Posts Tagged ‘Beyonce’

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 5

February 27, 2012

Image from &y at Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Alright people, I think the coaches have fewer than 10 picks to make, so hopefully they can wrap this up and we can get to the much more fun and very probably rigged battle rounds.

Contestants’ Notes

-Whitney Myer is giving off that Nikka Costa vibe, and it’s not because of just her curly red hair. It’s also that light, uptempo, janky R&B. She’s doing “No One,” which I think was originally by Alicia Keyes, and I quite light this bouncy rendition. She earns turns from all four coaches. Whitney goes with Adam, whose experience fusing pop-rock and R&B might help develop her overall brand with minimal genre clash. What a good start to the show!

-David Boreanaz lookalike David Dunn goes the lite-rock route on “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.” When I heard the first few notes of this song, I thought this was going to be another jerk with an acoustic guitar, but I saw him with just a mic, which was a relief. David tried to make the bleh song lively with some walking around the stage, but he just didn’t have the emotion or charisma in his voice (and he just blew that falsetto section.) No turns for you!

-The Shields Brothers seem like some kind of rock n roll Coreys. At least their dual-tenor duet of “Dancing With Myself” is different than the usual schtick duo acts pull. Nonetheless, they have the same problem most of the duos on this show have – neither one of them is a very good singer individually. They skate by on their uptempo style and their harmonizing. They end up on Team Cee Lo.

-I must compliment Cheesa for taking on Beyonce, especially on the midtempo clunker “If I Were A Boy.” She starts off sounding way, way, way too low for her range at the start, but she pulls out the stops for the big, soaring chorus and knocks out most of the notes. I didn’t care for the performance because it felt like so much oversinging. Still, I respect her vocal prowess and she definitely has the charisma worthy of a Beyonce song. She gets a turn from Cee Lo.

-I think Preston Shannon could have used a sparser arrangement for “In The Midnight Hour.” singing was rough and solid, but it couldn’t quite stand out against the big, clean arrangement of the house band. While Preston seems to come from a blues background, he kept the soloing to the beginning and end. He was good on the axe, but it’s called The Voice, not The Guitarist. It’s too bad, and I hope this guy finds a good avenue for his art.

-OK, so the alliterative Lex Land lands two turns (Adam and Cee Lo) within the first 8 notes of the song, but damn she is undersinging the hell out “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” I heard serious mush mouth problems in her singing and the dulcet, plinky music didn’t help al all. Maybe if she did something with more menace and smokiness (Portishead, Goldfrapp, early-2000s Moby, etc.) she would have come across better. Then again I just want trip-hop to make a comeback. Eh, maybe Blake can help bring out her inner torch singer.

-Cameron Novack starts out strong, doing a weird Savage Garden-esque soft sell of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” Then he gets bogged down in the flow of the build up to the chorus (back off the freestyling, dude.) He then shifts to oversinging the chorus. Overall Cameron’s performance wasn’t too bad, but his abrupt shift in delivery style for each part of the song might have been too jarring. If he stuck to the restrained pop style or even charged in with aggressive oversinging I feel like he could have done better. Also, letting the coaches “cheat” and pick him after the turn would have set the worst precedent for the show, because then every hot contestant who walked up onstage would have a second shot, and that would be shitteous!

-At the start, Orlando Napier comes across as a low-key guy with a piano (which is still better than an acoustic guitar.) He got away from that once he got up from the piano, but he failed to win me over. The John Mayer song choice and Randy Newman singing style was a bad combination. Also…ENUNCIATE! Adam picks him has his final team member.

-Lee Koch has guts for taking on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which karaoke connoisseur Brian Rafferty called one of the worst songs to sing since the verses are so rambling and weird against the familiar chorus. Lee is trying his best with the material and doesn’t flub any of the lines, but he just could not hit those “how does it FEEL” lines in the chorus. He earned a turn from Christina through his harmonica playing, which in my opinion is a bad sign. I don’t like when competitive singers use instruments as crutches. It feels like cheating. I predict that he’ll get eaten alive in the battle rounds.

-WADE (is the all-capitalization really necessary?) tries something kind of cool with a warm Stax-ed out soul rendition of “Rehab.” Vocally WADE (and that’s the last time I’m all-caps-ing that) has bursts of greatness, especially in the verses, though he hit some rough spots in the other parts. He just needs a little practice. Otherwise he’s a good combination of traditionalism and risk-taking. Cee Lo should be able to work his voice out, as Wade becomes his concluding pick.

-Adley Stump takes on Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” (uh-oh) and it’s a bit of a wreck. She wasn’t bad, just mediocre. You could walk into any karaoke bar, and someone singing that song would sound just as good. Frankly the performance felt like so much mediocre singing except for those few belts (which I concede gave me chills.) She really couldn’t sustain her run and stick the landing. Predictably, she heads for Team Blake, and I think he’ll have more faith in her. Maybe he’ll coach her on fashion as well (go-go boots, star bandana, and Victoria Jackson hair?) She is the last pick of Team Blake.

We get a brief montage of failed singers (the Beta lady who sang Jason DeRulo sounded kind of interesting to me.) Also, Danny Devito sings “Three Times A Lady” during a Lorax crossover commercial skit. I was just wishing he’d sing “Troll Toll” from The Nightman Cometh. Then….

-Sera Hill pulls out every trick in the traditional R&B singer book – up and down runs, extended holds, power belting – and she kills every one. I thought her song choice was super slow and boring (and way too Idol) but damn she was good! She was a pro doing her thing, and that’s just wonderful. She becomes the final pick of the show as the last contestant to join team Xtina.

And now a summary of tonight’s winners, in the order they were announced:
-Mark Ronson should pay attention
-“I can’t tell Corey Feldman from Corey Haim.
-Charisma without the power
-Will Beth Gibbons come on as a mentor?
-Bad meets icky
-Karaoke cannon fodder
-Tradition meets risk
-A lot of people could do that
-She could have a good run on Idol

And there we have it! We have our Top (shudder) 48! Tune in next week for the theatrical battle rounds and tune in tomorrow for the start of my recapping of American Idol’s Live Top 25 rounds. SO MUCH SINGING!!!

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Thoughts On American Idol Finale Part 2 – Coronation!

May 25, 2011

image from Emotional Competency

…And here we are. Buckle up for one hour, fifty five minute of filler and five minutes of actual results.

Top 13 – “Born This Way”

Damn that sound is mushy. Everything is whitewashed literally and figuratively – everyone is wearing white, the dance moves are straight out of a middle school production of High School Musical and the group singing is clipped and rote. Someone dump some red paint on these kids, please!

James Durbin + Judas Priest – “Living After Midnight + Breaking The Law”

This is what James should have been doing all season – hardass metal with some growly falsetto vocal fireworks. He’s also dressed leather and steel biker gear just like Rob Halford used to sport back in the 80s. Meanwhile the actual Rob Halford hasn’t aged one bit and his voice is in top form. It just rocked!

Jacob Lusk + Kirk Franklin + Gladys Knight – “I Smile”

Now this is some piano-driven bouncy R&B! Religion aside, I wish Jacob did more lively stuff like this. I would have rooted for him then.

Casey Abrams + Jack Black – “Fat Bottomed Girls”

There’s a cute intro when Casey kicks the couch aside to reveal a reclining Jack Black. Casey is just a vocal trainwreck onstage and it’s a relief when Black takes the mic to show him how hamming it up is done.

Idol Ladies + Beyonce – “Single Ladies + Irreplaceable + Get Me Bodied + If I Were A Boy + Déjà vu + Crazy In Love”

Despite the diversity of their singing styles, all six ladies kill their solos. Even Thia and Ashthon! Damn! Where was this during the regular season? They should have done a Beyonce night, because if some of these contestants performed like they did tonight I would not have been so quick to get frustrated with them. Beyonce’s mere presence made each of the women come off as better performers. Beyonce, you are the Steve Nash of R&B.

Haley Reinhart + Tony Bennett – “Steppin’ Out” (?)

I like Haley like this. She sings really well in the jazzy setting and the cool, classy vibe has her dialing back her big antics while still having tons of fun. Tony Bennett gives a performance like you would expect him to give – understated and smooth.

Montage: You know, J.Lo was my favorite judge this season. She gave the occasional constructive criticism and had a sense of humor without being crass. Plus “On The Floor” is hot!

Idol Ladies + TLC + Lil Jon – “No Scrubs + Waterfalls”

Damn, Chilli has not aged a day. Meanwhile T-Boz doesn’t look old, just different. After Lil Jon’s bombastic intro, TLC get the stage to themselves for “No Scrubs” before the women join them as backup singers on “Waterfalls.” You don’t see too many girl groups with all male backup dancers.

Scotty McCreery + Tim McGraw – “Live Like You Were Dying”

When Tim McGraw sings the “I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying” lyric, he sings right at Scotty as if he wants to say, “You have potential, kid, but for shit’s sake take it seriously! You do not sound credible when you sing about going 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.”

Audition Freakshow Montage: This is why I don’t recap the auditions. I just feel bad for the camera and sound operators who have to get beat up by pissed stage parents.

Marc Anthony & Jennifer Lopez

OK, that was hot.

Idol Guys + Tom Jones – “Kiss + She’s A Lady + What’s New Pussycat + Delilah + other songs I didn’t catch + It’s Not Unusual”

Unlike the women’s numbers, the guys don’t sing together. This is because they sound like ass when they harmonize. When Tom Jones came out for “It’s Not Unusual,” the guys finally pulled it together and sounded like good backup singers (or just shut up and lip synched.)

Ford Music Video – “Whenever You Remember”

Were all the other contestants that much more interesting than these two?

Lady Gaga – “The Edge Of Glory”

Mother Monster sings from the top of what looks to be the Aggro-Crag from Nickelodeon’s Guts. Highlights of her performance included Gaga playing her keyboard with her boot and Mark from So You Think You Can Dance climbing up for some contemporary ballet grinding. It’s Gaga so it’s crazy fun.

Lauren Alaina + Carrie Underwood – “Before He Cheats”

Underwood’s legs were several shades darker than the rest of her body. Lauren was singing at her like it was a direct challenge. Not a bad move.

Beyonce – “1 + 1”

I wasn’t into it. I just like her uptempo numbers better. Beyonce sang well but the song didn’t really go anywhere.

Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark ft. Bono & The Edge – “Rise Above”

While it would have been cool if the high-flying Spider-Man landed onstage and started singing, this song was still pretty good. It had that heavy, melancholy tone of mid-90s U2 with some of that electronic pop edge (no pun intended.) I really want this musical to do well.

Steven Tyler – “Dream On”

It was no Aerosmith, but Steven can still wail when he wants to.

The Results

Scotty McCreery wins. Scotty will be the fourth white guy with an acoustic guitar in a row to take home the prize. He overcame a fairly diverse slate of competitors, several producer-ordained Chosen Ones, and a performance style that barely deviated from smirking frat boy. This is disappointing, Lauren was robbed, blah blah blah. Did you really expect anything else? I did, and my optimism was misguided. I now realize how out of step I am with this show’s audience and that Jeb Bush could totally win the presidency. In conclusion, fuck you very much American Idol.

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Thoughts On American Idol Top 3: Homecoming

May 18, 2011

We’re almost done! Counting tonight we have only 4 more episodes to go! This is not an optimistic way to start things off!

Tonight is the “homecoming” episode, which means we get to see a lot of clips of the three remaining contestants in their small hometowns. They have to find some way to stretch this show out to two hours (the very thought of which makes me tired.) The other way they’re stretching this out is by doing 9 songs in 3 rounds. Who will have the worst taste in music?

Round 1: Contestants’ Picks (Mentor: Beyonce)

Round 2: Jimmy Iovine’s Picks

Round 3: Judges’ Picks

Scotty McCreery – “Amazed”

Here’s a slow song you may have heard at a lot of weddings and school dances back in the early 2000s. This song sounds perfect for Scotty on the verses, and he doesn’t have to stretch too much on the belty chorus, but he could have gone so much bigger and it would have worked. There wasn’t much emotion in the song: from the “heh heh aren’t I folksy” facial expressions to the lazy belting, this was singing by numbers. “Amazed” is a sweet song and the Lonestar original earns its big sound. If Scotty tried harder, he could have delivered a knockout. I’m not impressed. Bad call, Scotty.

Lauren Alaina – “Wild One”

Well, at least she didn’t pick “Breathe.” Lauren goes for more of a fun angle and at tries to sing for the cheap seats (though she gets buried in the mix at times.) Otherwise I appreciated her hints of stage presence, her bombastic attitude, and her shiny disposition. She sang pretty well, albeit a bit harried. With some post-Idol experience she could actually make a really good country singer. Good call, Lauren.

Haley Reinhart – “What Is And What Should Never Be”

Once again Haley picks a song that’s probably really familiar to a certain musical demographic, in this case classic rock aficionados, and totally new to everyone else. Also, her dad is playing guitar onstage. To a casual Zep fan like me, he does a decent Jimmy Paige impression on the blues guitar. This is the most fun I’ve seen Haley have with a song in a long time, and that’s probably because she rocked out to this song with her dad when she was younger. Way to use the platform to seize the moment. I have to ding Haley a few points for floundering on the blues wailing (I bet she has a lower range than Robert Plant), but I give her mad props for taking advantage of an opportunity. Good call, Haley.

Scotty McCreery – “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?”

You know they weren’t gonna let us go without one more clip of the “Your Man,” audition. Hell, they’ll probably bring out Josh Turner for an awkward duet next week. When it comes to the performance, the way Scotty is kind of awkward in the way he holds his guitar and how he almost yodels on the end of every syllable. Scotty did a better job with this song than with his first song, but he still needs to be a little more engaging. He should also follow J.Lo’s advice and cut his hair so he looks less like you-know-who. Bad call, Iovine.

Lauren Alaina – “If I Die Young”

Her intro clip is the reminder of why I thought she was the producers’ Chosen One. She makes a huge improvement from her previous song. Her pipes in are in much more of a working order (even with a few flubs she really is the best singer of the Top 3) and I really felt her connection to the song. She looked like she belonged on the stage, which is not something I can say about one of her competitors (see previous paragraph.) While I’m not rooting for her (still too young and green) I won’t be completely pissed off if she wins the whole thing. Good call, Iovine.

Haley Reinhart – “Rhiannon”

Wow! I really don’t remember Haley’s audition. Did they even show it? Given the soft focus filming, pink lighting, Haley’s flowing locks, and the wind machine, the whole thing feels a little cheap 1980s. “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” anyone? Haley shows a lot of vocal restraint here, which works for parts of the song, though sometimes it felt like she was chickening out from the big parts and letting the backup singers do the really hard work. Yet if she really went for it, I feel like she would have crashed and burned so I suppose it could have been worse. Haley also carried herself well and mimicked the somber, spacey style of Stevie Nicks, but this wasn’t a game she could win. Bad call, Iovine.

Video Break! Beyonce – “Run The World (Girls)”

Diplo produced this song and it shows. It sounds like an early M.I.A. track and not one of the catchier ones. The video had an interesting apocalyptic savannah vibe to it, and Kathy caught one McQueen dress, but between the cold, monotonous beat and the awkward dancing, I was not a fan. Eh, Beyonce sang pretty well.

Scotty McCreery – “She Believes In Me”
We see a rare moment for Scotty: he cuts the crap. No Bush, no pied piper, no flubbing, just good emotional singing. He held the mic like a person is supposed to, he took the material seriously, and he delivered a good performance, maybe because he felt relaxed and less manic. Maybe these pop ballads aren’t so bad. Good call, judges.

Lauren Alaina – “I Hope You Dance”

I don’t like this song. Lauren is dressed in a cheesy pageant princess dress and it looks like the Tammy Faye eyelashes strike again. I don’t like this song. Her outfit is a good complement to what’s probably the soundtrack to loads of shitty saccharine inspirational graduation montages. I don’t like this song. Lauren tries her best with the material she has to work with, but there’s only so much one can do with the musical equivalent of Splenda. I don’t like this song. Bad call, judges.

Haley Reinhart – “You Oughta Know”

I’m surprised Haley didn’t have the band out on stage with her. It felt kind of empty with just her onstage. Haley does the Mush Mouth thing when the song starts to get going (though in fairness that first verse is really hard to learn), but by the chorus she uses her growl to the best of her ability. Her natural attitude is great for the vitriol and rage in the song. When the song goes to the bridge and Haley is just humming, it’s just the eye of the storm. Good call, judges.

I liked some performances (and performers) more than others. It would be cool if the two women faced off in the finale. Nonetheless, I still wouldn’t buy (or otherwise procure) music from any of these contestants. They fail in the most consistent ways. It’s gotten so that anything I have to ding them on is the same old claptrap. After more than ten weeks of recapping this competition, I am driven to the watch the end only for closure. I kinda feel bad for Kathy who repeats her mantra “I don’t give a shit about any of these people” and busies herself doing other things, relegating the show to boring background noise. Is it done yet?

Ranking

  1. Haley Reinhart (She had the most interesting performances and I just like her the most)
  2. Lauren Alaina (She did her best with the material she had to work with, but she’s still too young)
  3. Scotty McCreery (His songs were basically the same with marginal improvements)
  4. Jimmy Iovine (He had the worst picks of the night)
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Retro Review: American Gangster

August 2, 2010

Image from Amazon

Summary: The biggest name in hip-hop, one album into his return from retirement, makes a concept album synthesizing his biography with the Ridley Scott movie.

Fun Facts

  • This is Jay-Z’s only “concept album.” It has a rise-and-fall story that compares the ol’ Goodfellas/Scarface trope with the limited shelf life of the pop musician. Given some of the Kingdom Come reviews, it’s understandable why Mr. Carter would be thinking of his commercial and/or critical mortality.
  • Consequently, it is also Jay-Z’s only album that he is not selling on ITunes (he is selling it on Amazon though). He wants the listener to hear the record from start to finish, just like AC/DC!
  • This is the second Jay-Z album to be released with an acapella version. Remember how many crummy “concept” The Black Album mashup albums came out 6 years ago trying to be Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album? Even I tried my hand at one back in 2005.
  • Finally, the intro features King Driis himself, Idris Elba. At the time, he was best known in the States for his role on The Wire, but he booms over Chris Flame’s atmospherics in his native Hackney accent. Damn he can do a voiceover!

Ups

  • Hate on Diddy and his antics all you want, but the man knows his way around a high profile sample and a cinematic sound. “Pray” stomps with swagger and symphonic pomp and the guitars rage just enough to be badass. “No Hook” feels like a ganglord pontificating over his empire when Jay-Z flows over the slow burn music. Heck, even the Marvin Gaye sample on “American Dreamin’,” enhances the song’s wistful/wishful tone.
  • You can always count on the Neptunes to make some good beats. “I Know” has this peppy bounce to it, and Pharrell’s chorus is nothing if not infectious. Later on, “Blue Magic” features some cool minimal organ backing and some early 90s, 2 Unlimited-esque keyboard stabs and manages to hold the whole thing together.
  • Two words: Just Blaze! Though he chips in only one track, “Ignorant Shit,” the music is some of the catchiest modern disco this side of the Freemasons.
  • Though he has the gall to wrap up his biography with a big-budget crime drama given all of the legitimate money he has earned over his nearly 20 year music career, at least Jay-Z has the humility to end the main part of the album with the gangster’s fall and the rapper’s irrelevance on “Fallin’.” It speaks to his self-awareness.

Downs

  • I fell asleep listening to some parts of the album. “Sweet’s” hazy 70’s ambience and minimal beats had me struggling to stay focused. “Say Hello” runs too slow for its own good. Even Jay-Z sounds like he is yawning his way through the verses on that song.
  • Sometimes the good parts just don’t come together: “Hello Brooklyn 2.0” features a Lil Wayne guest verse and a very, very dirty beat, but unless you’re a native New Yorker, there’s not much to really draw you in lyric-wise.
  • Beanie Sigel’s turn on “Ignorant Shit” is reminder that while Jay-Z is one of the most successful rappers of all time and he helped break both Kanye West and Just Blaze, he has never found a good protégé: Memphis Bleek, Foxy Brown, Tierra Marie, Young Gunz, and yes, Beanie Sigel. Does he make a bad label manager, a guy who picks talent to make himself look better by comparison, or just a guy who wants to give the people he cares about breaks?
  • Finally, the spoken-word outro from Beyonce starts to sound eerily like she’s preaching the church of Hov. Maybe she’s just going all “Jesus Walks,” but I call it like I hear it.

Conclusion: I find it ironic that Jay-Z would think of this record as a conceptual whole when execution-wise it is so hit-and-miss. Maybe if he got one, two producers to do the whole album, or punched up some of the downtempo tracks with DJ Shadow, RJD2, or Eminem, then we’d have a better overall album. Nevertheless, this is good for maybe 8-10 tracks if you’re feeling generous. Good thing you can buy the individual mp3s!

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 1

June 15, 2010

 

With all the news about Rock Band 3 coming out, the big thing for me was the confirmation of keyboards as the 5th instrument. I think this opens up the door for the series to go into new genres it had previously left untouched and possibly attract new audiences. The series has already departed from a strictly rock soundtrack before, having featured a whole track pack devoted to country music, as well as some DLC from acts like Earth Wind & Fire, The Chemical Brothers, and Lady Gaga. I would love to play some hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, dance, electronic, and pop music right alongside the rock and country. With Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock reaching back into that series’ classic rock and metal roots, Rock Band needs to position itself either through Rock Band 3 or through DLC as a multiplayer music game platform for people who like all kinds of music. Here is the first third of a working list of 33 songs that I feel could really expand the series’ audience.

The full list is after the jump:

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