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song reviews

Eminem

"Not Afraid"

6

"Let's be honest, that last Relapse CD was eh," Eminem admits on "Not Afraid," his therapeutic new single. Even a sicko like Slim Shady couldn't stomach another humorless disc of Lindsay Lohan decapitation fantasies, so he scrapped Relapse II to bring us Recovery, the apparently more introspective disc that's due this summer. "Not Afraid" reflects the new MO: It's part "fuck tha world" rage rap and part rehab-session group hug, complete with lyrics about kicking drugs and ... | More »

Britney Spears

"Telephone"

7

Before Lady Gaga conquered the Fame Monster, she was a songwriter who pitched 'Telephone' to Britney Spears. This Auto-Tuned Britney demo is more bare-bones, but it holds up against Gaga's version anyway. Even before its authenticity was confirmed, any seasoned Britneyologist could tell it was our girl singing, with her distinctive vocal tics and barely repressed rage. | More »

How To Destroy Angels

"A Drowning"

5

The first single from Trent Reznor's new project (his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, is on vocals) is a seven-minute slow-burner decked out with squealing horns and whispered lyrics about slipping off into oblivion. Creepy? A little. But it's also too sleepy. | More »

Interpol

"Lights"

7

On 2007's Our Love to Admire, New York's doomy New Wavers abandoned taut goth punk in favor of bigger, more expansive art rock. Chastened, the band is back to its old voodoo on a new single. "Lights" is like six Joy Division slow songs played at once, beginning with a crawling riff that could have been recorded in Dracula's wine cellar, and building to groove euphoria. Paul Banks reanimates Ian Curtis as the world's worst boyfriend. "Maybe I like to stray," he moans. "It&#... | More »

Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg

"California Gurls"

6

Conceived as an answer to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," this ode to West Coast ladies is gleefully over-the-top — a thumping, synthy summer anthem that screams, "This is a summer anthem!" Snoop Dogg's lyrics are marginally better than Perry's lines about "Sippin' on gin and juice/Laying under the palm trees," and you can bet your SPF 80 that the buoyant tune (co-penned by Dr. Luke and Max Martin) will lodge itself in millions of skulls. | More »

Sleigh Bells

"Tell 'Em"

6

This M.I.A.-approved noise-pop band lives up to months of buzz with its debut single: Mixing angelic vocals with grinding synths and scorched bass, it's a body-shaker that sounds like a choir girl showing up to a street fight with a howitzer and a holster full of lasers. Danceable lasers. | More »

April 28, 2010

Rusko feat. Amber Coffman

"Hold On"

7

Christopher Mercer is a Leeds producer convinced dubstep can be ecstatic as well as stoned-somber. "Woo Boost" was one hot example. This joint with Dirty Projectors main diva Amber Coffman — a pro-forma r&b come-on set to an awesome, gut-rumbling bass pulse — is another. And here's betting his work on M.I.A.'s new set will keep the beat engorged. | More »

Miley Cyrus

"Can't Be Tamed"

6

Miley Cyrus: America's teen sweetheart, or God's gift to vice-squad sting operations? The Hannah Montana gal goes for a grown-up club sound, with Rihanna-style robot-disco thump and boy-crazy AutoTune vocals about how hot she is. She boasts, "I always get a 10, 'cause I'm built like that." If she gets a 10, what does he get — 15 to 20? It's no "Party in the USA" or "See You Again," but the chorus packs plenty of electro-fizz pizzazz. | More »

April 17, 2010

The Rolling Stones

"Plundered My Soul"

8

The whole idea of an unreleased tune from the Exile on Main Street sessions is like hearing somebody dug up video footage of Jesus skateboarding. The Stones have always been circumspect to a fault when it comes to digging around in their vaults — even their Rarities 1971-2003 compilation offered barely a scrap that fans didn't already own. But "Plundered My Soul" is an intact song, a relatively together Exile outtake that chugs along in the torn-and-frayed R&B mode of "Tumbling Dic... | More »

April 8, 2010

The Black Keys

"Tighten Up"

8

The Black Keys re-teamed with Danger Mouse to cut the first single off their new record — and they've never sounded tighter or funkier. Drummer Patrick Carney pounds the skins like a drugged-up Keith Moon, and Dan Auerbach cranks out a spiky riff that's laced with Hendrix-style guitar effects. 'Tighten Up' is definitely psychedelic, but these guys still have a thing for the blues: Auerbach yelps, 'Sick for days . . . I'm aching now,' with the raw inten... | 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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