anywhere to really loving "Blow." That being said, I would still send much of her material straight to Pop Hell. I admit, however, that "Pretty Lady" is pretty hilarious as a bit of a novelty track. Haven't we all seen a man in drag who looked incredible and left us a little bit in awe that he makes such a convincing woman? I'll admit for just this one moment in time that Ke$ha might occasionally exhibit a tiny bit of genius. *gag*

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