Sunday, March 31, 2013

Music March: I Cry vs. Feel This Moment

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed a song by will.i.am, one of our best and brightest rap stars, I said in sarcasm mode.  Now I'm taking on two more at once.

"I Cry"
  • Artist: Flo Rida
  • Album: Wild Ones
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap, Dance
  • Release: 18 September 2012
  • Label: Atlantic, Poe Boy
  • Writers: Scott Cutler, Jeff Hull, Brenda Russell ("Piano In The Dark"); Bingo Players ("Cry (Just A Little)"); Flo Rida, The Futuristics, soFly & Nius
  • Producers: The Futuristics, soFLY & Nius


"Feel This Moment"
  • Artist: Pitbull featuring Christina Aguilera
  • Album: Global Warming
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap, Dance
  • Release: 4 February 2013
  • Label: RCA, Mr. 305, Polo Grounds
  • Writers: a-ha ("Take On Me"); Christina Aguilera, Nasri Atweh, DJ Buddha, Adam Messinger, Pitbull, Sir Nolan
  • Producers: Nasri Atweh, DJ Buddha, Adam Messinger, Sir Nolan


The Chorus

For its chorus, "I Cry" uses a sample from "Piano In The Dark", a 1988 R&B hit by Brenda Russell, and one of my favourite songs from the '80s (although I have a lot of favourite songs from the '80s ^_^).  Actually, the version used here is from "Cry (Just A Little)", a 2011 EDM song by Bingo Players in which the only words were taken from the chorus.  Don't you just hate when that happens?  I've heard "One Night in Bangkok" and "Party All The Time" butchered in a similar fashion.  Anyway, back to "I Cry".  The sample has been sped pitched up from the original, overlaid with a dance beat and, for "I Cry", Flo Rida singing along with the words off and on.

All in all, it's a lazy execution, so let's see what "Feel This Moment" brings to the table.  The chorus was actually written for this song, and sung by Christina Aguilera.  The melody is a rather simple one, only two measures long with one a down-shifted copy of the other, so no matter how much X-tina sings the heck out of it, it gets old fast.  And besides, the lyrics don't give me much to work with:

One day when the light is glowing
I'll be in my castle golden
But until the gates are open
I just wanna feel this moment
...Not sure what to make of that.  True, It's obvious that this is a song about indulging in the current festivities to the fullest.  But I don't know about you, but I'd equate "light is glowing" and "in my castle golden" as good things.  So why would she want to delay those experiences?  Maybe there are some formalities she's trying to stave off...?  But then the bridge starts up: a remake (not a sample) of the famous synth riff from a-ha's "Take On Me", and it is just glorious. The sharp, simple melody is laid over a driving beat and its power just flows through you.  It's like something out of Dance Dance Revolution -- you know, from before they started licencing Train and Justin Bieber.  (I'll get to that later.)  In fact, I kinda wish that could be the whole song.  Better yet, they should've just done a straight cover of "Take On Me" in that fashion.

The winner: "Feel This Moment"

The Verses

The first verse of "I Cry" opens up with Flo Rida declaring:

I know you wanna get behind the wheel
But only one rider
A line he copied from his last hit, "Whistle", which in turn was taken from the name of his last album, Only One Flo.  I see his laziness wasn't limited to the chorus.  And yet...

No fear, I've got fans in Okinawa
My heart's in Japan, quake losers and survivors
Norway, know you didn't get my flowers
No way to say it better, but the killer was a coward
[...]
Heard about the news, whole day went sour
I would question the point of bringing up these sad events  I would also question the timeliness of these references; both events occurred at least a year before the Wild Ones album came out (3 July 2012), but who knows how long this song was in the oven...  So, is there any other reason you cry?  It certainly can't be all the champagne and Bugattis you own.  Give me your best shot.
Thirty years, you'd have thought these emotions vanish
Try to live, try to figure how my sister vanish
Wait a minute, so your sister disappeared under mysterious circumstances?  Very interesting; I would like to hear more.  Oh wait, we don't, because that's the end of the verses.  Just the middle eight and that's it in terms of new words.  So let's move on to the other song.  The first verse of "Feel This Moment" opens up with Pitbull declaring:
Reporting live
From the tallest building in Tokyo
I take it this is Pit's attempt at being topically relevant.  More than likely he's referring to the Tokyo Skytree, a tower which opened in May 2012.  Coincidentally, this is also the only line I could remember at first, the "Something Something Leonard Bernstein" line, if you will.  Of course, it's not like there's any true introspection going on -- this is Pitbull we're talking about peoples.  I mean, at least "I Cry" is trying to be deep.  Pitbull seems perfectly content to adhere to the status quo -- and it's a status quo I've been tired of for years.  Add to that his perpetually annoying verbal tic of laughing at his own jokes -- sometimes not even after any punchlines at all.  Of course, you've already heard me whine about that.  For example, he does it at these lines:
She read books
Especially about red rooms and tie-ups
I got it hooked
'Cause she seen me in a suit with the red tie tied up
We get it, you rich and you like to have sex.  And you're a businessman.
I'm far from cheap
I break down companies with all my peeps
[...]
Time is money
Only difference is I own it
Dude, we just came off a recession, now's not the time to flaunt your status in the 1%.  Seriously, are ya gonna bring up anything in your life that was less than perfect?  Actually... yes.  In the second verse, he gives us:

I've lost a lot, and learned a lot
But I'm still undefeated like Zula [???]
I would interpret that as a reference to his former label TVT Records going out of business, but that doesn't quite work out, because it's not like Pitbull himself founded that label.  So... no.  You're gonna have to try harder to get some empathy out of us.  Which he doesn't do.  Shouldn't have been surprised.  You win this round, Flo Rida, but pretty much by default.

The winner: "I Cry"

The Call

"I Cry":
Lyrics: 3 out of 5
Music: 3 out of 5
Performance: 2 out of 5
The Call: 3 out of 5 (C)

"Feel This Moment": 
Lyrics: 1 out of 5
Music: 4 out of 5
Performance: 2 out of 5
The Call: 2 out of 5 (D)

Well, that wraps it up for Music March, and I'm sorry I only managed three articles.  Between this and my videos (I only managed one SDP episode in March, not counting the 007 reviews), I didn't have much time to devote my attention to one thing in particular.  Plus, I was away on vacation this past week, where I managed to get less work done (read: none) than I expected.  So, I think I'll come back to this concept with a Music May, for the only other month which starts with the letter "M".  Until then, this is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Music March: Scream & Shout

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed two songs at once, including "Thrift Shop", which spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  Here is one of the songs it managed to fend off.


"Scream & Shout"
  • Artist: will.i.am & Britney Spears
  • Album: #willpower
  • Genre: Dance, Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Release: 20, November 2012
  • Writers: William "will.i.am" Adams, Jean Baptiste, Jef "Lazy Jay" Martens
  • Producers: will.i.am, Lazy Jay

If I've learned anything about the Black Eyed Peas, it's that will.i.am is something of a glory hog, especially on their last couple of albums.  Sure, Fergie gets a pass, being a hot girl who was not part of their original lineup, but on any given song after the Elephunk album, the remaining members apl.de.ap and Taboo can't seem to get the combined mic time of either other member.  The same goes for will.i.am's solo single "Scream & Shout".  It's true he got Britney Spears as a guest singer, but she is severely under-used, being given only the bridges and a few sing-alongs with will in the chorus.  Here is how the former starts:
When you hear this in the club
You're gonna turn this [noun] up
You're gonna turn this [noun] up
You're gonna turn this [noun] up
We're off to a bad start.  Britney Spears is repeating meaningless lines -- with a bad word in them, no less.    And what's with that baritone and British accent she's put on?  Are you sure this is even Britney?

I wanna scream and shout
And let it all out
The chorus is equally lazy, relying on repeating lines like this.  And it ends with:
You are now, now rockin' with
will.i.am and Britney, [noun]
Heh, font humour.  The reason I wrote those last words in Times New Roman is because that sound bite was taken from Britney's 2007 "comeback" single "Gimme More".  Man, will.i.am's doing everything in his power to keep his guest out of the spotlight!  For shame.

So then the first verse kicks in and, I'll tell you what, it's not even worth analysing.  It's just a bunch of different ways in which will.i.am is egging us on to have a good time.  So let's move on to the second verse... there is none.  After the next chorus, we instead jump to what is known in musical jargon as the "Middle 8".  Wait...
It goes on and on and on and on
When me and you party together
I wish this night would last forever
'Cause I was feeling down, and now I'm better
We're at the Middle 8 already?  Maybe if they didn't rely so much on repetition, they would've had the space to write a second verse!  Whatever, I appreciate how this section provides some degree of emotional connection.  (See also: Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling In Love")  In overly simple terms, yes; will.i.am was feeling badly before attending the party du jour, but spending some time there has brought his spirits back up.  ...To be fair, I didn't manage to say with rhyme and meter.  Seriously, I think this might be the best part of the song!  We've still got four more lines in this section, so how will they manage to expound on that?
It goes on and on and on and on
When me and you party together
I wish this night would last forever...
Ever... ever... ever...
And they wasted the opportunity by repeating the whole thing.  Shouldn't have been surprised.  In fact, I don't even know why I wasted my time reviewing this party tripe.  Musically, "Scream & Shout" does some interesting things, with the bassline in some parts evoking the Prince-produced funk of the early '80s.  But other parts counteract that with some unacceptably tinny synth-work.  And yes, there is a "dirty bit" in this song, too.  This song may have become a guilty pleasure of mine, but all things considered, it's lazily executed and gives the world nothing of value.

Lyrics: 1 out of 5
Music: 2 out of 5
Performance: 2 out of 5
The Call: 1 out of 5 (F)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Music March: Thrift Shop vs. No Swag

So I was planning the next few reviews for this blog, when I realised I had a lot of music-related stuff planned in my head.  So the way I see it, why not make a month-long special about it?  This was the conception of "Music March", made even better by the happenstance of the name of the month lending itself to an alliteration.  Now, please bear in mind that I will be away on vacation for the last week of the month, so

Question: what is swag?  Urbandictionary.com (NSFW) defines it as, "the most used word in the whole [adjective] universe".  ...Huh.  Actually, the site gives multiple definitions, including: "Orginally from the Scottish slang word "swagger" which was a description of the way some Scots walk (in a swaying motion), the word was then misinterpreted by the English as "the way someone presents themselves". Eg, whether someone looks cool."  Either way, the definition of swag may soon become meaningless, as there is a certain song which just came off of a four-week run at #1 on charts worldwide.  Did I mention it was also the first self-published #1 single since Lisa Loeb in 1994?  No.  Obviously I am talking about "Thrift Shop" by Ben "Macklemore" Haggerty.

"Thrift Shop"
  • Artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz
  • Album: The Heist
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Release 8 October 2012
  • Label: Macklemore LLC
  • Writer: Ben "Macklemore" Haggerty
  • Producer: Ryan Lewis
But this song reminded me of another I heard about a year ago, which also hailed the lack of traditional charisma.  It is the aptly named "No Swag" by a pop-punk outfit called UGHmerica.  Its three members have written songs for Ke$ha, Akon, Pitbull, and Bridgit Mendler (a.k.a. Arietty).  But "No Swag" made far, far less of an impact than "Thrift Shop" did despite the head-start; I can't find any mention of either the song nor the band on Wikipedia.

"No Swag"
  • Artist: UGHmerica
  • Album: non-album single
  • Genre: Pop
  • Release 25 October 2011
  • Label: Mass Appeal Entertainment
  • Writers: Jacob Kasher, Phil Shaouy, Clinton Sparks
  • Producers: Phil Shaouy, Clinton Sparks
Since we have two songs which are so similar in subject matter (Added Alliterative Appeal strikes again! ^_^), I thought I'd try a new format.  Rather than analyse each song's lyrics line-by-line like I usually do, I'm going to compare how certain devices are executed by each song.  For example:

The Music

Right off the bat, this is one of the sticking points preventing me from enjoying "Thrift Shop" to the fullest.  The backtrack relies heavily on a squeaky saxophone riff which is only one measure long but repeats for over half of the song.  So by default, I'll have to give the edge to the band who plays their own music.

The winner: "No Swag"

The Chorus

"No Swag" utilises a one-line chorus, which essentially repeats the following: "I've got no swag, swag, swag swag".  Dude, I know you're not trying to associate yourself with swag, but if you say the word so often, people are gonna make that connection anyway.  So that leaves us with "Thrift Shop"'s chorus, delivered by Michael "Wanz" Wansley in a baritone that helps him fill in the void left by the dearly departed Nate Dogg.  Kicking off with the line "I'm gonna pop some tags", it gives the song both a hook and a clearly-defined point, so that someone somewhere's gonna have it in mind as a theme song for their first visit to the Salvation Army.

The winner: "Thrift Shop"

The Verses

In the verses of "No Swag", the singer talks about some of the things he owns or does, such as driving a beat-up old car and wearing beat-up old shoes.  There aren't many lines, but my favourites are found in the first verse:
I think that driving drunk is bad
Now think about this: in our mainstream culture, events where alcohol is served are highly glamourised.  So much so, that the side effects such as the possibility of driving home drunk are ignored, and as such, in the back of the mind for people who partake in them, if at all.  So exercising common sense, such as being mindful of your state of inebriation, is shrugged off merely for the sake of shrugging off the "Stop Having Fun" Guys, unaware that the fun may come to a dead end.  Then again, guest rapper Jacob Kasher admits to smoking marijuana later in the song, so take that with a grain of salt.
And Spongebob is really [adverb] rad
As someone who's this close to becoming a Brony, I like your style.
I like hanging out with Mom and Dad
Okay, I will infer from this line that our man still lives with his parents.  And you know what?  I'm cool with that, too.  You have any idea how expensive it is to find a place to live?  Sure, I'd enjoy the power that comes from living independently, but to everyone who'd bash us for taking our time, enjoy your debt, ya morons! >:-)  Meanwhile, in the second verse...
I think recycling is cool
And cook-outs with friends out by the pool
Am I not what you consider cool?
Again, this makes me wonder why no one has time for recycling anymore.  And it doesn't even take that much time to get a separate trash bin and have a different truck pick it up!  Would someone explain to me why recycling has gone into the realm of the nerdy?  In the meantime, I'll be expressing disapproval over rhyming "cool" with "cool".  Seriously, I could write a dissertation over the lyrics to "No Swag", but I have to leave room for the other song, so I'll skip the rap verse and move on.

Much like Jay-Z and Kanye West's "[nouns] in Paris" from last year, "Thrift Shop" has a playful, sometimes bawdy sense of humour, with a handful of moments that are less than dignified, but still fun for the most part.  There's one moment in the song where the people are complimenting some guy for his Gucci clothing, and our protagonist is all "Yo, that's $50 for a T-shirt".  Oh, and for the record, that was the first line from the song that stuck in my head.  Good thing, too, because without these "jokes", there's not much to remember about these verses.  Much of the lyrical space is taken up with Macklemore rattling off the odd fashions he found on the discount racks -- much as other rappers do with luxury items, for example:
Velour jumpsuit and some haute slippers
[Adjective] brown leather jacket that I found digging
Hey wait a minute, that didn't even rhyme!  And that's not the only example.  Back on point, my other problem with this "Thrift Shop" is that the two verses are simply too long.  Let's do some simple addition: sixty seconds for a verse is way too long for me to remember.  Plus, the radio edit is *very* censored.

The Winner: "Thrift Shop"

The Message

So now that we've taken some lyrical samples, what is "No Swag" about?  The singers are freely admitting that their lifestyles do not fit in to what the mainstream culture considers desirable, but can't seem to decide what to make of it.  Clifton in the second verse affirms "I don't care what you think of me", whereas Jacob in the rap break laments "Please don't swag me up / just put me out my [adverb] misery".  Furthermore, according to their website theughmerica.com, they've attempted to start a "No Swag" movement, which encourages members to embrace who they are and how they live, to fly in the face of what is accepted by their peers.

"Thrift Shop" espouses many of the same values as the "No Swag" movement, albeit from a more pragmatic perspective.  That's pragmatic as in not only buying clothing with as little expense as possible, but pragmatic in that it plays to the traditional rap image, but with different subject matter.  If Macklemore's going to make a change in our public consciousness, he might as well do so with some degree of bragging and a catchy hook.

I like what both of these songs bring to the table.  They basically present the same lession, but with different approaches.  All things considered, I've decided not to give the edge to either song in this section, and indeed I'd recommend you check out both.  That is, if you haven't had "Thrift Shop" drilled into your psyche from all its radio play.

The Winner: Tie

The Call

"Thrift Shop": 5 out of 5 (A)
"No Swag": 4 out of 5 (B)

P.S. To whomever wrote that first definition of "swag", you lost me at "Secretly We Are Gay".  Because there's nothing wrong with that, I'm just saying.