For several years, I’d penned a quarterly series of articles about the songs I’d been listening to that particular season. It was my way of sharing the new music that I’d discovered in the spirit of helping others to find some great new music to listen to. The series was titled “What Are You Listening To?” and at first the pieces generated a lot of interest, but eventually attention to the pieces waned and perhaps this was due to the title.
Since new music is still something to be discovered, I’ve decided to continue the series, only this time with a new title. “Hot Songs” and “Hot Albums” will be quarterly reviews of the current songs and albums I’m listening to and hopefully you’ll find something within the pieces to whet your appetite for new music.
Since the dull summer of new music in the year 2013, things have heated up and the winter of 2014 has filled my iPod with all sorts of great new stuff. Album-wise, the artists I usually listen to who’ve put out new records this fall/winter have both excited and disappointed me, as you will see.
Bangerz – Miley Cyrus
For all of the controversy Miley Cyrus seems to stir up whenever she’s in public, her latest studio album, “Bangerz,” is pretty darned good. Full of catchy pop ditties and beautiful power ballads, this album has been a winner with some critics, and plenty of fans. Besides the two smash power ballads “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop,” there are other nice tunes on this one, including the snappy, happy “#GETITRIGHT,” the sweet and tender “Do My Thang,” and the fast and furious “SMS Bangerz.” If you love good, dancey pop music and nice ballads, then this you should surely check this one out.
True – Avicii
Last June, Swedish deejay/producer Avicii released the debut single to his very first studio album, “True.” The song, “Wake Me Up,” became an instant classic, rich in both lyrical and musical substance, with vocals from a previously unknown singer (Aloe Blacc) whose Tracy Chapman-like voice fit the song perfectly. The song was good enough to spark my interest in the artist and subsequently I downloaded the entire album.
One of the things that made “Wake Me Up” so popular was its unique blend of musical styles along with some pretty profound lyrics, and the rest of “True” is filled with such tracks. This relatively new artist proves worthy of following in the very successful footsteps of fellow disc jockey/dance music producers Calvin Harris and David Gaetta with this set, and already several tracks have made waves in the dance music world. Stay tuned for a track by track review of this neo-classic!
ARTPOP – Lady Gaga
After all of the hype and anticipation that lead up to this release, I can now safely say that Madonna has nothing to worry about. “ARTPOP” is a good album, don’t get me wrong, but there aren’t any tracks that even come close to the sounds that once made Gaga a serious potential heir to Madge’s throne as the one who changed the face of pop music as she made her way through the stratosphere.
There are some really nice tunes on this one, including Gaga’s catchy duet with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want,” and the hard-driving dance track “Donatella,” but most of the rest of the tunes on “ARTPOP” sound like they’re leftovers from the “Born This Way” album. Sorry, Gaga, but this is not your best!
Prism – Katy Perry
Katy Perry’s follow-up to the hugely successful “Teenage Dream” album was much anticipated, but it hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, or the success, of its predecessor. The first single, “Roar,” seemed like a continuation of the style of music on her previous album, a semi-sweet and empowering feel good pop song, and during that time ahead of the album’s release it looked like we’d be getting more of the same. Well, we did, on most of the tracks, though two really hot songs come into the mix that brighten up the album just a bit.
“Walking On Air” and “Dark Horse” are two tracks on the “Prism” album that are extraordinary, and represent a new direction, musically, for the singer. The former is a dance floor ditty, pleasing to the ears and the hips, and the latter represents the hidden treasure in this set. Both of these tunes were released in between the debut single and the album, but neither had been slated to be released as a single. Instead, the second single was the sappy “Unconditionally.”
“Dark Horse,” however, is a special song. It reminds me of her earlier hit, “E.T.,” only edgier. On this one Perry works with Memphis rapper Juicy J, and the bass heavy track brings its infectious feel into your very core from beginning to end. I loved this one the very first time I heard it and you will too, if you don’t already. Because of its unique appeal, the song has become somewhat of a “dark horse” on the charts, too, even without having been originally released as a single. “Prism” is worth buying, if only for these two songs, and maybe a couple more if you like that kind of stuff.
BEYONCÉ – Beyoncé
Former Destiny’s Child singer and current solo superstar Beyoncé pulled off what may have been one of the smartest moves of the year 2013. On December 12th, the singer dropped an entire album without warning, and each of the 14 songs on the album comes with an accompanying video. In all there are 31 tracks on the diva’s eponymous fifth studio album, with 14 tunes and 17 videos, a clearly innovative move, and the surprise worked.
Within the first week of its release, “BEYONCÉ” sold more than one million copies, and was given critical acclaim and plenty of hype. To this writer, though, the album is good, but not great. The songs are varied in scope and tempo, with ballads and soulful, driving urban contemporary jams thrown into the mix, though none of the tracks elicit that greatness the singer’s been known for putting out there.
Some of the better R&B ballads on “BEYONCÉ” include “Drunk In Love,” featuring the singer’s husband Jay Z, “Mine” with Drake, and “Superpower” with Frank Ocean, though none of them match that classic feel of 80’s R&B like the songs on her previous set, “4.” On the faster side, there are good things to be found also, like the jazzy smooth “Blow,” the funky “Partition,” and the even funkier “Flawless,” but this writer’s personal favorite track is the ethereal and inspirational “XO.” It’s the feel good song on what is a good album, just not a great album.
Not So Hot
Britney Jean – Britney Spears
By far the biggest disappointment of the season comes from Britney Spears. This album dropped seemingly out of nowhere, and it faltered fast, already forgotten by many. After her career-best dance-oriented record, “Femme Fatale,” in 2011, I would have expected more of the same, sharply produced and dance floor-ready stuff on this one, but the first thing I noticed were that the notoriously weak singer’s vocals were not altered as much as on the previous effort, and now I understand why they were altered in the first place.
That’s not to say that “Britney Jean” is all bad. “Work B**ch,” the debut single off the album, which dropped in September ahead of the set, is typical nonsense dance music that has its merit on the dance floor and grows on you slowly, but surely. Other dance floor ready jams include the steamy “Body Ache” and Brit’s newest collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, “It Should Be Easy.” One ballad here, “Alien,” strikes my fancy, but that’s about it on “Britney Jean” for me.
Closer to the Truth – Cher
Talk about anticipation! This album, the first for the legendary diva in a decade, came with much fanfare and advanced buzz. “Closer to the Truth,” however, turned out to be a total bust. The first single, “Woman’s World,” had been released way earlier than the record, and it fared okay in sales and on the dance charts, but that may have only been because of the singer’s iconic status and legions of fans. When the album came out, though, the buzz was definitively short-lived, as the bulk of the tunes on this one are forgettable.
Even with the help of current superstar P!nk, who wrote two songs for the album (“Walk Alone” and Lie to Me”), not many of the tracks on the set are very memorable and unfortunately the entire album sits in my iTunes library collecting proverbial dust. The only tunes here that are somewhat worthy of an occasional listen include the uplifting “Walk Alone,” and perhaps the danceable “Dressed to Kill.” That’s about it.
So there you have it, some of the albums I’ve purchased and enjoyed, for the most part, this winter. Hopefully you’ve found these mini-reviews helpful in your own quest to find good new music to listen to and enjoy. In the meantime, check out some hot songs I’ve been listening to this winter and stay tuned for more new music reviews coming soon.
Hot Songs: Winter 2014