Michael Jackson’s immense talent was so overshadowed by the freak show that became his life in the last 15 years or so and subsequent death that it’s easy to forget how remarkable he was. However, all it takes is about 30 seconds of “Much Too Soon,” the third song revealed from Dec. 14 posthumous album, “Michael,” to remind us of his remarkable talent.
The song, which Jackson penned during the “Thriller” era, is streaming on iTunesPing for a week. It’s an understated beauty. “Much Too Soon” opens with acoustic guitar and swelling, but subtle, strings (arranged by Beck’s dad, David Campbell) before going into a tale of a man who learns too late that his neglect had irreparable consequences on his relationship. Hear it here.
The spare musical bed is the perfect fit for Jackson’s restrained voice. In fact, his vocal delivery is beautiful here. He understands the key is underplaying the pain and hurt, especially at the end. There’s also a sweet Stevie Wonder-like harmonica interlude that ties the two parts together.
Jackson “always liked the song and would pull it back out of the vaults for each subsequent project, but never found the right home for it,” according to a blurb on www.michaeljackson.com.
First Jessica Simpson, then Darius Rucker and now Aaron Lewis? The Staind frontman is the latest rocker to turn country... and he’s got some mighty friends welcoming him to the fold.
Lewis’s first single, the blatantly named “Country Boy,” features George Jones and Charlie Daniels, as well as newcomer Chris Young. The video for the song debuts on CMT on Dec. 1. It is the lead-off song from “Town Line,” a five-song EP out in February on uber-producer James Stroud’s Stroudavarious Records. The set also includes a new version of Staind’s “Tangled Up in You.” We’d like to hear a country version of “It’s Been Awhile,” but that probably wouldn’t be much of a stretch.
The press release heralding Lewis’s arrival on Twang Town tries mightily to hit all the right chords to stress that Lewis isn’t a carpetbagger: He grew up in “rural Vermont.” He spent his summers with his “WWII veteran grandfather hunting and fishing.” I’m sure he rode around in a pick up truck with a gun rack on it and had a flag on his porch.
Anyway, Lewis starts a solo tour in January. Below are the tour dates.
â€¨15 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun
â€¨28 North Las Vegas, NV Aliante Casinoâ€¨
29 Temecula, CA Pechanga Casino
18, 19 Atlantic City, NJ The Borgataâ€¨
20 Westbury, NY Westbury Music Fair
3 Detroit, MI Motor City Casino
â€¨4, 5 Verona, NY Turning Stone Casino
â€¨17 Snoqualmie, WA Snoqualmie Casino Ballroomâ€¨
18 Reno, NV Silver Legacy Resort & Casinoâ€¨
19 Las Vegas, NV The Joint – Hard Rock Hotel & Casinoâ€¨
26 Walker, MN Northern Lights
â€¨14 Elizabeth, IN Horseshoe Southern Indianaâ€¨
15 Robinsonville, MS Horseshoe Tunica – Bluesville
For way longer than it seems remotely probably, the Black Eyed Peas have been crafting beat-driven, synth-laden songs that provide the anthem for a sports game or wedding/graduation/bar mitzvah party.
So there’s no reason for them to switch it up on “The Beginning,” which, despite the title, is more like “The Continuation.”
Similar to the BEP music that has come before, the songs on “The Beginning,” out today (30), are sterile and, for the most part, devoid of emotion, other than an occasional positive bromide. The lyrics are simply in service of the beats beyond supplying a catch phrase or two, such as with past smashes, “Let’s Get It Started,” “I Gotta Feeling,” or “Boom Boom Pow.”
The members of BEP—Will.I.Am, Fergie, Taboo and Apl.de.ap— are really alchemists, collecting beats from around the world, a snippet here, a synth line there, to concoct a dance party, which Fergie then weaves her serviceable voice around. Or at least that’s what happens when it works.
First single, “The Time (Dirty Bit),” gets all its pizazz from lifting “Dirty Dancing’s end-theme, “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life,” whose instantly recognizable chorus is juxtaposed with a robotic, futuristic verse. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It can be a risky gambit. Taking a beloved tune and pairing it with beats can alienate or work to draw new listeners in (see Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love.”
Sadly, the first single is also the high point of the album. To be sure, there are other flashes of inspiration and undeniable beats, but no song ever settles into a sustainable groove. Instead, the songs careen from one hammer hit to the next, using repetitive droning as connective tissue.
BEP mix up the beats in a “from-Point- A-to-Point-B” way, but there’s really no more innovation than that. Sometimes Fergie starts a song, sometimes Will.I. Am does. Sometimes there’s a hint of a reggae beat, other times a touch of ska or ‘80s dance, but that’s really about as far afield as “The Beginning” strays.
[More after the jump...]
At 15 tracks, “The Beginning” is about five songs too long, guaranteeing that at a certain point, you’ll run screaming for the exits in search of a real piano or an acoustic guitar. It’s better to mete it out in smaller, a-few-songs-at-a-time doses. It is impossible to listen to “The Beginning” from, uh, beginning to end, and not have a headache at the end from all the thumping. Having said that, it’s clear that some songs are meant for the beginning of the evening at the club, while others are definitely meant for after some mind-altering substance has kicked in (yes, “The Coming,” we’re talking to you.)
Among the notable tracks are “The Situation,” in which Fergie summons up her inner Terri Nunn. The new-wave dance rave up has nothing to do with “The Jersey Shore” and everything to do with a lover who is constantly let down by her partner.
Other influences abound. “Fashion Beats” borrows from Chic, then Fergie breaks into a rap redolent of Blondie’s “Rapture.” “Do It Like This” has a Lil Wayne feel to it in its hypnotic repetition and piercing beat. (It also liberally throws around the N word. Fair warning in case you find that offensive).
“Love You Long Time” isn’t about some hooker with a poor command of the English language, as the title would indicate, rather it’s a monotonous love song that sounds like it’s sampling the opening chords of “Lady, Lift Me Up” by the Commodores.
On “Own It,” BEP try to switch things up a bit. “Everybody is a star, it don’t matter who you are, no, keep on reaching for your dreams because it ain’t as crazy as it seems,” an auto-tuned Will.I.Am sings, as a military beat taps out in the background. It’s as inspirational a song as BEP has ever recorded.
Similarly, “The Best One Yet (The Boy)” is about celebrating the good times in life. But again, Will.I.Am seems to be channeling T.I. through half the songs. It could be a BEP anthem, but it never takes flight.
Album closer, “Play It Loud,” is, the name notwithstanding, one of the quieter tracks on the album and one of the most endearing with its U2-like guitar. When Will.I.Am sings “I pledge my allegiance to rhythm and sound,” you know he means it. You just wish he promised such equal fidelity to a little heart and soul as well.
Surprise - Nicki Minaj won't be up for best new artist this year.
Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
On Dec. 1, The Recording Academy will announce Grammy nominations including Best New Artist, but some of the most obvious names will be missing.
Nicki Minaj and Janelle Monae, both of whom would seem to be shoo-ins, won’t be on the ballot because neither meets the Recording Academy’s eligibility requirement.
Nicki Minaj isn’t allowed because her debut album, “Pink Friday,” came out after the Sept. 30 cut off. “The current eligibility requirements state that the artist must have released, as a featured performing artist, at least one album but not more than three,” according to the rules. The eligibility period for the upcoming Grammys ran Oct. 1, 2009-Sept. 30, 2010. Similarly, Bruno Mars, who also stood a strong chance, released his debut, “Doo-Wops $ Hooligans” too late.
Monae’s case is a little more complicated. She released an EP that was previously nominated, and, according to a Recording Academy representative, anyone previously nominated for a “body of work” such as an EP or full LP, is not eligible in the new artist category. Both she and Minaj are, of course, eligible in a slew of other categories.
The Recording Academy is always reviewing the eligibility requirements and updating them. For example, after Lady Gaga was ruled ineligible last year because “Just Dance” had been nominated in the dance category, the rules were changed this summer to allow an artist whose single had previously been nominated to still be eligible. The rule changes usually occur too late to help the artist whose circumstances prompt the re-examination, but we give credit to the Recording Academy that it has shown willingness to adopt and change with the times.
One of the most famous changes was to allow artists who had been featured on other acts’ records to be eligible for best new artist. That change came about after Whitney Houston was ruled ineligible for the category because she had duetted with Teddy Pendergrass. In other cases, the Academy has made the rules more restrictive. After Shelby Lynne won best new artist after her eighth album release (or something like that), the three-album limit was imposed. As we move more into the digital era and continue in a singles-driven world, we expect to see more changes. Oh, and if you’ve previously won a Grammy in any category, don’t even try to pretend you’re a new artist.
It’s a very strong field this year with no clear winner. Here’s whom we believe will be the leading nominees (with a few extra acts thrown in to hedge our bets). Five artists will get the nod. Justin Bieber: He and Drake are the leading contenders here. Bieber may suffer because of his teeny bopper status, just as the Jonas Bros. were locked out a few years ago.
B.O.B.: He’s had such a strong year, but voters may believe that much of his popularity is due to his co-stars, such as Hayley Williams, Bruno Mars or Rivers Cuomo more than due to his talents.
Drake: He’s the male Nicki Minaj in that he’s guested on so many people’s records that by the time his solo debut finally came out (and we’re no including the previous mix tapes), we felt like we already knew him.
Ke$ha: It’s a long shot because the Grammys like to pretend they’re too highbrow to recognize someone as low class as Ke$ha, but you can’t deny the impact she has had over the past year after coming out of nowhere.
Mumford & Sons: A cinch for the alternative voters, although they may not have enough mainstream support to push this British new folk outfit all the way too the top.
Florence & The Machine: She wasn’t even a possibility until she blew everyone away with her performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards in Septmeber. And now she’s a prime contender. Adele was the last female Brit to win this award two years ago.
Other possible contenders: The Avett Bros., Susan Boyle, Adam Lambert, Ryan Bingham, Jason DeRulo, Taio Cruz, Neon Trees, Orianthi, Mike Posner and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.
It would be so easy to be cynical about Justin Bieber’s new video for “Pray,” the one new song on his acoustic set, “My Worlds Acoustic.” But we come to praise the Bieb, not bury him.
The song, which we reviewed here, is a lovely testament to the power of prayer. It’s for True Believers, not just True Beliebers (sorry, we couldn’t resist), and even those sitting on the fence.
The song is Bieber’s “Man in the Mirror” moment. To be sure, “Pray” doesn’t have that staying power or that resonance of the Michael Jackson classic, but its themes of being the best self you can be (with or without a higher power) and how to affect change are the same.
[More after the jump...]
Scenes of Haiti, our troops in harm’s way, the homeless and other dispiriting images are interspersed with Bieber visiting with Make-A-Wish kids and hospitalized children. Say what you will about the kid’s talent, but it is remarkable that at 16 he is mature enough to handle spending time with a terminally ill children. Just try to look at some of the Make-A-Wish footage without crying.
Two things to look out for: it looks like our little Bieber may not be old enough to vote in the U.S. (and, oh yeah, he’s Canadian), but he’s not above making a political statement or two. One of the images features people holding up signs that read “Health Care Can’t Wait.” Is that a veiled endorsement of Obamacare (In Canada, health care is a right)? He also sings, “I pray for the life not started,” which could be interpreted as a pro-life message.
There’s no misinterpreting the final message written across the screen: “God Speaks in the Silence of the Heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” Pop and rock powers-that-be are often squirmy about unambiguous, clear religious messages for fear of their acts seeming like Bible Thumpers, but Bieber clearly is not. We don’t know if there was any label push back about any of the messages in the video, but we have a hunch he just found himself a whole bunch of new Youth for Christ fans (although, please note, he never mentions a denomination, nor the word “God.”)
Country music is not so scared to embrace religion (as long as it is Christianity), so we bet within four months, there’s a country cover of this song.
After two extremely crowded release slates, we start to see the trickle to year’s end begin. To be sure, there are still big acts putting out new sets this week, such a The Black Eyed Peas and Flo Rida, but don’t look for a near total takeover of the Billboard 200 as we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Rihanna’s “Rated R” may have been a slight commercial career slip, but with “Loud,” the Barbados singer is back, uh, loud and clear. “Loud” lands at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, but even more impressively, Rihanna scores her second No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in three weeks. After “What’s My Name,” the second single from “Loud,” reached the summit, “Only Girl (In the World,” the album’s first single, peaked at No. 1, marking the only time a debut single from an album has reached the top after the next single. More importantly, “Only Girl” is her ninth No. 1, making her the most successful artist on the Hot 100 this millennium. We don’t know how long she’ll have that record, but it sure sounds impressive.
1. Rihanna (not ranked last week): As “Only Girl (In the World)” goes to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, she sets the record for the most chart toppers on the Hot 100 for any artist in the millennium. Another week, another record.
2. Kanye West (not ranked): He can’t get out of his own way every time he opens his mouth, except for when he steps into the studio and and records groundbreaking music. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” may finally get him all the recognition he so clearly believes he deserves.
3. Black Eyed Peas (not ranked): After years of turning to middle-aged white male rockers to supply the half-time entertainment, the Super Bowl names the Black Eyed Peas as headliners for the 2011 games. That’s so “2000 and late,” but better late than never.
4. Groupon (not ranked): Amid rumors of a purchase by Google, Groupon makes major moves into the music industry by offering Rihanna’s “Loud” through its daily promotional deals for $5.
5. NKOTBBSB (not ranked): Yes, after their show-closing performing on Sunday’s American Music Awards, tickets for New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys’ joint arena tour went on sale with the July 1 Los Angeles Staples Center date selling out. Looks like they still have the right stuff.
6. Justin Bieber (not ranked): He goes four for four at the American Music Awards. The Awards, however, are not so lucky—they garner the lowest ratings in their history. Coincidence?
7. Kenny Chesney (not ranked): After taking a year off to road, Chesney returns with a vengeance by setting records for most career stadium sellouts at both Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium and Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field Stadium next year. This boy of fall just became a boy of summer.
8. The Beatles (No 1): In the Fab Four’s first week on iTunes, they sell more than 450,000 albums and 2 million individual songs worldwide. Rocky Raccoon may be the only one who doesn’t own music by the Fab Four.
9. Susan Boyle (No. 2): Despite tremendous competition, including eight new acts debuting in the top 10, Boyle continues to reign supreme on the Billboard 200, as her second week’s sales remain almost the same as her debut week. She’s the gift that keeps on giving.
10. Jackie Evancho (not ranked): Pint-sized singer with preternaturally big voice proves her “America’s Got Talent” success was no fluke as she debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Unlike “American Idol,” this reality show still sells albums for its contestants.
Rihanna knocks Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” out of the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and makes a little history in the process.
“Only Girl (In the World)” jumps to No. 1 this week, giving Rihanna her second single from “Loud” to hit the top spot. Two weeks ago, “What’s My Name” featuring Drake was at No. 1. "Loud" debuts at No. 3 this week on the Billboard 200.
This marks the first time that an album’s second single made it to the summit before the debut single, according to Billboard. Additionally, Rihanna is the first female to score four No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100 in a calendar year. Usher has also achieved that feat. “Only Girl” is her ninth single to reach the top since 2000, making Rihanna the leader among all artists for the most No. 1s in the millennium.
Has Rihanna made a real come back? Are you over "Like a G6" yet?