Wednesday, August 9, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 19, 2017

It's never the album bomb weeks that are actually interesting - it's the weeks that come after, the fallout period where you see the headlong rush to plug the holes. And considering the summer music season tends to have a dry spell in album releases, this is the time where songs that might not otherwise crossover have a shot for some traction, where the weird or strange stuff might bubble up.

Where this logic breaks down, of course, comes in the top 10, because once again barely anything moved at all - although you could make the argument the shift is only a matter of time. Once again 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Bieber is at #1 thanks to dominance on sales, streaming, and especially YouTube, but how long will that last as airplay seems to have peaked? I'd like to say that 'Wild Thoughts' by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller could make a run for that spot thanks to streaming, YouTube and especially the radio... except its sales are nowhere close to what they need to be. What might have more of a shot is actually 'Unforgettable' by French Montana and Swae Lee up to #3, picking up traction in all categories, just not quite enough yet - if it makes up ground in sales and radio, it could get there. It managed to jump over 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars at #4, as it seems to be fading in all categories, yet still has enough to hold over 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons at #5, which doesn't quite have the streaming to jump over but it is getting there. All of this jumped over 'I'm The One' by DJ Khaled and his crew down to #6, which is actually starting to slip on streaming and sales - and with radio in freefall, it might be out of the top 10 pretty fast. Then we have a gauntlet of four songs from white guys that are pretty much here for the exact same reasons: radio and sales. And in order we have 'Attention' by Charlie Puth at #7 - better sales and radio momentum - 'There's Nothing Holding Me Back' by Shawn Mendes at #8 - more radio, but slightly weaker in other categories - 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran at #9 - residual YouTube propping up other weaknesses as it fades away - and 'Body Like A Back Road' by Sam Hunt - where at least radio seems to have peaked and hopefully we'll be rid of its scourge sooner rather than later.

And on that pleasing note, losers and dropouts! Now aside from the expected Meek Mill dropouts and 'The Fighter' by Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban exiting, the only two songs worthy of discussing further are 'The Story Of OJ' by Jay-Z leaving, along with - finally - 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey, and it's about damn time! But again, in the aftermath of an album bomb it's fascinating to see what continues to collapse versus what sticks around. Because while of course 'Whatever You Need' by Meek Mill, Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign went to 62, the fact it's pulling 'Bad Liar' by Selena Gomez to 67 and 'Malibu' by Miley Cyrus to 55 down with it is intriguing. Then you have the losers for returning entries and new arrivals, none of which are all that surprising, with 'Heavy' by Linkin Park and Kiiara to 96, 'Back To You' by Louis Tomlinson with Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals to 74, and 'What's My Name' by China Anne McCain down to 84 - I think my surprise there is that it didn't drop all the way out. Finally, we have '2U' by David Guetta and Bieber at 44... eh, I was mixed on it from the beginning, I'm not surprised that it's starting to fade early.

But where things get really interesting come in our returning entries and gains, and in the former category we didn't quite get as many as I was expecting - really, all that came back was 'do re mi' by blackbear to 75, and really, does anyone care about or like that song? Where there's a lot more going on comes in our gains, and let's get the easy explanations out of the way first. Through I'm a little amazed at its traction 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B is still surging up to 14, and it's no surprise that 'Loyalty' by Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna went to 31 off of the video. Then there are the recoveries for songs that Meek Mill hit that rebounded naturally: 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons up to 54, 'Reminder' by The Weeknd to 73, and 'Down' by Fifth Harmony and Gucci Mane to 80. And while those latter two are a bit surprising, the big shock came for the country tracks that picked up big gains once Meek Mill's streaming slid out of the picture. 'Do I Make You Wanna' by Billy Currington up to 47, 'What Ifs' by Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina to 48, 'Drinkin' Problem' by Midland to 50, 'Heartache On The Dance Floor' by Jon Pardi to 63, and - unfortunately - 'Flatliner' by Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley to 56. The rest are a scattered selection of songs with various degrees of health: 'No Promises' by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato to 51 with some continued stability, 'Young, Dumb & Broke' by Khalid gaining a bit of traction to 64, and most surprisingly for me 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man to 34, breaking the top 40 in total defiance of any expectations, including what I'd otherwise expect from the band itself!

But again, we've got a heavy list of diverse new arrivals, starting with...

99. 'For Her' by Chris Lane - so do you all remember that song 'Fix' from a year or so ago - country that was basically borderline pop, ridiculously catchy but given some of the worst possible lyrics? Well, turns out this guy put out an album around this time last year that actually moved units, so we've now got a follow-up single? And... yeah, it's nowhere near as distinctive as 'Fix', and as such is a fair bit less tolerable. Let's put aside the fact that Chris Lane is a pretty unimpressive singer, or that the lyrics are just pure generic bro-country love song fodder, but my big issue comes in the production. Apparently instead of keeping the sort of burly noisy grooves that Joey Moi used to use, someone introduced him to the concept of trap hi-hats and more synthetic percussion, and while he does try to bury it under choppier guitars, it still comes through on a composition feels a lot more stilted than it should. In other words, more mediocre, over-processed pop country for the meat grinder that'll be forgotten in a day - next!

98. 'All The Pretty Girls' by Kenny Chesney - and on the topic of forgettable bro-country checklist songs, we have another single from Kenny Chesney's last album, which if you remember my review from last year was disposable at best. And it's easy to point out why this song falls into that category - that odd flat guitar layer that goes over the rougher grooves that actually had personality, a melody that feels utterly recycled and doesn't modulate, and lyrics imported straight from tired bro-country cliches about small town kids running wild, getting drunk, and nailing a hapless Kenny Chesney. It just feels tired to me, not melodically interesting or vibrant enough in order to really connect on a deeper level. There was some potential in the rougher opening groove and if this plays in the background I wouldn't hate it, but again, not going to remember this either.

97. 'Learn To Let Go' by Kesha - so I'm going to have a lot more to say when I review Kesha's upcoming album in a week or so, but one comment I've seen circulating is that if there is anyone who has earned the right to make a record full of self-esteem and recovery anthems, it's Kesha. I'm not entirely sure I agree - more from a larger career perspective, I like it when she gets into weirder territory - but at the same time there's a place for 'Learn To Let Go' that I do like, as she confronts her own messaging of owning your past and not letting it define you, excising the bitter, lingering messages from those bad experiences and living up to her own words and ideas. And for the sort of record Kesha looks to be making, that's a good message... I just I liked the music and production a little more. I appreciate the reliance on live drums and those compressed guitar layers still maintain some real rollick and spark, but I can't be the only one who thinks that slightly lo-fi filter on her vocals could have been pulled back for the hook or bridge, and the groove feels stiffer than I would otherwise like. It's good, for sure, and there's a part of me that likes the rougher, homegrown feel to it... but it's not on the same tier as 'Praying', and it'll be interesting to see what's going to come out of Rainbow as a whole.

94. 'Every Little Thing' by Carly Pearce - it was only a matter of time before Carly Pearce showed up on the Hot 100, mostly because she seems like one of the extremely limited number of women that country radio is bothering to promote. And while I could go on an extended tirade how we have no need for so much of the forgettable bro-country that's clogging the genre - I've already covered two songs this week in that vein, and there will be more - I'm more interested in praising what we could get... and considering this is coming from Big Machine with busbee on production, this is better than I was expecting. Yeah, the percussion is a little more emphasized that I'd personally prefer, but the mixing and overall presentation is a lot more organic in the guitar pickup than I was expecting, and Pearce's deeper vocal tone has a lot of promise. I guess if I were to nitpick I find the lyrics a little thin, especially on the hook - it clearly is playing to the template of young, lingering heartbreak, I just wish there was more detail or intensity to flesh it out. Still, this is promising, and while I could rattle off a list of other women in country who deserve as much if not more promotion, this is solid - hope it does well.

93. 'Wish I Knew You' by The Revivalists - it's a really bad sign when I do some research to discover the reason a particular indie rock song got popular is because of a commercial... and yeah, that's the reason why 'Wish I Knew You' is now on the Hot 100, although I do give credit for how much it has apparently dominated adult alternative radio... and yet my first thought upon hearing it is how much it reminds me of 'Crazy' by Gnarls Barkley. You hear some of that, right - the guitar tone, the rollicking bassline, the huskier vocals that aren't Cee-Lo but certain is playing to that brand of retro-soul. Hell, swap out the strings for the liquid, more reserved horns here around the hollower textures in the organ, it's not that far removed. And they both play in minor tones and melancholy and a slightly twisted sense of mystery in the lyrics, but I keep wishing there was a little more edge and tightness in the hook to up the tension a bit - this simmers really well, but eventually you need to do a bit more than that to really sink in. As it is, though... yeah, this is solid as hell, and in comparison with most commercial-driven indie rock, I wouldn't have a problem with this sticking around - nice work.

90. 'New Rules' by Dua Lipa - oh, I've been looking forward to this one since I saw it starting blowing up internationally... and the funny thing is that I still wouldn't put it in my top five favourite songs from that self-titled album! But 'New Rules' is still a damn solid pop song, taking a tropical groove that's balanced to subtly crank up the bounce and tension in the rules of a connection that Dua Lipa is tempting fate by re-engaging. It also helps that she's enough of an emotive presence to carry a song like this - she walks the narrow line of convincingly establishing those rules but also showing how pliable they might be if she's not careful. I do wish the breakdown did a little more beyond the hazy vocal snippets and horns - again, this is not 'Lost In Your Light' or 'Thinking Bout You' or 'Homesick' or even 'Be The One'... but for pop with this sort of groove, I like this a fair bit.

89. 'The Weekend' by SZA - I get that SZA is likely stuck in the unfortunate position of trying to build her solo career and yet some of her best songs are collaborations on Ctrl... but frankly there were better choices than 'The Weekend'... and yet the funny thing is that this is still a pretty good song. I like SZA's exasperation at being the side girl to this guy and speaking directly to the other woman in this situation in wanting more time beyond the weekend. And coupled with some tasteful multi-tracking, a pretty tight bass groove, a nifty flip of a Justin Timberlake sample with some of the fluttering elements, I'd argue this is a solid R&B tune. On the flip side... it's a little slow to get moving, and it can't help but feel a little underwritten, and when you know that there are other SZA songs that might have done better - even solo SZA tracks - it can feel a little exasperating. Still, good song, I'll certainly take this over...

88. 'Honest' by The Chainsmokers - I was hoping we were done with these guys, and by all accounts that was a fair assumption, given that no singles broke through the week of the album's debut and the record was pretty much panned across the board, including by yours truly. And it should be no surprise to anyone that this song sucks: it's a piano-driven sincere ballad where The Chainsmokers are touring and contemplating taking a girl home, but in thinking of their current relationship, they want to call their girlfriends and say they're not over things... but there are other girls on their minds, and they should get a pass - because after all, they're just being honest! And it's such an emotionally manipulative song as they stress they don't even like touring, they wouldn't be thinking about this otherwise... yeah, you're still an asshole, dude, you don't get special cookies for trying to split the difference in the relationship. And the stabs at sincerity feel so disingenuous, on top of the recycled chord progressions and the quote they got from Bono to open up a song where none of them have the confessional balls or presence as vocalists to sell that trial of hypocrisy in the human heart! Oh, and the drop is a lazy blur of two notes before the millennial whoops come in - this blows, move on!

87. 'They Don't Know' by Jason Aldean - at this point I have no idea what the point is in me covering any Jason Aldean song, because his antisocial and weirdly defensive impulses combined with monochromatic bro-country trying and mostly failing for a rock edge just leads to unpleasantness all around. And while I was more forgiving of this song for a little more sharp acoustic groove and a decent hook, I have a lot less patience for flyover country drivel that doesn't remotely engage with the real problems of rural America instead of just pumping out a meat-headed 'they don't get us' anthem. Don't get me wrong, there are issues in that part of the U.S. that deserve real attention and the sooner certain political parties get their heads out of their asses to present straightforward solutions, the better off everyone will be - especially if said solutions don't compromise an ethos too many people have fought a long time to build. And there's music that actively engages and challenges in these issues, a lot of it country, from artists like James McMurtry, Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, Jason Isbell, I could easily continue to flesh out this list. But this, from Jason Aldean, it's the same sort of pandering dreck that I hated in 'Fly Over States', especially when in 2014 you were more than happy to steal from R&B for radio crossover - and that's not exactly a rural genre these days. As for this... sure, 'they' might not know, but Aldean, you sure as hell know better.

85. 'When It Rains It Pours' by Luke Combs - there's a part of me that wants to like this guy - he's got a good voice, decent melodic instincts, and while his production and songwriting could use serious work, I heard potential in his breakthrough single 'Hurricane'. Well, turns out he actually followed up with a pretty decent country song. Yeah, I'm actually pretty pleasantly surprised by this - it's got a loose but detailed sense of humor that comes from going on a string of good luck after a breakup, and while it could use a little more meat on the bridge to flesh out the story, the production is remarkably straightforward and country, with organic tones, real drums, and a melodic foundation that while familiar isn't all that bad. So okay, while I'm not one to immediately slot Luke Combs into the Jon Pardi or William Michael Morgan camp of playing to neotraditional tones, this is in a direction I like, almost to the point I'm amazed his label let him release this as a single. But hey, it's the biggest country song that debuted this week, that's got to mean something. But that's also mostly because...

68. 'Unforgettable' by Thomas Rhett - so Thomas Rhett is releasing an album in September called Life Changes, and while 'Craving You' was kind of tolerable if you squinted at it, I've seen little to no evidence why I should give this guy another chance, especially after Tangled Up served as one of the worst listening experiences I've had in the past couple years. So I did not expect this to be good... and I'd be hard-pressed to say it is, but I've heard a lot worse from this guy. The most egregious issues I can find are mostly cosmetic - the percussion is way too heavy on the hook and trying for bombast his delivery cannot support, and the lyrics are basically a modernized version of Tim McGraw's 'Something Like That', except with references to mango-ritas and Coldplay because that's country for you... but again, this doesn't feel much like country to me, even with the heavier reliance on acoustic guitar. Frankly, it's acoustic pop in the vein of Jason Mraz or John Mayer - and to be fair to Thomas Rhett it's mostly tolerable in that vein because Shane McAnally still has an uncanny knack for flow in his songwriting. I don't recommend you seek out the interview Rhett about this song, though, because, to quote him, 'if you listen to it hardcore enough, it might make you tear up a bit'... yeah, maybe on a good day Coldplay could pull that off, but I don't see Rhett as being capable, even if he does rip off Ed Sheeran again.

38. 'You Da Baddest' by Future ft. Nicki Minaj - so remember how I get annoyed when artists tack on songs to the end of an album in a cheap attempt to string out more singles? Yeah, Future did it again, this time with Nicki Minaj in tow with a video and everything - which makes me wonder how much faith he had in any of this double album experiment, but whatever, how's the track? Ehh... I've heard worse from both of them? There's more bounce and melody to the deeper synths and blubbery trap beat, and Future's sticking in his lower register which is his best range, but he really doesn't give Nicki Minaj enough to do, because her short verse is easily the highlight of the song, even if it is just empty flossing, which still feels more memorable than Future saying the 'pussy's got more murders than New Mexico'... actually, I take that back, I don't know if Future's going to top that line in the near future. I just wish he and Nicki weren't bending rhymes that don't need it to make the intro and outro work - it just sounds awkward, and not in a good way. But overall, I've heard worse from both of them, but at the same time I've heard better, and outside of that one Future line, I don't see myself returning to this.

But overall... damn, this was a busy week, and probably a late episode to get online, but here we are. Worst is straightforward: 'Honest' by The Chainsmokers is easily the worst, but Dishonourable Mention is going to 'They Don't Know' - honestly, a reread through that song shows just how badly it's aged in my perspective since I reviewed the album last year. Best, though... it's hard for me to pick out a standout, given there's a lot of good tracks that just miss greatness. So I think I'm giving best of the week to 'Wish I Knew You' by The Revivalists - just because it reminds me a lot of Gnarls Barkley doesn't mean that's a bad thing - and Honourable Mention to 'New Rules' by Dua Lipa, which just has great presence, real groove, and a lot of promising character. I have no idea how much of this will last, but maybe with fewer incoming albums things will stabilize a bit next week.

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