January 1, 2012

A (mostly) uninformed listening of the top 50 singles of 2011: 21–30

Continuing. I reach the halfway point here, and surprised (perhaps chagrined) to discover that yes, I am an old shut-in, I've heard almost none of these songs before. Read my crotchety reactions to 50–41 here, 31–40 here, and last year's list (or at least the end of it) right here.

30. “Springsteen” – Eric Church

A country guy remembers listening to Bruce Springsteen as a teenager, with only the most superficial resemblance to his idol’s work. I love Springsteen like crazy, but part of what makes Bruce Bruce is the undeniable power of his raw talent; both musically and lyrically, he works in a realm that’s bare millimeters away from cliché, so it’s a testament to his authenticity that he doesn’t come off as a complete loser (see Bon Jovi at his many dullest moments). There’s a reason Springsteen was almost instantly hailed as the future of rock & roll back in the ‘70s, and if you don’t have Bruce’s chops—and judging by this song, Eric Church is a competent fellow but no Bruce—you’re just some schnook bashing out a bar rock song about some mundane story from your boring life.

29. “Rumor Has It” – Adele

It was impossible to escape Adele this year, even for me, but I hadn’t heard this one before (I don’t think). Girl’s got a hella voice, as millions have declared, but I do not find it the second coming of Aretha; as BQT Katie has pointed out, she’s putting out 100%–110% all the time, which says a lot for her power, but not much for her range. This song has a kicky rhythm, as Adele navigates a crumbling relationship beset by gossip in all directions—and there’s an absolute fantastic breakdown two and a half minutes in, plus a terrifically sudden ending. But I still think she doth protest a bit too much, you know?

28. “Million Dollar Bill” – Dawes

Actually, I’m surprised how much country, or at least country-rock, we’re finding on this list. This is a slow, sad, beautiful song about a lovelorn fellow halfheartedly planning his global conquest in an effort to make his ex jealous (he’ll run for President, he murmurs, so he can get his face on the million dollar bill). Fairly on-the-nose emotionally; it’s an exceedingly simple song, but it manages to get the job done.

27. “You and I” – Lady Gaga

This one I’d heard before, having investigated it as a possible entry in a BQT audio round (can’t recall which one). I don’t live under a rock, at least not most of the time, so I know all about Gaga (yes, Gaga, not “GaGa,” damn you), but her music usually leaves me cold. And while this R&B-flavored run-of-the-mill power ballad isn’t terrible, it does not break the pattern. That’s too bad, since I really appreciate Stefani’s star power, which the world needs more of. People compare her to Madonna a lot, and I think that’s apt, in that for both of them, it’s about the celebrity and the show more than the music, but I do grant that Gaga has more raw musical talent. I’m curious to see what she comes up with in ten years or so, when she doesn’t feel so much desperate pressure to hang onto the throne.

26. “Mama’s Broken Heart” – Miranda Lambert

How can you tell this is a country song? In the first verse, we get: (1) a galloping drumbeat; (2) lyrics about cutting your own hair, drinking, and neighbors calling the cops; (3) the word “name” pronounced “nay-em.” This is a pretty sanitized slice of modern cowpunk, but it seems to come from a fairly honest place, with oodles of positive energy and some glimmers of songwriting flair. Not bad, but not for me.

25. “Youth Knows No Pain” – Lykke Li

Diaphanous Swedish vocalizing over an echoey ’60s garage-rock vibe. I like it, but—yep, you guessed it—it’s more a good idea repeated ad nauseam than a completely thought-through whole. I suspect this woman, while not untalented, is skating by on a contrived Scandinavian-songbird image and its attendant hype, which may be why I find the double-tracked vocals so annoying; I think I’d like this more if it were actually multiple women singing. Is there a Swedish girl group I should listen to?

24. “Weekend” – Smith Westerns

The only song on this entire list (thus far) that I’ve actually purchased. Not because I’m in love with it, merely because I heard it on Turntable.fm and thought it would make a nice addition to the annual mix-CD I make as a Hanukkah present for my sister. But I do like it quite a bit; the wimpy vocals risk drifting away into the ether, but a sharp guitar line and snappy drumming hold it together into a perfectly serviceable pop song. Especially considering the lyrics, which say nothing that 80 billion pop songs haven’t already said: “Weekends are never fun/Unless you're around here too.” That works for me.

23. “Yonkers” – Tyler the Creator

Filthy, but all over the place; it sounds like a street poet with Tourette’s. To wit: “Bedrock, harder than a motherfucking Flintstone/Making crack rocks outta pussy nigga fishbones.” There’s more to it than that, he’s definitely telling some kind of story/stories, and there’s something hypnotic about the groove and the beat. Points for creativity and intellect, for sure, but you won’t find me investigating.

22. “Holocene” – Bon Iver

I hate Bon Iver—sorry, "Bon Ee-VARE." Hate, hate, hate. Pretentious sub-community-college poetry over Acoustic Guitar 101 exercises, delivered with a voice like Pete Townshend after getting kicked in the balls. And “Holocene” (um, really?) is the ultimate in dumb-sensitive-guy pussy-hounding: “And at once I knew I was not magnificent/Strayed above the highway aisle/Jagged vacance, thick with ice/I could see for miles, miles, miles.” It has to be the wimpiest, most pretentious music that anyone ever called “rock”; this guy is really begging for a punch in the face.

21. “The Afterlife” – Paul Simon

Supposedly, Simon scored the comeback of the year, but I barely noticed. I’ve always admired his songwriting chops, and I love Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits the way every American with a pulse does, but I just could never be bothered with his latest exploration of the baby boomer musical tradition. Musically, it’s the expected Simon pleasantness, over which he tells a sardonic little story about the bureaucratic hell that waits the freshly deceased (“Buddha and Moses and all the noses from narrow to flat/
Had to stand in the line, just to glimpse the divine, what you think about that?”). I can see why the diehards loved this; too bad I’m not one of them.

I head back to NYC tomorrow after my European sojourn, but I plan to crank out the last two posts in this series before the end of the week. I'm making it happen, people.

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