Getting to the halfway point. I'm listening to the top singles of the year (per the dubious authority of Rolling Stone), mostly for the very first time. Here's 41–50, and 31–40, and now, 21–30. Here we go…
30. “Nothing but the Whole Wide World” – Jakob Dylan
This guy is still around? Actually, back in the day, I gave Jakob Dylan credit: He could have totally skated by on his name and his good looks, but he seemed to be making a real effort regardless with the Wallflowers. This song, however is drop-dead boring, pounding the same melody ad infinitum, and Dylan has an unpleasantly strained voice. Maybe his dad or James Taylor could have pulled this off, but not Jakob Dylan.
29. “The Trip to Pirate’s Cove” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers”
I love, love Tom Petty: easily one of my favorite songwriters ever, even this late in his career (this song from ’08 is an absolute stunner). But I’m not sure about this song, which sounds a little tossed off, despite some typically excellent guitar work by Mike Campbell. This suffers from a lot of the same problems as that Jakob Dylan song: lack of melodic development, and an oddly strained vocal performance.
28. “Laredo” – Band of Horses
Like many contemporary artists, Band of Horses is a group I know for one particular song (“The Funeral”—nicely affecting overblown bombast) than for an album or a body of work. And based on my admittedly narrow knowledge of their oeuvre, this song surprised me its peppy folksiness—come to think of it, very Tom Petty–esque. But again: a good idea that doesn’t really go beyond square one.
27. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” – The National
I didn’t know fact one about the National, despite what I gathered to be deafening buzz. Three seconds into “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (terrible title), I know everything I need to know, and am not the least surprised by the cult. A self-consciously dark, Ian Curtis–style vocal, chiming guitars, insistently stuttering drums. This is the kind of music that huge masses of white people find inspiring. Me—maybe. I can see this song growing on me; it has a great, classic sound. But I could use a touch more passion.
26. “Dancing on My Own” – Robyn
Everyone I know who loves Robyn—and that seems to be lots of people—is either female of gay, strong evidence that I’m not going to go nuts for whatever she’s selling. So the pertinent question: Can I appreciate the effort? Yeah, I think so. She’s a got a steady, unflashy voice, and the bubbling synth melody is sweet without being saccharine, with nice dark undertones. Most important, unlike Ke-dollar sign-ha, Robyn isn’t making a fool of herself trying too hard. It’s about as substantial as cotton candy, but of I had a 14-year-old daughter, I’d be proud to take her to a Robyn concert as a Hanukkah present.
25. “Did It on ‘Em” – Nicki Minaj
I’m starting to think Nicki Minaj is trying to be the Lady Gaga of rap, with the whole outer-space dance-club robot thing. But Minaj is lyrically confrontational in a way Gaga isn’t (from what I can gather), in the overcompensating-rap tradition. She keeps repeating “Shitted on ’em” (classy), talks about how she’s so much better than everyone else, blah blah blah. We get it already.
24. “Not Afraid” – Eminem
When Eminem first emerged, he wasn’t my thing, but I recognized his iconoclasm (same way I felt about Alanis Morissette and Nirvana, come to think of it). My issue was that he came off as a bully: Wow, what a tough guy, picking fights with Britney Spears and Moby.
But Em’s stood the test of time, and his artistic growth is undeniable. His flow’s a little unsteady here, and his inspirational words here are a pretty cliché (“We'll walk this road together, through the storm/Whatever weather, cold or warm/Just let you know that, you're not alone”…zzzzzz). Still, he’s honest, and he seems to have the right attitude, finally.
23. “Macon” – Jamey Johnson
Time for another nap: one ‘70s country-rock trope piled atop another. (Does he need to “get back to Macon”? Yep. Is the guitar twangy? Surely. Are there female backup singers? Indeed.) Still, I have far more important things to do than hate this song, or even particularly dislike it. “Yeahhh, here I come!”
22. “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” – Rick Ross feat. Styles P
More? Bragging about what an awesome drug dealer you are over endlessly looped Cadillac beats? Jeez, enough!
21. “Infinity Guitars” – Sleigh Bells
At a friend’s recommendation, I listened to a little Sleigh Bells earlier this year, and my assessment from then stands: This is some of the most irritating music ever recorded. It’s clamorous and jumpy, like tiny needles scratching my mucus membranes. And I tend to like “jumpy” music—take my favorite song of the year—but there’s absolutely nothing smooth or soothing about this, just rock & roll banging you on the head again and again. This is what old people must have thought about the Beatles in the ‘60s. “Infinity Guitars”…is that a threat?
Twenty more to go; hope to wrap it up by 2011…