Random Song Reviews – 3/15-3/21/2022

Bob Moses – Love Brand New

Canadian duo Bob Moses have garnered a large (but probably not devoted) fanbase with their safe, staid blend of alt-radio-ready, festival-friendly, electronic-based pleasantries. Their sound is designed for late night studying or other activities that don’t require someone to actively listen, but rather take in the whole… you know, vibe. They fit in nicely with an approach that has worked well in recent years: music that is designed to comfort and fill a room, rather than captivate and feed a soul.

Their latest single “Love Brand New” is more of the same, tired, moody atmospherics. The beat and synths wash over the listener with little effect, similar to an uninteresting style Jungle mastered a few years back. The chorus is somewhat catchy, though not enough to render any active repeats. But that’s not the point, is it? This isn’t music anyone seeks out on their own; it comes to them via mood-fitting Spotify playlists and radio stations that have Imagine Dragons in heavy rotation. It fits somewhere almost too well… and then it disappears just as quickly as it came.

Score: 3/10

Machine Gun Kelly & Lil Wayne – Ay!

MGK took a calculated, market-tested risk when he pivoted from rapper to pop-punker, and after that success he’s now able to remake himself once again into a trap pop star akin to blackbear or another second-rate Post Malone. He does just that on his newest single from Mainstream Sellout; it’s a pleasant enough track with a memorable sampled vocal hook and an unsurprising work-for-hire verse from Weezy. This version of Kelly honestly feels more authentic than his Hot Topic posturing, which has had bright moments but overall just feels more like a rebranding adventure than an actual creative shift. He’s already making clear with “Ay!” that he’s not committing to anything other than chasing trends and streams, so why should we?

Score: 6/10

Dominic Fike & Zendaya – Elliot’s Song

As of this writing, I have yet to watch a single minute of Euphoria, though I intend to correct that error soon. At this point, I’ll just say that the show is probably the closest example we’ll get in 2022 that there is some form of monoculture still alive and thriving. It seems like Euphoria has dominated the conversation (or at least my Twitter feed) for months, even weeks after its latest season has concluded. This likely has a lot to do with the pervasive effect the show has had on music streaming services and the Billboard charts; the dream of The O.C. music supervisors is alive and well twenty years later. But this isn’t just limited to increased streams of older songs, but even tracks made specifically for the show. Case in point is this viral track from cast members Dominic Fike and Zendaya, sung in character.

Maybe the song is effective in the context of the plot, but as a standalone track it’s incredibly tepid. Zendaya’s background vocals add a bit of flair, but “Elliot’s Song” can’t be lifted from its acoustic-based plod. Fike’s vocals are mumbled and unconfident; rather than set a particular tone, they absorb into a formless blob of indistinct dead air. The song is painfully boring and likely unrepresentative of the scandalous show I’ve heard so much about.

Score: 3/10

TLC – Creep

The story of TLC is a tragic one, filled with label betrayal, arson, and eventually the death of one of its members. But you wouldn’t really know that listening to their hit singles, most of which were playful, devious, horny, or all of the above. TLC were ridiculously forward-thinking, and now they sound timeless. Their first chart-topper “Creep” is a great example of the confidence the trio evoked.

Of course we all know what “Creep” is about; it’s certainly not great advice for any relationship. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes refused to participate on the song due to its message of revenge infidelity and references to toxic power dynamics. (The group’s next #1 “Waterfalls” would contain more of a pragmatic, positive message, probably more to Left Eye’s liking.) But never has a song about cheating sounded so damn convincing, so reasonable, and so… well, fun. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins glides over the beat with a husky, slightly raspy delivery, almost as if she’s relaxing after a romp in the sheets with her side piece. Line after line, she justifies her unforgivable actions, and you don’t want to take her side, but you can’t help yourself.

Dallas Austin’s production sounds just as effortless and cool; a trumpet loop mixes perfectly with a satisfyingly hard-hitting Slick Rick drum sample as T-Boz and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas ooze nothing but swagger. Austin made the beat and then got out of the way, and it shows: TLC’s charisma is all over this thing, and it carries “Creep” to classic status.

Score: 10/10

Madonna – Take a Bow

And so we enter Madonna’s successful “good girl” phase, as she herself called it, and thank god it didn’t last long. After scandalizing the world with Erotica and the infamous Sex book, the star received a slight backlash… and a slight downturn in unit shifting and chart placement. The course correction came via the album Bedtime Stories, a very of-its-time R&B-influenced album that is not one of Madonna’s best efforts. She worked with a lot of big-name producers of the day, but maybe none were as well-known as Babyface, who co-wrote “Take a Bow,” her #1 smash from this period. Typically we think of Madonna as an artist who always had her finger on the pulse before the rest of the world did; many times in her impressive career, she was setting the trends rather than chasing hits. With this era, and “Take a Bow” we see a brief exception to that narrative.

Any pop fan in 1995 would have grown excited for a Babyface/Madonna collaboration, but the end result sounds fairly phoned in by both artists’ standards. The melody doesn’t fade from memory as quickly as the tepid “This Used To Be My Playground,” but Madonna’s play-it-straight delivery is a bit alarming, given her usual commanding presence. Compared to the grand statements we usually get from her best-known ballads, her delivery here sounds like she needs a nap. Meanwhile, Babyface borrows from the same template that was garnering big R&B hits for him and others; the only difference, really, is a tasteful string arrangement, a first for the producer.

“Take a Bow” finds Madonna trying to fit in with the trends of the time, rather than calling the shots; she holds her own on a track designed for more melismatic runs from peers like Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, but that doesn’t make the song memorable.

Score: 4/10

Montell Jordan – This Is How We Do It

The influence of Slick Rick is all over “This Is How We Do It,” but then, at the time it seemed like he was everywhere. He was sampled in TLC’s “Creep” (which you just read about) and previously I’ve written about “Here Comes the Hotstepper” from Ini Kamoze, another #1 hit from this era that sampled Rick. In the mid-90s there was a ton of goodwill around the legendary rapper, who was serving time for a shooting. Montell Jordan even imitates Slick Rick in his rap verse on “This Is How We Do It” and it’s pretty impressive, no joke.

Actually, all of “This Is How We Do It” is impressive. The “Children’s Story” beat and piano melody it lifts is one of those timeless hip-hop creations that seems ageless. But while Slick Rick’s track dealt with a cautionary narrative, Jordan’s song is all about partying. Legend has it he invited over two dozen people in the studio for the recording, which likely explains all the background talking and party atmosphere on the track. Jordan is a charismatic presence, paying tribute to his hometown of South Central LA in memorable fashion. Everyone in my generation knows every word to this song; Jordan’s one-liners are seemingly endless and iconic.

This is technically an R&B single, but it feels more like a hip-hop track, due to the sample and Jordan’s rap-adjacent cadence (and aforementioned rap verse). This was the direction R&B was moving, as rap started to dominate the conversation thanks to people like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. This trend would continue, as we started seeing more hip-hop inspired tracks from artists like Mariah Carey, and eventually, rappers that sing more than actually rap. It didn’t start with “This Is How We Do It” (probably we should give credit to R&B royalty Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love”), but Montell Jordan was the one who took the style all the way to #1 for the first time. And with placement on current TV shows Yellowjackets and Euphoria (soundtracking party scenes in both instances), the song and its “Children’s Story” sample have aged unbelievably well.

Score: 10/10

Leave a Reply