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song reviews

Dionne Warwick feat. Ne-Yo

"A House Is Not A Home"

4

Fifty years after Warwick first belted this schmaltzy heartbreak song, she's teamed with Ne-Yo to recut it as a smoother, jazzier ballad. Although a bass groove and Ne-Yo's vocal quivering make it sound modern, they've also polished away its fundamental sadness. | More »

Tori Amos

"16 Shades of Blue"

7

Amos gets proper credit as a drama-pop master (young soul-spillers from Perfect Pussy to Lorde owe her a debt), but she's often underrated as a sonic pathfinder. Here she marries twitchy, low-key electronic burble with confessional piano massaging for a subtle, intense song about the way good art (Cezanne, specifically) can beat bad times. | More »

May 2, 2014

Prince

"The Breakdown"

7

Prince just signed a new deal with Warner Bros., the label on which he made his classic Eighties albums before acrimoniously leaving to release his music on his own. "The Breakdown," a glam-slam of a lush funk ballad, seems to inaugurate a new era by looking backward with a contrition that's rare for him. "Give me back the time/You can keep the memories," he sings, perhaps clearing the air for that comeback blowout we've always hoped he's still got in him. | More »

Mastodon

"High Road"

6

If you were praying for the complicated sludge thunder of Mastodon's early albums to return on their upcoming Once More 'Round the Sun, well, that ain't happening, hesher. This single has more in common with the tighter, punchier metal of 2011's The Hunter: straightforward drumming and a sung chorus, but plenty of riff chunk and fist pump to go around. | More »

Jamie xx

"Girl"

6

The xx's Jamie Smith (a.k.a. Jamie xx in his solo incarnation) can never quite decide if he wants to help you drift off in the chill-out room or get you going on the dance floor. On this one-off single, he splits the difference, layering cloudy, amorphous synths and vague vocal samples over a distant drum smack. Seeing as how 20 years have passed, maybe it's time for a trip-hop revival. | More »

Courtney Love

"You Know My Name"

5

Twitter personality Courtney Love can also make some great music when she wants to. But this track, despite its chugging guitars and Love's glorious howl, feels uninspired. "All of you, you look like clowns/And all this world's a cage," she wails, sounding as bored as we are.   | More »

Lykke Li feat. A$AP Rocky

"No Rest for the Wicked"

6

Lykke Li has described her new LP as "power ballads for the broken," and the remix to this dark, moody single fits the bill. The haunting piano and her vocals are untouched; what's new are a thumping bass line and an A$AP Rocky verse that name-drops Big Pun and Eazy-E. The combination doesn't always exceed the sum of its parts, but Sad Rocky's lyrics – "If love don't work, it just gon' hurt/It all goes bad, it just get worse" – have their charms. | More »

April 17, 2014

Brad Paisley

"River Bank"

6

Paisley still has a bit of a scarlet "A" (as in "Accidental Racist") on his Stetson – but that ideological septic spill aside, he's always been one of Nashville's sharpest dudes. This laid-back ode to inner tubes and bikinis, from an album due later this year, comes with a bendy Stones-steeped riff and a clever chorus that's like ad copy for low-budget fun ("We're laughing our way to the river bank"). If there must be bro-country, let it be this genial. | More »

The Roots

"When the People Cheer"

7

The Roots' next LP is parodically titled And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, but its first single's trap-life satire is somber as well as pointed. Over an elegiac piano and muted Questlove boombap, they go inside a world where "nobody wins but nobody cares" and come out with an aggrieved shoulder shrug. | More »

Echo & The Bunnymen

"Lovers on the Run"

7

"There it goes, my history," Ian McCulloch observes on this offering from the first Bunnymen album in five years. Indeed, the New Wave titans proudly evoke their dolorous Eighties grace, luxuriating in a string-sloshed killing-moon ooze that could teach today's young folks a thing or two about how to spool out the decadent splendor. | More »

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »
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