Apparently even the soundtrack to the spectacularly misguided film version of Fifty Shades of Grey managed to attract a couple of legitimate musicians, and while neither Ellie Goulding nor the Weeknd were at their absolute best on their contributions to it, their songs are certainly the only thing about the film that could conceivably be considered Oscar-worthy. This song’s main drawback is that it’s far more conventional than either the Weeknd’s earlier work as an Indie artist or his subsequent mainstream breakthrough album Beauty Behind the Madness. It’s certainly subtler and more sophisticated than when, say, Chris Brown does this kind of thing, but the fact remains that this is still a relatively ordinary R&B booty-jam, and at the time it had the Weeknd’s fans genuinely worried at the prospect of all his mainstream work being like this. Still, now that those concerns have been comfortably disproved by his subsequent works, one does have to admire how close this song came to turning the Fifty Shades of Grey scenario into something genuinely sexy, which is no easy task, to say the least. And ultimately, if the main legacy this movie leaves behind consists of two fairly decent pop singles from its soundtrack, I’d call that a win from all sides.
Granted, this song is essentially the result of Audien copying the brand of Folktronica originally pioneered by Avicii, but in this case, he’s collaborating with a better and higher-profile Country/Folk act that any of the ones Avicii worked with. This pretty much sounds like a typical Lady Antebellum single with a dance beat under it, turning one of their usual ravishing Country-Pop ballads into something resembling a Country-inflected version of a Dance Ballad in the Calvin Harris vein. This is one of the most exquisite EDM confections to hit the charts in quite a while, and it might even be the best Dance song of the current year.
This has been the most successful year of famed EDM producer Diplo’s career. Between his contribution to modern classic “Elastic Heart” by Sia, his smash hit collaboration with DJ Snake on “Lean On”, and his giving Justin Bieber his first good song with “Where Are U Now”, the man seems to be on fire. And while this song wasn’t nearly the success that the aforementioned three were, it’s still a fascinating piece of music, sounding rather like a more sophisticated and complex version of the EDM power ballads by acts like Calvin Harris that were so popular back in 2012-2013. It’s also, thanks to the beat, the lyrics, and Ellie Goulding’s performance, a popular song about sex that actually succeeds at being sexy, which shouldn’t be a rarity but nonetheless generally is. At any rate, given what the promoted material from Goulding’s latest album sounds like, this might be the last really interesting song we ever hear her on, so let’s make the most of it.
This was the first song the general public was exposed to from Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion album, which turned out to be something of a modern masterpiece. This particular track from the album has merit, with a pretty melody and a superb production, but it suffers from one rather serious flaw, an absurdly over-repetitive chorus that almost sounds like an attempted parody of her earlier hit, “Call Me Maybe”. It might not have raised eyebrows as an album track, but it was a poor choice for a lead single, since that chorus draws the lion’s share of immediate attention and thus largely obscures the song’s good qualities on a first listen.
This song is certainly more tolerable than Nicki Minaj’s last two singles, not that that’s saying much. The House-music influenced beat is very nice, and Nicki’s own verse is the best work she’s done since “Bang Bang”. But she’s let down by her collaborators, especially Lil Wayne, who offers a nauseatingly graphic verse built around a slang expression whose meaning is being debated somewhat right now, but which was clearly meant to mean something disgusting.
J. Cole is one of the most interesting young rappers on the scene today, right up there with Macklemore and Kendrick Lamar, and his latest album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, might be his most ambitious project yet. It really plays more like a mixtape, with none of the commercially-driven singles found on his last two albums, and this song, a highly relatable and bittersweetly funny narrative about Cole losing his virginity as a teenager, is a perfect illustration of what makes him so interesting as a rapper, with a brilliant twist ending that is both hilarious and oddly heartwarming.
Slipknot have a lot of detractors, but I’ve always been impressed by their sheer brutality and the fact that unlike most of the more popular Nu-Metal acts, they really knew how to play those instruments. This album combines the more sophisticated style they adopted later in their career with the sheer abrasive anger of their first two albums. It was made after the tragic death of one of their original members, and they really do seem to be working out their grief and pain through the music. It’s a pretty intense musical experience.
The thing about Tenacious D is that they’re a comedy act, not a Heavy Metal band. The entire joke behind them is that while they confidently declare themselves the greatest band in the world, they’re not very good, and while Kyle Gass is actually a pretty talented guitarist, Jack Black is hardly a credible Metal vocalist. That actually works here, since they’re going for an affectionate tribute (pun intended) rather than a knock-your-socks-off authentic Metal performance, and say what you will about him, Jack Black is certainly passionate about his music, which makes him a good choice for this kind of reverent valentine to a great artist. Just don’t go into this expecting it to come close to Dio’s original.