The Purpose album had surprisingly decent singles given what Justin Bieber’s earlier work was like, but its sheer length (18 tracks) meant that it inevitably contained a lot of terrible filler, and this was arguably the worst track on the whole album. Here, Bieber is clearly trying to make a Michael Jackson ‘save the world’ song in the vein of “Man In the Mirror” or “We Are the World” or “Heal the World”. In fact, on Jackson’s last album, Invincible, there was a beautiful song called “The Lost Children” that wasn’t all that different from this in terms of concept. But beyond the obvious problem of the vastly inferior music, Bieber makes the “If Everyone Cared” mistake…he tried to make the song completely inoffensive and noncontroversial, and wound up with nothing more than a collection of transparently empty platitudes. Even the most saccharine of Jackson’s actual songs of this type made it abundantly clear why we needed to rally together to make a change; this song never gets around to explaining that part. In other words, Bieber may have crafted a few decent singles lately, but he’s got a long way to go before he masters the art of making actual consistent and cohesive albums, and it remains to be seen if he can pull it off in the future.
Archives for December 2015
I certainly didn’t think that at this point, when he popularity had been visibly waning for some time, than Bieber would have his first Number One hit. As for the song itself, it’s surprisingly not terrible. It’s not as good as his last hit, “Where Are U Now”, mostly because the lyrics are really stupid, but the beat and melody are oddly arresting, and Bieber is about as tolerable as a singer here as he’s ever been. Watching the Antichrist of Teenybopper Pop transform into an almost-legitimate EDM vocalist has been a downright surreal experience, and while Bieber hasn’t quite reached the point of being a legitimately good artist, I will admit that if we have to see him make a resurgence on the charts, his gradual slide into tolerable status has come as an immense relief.
Verdict: Not great by any means, but still almost revelatory given that it’s coming from Justin Bieber.
Given the artist byline, which features the premiere maker of bad Dubstep side-by-side with the most notorious teenybopper singer of the current decade, you’d expect this song to be outright horrible. I was immensely surprised myself when I realized that it’s actually pretty good. Granted, like most of Bieber’s stuff in 2015, the lyrics have something of a petty edge, but the production resembles distinguished producer Diplo’s previous work far more than it does Skrillex’s, and Bieber is probably better suited to EDM than any other genre, since they have a ready-made excuse to heavily process his vocals and obscure the terrible singing voice that has always been his biggest liability.
Verdict: Quite surprisingly good, actually, given who it’s coming from.
This West End semihit may use the title of the original Roald Dahl novel, but it is very clearly based more on the classic film version Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It resembles the movie far more closely than the book, with protagonist Charlie Bucket fleshed out into a real, three-dimensional child character rather than the absurdly perfect ten-year-old saint seen in the book, several song titles taken directly from lines from the movie, and even a brief taste of one of the film’s most famous songs, “Pure Imagination”.
And there you have the primary reason it doesn’t work: it may be much less overtly terrible than Tim Burton’s movie remake from 2005, but it suffers from the same basic problem. Stage adaptations of iconic musical films rarely succeed, at least in high-profile venues, because it’s almost impossible to equal the quality of a film like Willy Wonka, and there’s no point in buying theater tickets if you can watch a vastly better version of the material at home for a fraction of the cost.
Admittedly, the show does make some attempt to be more than just an onstage copy of the film, with a mostly original score and a rewritten ending, but given the underwhelming quality of the adaptation, they might have actually been better off hewing closer to the film. This is one of those shows in the Starlight Express vein, where the visuals are the most interesting thing about the show and people are coming largely to gawk at the sets, and while that kind of show does tend to do better in London than on Broadway, it still isn’t the most respectable approach to theater.
Granted, the show does have a few other redeeming features; Douglas Hodge gave a tremendous performance as Willy Wonka in the original cast, with just the right combination of whimsy and menace for the role, and Marc Shaiman’s score has its moments. The catchy pop tune “Double Bubble Duchess” for Violet, the hilarious “It’s Teavee Time” for Mike Teavee and his mother, the touching ballad “If Your Mother Were Here” for Charlie’s parents, Wonka’s introductory showstopper “It Must Be Believed To Be Seen”, and his tongue-twistingly clever “Strike That, Reverse It” are all delightful.
But the rest of the score is fairly forgettable, and there are two perfectly awful production numbers for the Oompa-Loompas, “Juicy” (an attempted satire of Reality-TV empty celebrity) and “Vidiots” (with lyrics that attempt online slang like ‘LOL’ with the air of someone who has never actually seen it used), that are ridiculously out-of-place with the tone of the original story. And even the good songs don’t remotely approach the impact of the film’s legendary Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse score, so the whole enterprise seems rather pointless.
Even the sets, impressive as they are, are not completely successful…there are some things that are necessary for this story that you simply cannot do on a live stage, and there are moments in the show where this becomes painfully obvious. Like I said, this is by no means as bad as the Tim Burton film, but it suffers from the same fatal redundancy…we’ve already got a perfect Willy Wonka musical, and we really need to stop trying to replace it with imitators that could never possibly live up to the original.
This song gets much less respect than other 80s Phil Collins hits like “In the Air Tonight” and “Land of Confusion”, with many suggesting that it was the point at which he ‘sold out’ (even if the near-universally beloved Invisible Touch album by Genesis, of which he was the primary author, was still two years in the future). One common criticism is that the hook is too similar to “1999” by Prince, and while it doesn’t reach the point of outright plagiarism, the song does sound distinctly reminiscent of Prince’s work. But what no-one seems to notice about that argument is that if a song strongly resembles one of the greatest hits of one of the geniuses of popular music, it probably isn’t a bad song at all. This is actually a highly enjoyable piece of music, and if it’s more upbeat and goofy than Collins’ earlier material, it still hasn’t settled into the dull Easy Listening morass of his Nineties work…it still has the percussive edge that tells you this track was written by a drummer. The lyrics are gibberish, true, but Collins wrote them specifically to lay well on the tune, and they do indeed fulfill that criterion admirably, so maybe he knew what he was doing after all.
Todd Duncan was a College professor when Gershwin approach him to play Porgy in Porgy and Bess, and while he was initially reluctant, he allowed Gershwin to perform the score for him. According to Duncan’s own accounts, by the time they got to “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin”, he was in tears, and knew he had to do this show. He would return to it for the Broadway revival in the Forties that at last made the show successful as a Broadway musical, and he is still considered by most to be the definitive Porgy. His “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin” was one of the most powerful expressions of joy in music ever heard, his “Buzzard Song” a defiant cry of life and freedom, his “Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess?” gut-wrenching beyond compare, and his “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” indescribably beautiful. Later recordings would show he had a bit of trouble delivering spoken dialogue, but he was the very first Broadway musical actor in the modern sense, and the sheer depth of emotion that he could put into a song was staggering (and must have been even more so at the time, when basically no-one else was doing it). It’s worth noting that when Kurt Weill and his collaborators were casting lost in the stars, they knew they had only two really choices for an opera-weight Black male singer who could really and truly act, and when Paul Robeson turned them down, they immediately turned to Duncan, who was glorious in that role as well.
The Lost In Boston CD series called this ‘the only song cut from The Fantasticks‘, but what that actually means was that it was the only song cut once the show as a whole was more or less finished, as there are several other dropped songs from the developing stages. This song was the original climactic number in the show, and while it is a musically attractive piece with the extremely recognizable sound of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s songwriting, dropping it was the smartest move they could have made. It was supposed to be the resolution of the central relationship, but it didn’t have anywhere close to the emotional impact to make that moment work, and the lyric was far too straightforward and earthbound to match the show’s mood of effusive lyricism anyway. It was replaced by the quietly exquisite “They Were You”, which, with its more poetic and abstract (and thus more universal) lyrics and its incredible musical and emotional impact, was a far more effective and convincing communication of the more mature love into which the protagonists have grown at this point. This song, while not a bad piece as a standalone outtake, would have come pretty close to ruining one of the greatest shows of all time if it had been kept, so it’s lucky that Jones and Schmidt were perceptive enough to see this flaw and fix it before they opened their show.
Janice Paige may have had an on-again-off-again relationship with the correct key, and there’s no denying that many better pure singers have played Babe in this show since, including such vocal luminaries as Doris Day, Judy Kaye and Kelli O’Hara. But Paige invented the mannerisms that have become indelibly associated with the role, such as those utterly distinctive hillbilly yodels on “There Once Was a Man” (the authors apparently didn’t even think of it as a hillbilly song until they heard her perform it), to the point where everyone who has played the role since is basically just doing an impression of her. And while some of those impressionists may have sung the music better than she did, no-one ever brought more personality or vitality to the role, and in spite of her tendency to go off-key, there are a lot of people would rather hear her in the role than any of the more secure singers that followed her.