Continuing on: A couple days ago, I realized I'd heard nearly none of the top singles of the year, so I'm listening to all 50 (per Rolling Stone) now, and giving each a fair review. Click here to read what I thought of 41–50; today's list, 31–40, features absolutely zero songs that I'd heard until today, but some definite gems. Subjectivity awaits, but hey, it's a blog.
40. “Power” – Kanye West
Kanye West epitomizes how thoroughly I’ve dropped out of the modern musical conversation: He is everywhere, created the year’s best album virtually by acclamation, yet I know next to nothing about him (I can recognize “Gold Digger,” that’s about it). This song is interesting, as good as hip-hop gets from my limited-enjoyment perspective: Such a great, bold sound, and samples a favorite of mine, King Crimson’s “21st-Century Schizoid Man.” And only 1:43 in length, so I appreciate the concision.
39. “The Diamond Church Street Choir” – The Gaslight Anthem
It’s a pretty sanitized, and the guy’s voice is totally contrived, but this is an okay, straight-between-the-eyes, I-wish-I-were-Bruce rock song; Hootie and the Blowfish if they had a lot of tattoos and were better songwriters. The guitarist is really good; some nifty Mark Knopfler figures dancing around in the background. But I can do without it.
38. “The Mystery Zone” – Spoon
In the early ‘00s, when I was still at least somewhat up on current indie rock, Spoon was the hottest thing among my aging hipster contingent for a couple months, and I tried to like them, I really did. But I could never get around what continually struck me as a defiantly derivative songwriting sensibility: Every one of their songs sounded like I’d heard it before. (Like Pavement, Spoon was a band that I found to be about as interesting as its name.) But "Mystery Zone" finally breaks through with me. We’re clearly hearing from a more mature sensibility here. There’s an incantatory thing going on: He keeps repeating “the mystery zone,” and that combined with a spookily insistent bassline drives the song dangerously close to hypnotizing me. Must…like…Spoon! Great ending too, and excellent musicianship; good song.
37. “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” – Lloyd Banks ft. Juelz Santana
Really? We’re still doing this? Empty-headed paeans to fly rides and ho’s? I appreciate the great rhythm here, the flawless production, that amazing vocal hook (I’m going to have “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” running through my head for, oh, the next two millennia), but this song is the apotheosis of what I don’t like about stereotypical hip-hop: the coldly off-putting combination of conspicuous consumption and antiseptic production. Yeah, yeah, I ripped on that parent-friendly B.o.B. song too—I guess there’s a narrow sweet spot for me when it comes to this genre (and the mighty Kanye hits it, so I must not be alone).
36. “Up All Night” – Drake ft. Nicki Minaj
I hadn’t heard Nicki Minaj before, but I had read an article about her that hailed her first album as “the fastest-selling debut female solo release since Lauryn Hill,” which sounded like the most absurdly qualified praise I’d ever read. Anyway, both she and Drake have good, distinctive voices, but there’s not a lot of variance in their delivery: They strike the exact same don’t-fuck-with-me poses throughout this song. A little more soul than the Lloyd Banks song above, and excellently produced, but again, not what I will ever be in the market for.
35. “Paradise Circus” – Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval
Ah, trip-hop: How I miss you, late ‘90s. During my music journalism career, I once interviewed the frontman of Massive Attack on the phone, and when I (foolishly) let slip that I hadn’t listened to their album (the publicist had accidentally sent me an empty CD sleeve), he started insulting me. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference, because back then, I found this kind of music about as interesting as wallpaper paste, and nothing has changed. There isn’t anything here that couldn’t be straight from 1999: the washing sonic textures that sound like they’re banged out on an expensive Casio, the female vocalist who couldn’t be bothered to have a cup of coffee this morning, even the “trippy” song title. Next!
34. “Stylo” – Gorillaz feat. Mos Def and Bobby Womack
Nice! A great synthesis of modern techno-noodling and genuine classic soul-pop sound (man, Bobby Womack has one hell of a voice!). This is how you do mellow and trippy. I’ll never put something like this on voluntarily, but I’ll definitely enjoy it while browsing at H&M. Gorillaz—my favorite shopping-for-clothes-and-wishing-I-had-a-girlfriend-to-help-me band.
33. “Post Acid” – Wavves
Rolling Stone describes this song as “part Buzzcocks”—I’m listening. Not bad: Definitely has that jumpy, reved-up rock element that I so very much love. A solid melodic hook, though it’s way too herky-jerky to remind me of the Buzzcocks (whose melodies were always very smooth), and it sort of wears out its welcome, even at less than two and a half minutes. The calculated lo-fi sound typically grates on me, but I’m working on getting over that; I think it’s just jealousy over the fact that I never formed a band in my garage.
32. “Enter the Ninja” – Die Antwoord
A crazy South African rap duo, apparently. This is very, very weird—some guy rapping in Afrikanglish, a woman chiming in on the choruses with a helium voice, all over a dark computerized rhythm. Unique, and extremely catchy. But it makes me feel a little dirty.
31. “I’m New Here” – Gil Scott Heron
A legendary '70s musical poet mounts a comeback. Emphasis on legend; I’d long heard of this guy, but never heard him. About what I expect, a soulful free-form rap over a crystalline acoustic guitar. This is intriguing stuff, but it’s apples and oranges comparing this with Die Antwoord and Ke$ha (forget apples and oranges; it’s apples and protozoa). This is Rolling Stone’s problem: It tries to be everything to everyone, but music (and pop culture) is just too broad to boil down into credibly ranked top-40 lists.
Next time, I hit the halfway point. This is fun!