Hoo boy, what a week. Sorry for the bit of a delay, as I was traveling abroad. While away, the newest album from Queens of the Stone Age dropped, new singles from Frank Ocean and Thirty Seconds to Mars appeared, and wait, what’s this? That classic snake Taylor Swift slithered her way back into our world, dropping a single out of the blue and premiering the video at the MTV VMAs. It’s quite the week, and we even snuck in a new Maroon 5 single before press time!
Taylor Swift – “Look What You Made Me Do”
Well, the biggest news of the past week was the debut of a new song by the queen of the news cycle. She started immediately after her trial by tweeting images of snakes, and then announcing a title for her upcoming album Reputation. With plenty of ink spilt over Swift’s deemed character image, one that supposedly has been crafted and cultivated like no pop star ever before, it makes sense that the next step is to call out all the haters. She’s 27, and as you near your thirties, it’s the time a lot of people find themselves ready to ditch the dead weight friends holding them back from realizing their full potential. The one interesting thing here, is that after Kesha’s recent stellar album that celebrating being the most independent woman you can be, it feels like this is a sputter in comparison. I’m not saying that Kesha’s work overshadows Swift’s per se, although there are inevitably people unable to separate comparisons. I think this is good in many ways, as her vocals are still top notch, while the inventiveness around the strange Right Said Fred hook actually allows us to see how much more she’s grown since 2014’s 1989. Besides, the above video is a piece of pop art, genuflecting to her past endeavors. Hopefully now that she’s got this out of her system, the rest of the album will have what she does best, without the vindication.
Demi Lovato – “Tell Me You Love Me”
There’s not much to be said about Lovato’s latest, a slight cut on the more traditional side of her stylings. Where as the last single “Sorry Not Sorry” continued her run of “fuck it throw caution to the wind” ballads, this is more of a small ditty that feels more like a filler track for the middle of the album. Good news is that Lovato gives it her all, belting out lyrics in an almost baritone growl. Despite the pedantic lyrics, this is a pretty solid inclusion for her upcoming album. It just might not be the most memorable, in the end.
Fifth Harmony – Fifth Harmony
Unfamiliar with much of their oeuvre, it did not dissuade me from diving into this pop-driven quartet (and yes, they’re a foursome now – I adore the fact they didn’t downgrade their numerical nom de plume) and theire new album. While it’s not my typical cup of tea, there are several bright points on here, and fans of this funk style of pop will certainly be pleased. Interesting to this week specifically, my favorite song on this is the antithesis to Demi Lovato’s new single, and yet they almost say the same thing. Most tracks are romance with a cynical edge, and I can tell they’ve grown since the one song I knew them for, “Sledgehammer”. Maturity suits them, and we know they’ve been there for a while, but the music here is something special.
Key Tracks: Don’t Say You Love Me / Make You Mad / Lonely Night
Thirty Seconds to Mars – “Walk on Water”
I guess winning an Oscar goes to your head sometimes? No, I know, Jared Leto’s lyrics have often been a bit bombastic, so it’s no surprise this Messiah complexplite is the first track from their long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS. After all, Jared Leto must feel on top of the world even with the mixed-reviews for his iteration of the Joker. Who knows? Either way, if you’re a fan of their past work, it’s solid, and I could see some newcomers falling back into their earlier work after hearing this stadium anthem. It’ll be a perfect opening song for their tour, one that amps up the crowd before their meatier stuff.
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
Ever since the great single “The Way You Used to Do” dropped back in April, this has been one of my most highly anticipated albums coming into the end of summer. Good for us, then, that it delivers on all its Faustian promises. Right from the beginning a howl beckons from the deep, as Josh Homme hopes his “Feet Don’t Fail Me”. Next up is the aforementioned fantastic single, and the roar of Dean Fertita’s guitar bursts forth, elevating the rock to supernatural levels. The eerie tone pervades your headphones, the sparse song count belies a lengthy stay with rock’s crown princes of darkness. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re unfamiliar, let me be the devil on your shoulder. Villains is the best Queens album in years, and perhaps the best pure rock album of 2017.
Key Tracks: Head Like a Haunted House / Domesticated Animals / Fortress
Frank Ocean – “Provider”
So I never really got into Frank, although I completely get why people do. He’s chill as hell, speaks truth, and generally has everything you’d want in an entertainer. I still don’t find him to be my cup of tea, and I can’t really categorize him into something in order to say what I like better. I just know he’s one of the greats of our time, even if it does nothing for me. “Provider” has pretty much what you’d expect from his previous stuff, albeit there’s an interesting section towards the end where he nearly whispers out the remainder of his soul for us. Quiet, contemplative music has a place in today’s market, and I’m glad it’s not like he’s selling out by forcing a stadium sound out of his brand. Lucky for us, there’s been plenty to go around of Ocean, so despite my taste, there’s plenty to look forward to for fans.
Maroon 5 – “What Lovers Do” (feat. SZA)
If you’re ever hoping for a return to form for Maroon 5, that ship sailed in the last decade. With Adam Levine’s superstar shooting into the stratosphere, there was never going to be anything but pop fluff left for the band that once nearly disbanded because there was “nothing left to say”. Clearly the words remained, but the band more or less looks like a cash machine these days. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the band I expected them to turn out to be. Much like Coldplay, the group has formed themselves to be an entertainment vessel, capable of performing generic pop beats at the drop of a hat. Kudos to them for monetizing their sound, but even with this newest forgettable hook, there’s nothing left to redeem them.
Beyond this, new tracks from Beck, Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus and Sleeping with Sirens anticipate their fall albums with aplomb. Tune in next week when we have the full-length return of LCD Soundsystem, catching up with Iron and Wine, and plenty more.