by Dylan Looney
Hey there! You’re reading the first post of my new music blog. I’ve been writing, playing, listening to, and analyzing music most of my life, and I appreciate everyone at the East Tennessean for giving me this outlet. I look forward to writing this weekly blog, and I’ll try my best to keep it informative and entertaining. For my first entry, I’ll be reviewing the current top ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s funny to imagine my fourteen-year-old “metal-or-nothing” self analyzing the current hits, but as I’ve grown older and matured, my musical horizons have broadened. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always a time and place for some Megadeth, but I’ve learned to recognize a good pop song when I hear one. So, here’s the Top Ten for the week of February 21, 2015.
- “Uptown Funk!”- Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, this song JAMS! From the a capella bass opening to the song’s climax, “Uptown Funk!” is destined to be a party-starter and a dance-floor filler for many years to come. While many pop collaborations turn into either a big mess or one artist carrying the other(s), Ronson’s instrumentation and production are flawless, while Bruno Mars delivers vocals with all the energy and swagger of a young James Brown. Mars sings, “Don’t believe me? Just watch!” followed by an instrumental hook that may have been designed in a NASA laboratory to get a body moving. Last year, Daft Punk channeled a similar 70s disco sound for their excellent mega-hit, “Get Lucky.” Ronson and Mars build on that formula and create something much more energetic and fun.
My Score: 5/5
- “Thinking Out Loud”- Ed Sheeran
British pop star Ed Sheeran has gone through quite the metamorphosis, hasn’t he? From the softer-than-Charmin “Lego House” to last year’s “Don’t” is quite a change. His current hit “Thinking Out Loud” seems to split the difference between the two. The blues-light instrumentation is a welcome change of pace from the cold, synth-heavy sounds of much of pop radio. In fact, it reminds me of something 90s blues phenom Jonny Lang would do. While I mentioned “Uptown Funk!” filling dance floors, “Thinking Out Loud” has that capability, too. However, this time, I see it as the soundtrack to many a middle school and high school slow dance. While they certainly couldn’t be kissed “under the light of a thousand stars,” they can still awkwardly sway at arm’s length.
My Score: 3.5/5
- “Take Me to Church”- Hozier
Irish songwriter Hozier’s debut smash “Take Me to Church” adds a slight Gothic flavor to the typical 2010s indie-pop hit formula. The loud and prominent beat competes with a choir to create some shaky production. All the while, Hozier delivers lyrics full of religious imagery that sound more like he wants you to believe it’s about something deep instead of actually being meaningful. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not really a great one either. I found it rather boring.
My Score: 2.5/5
4. “Sugar”- Maroon 5
In the past few years, it seems that Maroon 5 has gone from a band to an Adam Levine solo project. Both musically and visually, the rest of the band has taken a very distant backseat to their reality-star frontman. Although I would like for the band to have a bigger presence, “Sugar” proves that Levine is a talented singer and pop songwriter. The laid-back, mid-tempo groove mixes well with The Voice judge’s vocals, which can get pretty high into the falsetto range. “Sugar” is a solid pop song and is better than most of the group’s recent output.
My Score: 3.5/5
- “Blank Space”- Taylor Swift
I don’t think I’m the right person to review this. Many of my female friends see Taylor’s 1989 like it’s Sgt. Pepper’s rolled in Back in Black and deep-fried in The Wall. I just don’t get it. Then again, I’m pretty sure I’m not in her primary target audience. On her single, “Blank Space,” Ms. Swift discusses how she could “show you incredible things” to a well-crafted melody on the verses over one of those cold, basic, 2010s pop instrumentals I discussed earlier. The sound is much different than her early days as a teen country artist, but the lyrical content is still the same ol’ Taylor. It seems like it’s her eternally-in-high-school lyrics that keep her fans coming back for more.
My Score: 2.5/5
- “FourFiveSeconds”- Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Kanye West
While I’m sure Kanye jumped at the chance to further inflate his ego with this collaboration, Mr. Kardashian really seems to be out this element on this track. Sir Paul’s stamp is all over the melody and the tasteful acoustic guitar, and Rihanna’s voice sounds better than I’ve ever heard it. In fact, it absolutely shines. However, Kanye should’ve just handled production or even rapped a verse. It’s strange how while West wants to be seen along with the greats, he doesn’t even put his best foot forward. His awkward, auto-tuned vocals come across like a guy singing Usher at a failed American Idol audition and weighs down an otherwise good song.
My Score: 3.5/5
- “Lips are Movin’”- Meghan Trainor
Trainor’s attempt at a follow-up to her debut hit seems to be doing well on the charts, but it isn’t matching the huge success of “All About that Bass,” which is unfortunate but not surprising. While “Lips Are Movin’” is similar in style to “Bass,” (even down to referencing it in the chorus) it lacks the novelty value that skyrocketed the song into success. Meghan has a very soulful voice, giving great tone with the track’s catchy “deny-ny-ny”s, but it’s a shame to waste her energy on the downright cringe-worthy introductory “rap” portion. I hate to say it, but it seems she’s setting herself up to be a one-hit wonder.
My Score: 2/5
- “I’m Not the Only One”- Sam Smith
Propelled by critical acclaim and hits like “I’m Not the Only One” and “Stay with Me,” Sam Smith was a big winner at the Grammys earlier this month. “I’m Not the Only One” has some wonderful, relaxing instrumentation that reminds me of the classic Motown sound, while the melody and chord progressions bring to mind Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” Smith’s voice tends to be a little too soft and blubbery at times on this song, but he is greatly helped when the backing vocals kick in about two-thirds into the track. Overall, it’s a nice follow-up to “Stay with Me.”
My Score: 3/5
9. “Love Me Like You Do”- Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding’s contribution to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack is what Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” would sound like if it were completely boring. Goulding herself sounds bored as she sings accompanied by what sounds like elevator music. “Love Me Like You Do” is uninspired, repetitive, and most likely wouldn’t be nearly as prominent on the charts if it weren’t attached to a movie packed with hype and controversy. Definitely my personal least favorite on the Top Ten.
My Score: 1.5/5
- “Shake it Off”- Taylor Swift
Wow. This song has been on the charts for a whopping 25 weeks. Even as Taylor’s third single from her new album makes its way onto the charts, the first single remains in the Top Ten. If you’ve interacted with society at all in the past six months, you’ve undoubtedly heard Swift’s ultra-catchy smash. As a matter of fact, when conducting research for this review, this is the only song I didn’t listen to because I didn’t want it stuck in my head again. Love it or hate it, you can’t forget it. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate… Oh boy, here we go again…
My Score: 3.5/5