This was the first decent single Luke Bryan had released since his breakthrough hit “Do I”. Since then, he has been known mostly for either dull, near-identical midtempo ballads or idiotic, posturing Pop-Country party songs. The reason for this song’s unusually high quality is obvious when one looks as its writing credits today, but of course in 2013 no-one had any idea who Chris Stapleton was yet. Yes, the current Messiah of Neotraditional Country was responsible for penning this song, which makes this sort of a pattern for Bryan, since “Do I” was penned by the members of Lady Antebellum. But regardless of who really deserves the credit for this song, about the one thing country music still did as well as it had ever done circa 2013 is dirges for the wartime dead, and this one was the most touching to make the Country charts since Lee Brice’s CMA-winning “I Drive Your Truck”.
Here, Linkin Park return to their early Nu-Metal style, which at this point might sound like Alanis Morissette returning to Bubblegum Pop, or Alice In Chains making another Hair Metal album. But fortunately, they retained their newfound musical richness and complexity from their last two albums, leading them to make the first really credible Heavy Metal music of their career. To sweeten the deal, there is a verse by classic-era rapper Rakim, who hasn’t lost a beat since his heyday, and it’s good to see him back on the charts.
At the time, Kenny Chesney tried to tout this song as a positive alternative to the ‘Bro-Country’ genre that was then dominating Country music, but there’s a reason why it didn’t wind up starting the revolution Country needed. Granted, it’s better than the vast majority of Bro-Country songs, but it features exactly the same kind of swaggering, rhythm-heavy musical sound favored by those songs, so it hardly qualifies as a return to Country’s roots. And while the lyrics, with their array of cultural references, have some fairly rich content as a celebration of American culture, they’re not particularly dramatic. This is certainly a good song, and given the state of Country music in 2014 I’m certainly glad we got it, but it was obviously never going to do what Chris Stapleton or Sturgill Simpson wound up doing, no matter how much Chesney wanted it to.
This song made topped the Alternative charts and briefly made it into the lower reaches of the Top Forty, but it never really caught on with the mainstream public, and there’s a reason for that…of all the Indie Rock crossover hits to actually crack the Top Forty, this is probably the worst apart from The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather”. This is kind of sad, in a way, given that the actual song itself is not that bad as a composition. The beat is actually rather fascinating, and the melody on the chorus is catchy enough. What ultimately sinks the song is the singing: the overprocessed falsetto vocals heard here are so unbearably awful that they make the entire song unlistenable. With better vocals, this would have been a perfectly respectable piece of crossover Folktronica, although frankly it still doesn’t approach the level of Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave or the singles from Avicii’s True.
As the first of the hypnotic, minimalist ‘Hook Artists’ to actually produce a major hit, I now understand why the critics praised this guy so much. This songs’ lyrics on their own would suggest a standard-issue club anthem, but the eerie, almost morose atmosphere certainly doesn’t resemble your typical club song, and I Love Makonnen’s ultra-low-key vocal style is oddly mesmerizing. This song doesn’t sound particularly unusual now, but at the time, the concept of a downtempo, atmospheric club song was almost a revelation, and without it, we might never have gotten Future’s almost avant-garde fragmentations like “Commas” or “Jumpman”, or Young Thug’s atmospheric soundscapes like “Stoner”. As the first song in this critically acclaimed genre to actually achieve major success on the Hot 100, I understand why this is generally seen as such a big deal, especially given how long it took for another hit in the genre to come along: Young Thug’s few actual hits were all terrible, and Future wouldn’t make the Top Forty with one of his own songs until “Jumpman”, almost a year later.
Lea Michele’s Louder was one of the worst-received albums of 2014, and while it isn’t bad in the actively offensive way seen from most albums that merit this level of hatred, it’s still a colorless bore that was entirely unworthy of the shining talent who sang it…you could pick any eleven of her Glee tracks at random, and they would almost certainly be better than anything on the album. This song is probably the album’s high point, since it actually has some character and detail in its writing, but given that this was co-written by Michele herself about her real-life dead fiancee (quoting his last words to her, no less), it still seems oddly hollow and detached. Michele sings it beautifully, of course…even the worst items on this album benefit heavily from her legendary voice…but she sounds numb and lifeless here, which might be understandable given her personal situation but doesn’t actually serve the song itself particularly well. I don’t really blame Michele for the album’s dreariness given what she was going through at the time, but there’s no denying that this album did nothing but hurt her career, and while I’m sure she’ll overcome this setback, I very much doubt that Louder itself will be vindicated by history, or indeed remembered much at all, when she does.
2013 was a truly great year for Heavy Metal albums, featuring such gems as Deafhaven’s Sunbather, Carcass’ Surgical Steel, and the much-anticipated reunion album of the original Black Sabbath lineup. Ozzy Osbourne had basically turned into a ridiculous cartoon version of himself over the years, but here, reunited with most of his original band, he makes what has to be considered one Hell of a comeback. This song really does resemble the slow, ominous sound of the band’s classic era, and Osbourne actually manages to recapture some of the compelling, anguished intensity of his early work.
The soundtrack to the “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” documentary produced Campbell’s last great masterpiece, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, but it also produced this utterly ham-fisted and overblown cover from a talented band who really ought to know better. The name of the song is “Gentle On My Mind”—you’re not supposed to belt it out as though it were a power ballad.