It’s almost September (it already is on the Hot 100, which is dated over a week ahead of time), and the labels are starting to roll out the medium-sized guns: Muse! The Script! Trey Songz! Slaughterhouse? The best stuff is older, though: The Chief Keef track is from a mixtape released in March, and the Eric Church and Luke Bryan tracks are both over a year old and milking best-selling albums. None of this week’s entries is great, and three of them are awful (guess), but the fall season has officially started. Don’t forget to duck.
No. 84: Muse, “Madness”
Muse fans who were afraid the band was going to take a turn toward dubstep needn’t have worried. The truth is much simpler: the band’s U2 imitation has finally caught up to Achtung Baby and Zooropa. As usual, Muse gets the surface details right but lacks the emotional and intellectual foundation to get at their inspiration’s essence. Even in this minimalist context they can’t help trying to show off, with odd interjections, noises, harmonies, and attempts to be soulful undercutting the build to the climax and what little meaning the song might have. Message: Love is madness. (Who knew?) Funniest/most embarrassing moment: The guitar solo.
No. 87: The Script featuring will.i.am, “Hall Of Fame”
They’ve always been contenders, but with “Hall Of Fame” The Script take a giant step toward becoming the Worst Band In the World. The song, a bizarre pastiche of sensitive schtick, power-ballad bombast, and a middle eight heavily influenced by Kanye West’s “Champion,” is bad enough, but what band in their right mind would bring will.i.am aboard as nothing more than a vocalist? As co-producer he might at least have added a decent beat and some eccentricity and a dose of humor. It might not be any better—it might even be worse—but it would be more entertaining. As a singer he adds nothing, although the way “Hall of Fame” is mixed you can barely tell it’s him anyway.
No. 92: Luke Bryan, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
Since many of Bryan’s previous records were about country girls dancing on tailgates or in honky tonks and turning him on, it’s nice to hear a song from him that admits sex isn’t enough to hold a relationship together. He still wants a final roll in the hay before she leaves, mind you, but at least he isn’t leering about it. He even expresses regret over the way things have worked out. Bryan isn’t the greatest singer, and the arrangement is too focused on driving the groove to make the most of the message, but it’s a good song, and with a little tweaking “Kiss” could be a great record. I’d love to hear a woman sing it.
No. 93: Trey Songz, “Dive In”
Despite inconsistency—when he isn’t trying too hard, he isn’t trying hard enough—I’ve always appreciated Songz’s willingness to take a sexual metaphor as far as it will go. “Dive” may be the definitive example: Songz is so intent on making everything about swimming erotic, he even references the signs that forbid running near the pool. He dives deep, and he goes under, and he strokes and strokes and strokes. He even doggie paddles. Some of the lyrics are obvious, and the music is a standard slow grind with water sound effects, but “Dive” is impressive anyway. All I want to know is how many takes he went through before he could sing the opening “Splash!” without laughing.
No. 95: Eric Church, “Creepin'”
Church is the best male country star to appear in the last few years, and his previous singles have demonstrated growing confidence and command, but “Creepin'” is too gimmicky for its own good. There’s no doubt that the song, good but not great, needed something to give it a boost, but the vocal effects and the sudden shifts in dynamics and texture sound forced. “Creepin'” is trying so hard to be different that the song gets lost. A worthwhile experiment, but it doesn’t quite work.
No. 98: Slaughterhouse featuring Eminem, “Throw That”
I can put up with Eminem and pals’ crudities when they’re funny, but “Throw That” isn’t. Not once. Eminem, on the chorus, comes closest, and provides the record’s one glimmer of promise. For the first time in years he drops the overworked, intense, angry vocal technique that has dominated his records since The Eminem Show. And by “drops” I mean he starts it, then intentionally switches up to a lighter voice, as if he were letting us know that he’s dropping the approach for good. For a brief moment you can hear the irreverent, crude, often nasty but engaging sense of humor that fueled the Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers albums; Eminem sounds like he’s enjoying himself for the first time in ages. So even though “Throw That” is terrible overall, I find myself looking forward to his next LP, something I haven’t been able to say in a long time.
No. 100: Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese, “I Don’t Like”
It’s easy to understand why Kanye West picked up on “I Don’t Like” for a remix: Chi-town pride aside, listing the things he doesn’t like is a specialty of his, and producer Young Chop’s beat is the sort of pounding, street rap production West favors now. The original is better, though. The obsessive repetition of the title drives home a buried rage that can’t be expressed in more accomplished raps (and that includes Keef’s own on the remix). As crude as this track is, it has a power West can only aspire to and that he dilutes when he tries to tap it. A large part of that power is the reality it conveys: Keef does his share of bragging, but he doesn’t engage in self-indulgent Superfly fantasies like Rick Ross or T.I.; he drives an Audi, not a Lamborghini or a Maybach. As dark as Keef’s vision is, it’s real, and, oddly enough, it’s a relief.