Random Song Reviews – 1/19-1/24/2022


Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back

One of my favorite memories is rapping this entire song at a karaoke booth at a music festival in high school without looking at the lyrics on screen and wowing all five people who had stopped to watch. I even made one stranger laugh when I pointed at myself while saying the line “even white boys got to shout.”

At that point, “Baby Got Back” was probably a decade old, and choosing it as your karaoke staple was a knowing, ironic wink. Nowadays, it would be a proper send-up to a straight-up hip-hop classic. Not many rap songs have aged well due to their explicit objectification of women (even some as recent as this past decade), but Sir Mix-A-Lot’s trademark track has not fallen victim to this discourse. That’s because this novelty rap isn’t cold or cynical or transactional. “Baby Got Back” is a one-liner-laden jam that offers an ageless, humorous homage to the female posterior, and the bigger the better. It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on Black female beauty, with just enough comedy and punchlines that likely didn’t make white people feel uncomfortable. Sir Mix-A-Lot cleverly packaged a jab at the homogenization of white supermodel beauty (which was rampant in the early 90s), making it sound like a dumb, fun joke rap, like an R-rated Fresh Prince single or something. The whip crack sound effects, the Valley Girl intro, and the lowbrow visuals provided to MTV were just icing on the cake. The song doesn’t really even have a proper hook or a chorus, but it didn’t seem to matter.

As far as what’s going on behind Mix-A-Lot, the beat sounds ancient. The minimal, 80s-influenced production on “Baby Got Back” (made by Sir Mix-A-Lot and Rick Rubin) has not aged well, which almost slides the song into “relic” territory. The second-rate Miami bass shuffle, those horn stabs – in the burgeoning age of gangsta rap, it all sounded dated even then. But nobody is hearing that stuff when they listen to this song – not now, and not in 1992. The whole point is the words; “Baby Got Back” wasn’t the first rap song to celebrate The Booty, and it certainly wasn’t the last, but unlike his contemporaries, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s lyrics were playful, joyful, and, as it turned out, impactful.

Score: 8/10

Madonna – This Used To Be My Playground

This ennui-ridden standalone single, written for the great baseball film A League Of Their Own (but ultimately not featured on the soundtrack release due to contractual issues) is perhaps Madonna’s most memory-holed number one song, and for good reason. She has never played it live, and the sappy, unremarkable production surrounding her tepid vocal performance render it forever trapped in the moment it was released. To Madonna’s credit, she has stated publicly her ambivalence about “This Used To Be My Playground;” it is far from her best work.

Madonna is a pop juggernaut; everything she touched from 1983 to the early years of the 21st century turned to gold. She was riding a constant wave of good will, to be sure, but Madonna always had her finger on the pulse, and in instances like “Vogue” and “Like a Prayer,” she was way ahead of the curve. “Playground,” despite its success, shows the limitations of Madonna’s voice and songwriting. She was never a vocal powerhouse, and this wistful ballad pushes that flaw to the front; Madonna’s best performances were almost always alongside a faster tempo. It doesn’t help that “Playground” has a weak chorus and Shep Pettibone’s half-hearted string-and-piano arrangement.

At the time, Madonna and Pettibone were working on something completely different – Madonna’s next album to be released later in 1992, the house-influenced Erotica. So when the movie studio asked the singer for a slow, pretty song that evoked childhood memories, it’s understandable that the songwriting duo didn’t have their hearts in it. Reportedly, they only spent a couple of days on “Playground,” and it shows.

A League Of Their Own is well-remembered, and Madonna shines in the film alongside a stellar ensemble cast. Her musical contribution, however, leaves much to be desired.

Score: 2/10

Boyz II Men – End of the Road

We all know the template at this point – that smooth spoken-work baritone, the melodramatic build to that four-part harmony chorus, the extended emotional vamping at the end. At this point, it’s a relic of the 1990s, a trope somebody like The Lonely Island would milk for laughs. But before 90s R&B vocal groups became a punchline, they were a force on the charts and on radio stations all over America. They were theatrical yet accessible, and the delivery was nothing but genuine. And Boyz II Men were at the very top. They pretty much created the formula we all recognize today (taking influence from Philly soul and New Edition before them), and it was so successful they had a string of long-running #1 hits in the States, most notably “End of the Road,” which was their first.

I am old enough to remember the moment when Boyz II Men were the biggest group in the country of any genre, knocking out award nominations left and right, their sappy ballads in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio in between Hootie and La Bouche, ruining my ten-year-old vibe with their slow tempo. At that age, every song feels longer than it is, especially if you don’t like it.

I am also old enough to remember when that style of R&B devolved into unfashionable self-parody, as the genre became more rhythm-focused. As Mariah pivoted to hip-hop producers, and Timbaland and Aaliyah were turning heads, “End of the Road” went from supermarkets to ironic scenes in rom-coms where the protagonist is moping about a breakup.

We are far enough removed from that moment in time to appreciate “End of the Road” for what it is: an intentionally dramatic, incredibly sad song, perfect for both drunken karaoke outings and solo nights. It can be delivered with a wink, or it can be background music for your heartache in equal measure. Even Boyz II Men, now a trio, are in on the joke, while simultaneously recognizing the power of the song and why so many people loved it in the first place.

That’s because Boyz II Men are an insanely talented group of vocalists – everyone on “End of the Road” is giving it 100%, with vocal performances that transcend the otherwise staid instrumentation behind them. The plucky guitar, drums and chimes are all consistent in their purpose, which is to give the singers the opportunity to take center stage. Even the spoken word bits are captivating, giving an obvious nod to the great baritone smooth talker Barry White. By the end, when everything has faded into handclaps, it’s hard not to sing along at the top of your lungs.

And that’s the other thing that makes “End of the Road” work so damn well. The chorus is so ridiculously memorable, and sung so passionately, it’s impossible not to get swept up in it. The last go-around is the most climactic, when the vamping reaches its natural, yearning peak, when our protagonist is pleading to be given a second chance.

The sound that Boyz II Men perfected became so popular it suffered the same fate many ubiquitous, iconic things do: it became a cliche. The same way we think of a shootout in a spaghetti western film, with tumbleweeds rolling down the street. But things become cliches because they are true, and nothing is as authentic as the heartbreak of “End of the Road.” When they sang it, they meant it, and they wanted you to feel it. And it still does the job.

Score: 7/10


GAYLE – abcdefu

The fun story behind this one is that GAYLE, an aspiring songwriter, asked for song ideas on Instagram (it could have been TikTok, don’t quote me) and one commenter suggested a breakup song using the alphabet. That the finished product was eventually released, went viral, and is now a Top Ten hit is supposedly evidence of the continued democratization of music stardom through social media (another viral video features GAYLE’s genuine reaction to hearing the song on the radio for the first time). It should be noted there has been a small “industry plant” backlash to this narrative, as GAYLE has been tied to the industry for several years and the commenter on the aforementioned IG post had the same name as an executive affiliated with the singer’s label Atlantic Records.

It doesn’t help that the song sounds like it was created in a songwriting factory, and not a teenager’s bedroom as was implied on social media. But setting aside all of that backstory and just focusing on the song as it is (the original version, btw, as there are several different mood-based mixes at this point), “ABCDEFU” suffers from an irritating, plodding hook and a lyrical gimmick that isn’t nearly as clever as the songwriters think it is. GAYLE is a teenager, and the song is a genuine and relatable “eff you” to an ex that a 17-year-old would eagerly shout along to. And the song taps into the current trend of pop-punk revival sonics that are riding the TikTok wave. Unfortunately, the only memorable thing about the track is its alphabet-based kiss-off, and whether you find it funny or eyeroll-inducing will impact how many times you hit repeat. For me, I’d be glad to never hear it again, but I doubt I get my wish, as it’s likely to be ubiquitous for the first half of 2022.

Score: 2/10

Johnny Marr – Night and Day

The Smiths guitarist, Modest Mouse collaborator, and productive solo artist delivers an enjoyable, but pretty boilerplate indie rock song, perfect for the SiriusXMU crowd.

Score: 6/10

Barrie – Quarry

The music of Barrie has always gone down easy, but this advance track from their upcoming album Barbara might be so easygoing it lacks anything indelible.

Score: 6/10

GOT the Beat – Step Back

This K-Pop supergroup’s first single has all the trademarks of a hit song, especially that chorus. But the most interesting thing is that strange, almost haunting loop that seems out of place in some moments.

Score: 7/10

Soul Glo – Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)((by the future))

The post-hardcore crew goes absolutely bonkers on this one. Manic vocalist Pierce Jordan sounds like he’s having a panic attack in the best way.

Score: 8/10

Fontaines D.C. – Jackie Down the Line

I was a big fan of their previous album A Hero’s Death, but initially this one struck me as underwhelming. After repeat listens, however, the deadpan “doo doo doo” and nonchalant refrain has grown on me.

Score: 7/10

Destroyer – Tintoretto, It’s For You

If Dan Bejar’s haughty voice was a face, it would be punchable. Is it a put-on? How are we still letting him sing like this?

Score: 4/10

Spoon – Wild

Brit and the boys deviate slightly from their perfected post-punk on “Wild,” a three-minute dose of blissful rock’n’roll, more in the vein of U2 than Gimme Fiction.

Score: 8/10

Anxious – Let Me

The riffs punch, the vocals soar. Another cathartic emocore number from Anxious, whose new album can’t drop soon enough.

Score: 8/10

Pavement – Be the Hook

The band and their final album Terror Twilight need no introduction, but this previously unreleased track from those 1998 sessions is B-grade Pavement on autopilot.

Score: 5/10

Empath – Passing Stranger

Empath has intrigued me in recent years with their brand of noise-tinged indie pop; “Passing Stranger” continues that trend with a wave of hooks amidst hazy ambient drones and ringing keyboard hits.

Score: 6/10

Aldous Harding – Lawn

Harding’s curious art folk and soft, comforting vocals blend nicely in this latest single, the first output in what will be a very productive and acclaimed 2022 for the singer-songwriter.

Score: 7/10

Drug Church – World Impact

The hardest working post-hardcore band out there (arguably) has dropped another gritty, uncompromising track from their upcoming album Hygiene, and much like recent output from their peers in Turnstile, it’s designed to be played at higher-than-average decibels.

Score: 7/10

Parquet Courts – Watching Strangers Smile

This one-off single will convert no skeptics, but if you’re already a fan of the band’s recently subdued output, or their sound in general, you will be pleased.

Score: 6/10

Mitski – Love Me More

With each advance single this album cycle, we’re hearing Mitski craft sharper melodies and hone in on a more accessible sound that would perhaps reach the music-loving masses that don’t follow year-end-list accolades so closely.

Score: 7/10

Yumi Zouma – In the Eyes of Our Love

A charming dream pop song from one of the most consistent groups in their lane.

Score: 7/10

Guerilla Toss – Cannibal Capital

Guerilla Toss is an intriguing band; their style is inconsistent but always interesting, and this lead single from the upcoming album Famously Alive is parts noise, neo-psych, and Casablancas-via-Voidz weirdness. It’s fucking great.

Score: 8/10

Lou Roy – Uppercut

Roy’s new album Pure Chaos is inspired by the madness of hedonism that is Las Vegas, and her new single shines through like a top-notch track from the Haim sisters.

Score: 7/10

Muse – Won’t Stand Down

The English rockers are back with a pandering alt-rock pastiche of all the most annoying things about them, including dubstep whooshes straight out of 2013, plodding synthy verses (with a second-rate Freddie Mercury impression, no less), and the most out-of-place guitar riffs that sound imported directly from the latest NFL video game.

Score: 4/10

yeule – Too Dead Inside

On this new one, Singapore-born, London-based yeule cleverly straddles the line between Grimes and Purity Ring soundscapes and the more experimental, glitchy style of her contemporaries.

Score: 7/10

Saba feat. Krayzie Bone – Come My Way

A pairing I never would have thought of, but it makes perfect sense. Saba’s cloud rap tendencies mash up immaculately with an infectious Bone Thugs hooks and Krayzie Bone’s rapid-fire, yet casual flow.

Score: 8/10

King Princess feat. Foushee – Little Bother

After the star-making single “1950” and the strong debut Cheap Queen, King Princess continues to struggle to find the sound that made her breakthrough so exciting.

Score: 6/10

Jonathan and Friends, Loote, emma lov – Start Up

I’ve been following the songcraft of Loote for a while; for my money, they’re one of the strongest pop songwriter duos out there right now. This new one utilizes a fun old-school Windows sample to segue into a gorgeous synthpop tune.

Score: 8/10

Korn – Forgotten

Leaving their dubstep foray in the 2010s where it belongs, the nu-metal legacy act has returned to their roots (sort of… if you consider Take a Look In the Mirror their roots). Unfortunately they’ve decided not to bring the big, crunchy hooks and Jonathan Davis’s trademark rhythmic growling with them.

Score: 5/10

Knuckle Puck – Gasoline

For a time, Knuckle Puck were one of the most interesting bands in a new generation of pop-punk bands (before the sound was re-emerging as a trend on TikTok). Rather than capitalize on the genre’s newfound resurgence, the band delivers a staid retread of typical tropes we’ve heard a million times.

Score: 5/10

Avril Lavinge feat. blackbear – Love It When You Hate Me

One elder statesmen who isn’t letting the pop-punk revival pass her by is Avril, who gets a nod of affirmation for this admittedly average collab with fuckboi blackbear.

Score: 6/10

Oliver Tree – Cowboys Don’t Cry

Oliver Tree’s lethargic vocals morph into something of a drawl, fitting for a song with references to the Wild West. The chorus grew on me, even if it remains underwhelming; this is, however, the best track I’ve heard from this alt-pop oddball thus far.

Score: 7/10


Utilizing an on-the-nose Blink 182 sample, this song attempts to create a subgenre nobody asked for: hyperska.

Score: 3/10

Alice Longyu Gao – To My White Boy Princess…

Continuing her ascent to the top tier of hyperpop artists, Gao’s new track is a club-ready bop dedicated to a special white boy in her life.

Score: 7/10

The Game & Kanye West – Eazy

Two washed-up rappers on a lame-ass beat – ye’s divorced dad raps and gimmicky Pete Davidson quip are particularly worthy of an eyes rolling emoji. And the artwork is designed purely just for shock value – at this point, West will do anything to be a trending topic, even as his art continues to suffer.

Score: 3/10

Juice Arrmani feat. A Boogie wit da Hoodie – Offended (Remix)

I missed the original last year, and even though I find A Boogie’s entire presence (not just on this song, but in general) completely uninspired, this hook is too good for me to pass up.

Score: 7/10

Hippo Campus – Ride Or Die

Much love to Hippo Campus for keeping the spirit of Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend alive while we wait for a new album from Ezra Koenig.

Score: 7/10

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