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song reviews

Crystal Castles

"Not in Love"

8

"Not in Love" was a generic arena-rock tune by big-haired Eighties band Platinum Blonde. But with the help of the Cure's frontman, Canadian synth duo Crystal Castles have transformed it into an awesomely gothic, vocoder-slathered dance-floor monster. Shunning love but singing with lust, Smith wails as the bass line rumbles and the keyboards go from spookily churchy to magnificently claustrophobic. This is Smith's catchiest, most immediately satisfying record since "Friday I'm i... | More »

November 15, 2010

Nicki Minaj

"Roman's Revenge"

7

It's a match made in battle-rap heaven! On this single from Minaj's upcoming debut, two motormouths – both of whom know their way around a punch line, love goofy voices and suffer from severe cases of multiple personality disorder — team up for nearly five minutes of back-and-forth word-hurling. They rhyme like they're playing hot potato with a live grenade, and Swizz Beatz's hushed, chugging production throws the microphone viciousness into jarring relief. The... | More »

November 12, 2010

Michelle Mangione and Grace Slick

"Edge of Madness"

6

A benefit track for victims of the BP oil spill, "Madness" begs for justice on behalf of the Gulf Coast over spry zydeco. Too bad Slick, Jefferson Airplane's grande dame, is barely audible. Jefferson Airplane: The Miracle Rockers | More »

November 11, 2010

Rihanna feat. Drake

"What's My Name"

8

With the second single from the forthcoming Loud, Rihanna has created a perfect little tropical storm: Over dark, humid synths and swirling snare skitters, she's in full-on Caribbean-queen mode, dialing up her islander accent and rolling out a to-do list for any adult male seeking entrance into her chambers: "Hey, boy, I really wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me," she sings, kicking off the chorus. Her former fling Drake further steams things up with a little, um, math:... | More »

November 10, 2010

The Go! Team

"T.O.R.N.A.D.O."

7

This U.K. band, known for head-snapping sound collages, returns with a mix of schoolyard chants, turntable scratches and horn blasts. It's deafening and funky — like a drill team strutting into a funnel cloud. Video: Breaking Artist: The Go! Team | More »

November 8, 2010

Robyn

"Indestructible"

7

The Swedish diva drops the first single from Body Talk PT 3, a disco remake of a ballad from PT 2. She sings an uncommonly elegant Europop melody, promising, "I'm gonna love you like I've never been hurt before." Photos: The Hottest Live Photos of the Week | More »

November 3, 2010

Ke$ha

"We R Who We R"

5

This Dr. Luke-produced anthem — about "sick and sexified" kids who wave their freak flags while hitting the clubs — was inspired by a rash of suicides among gay youth. Lady K and human rights are an awkward fit. But she gets credit for doing empowerment her way, even if the song (from an upcoming EP) suggests "I Will Survive" by way of Girls Gone Wild. Photos: Ke$ha's Rock & Roll Party: Backstage and Behind the scenes With Pop's Wildest New Star | More »

November 1, 2010

Band of Horses

"Georgia"

7

Months after Cee Lo covered their slow-burn gem "No One's Gonna Love You," Band of Horses step out of their bearded comfort zone with a charged-up version of the Lady Killer's homage to his home state. It's an indie-rock pep rally — backed by the University of Georgia marching band, no less. Random Notes: Bon Jovi, Prince, Bruce Springsteen | More »

October 29, 2010

Elvis Costello

"National Ransom"

7

Wall Street deserves abuse in all forms, and on the title track from his upcoming T Bone Burnett-produced album, Costello delivers a punk-blues indictment of Goldman Sachs culture. "National Ransom" mixes rootsy stomp with squealing guitars, as Costello invokes the 1929 stock-market crash, rails against financial "hocus-pocus" and ends with a dire summation of the way we live now: "We're working every day, paying off the national ransom." The result is a fie... | More »

October 27, 2010

Taylor Swift

"Speak Now"

8

Taylor repurposes the "she wears short skirts" melody from "You Belong With Me" in order to bust up a wedding, Graduate-style. But freeing the man of her dreams from bad-marriage hell is almost an afterthought on "Speak Now"; the real fun is listening to her unload her simile nail gun at the disgustingly perfect bride-to-be — a mean girl who "floats down the aisle like a pageant queen" in a "gown shaped like a pastry." And all of it comes off catchy as heck and cute as a button. The gir... | More »

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »
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