song reviews

Justin Timberlake Feat. Esmee Denters

"Follow My Lead"


In this benefit single for Shriners Hospitals for Children, Justin Timberlake's protégée Esmee Denters plays Fergie in what sounds like an update to 2003's "Where Is the Love?" Denters' range is impressive, but not very distinctive, and while the music touches on the urban grooves of Timberlake's solo material (check out his pseudo-rap during the bridge), "Follow My Lead" sounds too tossed off for the slick prince of pop. | More »

November 27, 2008

The Flaming Lips

Space Bible With Volume Lumps


If Wayne Coyne ever tires of this pop thing, he'll have a future in film scores. This instrumental from Coyne's Christmas on Mars works a spooky organ line with an off-kilter trumpet and women's screams. It's a cinematic head trip, no visuals required — the "Also Sprach Zarathustra" of Coyne's own 2001. This story is from the November 27th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone. | More »

November 13, 2008

Kanye West

"Coldest Winter"


Welcome to the winter of Kanye's discontent. On the first two singles from the upcoming 808s and Heartbreak, West drenched his sorrows in Auto-Tune, but he's more clear-voiced on this ode to his late mother. Injecting the glowing synths of Tears for Fears' "Memories Fade" with gut-punching percussion, he croons, "Will I ever love again?" It's an honest sentiment that's fortunately not deep enough to drown in. | More »

October 16, 2008

Kanye West

"Love Lockdown"


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"


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


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 »


"Vampire Voltage No. 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


Take A Bow


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



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"


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 »

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Song Stories


The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »