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song reviews

Kanye West

"Love Lockdown"

7

Kanye clearly has no business singing, and at first his monotone makes you wonder why he tried. But his vocodered flatlining complements the opening heartbeats, and when his pitch hitches up on "you lose" and "system overload," his loneliness clicks — it feels like techno-pop blues. He tells his girl he's leaving, and eventually his voice does just that. The percussion doubles into a step routine, some noise screeches through, and the heartbeat returns alone. | More »

October 2, 2008

Jay-Z and T.I. feat. Kanye West and Lil Wayne

"Swagga Like Us"

7

This late entry for hip-hop anthem of the summer (slated for T.I.'s new album) comes down to a four-way braggadocio battle – and with a beat this hooky, everybody wins. Still, Kanye West scores the best lines, including the succinct instant classics "My swagger is Mick Jagger" and 'Tm Christopher Columbus, y'all just the Pilgrims." And Jay-Z loses a couple of points for sticking in an overobvious nod to his single "Jockin' Jay-Z." Meanwhile, Lil Wayne's surreal,... | More »

August 21, 2008

Bob Dylan

Dreamin' of You

7

Recently posted online to promote Dylan's new website and forthcoming Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, this track is the first studio outtake heard by Dylan fans since unused cuts from Oh Mercy surfaced in the Nineties. Originally written for 1997's Time Out of Mind, it provides a rare glimpse into Dylan's songwriting process. Many of the lyrics eventually found their way onto "Standing in the Doorway" with a radically different melody, but this primitive version is ... | More »

Beck

"Vampire Voltage No. 6"

6

At first, it's what you'd expect of a B side: a little rare – just some shabby electric piano and acoustic guitar, spiked with la-la-las. But then it kicks into a low-fi rush of psych metal, magnifying Beck's bummed-out lament about the "vampire voltage in my soul." The octave-fuzz guitar licks are pure Sabbath – if only Danger Mouse had put a spit-shine polish on it. | More »

June 17, 2008

Rihanna

Take A Bow

7

WARNING TO CHRIS BROWN: Do not cheat on Rihanna. On her new Stargate-produced single, she goes bonkers when her boyfriend is unfaithful to her: "Grab your clothes and get gone/You better hurry up before the sprinklers come on." (In the video, the poor guy reaches his clothes only after she has already set them on fire.) Written by Ne-Yo, the ballad has the same sultry, clap-along rhythm of "Hate That I Love You," just with extra rage: "Trying to apologize?" Rihanna taunts. "You're... | More »

May 15, 2008

Nine Inch Nails

"Discipline"

8

Trent Reznor's emancipation from his label has not only made him more prolific but also helped him recapture The Downward Spiral's balance of melody and darkness. This latest stealth release is a classic NIN jam, with danceable backbeats, churning bass groans and Reznor's tortured singing. At the climax, Reznor bellows, "Once I start, I cannot stop myself" – if that's true, it should be a good year for death disco. | More »

April 3, 2008

Madonna feat. Timbaland and Justin Timberlake

"4 Minutes to Save the World"

6

Madonna has taken on many identities during her career, but "hook girl" has never made her résumé – until now. With Timbaland's thick, clanging beat in command of the first single from the forthcoming Hard Candy, her vocal competes with a blaring marching-band horn rift as she trades lines with the song's co-writer, Justin Timberlake. The track's urgent urban thump never hits a peak, but it's a heater all the same, and it demonstrates Madonna's new... | More »

March 6, 2008

R.E.M.

"Supernatural Superserious"

This brisk bundle of pop-chorus sunshine and fuzz-box fisticuffs from R.E.M.'s forthcoming rock-centric album, Accelerate, was originally called "Disguised" until R.E.M. pal and fan, Coldplay's Chris Martin, working on his record next to where R.E.M. were mixing in London, had a better idea. "He was like, 'That's a great song but a terrible title – you should change it to 'Supernatural Superserious,'" R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe explains. That phrase from t... | More »

November 15, 2007

Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé

"Until the End of Time"

4

This schmaltzy R&B slow jam is a bonus cut from the too-soon deluxe reissue of Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds for a reason. Over third-rate Timbaland synth squiggles and strings, Timberlake comes to an important realization while watching the TV news: He loves to ball the ladies. While the track showcases his and Beyoncé's pipes (she doesn't come in until midway through), things take a weird turn when the two start chanting, "This one's for the lovers. . . . ... | More »

September 6, 2007

Beck

"Timebomb"

6

A soul scream gives way to a sound like an alarm clock and a synthetic stomp in this one-off single. As Beck has been telling us for some time now, things are bad, getting worse. And as he's been doing for some time now, he delivers this news over a mash-up of digital overload and melodic know-how. Good, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do better almost every night. | More »

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Song Stories

“Stillness Is the Move”

Dirty Projectors | 2009

A Wim Wenders film and a rapper inspired the Dirty Projectors duo David Longstreth and Amber Coffmanto write "sort of a love song." "We rented the movie Wings of Desire from Dave's brother's recommendation, and he had me go through it and just write down some things that I found interesting, and they made it into the song," Coffman said. As for the hip-hop connection, Longstreth explained, "The beat is based on T-Pain. We commissioned a radio mix of the song by the guy who mixes all of Timbaland's records, but the mix we made sounded way better, so we didn't use it."

More Song Stories entries »
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