January Brings New Singles From Big-Time Artists

Posted on May 16, 2013

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Highly anticipated albums are on the horizon in this young year. Personally, I’m most looking forward to the return of my favorite New York knuckleheads Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the (hopefully) more mature sophomore release from Earl Sweatshirt and some more shiny, dancy creepiness from Sweden’s the Knife. But already, in just the first half of January, we’ve received some massively surprising singles that suggest that 2013 won’t be a typical year in pop music.

News of a Destiny’s Child single far preceded its release, but “Nuclear” was worth the wait. The only new track on the upcoming Destiny’s Child compilation Love Songs, it arrives coupled with the exciting news that the band will reunite when Beyoncé performs at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. The song itself most closely fits the early ’90s, “That’s The Way Love Goes”-style Janet Jackson mold, exhibiting effortlessly the appeal of that era’s tendency towards mellow, soothing lyrics over churning hip-hop beats. It’s also perhaps the best piece of production I’ve heard for a while from Pharrell; glad to hear he’s still got it.

Out of the Justin Timberlake camp, however, comes the first indication that Pharrell’s early-aughts super producer counterpart, Timbaland, might have seen his prime come and go. “Suit & Tie,” the first piece of new music from JT since 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, was announced via a three-day countdown and attached to a tagline (“I’m Ready”), so expectations for his triumphant return to music were impossibly high.

Well, adversely affected from the ambitious marketing campaign or not, “Suit & Tie” simply doesn’t deliver the goods. It’s a track I would likely skip if it were on Justified. It begins slow and sexy, with what’s sure to be a line sung along to at weddings for the next decade or so (when the old people start to leave, of course): “I’ve been on my suit and tie shit/ tie shit.” Yet the accompanying horns sound inauthentic in a way that seems accidental. I try to ignore it, but it’s problematic. Timbo asks JT if he’s ready, and shit, what do you know, he is. The verse is nice, the production is smooth. We’re on our way.

But by the second chorus, I’m wondering what is going to change in what has so far been a stagnant affair. And then Jay-Z shows up, and I realize that Timbaland is out of tricks that involve actual creativity. Remember the Jay-Z verse in “Crazy in Love”? How about in Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker”? They’re both classics in the guest verse canon, in large part because the songs’ respective producers got out of the way and let Jay do his thing. Timbaland, in contrast, cuts the beat to half time, and it just sucks the life out the room. I am no longer on my suit and tie shit. I’m in my fucking PJ’s. In all seriousness, there’s a really good song in there somewhere, but it doesn’t work when only two out the three major players show up and put in good work. Stop with the time signature tricks, Tim.

So I saved the best news, of course, for last. David Bowie, his voice run a bit ragged, released his first tune in a decade, the Berlin-years retrospective, “Where Are We Now?”. Over a ballad that’s one David Gilmour solo away from Dark Side of the Moon territory, Bowie nostalgically recalls his exploits through a new city in the late ’70s following his very public cocaine addiction. I will warn you, the accompanying video is terribly creepy, though helpful in terms of spelling out the German landmarks from the song.

Though certainly nothing quite as life-changing as the era of his music career he’s reminiscing upon (Side A of Low is simply untouchable), it’s better material than we should expect or even deserve in the twilight of one of the last century’s finest songwriters. Coachella rumors have begun, but those who worked on the single and upcoming studio album The Next Day are certain Bowie does not intend to tour. The heartbreaking line: “One of the guys would say, ‘Boy, how are we gonna do all this live?’ and David said, ‘We’re not.’ ”

In whatever capacity, it’s a far more vibrant pop music world with these three acts churning out new music. Here’s hoping that Beyoncé realizes this too. Bey, I leave it up to you. I’m pumped to see Destiny’s Child in action at halftime, but how about extending JT and the Starman an invite?

Featured in The Michigan Daily, 1/17/13

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Posted in: New Music