Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lotus | Christina Aguilera

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Two years after the release of her least-popular album to date, Christina Aguilera has finally tried once again to release a solid album. However, her new release, Lotus, might face the same fate that Bionic did.

The biggest reason I picked up Lotus in the first place was its lead single, "Your Body." But before I spent the money on the album, I decided to watch Aguilera perform at the American Music Awards, so I could get a good sample of what it would sound like. 

When I found out that Aguilera was booked to perform at the American Music Awards, I was hoping that she had finally picked up the pieces and was able to crack out a good live performance. However, I was apparently fighting a losing battle. The performance opened with Aguilera, donning a fake-looking spray tan and a platinum blond wig with bangs, lip-syncing to the auto-tuned vocals of "Lotus Intro." The lip-syncing was extremely obvious, and she looked like a hot mess in that wig. This lead into a medley of "Army of Me" and "There Will Be Love." The performance of "Army of Me" brought a quick costume change for Aguilera, when she slid into an unflattering corset-looking garment, fishnets, and knee-high boots. The song was alright vocally, but it was nothing stunning. Then in "Let There Be Love," she gave up entirely, letting the majority of the vocals come from her back-up singers, and chose to rather just scream and shake around a bit.  The entire thing was a giant mess.

The performance didn't impress me at all, but I still held out hope that Lotus would turn out to be a solid album. So, I fought my way through the Black Friday crowds and got a copy of the album on sale. When I began to listen to it, I was met with an album that was about as impressive as the performance.

Many songs on Lotus were plagued with massive amounts of auto-tune. I am completely okay with artists using auto-tune simply for effect, which Aguilera did with "Lotus Intro." (But as I said before, when an artist does this, they definitely shouldn't try to lip-sync to it in a live performance, because it just looks dumb.) Although the auto-tune "Lotus Intro" doesn't bother me, there are many other songs on the album that just shouldn't have these heavy amounts of auto-tune, such as "Cease Fire" and "Circles." I would actually like both of those songs if it wasn't for all of the edits to Aguilera's voice.

There were very few stand-out songs, but one of them was "Army of Me," which is a song that actually lets Aguilera sing without any manipulations to her voice. When she actually tries, Christina Aguilera can sing pretty well, and this really shows in "Army of Me." She can easily belt out the held-out notes of the chorus without limitations, which I really like. Lyrically, it follows the theme of "Lotus Intro," and is another self-empowerment tune.

"Your Body" was the another impressive song, which I fell in love in with when it dropped as the first single from Lotus a few months ago. I was hoping that the song would be representative of the quality of the rest of album, but I was wrong. The song could be compared to another highlight from the album called "Let There Be Love," as they are contain a nice combination of electronic and R&B influences, and both have very provocative and sexual lyrics.

When taking a look at the album as a whole, many of the songs sound too similar and seem to blend together, with the exception of the three aforementioned highlights. The only songs switched gears were "Blank Page" and "Just a Fool," which acted as a marketing campaign for The Voice duet with fellow judge from The Voice, Blake Sheldon. The rest of the album is just a bland platter of cheap copies of "Let There Be Love" and "Your Body," to be completely honest. This being said, the album just doesn't cut it. And I have a feeling that if Christina Aguilera doesn't get her act together and put out a half-way decent album next time around, we won't be seeing much of her for much longer. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Paradise | Lana Del Rey

Rating: ★★★★★

This is a review of the eight-track Paradise EP. I have already reviewed Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, which you can read here.

When Lana Del Rey released her debut album, Born To Die, earlier this year, I instantly fell in love with her. So when I found out that she was releasing another new album a few months ago, I began to anxiously await for its arrival, and after spending the past month regularly listening to the leaked snippets of the songs off of Paradise, I finally have had the opportunity to listen to the album.

The first track of the album, "Ride," also served as the first single for the album. I gave a very brief review of the song and its accompanying video a while back, and you can read it here. The songwriting in "Ride" is beautiful. The lyrics can take multiple different meanings from listeners. The chorus of the song leads me to believe that the song is about not knowing what decisions to make in life and ignoring mistakes. But then again, the first verse of the song makes me want to believe that the song covers unstable relationships. Either way, the song is astonishing and did better on the charts than I expected. "Ride" has reached the #30 spot on the Billboard Rock Songs chart, and it is actually the first of Lana's singles to even chart in the United States since her debut single "Video Games" in 2011.

"Cola," which was tentatively named "Pussy" for a while before the title was censored, is clearly a very controversial song due to its lyrical content. Many critics have stamped the song as lazy and claimed that it lacked creativity. I, for one, beg to differ. These critics made a premature judgement due to the opening lyrics, "My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola/My eyes are wide like cherry pies," but there's so much more to the song. Judging by the rest of the lyrics, I'm taking an assumption that overall, the song is about a woman cheating on a relationship, specifically with an older man. I love the song's seductive sound, and of course, I always like a little controversy.

"Body Electric" allows Lana to slide from note to note simply for effect, and when she sings it live, it can actually sound pretty demented. The lyrics of the song, some of which were inspired by a poem written by Walt Whitman in 1855 called "I Sing The Body Electric," are metaphoric and edgy, and furthermore, it has a riveting chorus that cannot be matched by any other Lana Del Rey song. The chorus features the repetition of the line "I sing the body electric," while a combination of drums, guitars and strings make up the instrumental backing track. This song is the best song on the album, as many fans may agree.

Continuing on, "Gods & Monsters" was another track that I thoroughly enjoyed. The song is slower and also carries a combination of strings and drums in its instrumental track, just as "Body Electric" did. The lyrical content of the song is quite shocking. From lines like "In the land of gods and monsters/I was an angel/Living in the garden of evil," to "Me and God, we don't get along/So now I sing," the song is a lyrical masterpiece, and could easily spark some more controversy with the latter line.

One of the final songs on the album, "Yayo," was not actually written for Paradise. A version of the song was originally recorded for one of Lana's first independent albums, Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant. However, the record was released under an independent label and failed miserably, so Lana bought back the rights to the album and ceased sales of it. But, she decided to resurrect and re-record "Yayo" for Paradise. The song's title is slang for cocaine: something that Lana references in her work frequently. It's a very calm and dreary song, but the song is about a cocaine addiction, so the style fits the lyrics very well.

Despite how amazing Paradise is, major Lana Del Rey fans have somehow found things to complain about, with many of them targeting "Yayo" Many arguments included comparisons to the version for "Yayo" that was included on Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant. I've heard both versions of the song, and they aren't all that different. The only major differences I can distinguish between the two recordings are a few note changes and the major reverberation in the vocals of the Paradise rendition of "Yayo." The note changes really aren't a huge deal, but the reverberation on Lana's vocals doesn't sound too great. To be completely honest, I do prefer the original recording of "Yayo" over the one on Paradise, but for people who haven't heard Lana's older work, it's a nice little glimpse to what Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant sounds like.

"Body Electric" was also slaughtered by fans. Personally, I think "Body Electric" is completely flawless, but most of the comments I have seen from fans on multiple forums and websites have said that they  prefer the live version of the song rather than the studio version. In actuality, the studio version of the song is of higher quality than the live version, considering the epic instrumentation and the fact that the vocals actually sound nice and strong in the studio version. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it's obviously true that Lana sounds much better in the studio than singing live.

Overall, Paradise exceeded my expectations in every aspect.  The songwriting was outstanding and the production of the album was far superior to that of Born To Die. It seemed like almost all of the songs were stand-outs on the album, making this Lana Del Rey's strongest release to date. Although some pessimistic fans might try to drag the album down with petty comparisons, those comments shouldn't compel anyone from picking up this album. Paradise has easily become my favorite release of this year, and one of my favorite albums of all time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Halcyon | Ellie Goulding



★★★☆☆

EDIT: I have recently had a change on heart on this album, and gave it a follow-up review and a new and improved rating. To see some of my newer views on it, please click here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Red | Taylor Swift

Rating: ★★★★☆

I wrote a review last month when Taylor Swift dropped "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," and since then, my anticipation has been building for Red.

When details about the album started spilling out, one massive detail caught my eye right away: the name Max Martin. Max Martin has created some of the world's most iconic songs, and is the writer behind many of the songs of Britney Spears, the and Backstreet Boys. He has collaborated with many of today's popular artists such as P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne. And now, he has helped Swift with Red.

Please note, I said the he helped Taylor Swift write and produce Red. Some people have been under the impression that Swift had given up with the songwriting process of her music, and let people like Martin and Shellback take over. Luckily, although Swift has shifted to writing with new personnel, each song has still had input from Swift. One thing I really appreciate is when an artist's name also appears in the credits for actually writing the songs. When an artist sits back and lets other people write their material for them, it just seems extremely lazy to me. Many basic bitches of today's music industry, (for example, Rihanna and the aforementioned Britney Spears), simply lend their voice to a song. They have no emotional connection to the work, and they're literally there for the money.

Many people also said that with Red, Taylor Swift has started to "sell out". In my mind, "selling out" is singing songs that don't have any meaning to the singer and just doing something for money. Swift is definitely not pursing her musical career for money, nor is she singing songs written solely by other people. So to all of the people saying that Taylor Swift has "sold out" and isn't talented, once the name Robyn Fenty starts showing up in songwriting credits, you all can come talk to me about Taylor Swift and her songwriting abilities and production team.

Going onto the actual album, Swift has really tried to experiment with her status as a country-crossover artist, and Red pushed a few more boundaries than I expected. In fact, a few of the boundaries Red played with have been sitting untouched since Shania Twain's Come on Over and Up!. In many different ways, Swift is easily taking the place as today's Twain, and is clearly living up to the title.

Even after listening to the entire album, my favorite song on the album is still "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." As noted at the beginning of this review, I loved it to the point that I wrote a review of the song it when it was released as a single, which you can read here. If you don't want to read that entire review, I'll paraphrase it in the next paragraph.

In "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the lyrics and the meaning were what surprised me, not the song's style. For once, we see a Swift that isn't playing the heartbroken victim or love-struck teenage girl in high school. In the song, Swift is actually the one who is doing the heartbreaking, which is why I think I like the song so much.

Actually, this change in lyrical meaning is shown throughout the entirety of Red. Most of the songs on Swift's previous albums detail the blossoming of a relationship, having a major crush on someone, or being devastated after a break up. Many of Red's songs are vengeful, and it's almost like Taylor Swift has finally graduated high school and has stopped feeling the giant urge to be loved by someone constantly. Red shows a giant change in attitude towards love since Swift's self-entitled record that was released six years ago.

Moving on, "I Knew You Were Trouble" is definitely another one of the best tracks on the album. The song is the farthest that Swift travels from her native country music on the album. I absolutely love the dubstep bass drop in the chorus, and the overall style of the song. The guitars and drums in the verses of the song contradict the dubstep-esque chorus, which threw me off a bit, but overall the song flowed nicely. I would also like to note that Swift's voice blends just as well with dubstep beats as it does with a simple guitar.

Many longtime fans of Swift are actually listeners of country music rather than pop music. Due to this fact, I can tell that "Begin Again" was lifted from the album as a single simply to regain the eye of country music fans, many of which had revolted against "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." The song is a nice slower song,  and it does end the album well, but it isn't the appropriate material to be a single.

Another slower song on the album is a typical crossover song called "Treacherous," and it is one of my favorites from the album. The repeated bridge of the song is the most likable part of the song, where the instruments because heavier and the vocals become stronger. Overall, it's just an amazing song.

For the most part, I did enjoy Red, but I do wish that more songs like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" made their way onto the album. I find myself always skipping over a lot of the songs just to listen to the album's pop songs, and as much as I do like a good old Taylor Swift country song, I like Swift's pop songs a lot more. Sadly, Red only has a few majorly-experimental pop songs, while the rest of the songs on the album play it safe as typical crossover songs. I want to stress, those crossover songs aren't bad, but just weren't what I was expected after hearing the album's lead single. All of this aside, Red was a solid attempt from Swift, and is the best Swift record to date.