December 20, 2010

A (mostly) uninformed listening of the top 50 singles of 2010: 41–50

The other day, someone asked me what albums are on my top ten list for 2010. The question hadn't occurred to me at all. As a teenager and young adult, I was obsessive about making lists like these—I had a top ten for albums and singles every year of the '90s (1994 it was Weezer, of course), but no more. I pretty much totally tuned out 2010 in music; I liked one new album and about three new singles. Mainly, I've been revisiting Warren Zevon, the Pixies and XTC—my taste is still good, but man, is it old.

How did I come to this? I was The Rock Guy in college; I moved to New York City to be a music journalist, lucking into a great job answering phones and collective vapid rock-star quotes for Rolling Stone magazine. Now, not only do I know nothing, I don't much care.

So an experiment: I'm taking a look at Rolling Stone's list of the year's top 50 singles (yeah, yeah, I know, bullshit authority, but reading that magazine is where my rock expertise began, and working for it is where it went to die), and I will write, in this space, a brief review, poorly informed review of every song on its list. I'd heard very few of these songs before; I claim no expertise.

See below for the first ten; more in the coming, dwindling days of '10.

50. “We R Who We R” – Ke$ha

God, I hate this song.

I was aware of Ke-dollar-sign-ha, sadly. Damn, I guessed almost exactly what "Tik Tok" sounded like based on the song title, so that tells you something there. I know, I know, I'm fucking old, but I just don't understand how anyone buys this woman—she's trying way, way too hard to impress us with how "current" she is and what a badass she is. (Plus, she sings like she has gum in her mouth.) I have trouble believing a word she says, though it helps that she isn't saying much. That's the point of a song like this, but the whole thing is so sterile and airless, I just can't imagine why I'm supposed to care. The beat's not bad, but it just lays there, passionless. C'mon, pop music, you can do better.

49. “El Camino” – Elizabeth Cook

Clearly some country affirmative action, but this is a cute tune. It's not very exciting, but Cook—who's got a pretty, unique voice—tells a little slice-of-life story about some greaseball slipping her a roofie and molesting her in the back of his piece-of-shit car. Hilarious. She rhymes “annul it” with “mullet” and “get much hotter” and “piña colada," which is great, except she (or whoever wrote the song for her; I'm not doing research here) works a little too hard shoehorning the lyrics into the rhythm. Fun stuff, if not very good. Decent guitar solo.

48. “hahahaha jk?” – Das Racist

I thought these guys were way overrated; that "Combination Taco Bell and Pizza Hut" was one stoner joke stretched out way too long (not even one joke—it was a good idea for a joke). But this is a lot better, primarily because they sample the flat-out creepiest-sounding TV theme of all times, Days of Our Lives, and they have a great sense of rhythm. And the lyrics are actually funny, in a way that self-referential rap rarely is, no matter how much critics and bloggers tell themselves it is. (They drop the names Sammy and Lucas, then say, "That’s a reference to the soap opera Days of Our Lives, even though I was a bigger General Hospital fan.”) It kind of runs itself in circles after a while, but it's the rare song that makes me like it despite using text-message speak in its title.

47. "Born Free" – Kid Rock

What is with this guy? When he first hit it big, Kid Rock was king of the dirtbags, celebrating guzzling beer and fucking porn stars, which I suppose has its appeal, but he's since mutated into a bad Bob Seger. Good on him that he still has a career a decade-plus later, but this song is a terrible mess of "real America" clichés, seemingly exist only to sell for an advertisement (I'd actually already heard this one, in an ad for a baseball game). This sounds like the lowest-ranked guy on American Idol who still manages to get a record deal.

46. Congratulations – MGMT

Another one I'd heard, though hadn't really listened to. I truly enjoyed MGMT's first album, and my reaction to their '10 release was the way I feel about a lot of sophomore albums—they believed their own hype. People told them they were geniuses, so they figured they didn't have to try hard or focus, and the result was way, way below their talent level.

But listening to this again, carefully, I think that's only partly true. This is not a bad song—a lyrically fresh assessment of fame, a great melody and unique sound. But I really wish these guys wouldn't sound so sleepy and narcotized; the whole thing is buried in a haze that doesn't help the song. Also, it has a sing-along vibe, but you can't sing along to a song that doesn't repeat any of its lyrics. Focus, gentlemen.

45. "Plundered My Soul" – The Rolling Stones

Only Rolling Stone would consider this Stones rarity—just recently seeing the light of day on the rerelease of 1972's Exile on Main Street—to be a "new" single. That said, it's great, gritty, bluesy classic stones, which only depresses me because it makes me think of the utter shit this band's been shoveling for nearly 30 years now.

44. “Love and War” – Neil Young

Now here’s a guy who you believe him when he says something. Neil looks back on his career—he's sung a lot about both love and war, you see—with only the expert interplay of his acoustic guitar and his voice. Perhaps he's phoning it in a little, but Neil Young is the Jack Nicholson of rock & roll—even when he's lazy, his charm carries you through. Also, he rhymes "wanna" with "Toronto" (which has been done before).

43. “Nothing on You” – B.o.B. feat Bruno Mars

When a rap song sounds like Maroon 5, you know the genre has completely lost its ability to threaten old people. This song is wholly competent, but absolutely nothing more (and I can't tell if "You the whole package, plus you pay taxes" is clever or annoying). I’m old, this music bores me.

42. “Floating Vibes” – Surfer Blood

I'd heard about this, since Surfer Blood has been universally hyped as "the Beach Boys meet '90s alt rock," two things I love. (Though I swear that synthesis isn't new, but not example is coming to me.) I like it—a lot of interesting sonic things going on in the background. But there's the problem—like MGMT, these guys lack focus. They get lost in the wacky studio experiment, never reining the song in and keeping it from meandering all over the place. Good, too bad it isn't great.

41. “In Every Direction” – Junip

Apparently, this guy is some kind of Swedish folkie, but my first thought was a 21st-century Christopher Cross. Nice little weird pop song with a dark undertone. I like this, but this is music that’s never really going to excite me.

That was interesting. More to come…