[Music] Ciara – I Bet (review)

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Review: The sleek and modern R&B of Ciara’s 2013 self-titled album helped re-establish the singer as more than just the photogenic face of crunk&B’s once inescapable chart success, positioning her instead as an enduring talent – she debuted her “Goodies” all the way back in 2004 – with impeccable taste. It was the Future-assisted, hipster-approved baby-making jam “Body Party” that really set the project’s wheels into motion, and although this taster from Ciara’s sixth studio album Jackie comes courtesy of producer Harmony Samuels (Ariana Grande, Ne-Yo), it’s difficult to say Future’s presence is missed considering the track seems to address the breakdown of their relationship head-on.

The emotional impact of that maelstrom of alleged infidelity – no doubt complicated by their professional engagements and, of course, the fact that they had a son last May, also named Future – bears its teeth in “I Bet”, a nigglingly catchy mid-tempo replete with warm acoustic guitar, looped skittering drum machines and Ciara’s velvety, quivering, and at times motor-mouthed soprano. “You know it hurts your pride / But you thought the grass was greener on the other side,” she sings, prioritising a tone of curt matter-of-factness over any glib attempts at sass.

As addictive as “I Bet” may be, the track’s power is primarily fuelled by its torrid backstory, and had Ciara fronted an earlier album with it (which she may as well have with 2009’s Fantasy Ride’s syrupy “Never Ever”), we would most likely have written it off as dishearteningly pedestrian. But by keeping the vision she so brilliantly executed on Ciara in mind, “I Bet” cannot help but leave us excited for the comparably sensual and eclectic record that could be in store.

8.0/10

[Music] Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney – “Only One” VS “Four Five Seconds”

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While it’s obvious that an icon such as Paul McCartney will never be irrelevant, one would think a musician of his calibre would rather be forced to participate in the Identity Parade round of Never Mind the Buzzcocks just to pay that month’s heating bill than to have their name attached to a track as hollow and unimaginative as “Four Five Seconds”. In addition to McCartney’s acoustic strumming, the lead single from Rihanna’s as-yet untitled eighth album, which is available to listen to here, features a limp blast of organ and vocals from Kanye West, but sports none of the poignancy of “Only One”, West and McCartney’s previous – and ostensibly similar – collaboration.

Rihanna is a talented vocalist who has wrangled empathy from listeners in the past (“Russian Roulette”, “Cold Case Love”, “Stay”), but “Four Five Seconds” shoots for a salty, world-weary kind of exasperation, and struggles to draw pathos from Rihanna’s persona in the same way “Only One” could from West’s. The lucrative exposure that his marriage to Kim Kardashian has provided means his transition from startlingly talented whack-job to sensitive family man is public property, and this notion cannot help but feed into and influence a listener’s experience of the track.

It also helps that “Only One” – in which West acts as a conduit for his late mother’s wisdom – is beautifully written. “You’re not perfect but you’re not your mistakes” is a sublime lyric by its own merits, but those of “Four Five Seconds” (“I think I’ve had enough / I might get a little drunk / I say what’s on my mind,” Rihanna sings, conveying sentiments that have dotted her discography previously, just in a less catchy way) further reinforce its emotional resonance.

Although both tracks use minimal instrumentation, “Only One” acknowledges the signature sound of each headliner by pairing McCartney’s soft keyboards with an auto-tuned voice reminiscent of West’s 808s & Heartbreak days, which makes his switch to such a pared-down aesthetic a little bit easier to swallow. As one of the pop world’s greatest chameleons, Rihanna’s venture into country-lite isn’t entirely unrewarding – after some unpleasant hoarseness, there’s a nice enough belt at around the two minute mark – but after a two-year wait for new material, both her and her fans deserved a bigger and better comeback.

Perhaps she could consider getting by without a little help from her friends. RG

[Music] Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint (review)

Niki Minaj

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: There was a delightfully abrasive moment during Nicki Minaj’s guest turn on Ciara’s 2014 single “I’m Out” where talk of “big fat titties when they’re hangin’ out my tank-top” unexpectedly scanned as an ideological move that only the Trinidadian rapper could make. There was nothing smart about the image the lyric created, while the slippery zaniness with which it was delivered rendered it deliberately unsexy. But with Minaj’s name now synonymous with the current hip-hop landscape, it seemed she had shrewdly adopted the cartoonish arrogance of buddies Lil Wayne, Kanye et al in a manner that was apathetic to their male gaze, with indecorous terms such as “fat” and “hanging” instead holding up a positive reflection of the wordsmith’s perceptible body image.

This crass and brazen expression of sexuality was somewhat built upon on “Anaconda”, the inescapable, Sir Mix-A-Lot-sampling summer hit that served as the The Pinkprint‘s second single. The difference this time was that everything about “Anaconda” – from its meme-magnet artwork to its risibly gratuitous video demanded both our attention and our approval. The track’s reliance on creeping guitar plucks and culturally-embedded lyrics derived from “Baby Got Back” was disappointing given the manic energy Minaj poured into verses that stand toe-to-toe with similarly globe-trotting accounts of sexual conquests in Afroman’s “Colt 45” and Lil Kim’s “How Many Licks”. The Pinkprint’s clever sequencing follows it up with the EDM headache “The Night Is Still Young”, allowing for an immediate comparison that narrowly spares “Anaconda” from being labeled the collection’s most reductive effort.

This conspicuous pair of chart-friendly contingency plans are undoubtedly the album’s nadir, as even despite additional smatterings of on-trend radio fodder – such as the “Dark Horse”-aping Dr. Luke production “Get On Your Knees”, boosted by a sensual vocal from hook girl Ariana Grande – The Pinkprint primarily divides its attention between introspective mid-tempo R&B and tough, focused exercises in trap-inflected hip-hop. It’s an occasionally jarring dichotomy, but the overarching quality of the music allows such sins to be forgiven. Giving credence to her alleged Enya inspiration, “All Things Go” and “I Lied” get things off to a slow, ethereal start, but the lack of posturing within Minaj’s sensitive verses is refreshing. The similarly styled “The Crying Game” has prickly rock undertones that help further animate Jessie Ware’s bizarrely uncredited turn on the song’s chorus.

On the ballsier half of the album, “Trini Dem Girls” proposes Sean Paul-lite exoticism (“Jamaica dem girls gonna park the pum pum”) over a laudably colourless, handclap-heavy beat, “Four Door Aventador” casts a spell with its mumbled chorus and smoky atmosphere, while the pondering trap beat of third single “Only”, featuring Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, oscillates between mild interest and tedium depending on who’s on the mic. (Note: Both Drake and Lil Wayne are better utilised on the twerk-ready iTunes bonus track “Truffle Butter”.)

On The Pinkprint, Minaj has refined almost every branch of her musical output, with the notable exception of her adventures in EDM, which really should have been left to fester on 2010’s Roman Reloaded. Its quieter moments surpass the aural mush she peddled on her debut, while the lion’s share of the more overtly hip-hop tracks show a sense of conviction unseen since “Roman’s Revenge”. Our only gripe is with a title that stands as nothing more than a tip of the hat to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. Sure, every fingerprint may be unique, but shouldn’t a woman as talented as Minaj be looking to leave a bigger mark on the world?

8.5/10

[Music] Top Tracks of 2014, Part Two (#15 – #1)

Part One:

#20 – #11 // #10 – #1

Part Two:

#30 – #16

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15. Beyoncé – ***Flawless [Remix feat. Nicki Minaj], Beyoncé (Platinum Edition)

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 Available to buy on iTunes

After two solid minutes of unfettered bravado, Beyoncé says she wants “everyone to feel like this”, which is a fairly petrifying request depending on how receptive you are to the brand of masturbatory ego-tripping she co-opts from a guesting Nicki Minaj for the remix of one of the sprightlier joints from her self-titled fifth album. Granted, the shameless arrogance they display is probably healthier than the self-effacing greeting card sentiments we as music listeners have grown accustomed to, but as we’ve come to expect from Minaj, for every moderately witty remark (“This watch here done phase blizzards”) there’s always a landslide of misogyny (“These bitches washed up, and ain’t no fuckin’ soap involved”) and birdbrained materialism just around the corner.

The power of the original “***Flawless” – in which cocky verses (“Bow down, bitches!”) and the song’s more universal “Flawless” hook bookended an excerpt from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech “We should all be feminists” – wasn’t  lost in the rendering of this redux, hence its place on our list, but neither was it capitalised upon. A remix featuring the world’s leading female rapper should have provided a chance to streamline the track’s messy structure into something easier to canonise as a dance-floor staple; Bey’s failure to do so is either emblematic of a lack of confidence in the original song’s commercial appeal, or an over-confidence in her imperial stature in the music industry.

See also: Drunk In Love” [feat. Jay Z], “7/11

14. Rixton – Me and My Broken Heart, Let the RoadRixton-Main

Available to buy on iTunes

The combined talents of British soap star and housewife heartthrob Shane Richie and singer Colleen Nolan can be seen manifested within their cherub-faced son, Rixton frontman (or should that be frontboy?) Jake Roche. The electropop-rock charm of breakout single “Me and My Broken Heart” is indebted to Rob Thomas’ 2005 hit “Lonely No More”, with producers Benny Blanco (Maroon 5, Katy Perry) and Steve Mac (One Direction) adding just a pinch of lilting Fisher Price ska to the verses for flavour, and Roche emoting like a young Adam Levine whose been miraculously shorn of all shrillness.

And despite primarily being a plea for a one night stand,“Me and My Broken Heart” is still a whole lot more subtle than songs of a similar ilk purveyed by their peers; there’s no “Tonight lets get some / and live while were young!”-sized clunkers to be found here.

See also:Wait On Me

13. Hozier – Jackie And Wilson, Hozier

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Available to buy on iTunes

It’s impossible to deny the funereal force of the Grammy-nominated “Take Me to Church”, and if there were an award for Song Most Suited to a Crucifixion (Cinematic or Otherwise) then we’re sure Hozier’s breakthrough would sweep it. But to define the reach of his talents by a single whose release and subsequent notoriety was well-timed with the continued religious emancipation of Hozier’s (née Andrew Hozier-Byrne) native Ireland – with a little help from a highly provocative music video depicting small-town homophobia – would be disrespectful to his talent, especially with a self-titled debut packed full of tuneful exercises in fervent indie rock to explore.

“Jackie and Wilson” works with a noticeably more colourful palette than the majority of its parent album, sauntering into existence with tight garage-rock swipes that graduate into a sky-high, love-struck chorus.

See also:Take Me to Church”, “Someone New

12. La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell, Trouble In Paradise

La-Roux

Available to buy on iTunes

For Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid, the five-year gestation of their sophomore album yielded an almost filler-free collection of tracks drenched in new wave’s delicate, pleasure-seeking suavity, but apparently at the expense of their professional relationship. Langmaid abandoned the production in 2011, taking to Twitter this summer to denounce Jackson’s credibility by reducing their collaborations to an artist-muse scenario:

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This implicit bitterness looms large over Trouble In Paradise, with even the curling synth lines of second single “Kiss and Not Tell” buckling under the pressure. But with Jackson’s once chrome-plated falsetto now tamed into a smooth purr, the conscious-battling discourse on infidelity is given a cheeky lift that her altogether colder work on 2009’s hit-filled La Roux could only dream of. Spread the word.

See also: Uptight Downtown”, “Let Me Down Gently”, “Silent Partner

11. Iggy Azalea / Charli XCX – Fancy, The New Classic 

2014 mtvU Woodie Awards And Festival - Performance

Available to buy on iTunes

From its first few bars of gummed synth, “Fancy” is instantly recognisable as the song that ruled the summer of 2014. As far as we’re concerned, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea’s adopted Southern American accent is more of a tribute to a culture she grew up admiring than an offensive parody, but the upheaval that continues in the wake of her success makes us all the more grateful for the distraction that Charli XCX’s earworm of a topline provides to this very day.

See also:Iggy Szn”, “Beg For It” [feat. MØ], “Work

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