At the Closing of the Year

2013

As we say goodbye to 2013 with all too fresh memories of Miley Cyrus’ embarrassing raunch, the aural overkill of Lorde’s “Royals,” and the over saturated blandness of Katy Perry still lingering about, we can only look ahead with hope that 2014 will redeem this year’s failures.

The beginning of a new year always seems exhilarating as it promises a fresh start and a renewed faith that things can only get better. Looking into the not so distant future we can expect new releases from U2, a return to alternative pop from Tori Amos (after her last three classical infused releases), Cher’s final farewell and last hurrah (Dressed to Kill Tour), and after an extended absence from live performing, cerebral shit stirrer Lady Gaga returns to the touring scene with her upcoming artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball Tour.

Although too much time was wasted during the past few months on less than triumphant spectacles and dashed expectations, 2013 managed to deliver some great musical moments including David Bowie’s return with The Next Day, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, Cher’s first album in 12 years, Closer to the Truth, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Christian Burns’ Simple Modern Answers, Panic! at the Disco’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! and of course Lady Gaga’s heady party record ARTPOP. The year’s end also saw masterfully crafted seasonal offerings by Kelly Clarkson, Erasure, and Leona Lewis, all of which brought 2013 to a fitting and timely end.

With fingers crossed and musical palettes cleansed, let’s close out 2013 by taking a beat to remember how music makes us feel as it permanently finds its way into the soundtrack of our lives. As we prepare to leap forward into a new year, let’s hope our high expectations of better days to come are fulfilled in 2014.

Lady Gaga: ‘ARTPOP’

ARTPOP

After more than a year of wading knee deep in the hoopla of Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, the most anticipated album of 2013 has finally arrived. With all the speculation and hyperbole swirling around this release, you may be wondering if Gaga’s endgame was worth the wait. The answer to that question may best be answered by the theatrical pop provocateur herself within her own lyrics “Enigma pop star is fun/It’s not a statement as much as just a move of passion” (“Aura”) and “Lay back and feast as this audio guides you through new and exciting positions” (“G.U.Y.”).

Touted by many as the must have album of 2013, ARTPOP is a multi-genre musical spectrum that boldly infuses EDM, R&B, and rock with joy, rage, and vulnerability. Its true brilliance is discovered only when you fully immerse your mind and ears into the sum of all its parts, which when combined together, take you on a conceptualized journey through Lady Gaga’s world of dance, sex, art, pop, and technology.

Inspired to make the kind of record she’d like to listen to with friends, Gaga’s party opus is raging with mad beats, anthemic choruses, and a phantasmagoric album cover. Although it’s doubtful ARTPOP‘s lyrics will stop global warming or result in world peace, they are cunningly veiled to entice you into contemplating their deeper connotations.

Unpredictably, recurrent collaborator RedOne is only credited here on one track, with the bulk of material composed and co-produced with DJ White Shadow, Madeon, and Zedd. Perhaps RedOne’s input could’ve nixed ARTPOP‘s one and only massive hiccup, “Jewels N’ Drugs” (featuring T.I., Too Short, and Twista). Not only does this bland hip-hop attempt sound like an outtake from The Fame, it also abruptly dampens the album’s vibe and disrupts its otherwise flawless sequential flow, especially as it appears immediately after the dance pop genius of “G.U.Y.” and “Sexxx Dreams,” which sound uncannily like the rebellious teenage love children of Prince and Mariah Carey.

Fortunately, things quickly get back on track with the 1-2-3 punch of the manic “MANiCURE,” which details an obsessive love that can only be sated by a night of hot and lusty sex, followed by the R. Kelly duet “Do What U Want” and climaxing with the transcendent dreaminess of the title track, in which Gaga confesses “The melody that you choose can rescue you.”

During the drug and alcohol penance “Dope” (inspired by the cancellation of the final leg of the Born This Way Ball and originally debuted during her iTunes Festival set as “I Wanna Be With You), Gaga delivers her most honest and vulnerable vocal performance to date while belting out the sparse, emotionally raw ballad, which sounds equally impetuous and remorseful.

Gaga recently described ARTPOP as “reverse Warholian” and “music for music junkies,” which sums up the album quite effectively. With its genre-blurred edges and Spaghetti Western intro, it’s a musically chaotic hodgepodge as unique as the artist herself; edgy, inventive, and multifaceted. Although arguably ostentatious and extreme, there’s no denying ARTPOP is a sexy and seductive, yet quirky slice of pop nirvana that only Lady Gaga could serve up.

Panic! at the Disco: ‘Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!’

Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!

Panic! at the Disco’s fourth full-length Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is as eclectic and diverse as anything we could’ve imagined, which was hinted at by the soulful lead single tease of “Miss Jackson.” Of course, by now we’ve learned to expect nothing less than the unexpected out of the quirky alternative band from Las Vegas. The group’s latest effort is noticeably inspired and shaped by Sin City’s gritty darkness as much as its glitz and glamour, hence it seems only fitting the album’s title is taken from Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

While the variety of tracks appear to be an extremely dissimilar assortment at first, lead singer Brendon Urie’s deeply personal and introspective lyrics thematically tie them all together. The album’s shockingly honest and confessional subject matter ranges from recalling tales of youthful promiscuity (“Miss Jackson”) to reflections of late night clubbing (“Vegas Lights”). Then there’s the perplexing “Girl That You Love,” rumored to be about former band member Ryan Ross, in which where Urie declares “Drop every pretense/Drown every sense you own/Insistent pretext/So what does that make God/To the girl that you love.”

Teeming with melodic hooks and reflective lyrics, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is both hypnotic (the lingering closer “The End of All Things”) and beguiling (Far Too Young to Die” and second single “This Is Gospel”). Also worth noting are the two extra bonus tracks (“Can’t Fight Against the Youth” and “All the Boys”) featured on Target’s exclusive deluxe disc version, both of which merit foregoing the digital download route.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC

Cher: ‘Closer to the Truth’

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Closer to the Truth

Cher may be a good candidate for heated water cooler debates, but whether you love, hate, or are simply indifferent to her, she is irrefutably iconic to millions, and has managed against all odds, to pull off an unparalleled and long lasting career. Over the span of six decades, the fashion daring diva has successfully conquered television, film, and music, sold over 100 million records, and amassed a variety of awards including an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy, and three Golden Globes.

Cherilyn Sarkisian, who became a household name thanks to the classic pop duet “I Got You Babe” in 1965 with her then husband and partner Sonny Bono, holds the distinct honor of being the only recording artist to have had a number-one single in each of the past six decades.

Now, 12 years since her last full-length recording (2001’s Living Proof), Cher has returned with what she insists will be her last effort. On her twenty-sixth solo album, Closer to the Truth picks up right where Cher’s musical legacy left off, with an auto-tuned anthem (“Woman’s World”) and a sassy club banger with a feminist slant (“Take It Like a Man”). However, those hastily tempted to write off Closer to the Truth as just another dance record may be surprised to find it includes three tracks co-written by Cher herself and offers a multitude of tempos, including a handful of ballads, which clearly demonstrate Cher still has the chops to amply deliver a powerful and emotive lyric in her inimitable style.

With a pair of tracks supplied by P!nk, and production from Timbaland and Paul Oakenfold, Cher shows she’s kept her finger on the pulse of music during her extended absence. Moreover, the woeful 9/11 inspired “Sirens” and the stirring “I Hope You Find It” (thankfully rescued from Miley Cyrus), both easily position themselves among Cher’s strongest material to date. If this is truly Cher’s swan song, then she should be content that Closer to the Truth is nothing less than a fabulous finale to her illustrious career.

Keith Urban: ‘Fuse’

Fuse

If Keith Urban’s idea of breaking out of the box is recording a country pop album that sounds like a carbon copy of many of his Music Row contemporaries, then he was triumphant in fulfilling his goal on Fuse. Acutely mottled with lyrical clichés and bloated, over-cooked production provided by a plethora of producers, Urban’s seventh studio album is all flash with very little substance.

Fuse sounds fairly impressive upon initial listening, but when peeling back its glossy layers you realize it’s merely a labyrinth of country pop fluff. Midway through you begin to notice Urban’s introspective lyrics and scorching guitar solos are conspicuously MIA. Duets with Miranda Lambert (“We Were Us”) and Eric Church (“Raise ‘Em Up”) are both keepers and are the closest hints of Urban at his best here, but unfortunately they get lost in the midst of a track list that’s littered with too much mind numbing filler. The nonsensical throwaways “She’s My 11” and “Red Camaro” are easily Urban’s most pedestrian tunes to date.

Although not particularly known for being a ground-breaking artist, Urban recently confessed that he “just wanted to see how far I could go before it’s not me,” but in his effort to redefine himself, he seems to have concurrently lost sight of his own identity while becoming a victim of his various co-producers’ sway. Fuse is so over produced with studio gimmicks it would make even Mutt Lange blush. Urban’s latest might be great for keeping your eyes open on a long road trip, but it ultimately ends up sounding like nothing more than a desperate attempt to stay relevant with trendy bro-country.

Luke Bryan: ‘Crash My Party’

Luke Bryan: Crash My Party

After winning the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year award, with the help of his hugely successful Tailgates & Tanlines, Luke Bryan now finds himself in the unenviable, but inevitable position of having to follow up its chart longevity.

Armed with its hit title track, Bryan’s latest offering, Crash My Party, is fraught with catchy hooks and strong melodies, but it’s often sidetracked by reductive and forgettable lyrics (“Out where the corn rows grow/Row, row my boat/Floatin’ down the Flint River/Catch us up a little catfish dinner”). Ironically, the set’s most disposable track (“I See You”) was co-written by Bryan himself, yet he later manages to redeem his musical faux pas with the reflective life ballad “Dirt Road Diary.”

While you’d have to hunt high and low for any real substance here (“Blood Brothers”), that shouldn’t matter since Bryan’s fourth proper album is exactly the sort of good time romp for which the Georgia native has become famous; country booty shakers (“That’s My Kind of Night” and “Out Like That”) balanced with emotive balladeering (“Goodbye Girl” and “Play It Again”). However, listeners should be forewarned, this album is predictably programmed for obstreperous fist-pumping, beer chugging followers of feel good country pop who don’t want to waste a lot of time contemplating the deeper meaning of life. Ultimately, Crash My Party is melodiously rewarding despite its sporadic lyrical missteps.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC

The Return of Lady Gaga

Gaga applause

After beginning 2013 underneath a dark cloud ultimately resulting in the cancellation of several tour dates followed by surgery and intensive physical therapy, Lady Gaga has finally arisen looking like she’s vowed to make up for lost time. New details are beginning to emerge on a weekly basis about her forthcoming album ARTPOP, interactive app, new single and music video.

Lady Gaga is set to release new music for the first time in over two years on August 19th. “Applause” will be Mother Monster’s first single from her highly anticipated upcoming multimedia epic, scheduled to drop in November. She recently unveiled the cover art of her soon to be released new single (above) showing the performance artist with mime-like multicolored makeup smeared across whiteface. The lead single is reportedly an upbeat track “full of happiness” and judging from the lyrics teased so far (“I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong/To crash the critic saying is it right or is it wrong/Give me that thing that I love/Put your hands up make ’em touch”), that description sounds accurate.

During a recent interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Gaga confessed “I had broken my hip. Nobody knew, but when we got all the MRIs finished before I went to surgery there were giant craters, a hole in my hip the size of a quarter, and the cartilage was just hanging out the other side. I had a tear on the inside of my joint and a huge breakage. The surgeon told me that if I had done another show I might have needed a full hip replacement. I would have been out at least a year, maybe longer.”

“Applause” will be released simultaneously with an accompanying music video (directed by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin), followed by its debut live performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards on August 25th.

ARTPOP promises to be an immersive multimedia release, which Gaga describes as “a musical and visual engineering system that combines music, art, fashion and technology.” Co-produced by Gaga with Zedd, DJ White Shadow, Dallas Austin, RedOne, and Fernando Garibay, ARTPOP is scheduled to be released worldwide on November 11th.

Beady Eye: ‘BE’

Beady Eye: BE

Poor Liam Gallagher. It must be hard always being compared to big brother Noel, especially with a massive ego his musical abilities commonly fail to validate. It remains puzzling why the remaining members of Oasis chose to stay in Liam’s camp while alienating themselves from Noel after years of what seemed to be a mutual admiration society. With that said, Beady Eye manages to proficiently deliver a noteworthy follow-up to its 2011 debut.

Although assuredly destined to get lost in the Noel vs. Liam rhetoric, Beady Eye’s sophomore effort, BE, is a rather impressive musical statement in its own right. Surprisingly cohesive despite its lack of obvious theme or concept, the bombastic set begins with the wrathful pulsing of the horn drenched opener “Flick of the Finger,” then unpredictably switches gears into the mid-tempo trippiness of “Soul Love.”

Co-producing with Dave Sitek (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio) seemed to breathe new life and bring forth a cock-sure confidence that was sorely missing on the band’s mostly forgettable Different Gear, Still Speeding. BE at times is as melodic, if not as lyrically cerebral, as anything Oasis created during its heyday.

Although not as heady or atmospheric as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, BE greatly benefits from Dave Sitek’s production style, which suits Liam’s nasal, English yawp like a glove. But perhaps the most evident distinction between the two most recent Gallagher brothers’ releases is that BE audaciously rocks full steam ahead, whereas the former mildly meanders along like the tepid aspirations of a mellowed out, aging rock star.

At times BE can be guilty of sounding like an album of Oasis leftovers recorded by a John Lennon impersonator, but at its best (“Second Bite of the Apple,” “Iz Rite,” “Start Anew”) the album displays glimpses of unquestionable greatness. BE is not only a gigantic leap forward from Beady Eye’s first full-length release, but boldly sounds like a musical declaration of independence.

The Killers Bring Sin City to Music City

killersnashville

(Photo by Eric Allen ©2013)

Music City met Sin City when Las Vegas rock band The Killers performed at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville Sunday night. Dressed in black and armed with lasers, a projection screen backdrop, and a keyboard bedecked with an illuminated lightning bolt, lead singer Brandon Flowers was on fire as he tirelessly ripped through the dynamic set like a man determined to leave his perpetual mark upon the world famous venue’s stage.

The band members fed off the sold out crowd’s zealous reaction as they delivered a 21-song set list culled from their four album discography, which included “Mr. Brightside,” and “Human,” stacked against newer hits “Here with Me,” and “Runaways.” During the concert’s progression, the evening was filled with sporadic surprises including the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” a guest appearance by Brad Paisley, and a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which was preceded by Flowers’ proclamation, “Tiffany stole this song from Tommy James and the Shondells, but tonight we’re stealing it back.”

Although it may initially sound odd for a Las Vegas rock band fronted by a Latter-day Saint to play a gig at the Grand Ole Opry, that’s precisely what took place on an electrically charged Sunday evening in the inimitably unequalled whangdoodle that is Nashville’s beloved music scene.

By night’s end, Flowers held the engrossed audience in the palm of his hand, as thousands stood on their feet while cheering, clapping, and singing along at the top of their lungs for the duration of the virtually two-hour performance. Despite a dubiously absent rendering of the band’s revered hit “Bones,” no one exited the show with any criticisms. While the Ryman Auditorium may exclusively own the moniker “The Mother Church of Country Music,” The Killers live at the Grand Ole Opry House was nonetheless a religious experience in its own right.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC