Billy Joel

A Tale of Two Billy Joel Reviews and a Happy Ending

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Joel takes the Hollywood Bowl by storm

Five years ago, about six weeks after HitFix launched, I reviewed a Billy Joel concert at the opening of a new venue at Agua Caliente Casino in Palm Springs.

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Nicki Minaj

Watch: Nicki Minaj's 'Pills N Potions' lyric video

First of two lyric videos highlights the pills more than the potions

Nicki Minaj has released the first of two lyric videos for her strong new single, “Pills N Potions.”

The lyrics pop up over stills of liquor bottles, cigarette smoke, pills, and other shots of club exteriors, apartment interiors, the New York skyline, and cocktail glasses.  No telling if these shots hint at the story line of the full video coming or if these images stand alone.

The song, which we reviewed here, is the first single from Minaj’s third full-length album, “The Pink Print,” which is coming later this year.

 

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Mariah Carey

Album Review: Mariah Carey: 'Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse'

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Was the over-stuffed album worth the five-year wait?

It’s been a long wait filled with fits and starts for Mariah Carey’s new album, first titled “The Art Of Letting Go,” and now, awkwardly called “Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse.” Yes, I know the background behind the title and she could have gone with “Me,” or “I Am Mariah” or “The Elusive Chanteuse,” but all three is a bit of overkill.  And so it is with the album. At 14 tracks on the standard edition, Carey is determined to show us all of her tricks, between her multiple-octave range  and her “I’m still really street, R&B” side (not to mention that she can still rock a crocheted bathing suit).

The album succeeds in many levels, but on some songs—“Cry,” “Camouflage,” “It’s A Wrap” (a duet with Mary J. Blige on the Deluxe version), the lyrics read like journal entries that don’t scan well with the melodies and seem crammed in to fit. Carey could have used a good editor.

To her credit, working with lots of producers —there are at least 12 here— doesn’t dilute the album’s cohesiveness, since that unifying factor is Carey’s vocals. The bigger issue here is the consistent need to throw in every bit of studio gimmickry into almost very track. There is precious little space on these tracks. Carey’s voice is such a force of nature, there’s no need to surround it with so many overlapping bells and whistles that often serve to distract rather than enhance.

Carey has crafted an album, her first since 2009’s “Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel,” that doesn’t feel progressive or groundbreaking in any way (despite Carey’s almost seemingly pathological need to remain current with hip-hop trends), but also is so much better than all the delays would have led us to believe.  Was it worth the wait? Yes, if you're a Carey fan. And it’s a reminder that Mimi remains a powerful force.

Here's a track-by-track review:

“Cry”:  The album opener is an organ-drenched gospel inflected tune that builds nicely as Carey details a heart break that leaves both parties tender and bruised.  The lyrics get unwieldy, but for the most part the ballad is a reminder that Carey has a voice that remains unmatched in pop. It’s one of the few tracks that isn’t over saturated by needless production elements. GRADE: B+

“Faded”: Just as their love has faded, so has Carey’s memory as she looks at photos of a lost love in this chugging mid-tempo ballad, co-produced by Mike Will Made-It, with a relatively light touch. Should be a fall single. GRADE: B

“Dedicated,” featuring Nas: The two titans look back at the summer of 1988, which Nas calls “My most nostalgic moment of hip-hop music ever,” in the intro before the two turn back time to 26 (!!!) years ago in a sweet duet that the label should have released for summer. The lilting track rambles along without a particularly catchy hook but feels made to be blaring out of car speakers.  Nas, no stranger to controversy, throws it down by rapping:  “We don’t wish today’s game was old again, we just wish it wasn’t filled with draconian, babylonian phony-men.” It’s not the album’s strongest track, but it has an effortless charm —and fun Wu-Tang samples— that propel it over some of the other tracks that sound so labored.  GRADE: B+

“#Beautiful,” featuring Miguel: This swaying, toe-tapping former single deserved to be a bigger hit than it was (it peaked at No. 15) as Carey and Miguel sexily coo and flirt over a retro-sounding track about how looks matter. She also likes that her bad boy runs red lights when she’s on the back of his bike. And he like her ass. True. It shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but their talents raise the song. GRADE: B+

“Thirsty”: Rapper Rich Homie Quan comes in at the beginning and in the middle, but the star is Carey’s delivery. Her vocals glide over a very busy synth track, airy as a butterfly, but her words are lethal. The stuttering background track that runs under  the whole tune, often like an irritating mosquito buzz, is part of Hit-Boy’s signature production, but this put down of a man who used to be a considerate lover but is now all about celebrity deserves more of the spotlight. GRADE: B

“Make It Look Good”: Carey goes old school on this dreamy mid-tempo track that will charm long time fans. With a doo-wap feel and Stevie Wonder on harmonica, “Make It Look Good” is a throw back to an earlier time and an earlier Carey, Care-free and swaying. Top 40 radio wouldn’t touch it now, which is a shame. This would have been a smash in the mid-90s.  GRADE: B+

“You’re Mine (Eternal)”: The mid-tempo tune, co-written and co-produced with Rodney Jerkins, is a breathless, throbbing quiet storm of a song that relies more on its hypnotic charm than Carey's vocal pyrotechnics. GRADE: B-

“You Don’t Know What To Do,” featuring Wale: The song starts off classic Mariah as she sassily wails about dumping her man because he doesn’t know what to do when it comes to romancing his lady. Wale then comes in with the male’s perspective rapping about how he wants another chance. Carey comes back as the song shifts into an uptempo R&B pop track making clear that he is way too late since she used to love him, but she feels brand new now that she’s set loose her man.  Playful and  fun. GRADE: B+

“Supernatural”: A love letter to her now three-year old twins, who giggle and coo throughout the song, “Supernatural” also works as a romantic love letter as Carey sings, over a tinkling synth, about a love that makes everything else pale in comparison. The track will strike you as indulgent or delightfully sweet depending upon where you fall on the “kids as props” spectrum. GRADE: B-

“Meteorite”: With the insistent disco beat and other flourishes, “Meteorite” sounds like a Donna Summer outtake —and that’s high praise. The mid-tempo disco track features Carey with a straight-ahead, non-stratospheric vocal. All the elements are there for the song to achieve maximum lift-off, but it doesn’t… maybe a high energy remix would help. Tremendous unrealized potential on this track, co-produced by Carey and Q-Tip. GRADE: B-

“Camouflage”: Carey holds nothing back vocally here on this ballad about keeping her pain hidden as a love affair falls apart. From the calling-all-dogs high notes to the sustained notes, it’s all here.  And it’s all a bit much when you wade through a choir, layers of singing, and echo-y effects. It starts off lovely and spare, but as each element is added in, it begins to sag. Would have been better if it had stayed simpler. GRADE: B-

“Money ($*/…),” featuring Fabolous: Carey is reduced to guest on her own tune here as Fabolous and a squonking horn steal the show here as he exhorts, “C’mon Mariah, let’s get higher.”  Love trumps money, at the end of the day in this repetitive Hit-Boy track (or does it, as Fabolous raps about coming home “to your money.”  GRADE: C

“One More Try”: Carey likes to throw in the occasional cover of a power ballad from the past: Journey’s “Open Arms” way back in 1996 or Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” on “Memoirs.” Here she tackles George Michael’s 1988 hit, “One More Try.” She stays pretty faithful to the original, but the track has a cheesy roller-skating back beat and backing vocals that distract from her solid vocal performance and take away from the underlying weight and slight creepiness of Michael’s version.  GRADE:  C

“Heavenly (No Ways Tired/Can’t Give Up Now)”: The standard version of the album wraps with this gospel track that includes a full choir and samples from the late Rev. James Cleveland and addresses fortitude in the face of struggles. Like many of the tracks, it starts out fine, but then it builds to a busy mess (turntable scratching, really? ) that overshadows the positive, uplifting message.  GRADE: B-

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Coldplay

Coldplay and Brantley Gilbert add up to big album numbers on next week's chart

Sales heat up as big titles drop

As the thermometer heats up, so does the album chart as the top two debuts will both sell more than 200,000 copies.

Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories” will likely sell between 370,000 and 390,000 copies, the most of any album this year, to bow at No. 1.

In almost any other week, Brantley Gilbert’s “Just As I Am” would have bowed at No. 1 by selling around 200,000 copies, but will have to settle for No. 2 (although it will debut at No. 1 on Billboard Country Albums).

Two other debuts will start in the Top 10: Phillip Phillips’ “Behind The Light” and the soundtrack to “The Fault In Our Stars” at No 7 (40,000) and No. 8 (24,000).

The rest of the Top 10 features recurrents. Michael Jackson’s “Xscape” drops from No. 2 to No. 3 (85,000) and the “Frozen” soundtrack stays at No. 4 (65,000). “Now 50” will be at No. 5 (55,000) and this week’s No. 1, The Black Keys’ “Turn Blue” drops to No. 6 (50,000). Rascal Flatts’ “Rewind” falls to No. 9 (24), while Iggy Azalea’s climbs back up into the Top 10, rising 14-10 (22,000), according to Hits Daily Double.

The Roots’ “And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” barely misses the Top 10, likely coming in at No. 12.

 

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Austin Mahone

Austin Mahone's song/video 'All I Ever Need' is best song Justin Bieber never cut

Sweet ballad turns into love letter to his fans


Austin Mahone is one of those acts that if you’re over 21 and/or male, it’s easy to completely have him off your radar, but as his video for “All I Ever Need” shows, there are thousands upon thousands of fans who love having the 18-year old in their lives.

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Ariana Grande
Credit: Republic Records

5 requirements for a great summer song

Whether it's School's Out,' 'Get Lucky' or 'Problem'


As we unofficially kick off summer with Memorial Day Weekend, it’s time to think about what the unofficial song of the summer will be.

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Caleb Johnson

'American Idol' winner Caleb Johnson's debut album set for August release

Does a shorter release window work better?

Fans of “American Idol” season 13 winner Caleb Johnson won’t have long to wait for the newly crowned king’s debut album.

Johnson’s self-titled album will come out Aug. 12. Anyone remember a winner’s set coming out that quickly before? Not only that, the release date was announced mere hours after Johnson was throned last night.

Given that “Idol” no longer has the shiny new car smell it once had, 19 Recordings/Interscope Records, which is putting out the release, must want to strike while Johnson’s victory is still fresh in people’s minds. No word on when Interscope will release runner-up Jena Irene’s album.

Judge Harry Connick asked Johnson last week what kind of album he’d like to make and he replied, unsurprisingly, a rock album of originals. He’s off to a good start with his “Idol” finale song, “As Long As You Love Me,” written by The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins and produced by Howard Benson.

Of course, we’ll see if that release date actually happens. Last season’s winner, Candice Glover, was initially slated to release her album even faster, in July 2013, but it didn’t surface until February 2014, and despite her having a great, soulful voice, the album hasn’t achieved much success, and, in fact, sold the least amount in its opening frame of any debut album released by an "Idol" winner.

Season 11 winner, Phillip Phillips, released his debut six months after his victory and the November album went platinum, in addition to single “Home” reaching quadruple-platinum certification. Phillips just released his second album last week.

Scotty McCreery, who won Season 10, also put out his debut album the fall after his win. Released in October 2011, “Clear As Day,” also went platinum. McCreery's fellow contestant, Pia Toscano, was shockingly eliminated early on in the competition and quickly signed to Interscope who couldn't capitalize on the immediate heat that surrounded the singer. After a single failed to catch fire, Toscano was dropped from Interscope last year.

Of course, before Johnson's album comes out, he'll take part in the obligatory American Idol Live tour, which starts June 24 in Binghampton, N.Y. and features this season's finalists.

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Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran's puppet twin is living the life in 'Sing' video: Watch

Strippers, limos, confetti vomit and more

Ed Sheeran and his puppet doppelgänger are living quite the life in Sheeran’s video for “Sing.”

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Kanye West

UPDATED: Kanye West, Kings of Leon headline Budweiser Made in America fest in Philly

Los Angeles gets Kendrick Lamar, Rise Against, Weezer and Capital Cities

Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Pharrell Williams, and Tiesto will headline Budweiser Made in America festival at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Parkway, Aug. 30-31.

The festival, curated by Jay Z, will also feature The National, Steve Aoki, J. Cole, Girl Talk, Spoon, Chromeo, City and Colour, Grimes, AWOLNATION, R3HAB, Gareth Emery, De La Soul, Baauer, Tommy Trash, Mayer Hawthorne, Kongos, 3LAU, The Neighborhood, Danny Brown, YG, Holy Ghost, Penguin Prison, Destructo, Bleachers, DJ Cassidy, Cherub, Will Sparks, Young & Sick, Vacationer, Cut Snake, Kaneholler.

For the first time, Made In America will be held in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles event, also held Aug. 30-31, will feature Kendrick Lamar, Rise Against, Weezer, and Sublime with Rome as headliners. Among the others on the bill are Capital Cities, Chance the Rapper, Cypress Hill, Mute Math, Rita Ora, Nipsey Hussle, Dr. Dog, Hit-Boy and several more.

 

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Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's 'Love Never Felt So Good' sets chart records

Coldplay also has a hit on its hands

Both Michael Jackson and Coldplay enter the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.

“Love Never Felt So Good,” a duet between the late Jackson and Justin Timberlake” featured on Jackson’s “Xscape,” rockets 22-9 on the Hot 100, while Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” from new album “Ghost Stories,” vaults 43 -10.

But back to Jackson for a minute: with “Love Never Felt So Good’s” ascent, Jackson makes history as the only artist to hit the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 in five consecutive decades, according to Billboard. His first  Top 10, “Got to Be There,” which peaked at No. 4, was in 1971. Five other artists have scored Top 10s in four consecutive decades: Barbra Streisand, Cher, Aerosmith, Madonna, and Whitney Houston.

Jackson’s feat helps him extend a record he already held: the longest span between first and most recent appearance in the Top 10. His distance is now 42 weeks, six months, and one week. Santana is a far second at 33 years and eight months.

“Love Never Felt So Good” is Jackson’s 29th Hot 100 top 10 and Timberlake’s 22nd, including ’N Sync hits. Madonna has the most Hot 100 top 10s at 38.

None of this diminishes the accomplishments of John Legend, whose “All of Me” holds at No. 1 for the third week. Iggy Azalea occupies No. 2 and No. 3 as “Fancy,” featuring Charli XCX, climbs 3-2 and Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” featuring Azalea,” rises 4-3.

Azalea’s action pushes down former chart topper, “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams 2-4.

DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What” returns to its peak, rising 6-5, trading places with Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” featuring Juicy J.  Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” featuring 2 Chainz, stays at No. 7, while Timberlake’s “Not A Bad Thing” holds at No. 8.

 

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