Showing posts with label craig wayne boyd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label craig wayne boyd. Show all posts

Friday, December 26, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 3, 2015 (VIDEO)

Yep, I'm aware of the glitch in the top ten. Damn fader settings get me every time.

So in case you all know, I'm going to be going on vacation - but never fear, I'll still be posting as soon as I get a stable internet connection, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 3, 2015

Today is the first official week of 2015 for Billboard - which is a little odd, considering they start their year and it still is December, but this was the year where we both got the long-awaited finale of The Voice that notched six new hits. And while J. Cole managed to hold a little more momentum, unsurprisingly, most of this week belonged to Nicki Minaj, for better or for worse.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 27, 2014

This week, it was all about upward momentum. As the rest of 2014 continues to drop away, the new 'hits' for 2015 are rising to take their place, whether we want them or not. Plus, with the continued onslaught of Christmas music and The Voice, the biggest surprise arrivals came from the biggest album of the week that debuted with little promotion and no open airplay - and in a really nice change of pace, some of the best songs from that album are the ones that landed on the charts, which is awesome.

I'll elaborate more on that in a bit, but it's time to start with our Top 10! Lots of movement this week... well, outside of the top two, that is. Unsurprisingly, 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift has a stranglehold on #1 thanks to finally taking the top in airplay to match her dominance in sales and YouTube, but Hozier's 'Take Me To Church' isn't going down without a fight, with steady airplay gains supplementing strong sales and absolutely monstrous streaming. Yet right below that we've got 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars reaching a new peak at #3, with a very similar pattern to Hozier in that they're just waiting for airplay to catch up to strong sales and streaming. And at #4 we've got 'Lips Are Moving' by Meghan Trainor, who owes most of her success to YouTube, with only decent streaming and sales keeping her solid as her airplay slowly picks up. And with the first movement in three weeks we've got 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith stepping up to #5, who really owes his success to just being consistent across the board and those above him losing steam and dropping out. 

Now we'll get to those, but now we've got to talk about our surprise new arrival to the top 10 at #6, 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran, who really owes the majority of his success to massive streaming and YouTube and pretty damn solid sales as his airplay struggles to catch up. Honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of the song - it's a little too sleepy and Ed Sheeran has better songs off of x - but I've got nothing against the song and it works for what it is as a sincere, passionate love song and it's nice to see a guitar solo in the Top 10. But beneath him are two songs that look to be on the way out, 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor at #7 and 'Animals' by Maroon 5 - effectively for the same reasons too, hemorrhaging airplay and weaker numbers across the board, with only YouTube giving Meghan Trainor the edge. 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd steps up to #9, holding steady thanks to consistent airplay gains and huge streaming even despite a weak sales week, which leaves 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift to cling to #10 pretty much on YouTube alone. I see it dropping out of the Top 10 next week, unless it somehow gets a boost.

Next up we have our drop-outs and losers, and there was a fair number of the former. '0 To 100/The Catch Up' by Drake, 'Day Drinking' by Little Big Town, and thankfully 'Burnin' It Down' by Jason Aldean all drop to recurring, but 'i' by Kendrick Lamar and 'Look At You' by Big & Rich lost even more steam to drop off after even less. And it looks like there's a few more on a similar path - 'Fireball' by Pitbull ft. John Ryan drops to 88, 'Yellow Flicker Beat' by Lorde continues its tumble down to 86 as more people forget about Mockingjay, and mercifully the disaster that I spoke at length on - 'God Made Girls' by RaeLynn - drops back to #71. Only wish I could claim credit for it. As for the other losers, there are only two major drops, 'Make It Rain' by Ed Sheeran - unsurprising, given it was a song tied to Sons of Anarchy and the show ended just over a week ago - and 'Mary Did You Know?' by Pentatonix. And I would be surprised this song dropped again, especially given the Christmas season, but it's been bouncing around since its debut, so no real surprise.

And speaking of Christmas, let's take a look at our gainers, two of which owe their success to the holidays. Mariah Carey unsurprisingly rises ten slots to #40 with 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', and Ariana Grande leaps back up #64 with 'Santa Tell Me'. And in other, less obvious examples of holiday cheer, Carrie Underwood continues finding Jesus with 'Something In The Water' rising to #38, Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe sing about exes trying to find solace together on 'Lonely Tonight' jumping considerably to #54, Usher's 'I Don't Mind' continues its steady climb to #37 by not judging a woman who's a stripper, and 'I Lived' by OneRepublic has that general uplifting holiday feel so I'm guessing that's why it jumped up to #67, along with 'Heroes (We Could Be)' by Alesso ft. Tove Lo bounced up to #35, the latter proving EDM isn't quite dead yet. Yet, there are other songs that got a boost that have significantly less holiday cheer. 'G.D.F.R.' by Flo Rida ft. Sage The Gemini and Lookas gains to #87 despite being the blatant 'Talk Dirty' ripoff that it is, and 'Just Gettin' Started' by Jason Aldean goes to #84 because 'Burnin' It Down' is gone and the charts need something to replace it. And yet worst of all, 'Only' by Nicki Minaj ft. Drake, Lil Wayne & Chris Brown rocketed up to #12. That's right, this is within spitting distance of the Top 10. I'll keep this quick: Nicki Minaj is the only redeeming feature of this song, the synth line is pathetically underweight, every single guest star embarrasses themselves, with Drake probably sounding the worst, and it's easily the worst track on The Pinkprint and single-handedly responsible for knocking that album back. It's an atrocious track coasting by on cheap gossip and controversy to be successful, and the fact Nicki put this garbage on her album instead of 'Win Again' or 'Truffle Butter' - the latter of which has Drake and Lil Wayne on it - is a sign Young Money's management need their heads examined. Preferably with 2x4s.

But ignoring that piece of shit, let's talk about our recurring entries!

Oh wow, I didn't expect this. I've never been a fan of Darius Rucker or his former band Hootie & The Blowfish - they were the sort of adult-alternative act that bored the piss out of me and generally catered to those who wanted the least threatening music possible. So Darius Rucker transitioning to make country didn't surprise me, but 'Wagon Wheel' was a damn good song - mostly because it was cowritten by Bob Dylan, but still! This, though - wow, talk about selling out. From the incredibly clean production to the by-the-numbers forgettable songwriting that features repeating words to fill up space for no good reason to Darius Rucker trying to add swagger to his voice and failing miserably, this is desperation personified in a song. Darius Rucker is desperately trying to leap on the bro-country bandwagon, but this is the end of 2014, and outside of a few exceptions, bro-country has effectively collapsed. This... this is just embarrassing for everyone involved. Next!

Yeah, I can't even lie, I think this song is actually pretty damn good, regardless of whether this song is about Harry Styles or not - it's got that retro-old school glam vibe with the tight 80s synthpop guitar line that actually carries a melody throughout the whole song, punchy beat, and Taylor giving a surprisingly passionate performance. Yeah, there is an element of self-love to this song, but it's also balanced out by both partner in the relationship recognizing their own flaws and screw-ups. There's balance and nuance here, and I can appreciate that.

Okay, now we're onto our list of new arrivals - most of which I've already talked about in some capacity, which hopefully means this will be pretty easy. Starting with...

100. 'Break The Rules' by Charli XCX - I've already talked at length about this song in my Sucker review, but I will say it's got one of the better melodies from the record, especially in the synth breakdown right after the chorus. But as much as I like most of this song, there are still problems - the EDM crescendo over the chorus always feels a little overstuffed to me and detracts from a pretty damn solid textured bassline and lyrically... seriously, 'discotheque'? Who says that? And seriously, if that's her definition of 'breaking the rules', I'm not all that impressed.

98. 'When I Was Your Man' by Chris Jamison - we got a lot of piano ballads in 2013, and 'When I Was Your Man' by Bruno Mars was one of the better ones - pretty basic, but filled with genuine regret for being a shitty boyfriend, and Bruno Mars does a lot to sell it. But honestly, I might honestly like Chris Jamison's version even more. The thinner piano tone, the fragments of organ, and Jamison throws himself into it with a ton of passion and that falsetto... it was impressive, and it's not surprising he landed in the finals... only to lose, but we'll get to that.

95. 'No Role Modelz by J.Cole - of the two J.Cole songs that landed on the charts this week, this is definitely the weaker one, and it highlights a lot of the problems I had with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, especially with J.Cole's issues with women. Yeah, there's self-awareness in the song, about how thin his fame might feel being a 'b-list celebrity', and yeah, it's got a pretty damn slick melody line, but it highlights the incredibly shaky moral high ground on which J.Cole is standing. For as much as he rants about not wanting reality show starlets, he's still screwing them anyway and behaving like a condescending dick about it, spending most of the outro calling her shallow. Sure, it's the life she chose - hell, it's the life he chose too, and he tries to justify it by saying 'no role models', but with the self-awareness undercutting the track it doesn't justify his actions, and it sure as hell means you should treat her with some respect. And it really bugs me when he ends his verse with a shout, 'Martin Luther King would have been on Dreamville'! Yeah, evoking one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement on your track about calling women shallow - self-awareness or not, that makes you look like an asshole. The more I hear this song, the less I like it.

93. 'Come Join The Murder' by The White Buffalo & The Forest Rangers - okay, we've got another song from Sons of Anarchy on the chart, and unlike 'Make It Rain', this one is more on the country side of folk. And it's less of a murder ballad than a song about falling to temptation thanks to the darkness in oneself - and yet the tone of the song is a little weird to me. A lot of major chords on the chorus melody, reasonably clean guitar tones, the backing vocals coming in for the later choruses, it feels a little too upbeat, not quite as dark as one would expect for the subject matter. Solid guitar solo and some good texture, and the songwriting has some power, but I think this song could have afforded to go a little darker, and it does feel a little long. Still good, but it could have been great.

90. 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' by Sam Smith - okay, when you think of Christmas singers to evoke a jovial atmosphere of holiday cheer, Sam Smith would not be the artist topping my list. That said, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' is one of the better choices for him, as it can be played with a melancholy touch, which Sam Smith does. As it is - look, I'm not a Sam Smith fan. He's got a good voice, but he's got a certain austerity to his delivery that lacks real driving soul to me, which means even by the standards of depressing Christmas songs, this doesn't really do much for me. Sorry.

81. 'Make It Rain' by Matt McAndrew - I already talked about this song last week when it was covered by Ed Sheeran, so with its sudden success I wasn't surprised to see it land on The Voice. And yet it doesn't work nearly as well, mostly because Matt McAndrew's voice or instrumentation doesn't have the snarl or raw potency to make it all that gripping. I can see playing it a little closer to gospel, but Ed Sheeran's rougher, more hollow production is just a much better fit for the song. In other words, McAndrew's cover fails because of something he really can't control - he's on a reality show designed to appeal to the mass-public, and what was once a song accompanying a grimy show about a biker gang becomes neutered as a result.

73. 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole - see, this is so much better, and it gets there by being a much better representation of J.Cole at his best. I've already talked about this extensively when I reviewed 2014 Forest Hills Drive, so I'll restate what I said before: one of the best songs of the album that works thanks to a great old-school beat and melody and J.Cole's deeper, more vulnerable songwriting in a story about losing his virginity. The details are what makes the song work as well - you can buy this high school story about him trying to be a big shot to win over a girl even though he was a virgin, only to realize she was relying on him for the exact same thing. It's the sort of aggressively real song you rarely ever see on the Hot 100, and the fact that this song landed while J.Cole's actual single from the album didn't even crack the chart is very tell. Damn great song.

59. 'The Old Rugged Cross' by Craig Wayne Boyd - okay, there's a bit of a story behind this song, which was written over a hundred years ago by George Bennard and has held up as a reliable country gospel standard that's been covered by dozens of artists from Johnny Cash to Al Green, from George Jones to Merle Haggard, to Alan Jackson to Brad Paisley. So after listening to a whole slew of those covers before checking out Craig Wayne Boyd - the best being a toss-up between Al Green and Alan Jackson - how does his turn out? Well, considering it's a country gospel song being played on network television, about as well as you can expect. It's not surprising Craig Wayne Boyd won The Voice, because he's one of the few singers who has vocal texture, but I can't say I loved the overstated vocals or bombast of his cover with the belting. Granted, I prefer it over Merle Haggard's downbeat monologue over one of the verses, but there's a middle ground, and I'm not sure he got there. Incredible voice, though.

So that's our week - overall, a pretty damn good week for new chart arrivals, which makes my choice of a favourite this week tricky... oh, who am I kidding? Despite my harsh words, 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole easily walks away with it, with probably 'Style' by Taylor Swift as the runner up. Worst is no contest - Darius Rucker's ridiculous and embarrassing stab at bro-country with 'Homegrown Honey', with Matt McAndrew not managing to follow Ed Sheeran's lead with 'Make It Rain'. Overall, though, I can't complain, and let's hope it's a good sign for weeks to come - although knowing what I do in terms of album tracks that'll probably chart next week, I doubt it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 13, 2014 (VIDEO)

That went a lot easier than I expected - good to see.

Okay, next up I want to talk about Walk The Moon, which I should have time for thanks to Lil Wayne's repeated delays for his newest album. Until then, stay tuned!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 13, 2014

For this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, we have a much more chaotic week on the pop charts than last time. Roughly the same number of debuts and re-entries, but the real chaos was courtesy of a chart reshuffling, one that's fairly typical around this time of the year in order to usher out the old and bring in the new. This led to all sorts of strangeness, including our highest debut song from a movie that came out a few weeks ago from Academy Award winner and overall pretty awesome human being Jennifer Lawrence.

But before we get to that conversation, let's start with our top ten, where there was actually a bit of change. Not really in the top five - 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift easily holds onto number one with even more radio airplay dominance, 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor is barely holding on only thanks to radio airplay at #2, but even that's decreasing fast against the rise of 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier at #3, which is crushing streaming and slowly gaining traction on the radio. Coming it at number #4 is 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift, which is dropping across the board but isn't dropping as quickly as 'Animals' by Maroon 5, where they swap positions this week. 

It's in the next five where we get some real movement. Coming in at #6 is our highest arrival to the top 10, Selena Gomez's 'The Heart Wants What It Wants', arriving partially off the back of her first Greatest Hits album For You, which has gotten her huge streaming and respectable sales, and probably is Selena Gomez's best single since 2011 - I might not be a fan of the choppy piece at the end of the chorus and the lyrics that are a little clumsy with the fairytale references - but the more restrained production and Selena's performance reminds me of why I used to be a fan of hers until Stars Dance flushed all of that down the toilet. Next up is Sam Smith staying solid at 7 with 'I'm Not The Only One' thanks to gains across the board, and then we have our second new arrival at #8 with 'Uptown Funk!' from Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, which simultaneously has been getting better and worse every time I listen to it. I love the bass, the slick guitar groove and punchy drums and yet the synth tones just feel off and that crescendo that leads into the sax just doesn't work as well as it should. The lyrics are swollen with arrogance, and yet Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson make them surprisingly convincing. I think I might have to deliberate on this one a little more, but thankfully I know exactly how I feel about the next two tracks. 'Habits (Stay High)' by Tove Lo tumbles to #9, having peaked at airplay despite respectable streams, and 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd slightly dips to #10 only because sales were slightly underweight, being held up by massive streaming and stronger airplay gains. Oh, and both songs are awesome, in case you need more reminders.

Now onto our big changes, and let's start with the major drop-outs: 'All Of Me' by John Legend, 'Bailando' by Enrique Iglesias, 'Boom Clap' by Charli XCX - although I expect to see it return with her album dropping in less than two weeks - 'Happy' by Pharrell, 'Sunshine And Whiskey' by Frankie Ballard, and 'Dirt' by Florida Georgia Line. Unsurprising, considering all of these songs had their twenty weeks or more last year and are getting shuffled out. And yet our losers this week are more songs that haven't caught on as strongly and are getting slowly rotated out at the end of 2014 regardless. Gwen Stefani's 'Baby Don't Lie' shows the No Doubt frontwoman's second comeback losing all steam to 97, Kendrick Lamar's odd attempt at a self-esteem anthem 'i' dropping to 80, the absolutely gutless 'Stolen Dance' by Milky Chance dropping to 51 and not leaving the chart fast enough, and the Chris Brown/Usher collaboration that gave Rick Ross his only real hit this year dropping to 48. But it wasn't just songs that wore out their welcome - Nicki Minaj and Skylar Grey's underwhelming debut from last week 'Bed Of Lies' drops to 81 although I suspect the second Nicki releases a video for it around her album's release it'll regain traction, 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson unfortunately loses steam to 67, Pentatonix's hot debut last week 'Mary Did You Know' drops to 60, and Carrie Underwood's finding Jesus and her inner Christina Aguliera on 'Something In The Water' dips to 52. Most perplexing to me was One Direction's 'Steal My Girl' dropping down to 45, propped up mostly by streaming. Eh, maybe the listeners finally clued in how much those opening piano chords are reminiscent of 'Faithfully' by Journey.

Now for our gainers, we've got a whole collection of songs I talked about last week gaining some major traction, whether we wanted them or not. I mean, I'm happy that 'I Don't Mind' by Usher and especially 'Night Changes' by One Direction went up to 54 and 31 respectively, but that's really the only changes I'm happy about. Elsewhere, 'Booty' by Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea goes to 75, 'I Bet My Life' by Imagine Dragons goes to 56, and because mainstream hip-hop has no real direction and has chosen to rely on the decision making skills of the Internet, 'Coco' by O.T. Genasis somehow rises to 38 entirely thanks to streaming. Okay, Internet, this was fun, we all had a good laugh, but I don't want a badly made trap song about cocaine to become the next big 'thing', alright? But thankfully we've got a couple better songs to round things out, some solid gains from 'Yellow Flicker Beat' from Lorde and Pitbull getting a boost thanks to his recent album for 'Fireball', which is one of the better songs from that release and features him channeling his inner Run-DMC.

We'll get back to Pitbull in a bit, but now it's time for our recurring entries!

I think I get why this song wasn't the Meghan Trainor song that caught fire - because it's kind of insufferable. Sure, the retro doo-wop vibe isn't bad and I like the key change, but maybe it's Trainor's self-satisfied delivery, the way she wants to get her own way, and the increasingly desperate way that she expects said future husband to accommodate her craziness and just buy her a ring already and even with that said future husband can count on not seeing his family more than hers. Normally the way these songs go is supplement the demands with what she brings to the table, and yet this song is too concerned with preserving its innocent nature to actually include the appropriate rhyme for 'I'll be sleeping on the left side of the bed / Open doors for me and you might get some... kisses'. Yeah, this is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and as such I can't get mad at it, but I don't have to like it either.

Wow, this song should be a lot better than it is. To me Ne-Yo has always been stuck a half-step behind Usher, and it's a little amazing that a week after 'I Don't Mind' debuts on the charts, Ne-Yo is here with his own forgettable Juicy J verse. It's a shame that it's a fair bit worse, mostly thanks to the instrumentation, with the horn-sounding synthesizer obnoxiously blaring to start against the pitched-up vocal that sounds like a baby. Thankfully, the song does get a little smoother, and Ne-Yo is still a slick performer, but with a little less going on in the lyrics which aren't as smooth or detailed, it's just not as good, at least for me.

Oh, it's nice to see The Killers back with another hit from Battle Born... wait, this isn't The Killers? Okay, I'm just being snarky, but come on, from the U2-esque guitar flutter to the more chugging riffs, the lead singer belting at the top of his lungs with a voice that's somewhere between Brandon Flowers and Josh Ramsay, I'm a little inclined to brand Walk The Moon Killers-lite and move on. And even lyrically, it does fall into that mold - say what you will about all the real problems Battle Born had, at least The Killers cranked the lyrical subject matter into the broad strokes that worked with the bombast, whereas Walk The Moon isn't quite that ambitious. And yet, given this is the pop charts and there's no sign of another Killers album in the near future, and I did like that chiptune keyboard line on the bridge... eh, it works pretty damn well for what it is, it gets a pass.

Man, this song is underwhelming. I wasn't a fan of the last time Sia collaborated with Eminem on the deluxe edition of The Marshall Mathers LP 2, and her new collaboration for SHADY XV isn't much better. The verses are quite literally about how Eminem having writer's block and not being able to break out of his mold with production pulled straight from Recovery. It doesn't develop any real energy until he starts spitting on the second verse, but even that feels recycled. Granted, Eminem's not at his best is still above average, but I don't get why he's throwing money behind this when the title track or 'Vegas' were so much better.

Believe it or not, this was one of the few songs from Beyonce's self-titled album I liked, especially with the intro from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that actually did a lot for amping up the feminist themes that tried to underscore that album. This remix with Nicki Minaj aims to do a lot less - and unsurprisingly, it's a lot less listenable - and unsurprisingly, it charted a lot higher. At this point looking for any feminist subtext is pretty much pointless because Nicki Minaj makes it very clear with her verse that this song is about dissing other women who aren't as rich or bad as them. And you know what, fine, the song is more shallow brag rap that they tries to infuse with some populism and some raw power, especially with Nicki going off on her verse, I can give that a pass - if it wasn't for the production. Between the pitch-shifting, how everything is swallowed copious reverb especially the horns for no good reason, the chorus never gaining the dramatic swell, a complete lack of consistent momentum, the abuse of autotune, and the shrill grating synth over Nicki's final bars that just drops out and makes the song feel unfinished. I know I can't expect much from a remix, but I'd take the original any day over this.

And now that I've pissed off a considerable chunk of my audience, let's move onto our newest arrivals, starting with...

94. 'Time Of Our Lives' by Pitbull & Ne-Yo - I already talked a bit about this song when I reviewed Globalization last week, which is the reason this song is charting, but overall it's one of the more likable songs on this album. I still don't understand why Ne-Yo always sounds so inert on Pitbull's songs, but it fits a little better than on 'Give Me Everything' because the song is about ignoring real problems in your life in order to find a moment of solace in the party. And to Pitbull's credit, while his verses are as sleazy and ridiculous as ever, I liked how they stripped things back for the bridge where he actually showed a little weariness and sympathy for his audience and it's a surprisingly human moment. Combined with one of his more restrained beats, I'd argue the song works.

93. 'Sledgehammer' by Fifth Harmony - we're now at our second single from that long-delayed debut album from Fifth Harmony after 'Boss' failed to impress with one of the cheapest sounding horn sounds, an abuse of percussion and ridiculous assertions of dominance with some of the dumbest lyrics I've heard in a while. Thankfully, 'Sledgehammer' is a little better if only because it's bland over being ridiculous. Most of this is a factor of bottom-shelf Syco Records production that abuses percussion over everything else and that terrible pitch-shifted voice on the drum break in the chorus, but the girls doing a decent enough job selling the track and the lyrics aren't bad. But if 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson can't catch fire here, I don't see 'Sledgehammer' doing much better, and stealing a title from an iconic Peter Gabriel song doesn't help your case.

89. 'I See You' by Luke Bryan - of all the songs that showed up on this list, this is the one that surprises me the most. I mean, seriously, we're this desperate for Luke Bryan singles that we need to pull a deep cut from a year and a half ago? And it's not exactly a pleasant listen either - the guitar tone is sour, the pseudo-rap cadence Luke Bryan does not sound good with his lower voice, the backing vocals are pitched too high - but then again, this is a song that's intended to sound bitter and angry, an inability to get over being dumped and friends who are trying to help and it's not working. Believe me, we've all been there, but at the same time, the sourness isn't quite hitting the right note for me - it's more pissy than torn up or legitimately pissed, and it's written in a way that comes off as a little too young for Luke Bryan's older voice. Overall, not a bad song, but it could have been better.

84. 'I Walk The Line' by Craig Wayne Boyd - our Voice cover of the week is of one of Johnny Cash's more well-known hits, and I actually like this cover a fair bit, mostly because it's played in a slightly different way. Johnny Cash kept a rollicking tone that had a certain curt efficiency to it - Craig Wayne Boyd lowers the tempo, adds strings, and has a much more expressive delivery and presentation, and his rougher, incredibly powerful vocals and greater sincerity does a lot for his presentation. Traditionalists will probably think covering Cash is a travesty, but I like Boyd's interpretation - it works.

71. 'I Lived' by OneRepublic - I knew it was too good to last. I had hoped with 'Counting Stars' and 'Love Runs Out' that OneRepublic were taking their brand in a darker, rougher direction, and while you get some of that in the production texture of 'I Lived', this is very much in the vein of older, inoffensive OneRepublic singles that aren't bad, but are nothing special, especially in the lyrical department, which is standard 'you only live once' pablum that isn't all that interesting. Instrumentally, I like the punchier drums, but that's off-set by some backing vocals that don't quite work as well as they should, especially over the bridge. In other words, the song is fine, but nothing special.

65. 'Santa Tell Me' by Ariana Grande - I really shouldn't be surprised that Ariana Grande is releasing a Christmas song. Like her idol Mariah Carey's landmark Christmas song, it's pretty lightweight and basic in terms of production and composition, although the strings are pretty solid, but Ariana's lyrics are, well, more complicated. The story is Ariana reaching out to Santa - if he's really there - to have him confirm whether her new boyfriend is going to stick around into the new year so she knows it's okay to have sex with him. So let me reiterate, she's disrupting Santa's valuable time delivering presents all around the world to ask for sexual advice. And the tone of the song is all over the place too - the lyrics are written fairly straight, and yet Ariana's delivery is so girlish and when the full gospel choir comes in to sing the chorus about giving it all away... look, I don't think this song works, but on some level I want this to be huge like 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' because it is absolutely hysterical. Ho ho ho indeed...

18. '7/11' by Beyonce - no, not like that, I didn't mean 'ho ho ho' like...

Oh by the Nine Hells, am I the only one who remembers what music Beyonce used to make? I didn't love Beyonce's first decade or so of material, with Destiny's Child or solo, but in the past year her brand of songwriting has gotten dumber, sloppier, and nowhere near as dignified as it used to be. When a Rihanna/Shakira collaboration that played like a telenovela melodrama had more dignity and class than this, you've got problems. And it's not that I've got issues with Beyonce showing off more of her ignorant side for a dumb dance song for a deluxe reissue song that was clearly written in less time than it took for me to put together this episode - but Beyonce can make better music than this, because she's not that good at playing her ratchet side. She's got raw intensity on this track, but that's about it, because the beat is generic, reverb-swallowed trap with pitch-shifted vocals laid over the 808s, sloppy pitch correction, and only fragments of a good melody line that mostly come up on the end, and lyrics that alternate between overdone bragging and completely forgettable dance shouts. With this and 'Flawless', I don't get why Beyonce feels she needs to make this kind of music - nothing wrong with a good party song, but this doesn't even have the ambition of 'Flawless'. It's dumb, forgettable, and will likely be destined for the soundtrack of plenty of Worldstar videos. Next...

12. 'The Hanging Tree' by James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence - okay, I'll be honest, the weekend when Mockingjay Part 1 was released, I went to go see Dear White People instead, which all of you should go out and see, by the way, because it's awesome and all the more relevant today. 'The Hanging Tree', cowritten by Suzanne Collins and the Lumineers, shows up in the movie as a dark little poem that obviously telegraphs parts of the plot, and musically is reminiscent of 'Hoist The Colors' in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. It's apparently a song that Jennifer Lawrence absolutely hated performing in any capacity and you can tell in her delivery, with her tempo increasing with each half-murmured line as she seems like she just wants to get it over with. But apparently audiences loved it and now it's charting across the world.

And while I don't see it becoming the next 'Let It Go' or lasting all that long on the charts, 'The Hanging Tree' is a decent enough song - at least when it stays a simple, dark, downbeat folk song. I liked when the chorus came in behind Lawrence, but the heavier classical instrumentation eventually swallows both with the more traditional symphonic choirs and horns made it hold a little less impact than it should. You could argue it's unintentionally reminiscent of the film's themes, swallowing the solitary voice of the figurehead into the heavier, blunter message of the cause that doesn't have the words, but I get the feeling that transition wasn't symbolically intentional for the music - and as such, it doesn't quite hit me the same way some similar instrumentation did. For a counterexample, do you all remember the unique flute melody or the mournful violin piece Howard Shore wrote for the hobbits and Rohan in Lord of the Rings? Those pieces worked so well because they didn't feel the need to drive the melodic motif into the ground by amping up the symphonic element, and some of the most powerful moments of the film are from those melodies being played simply, which carried so much more impact, at least for me.

But I'll rant about film scores another day. Overall, another mixed bag on this week of turmoil, and a little weaker than last week. For the worst, it's a toss-up between '7/11' and 'Flawless', one a remix that took a dump on the original and the other one that pretty much irredeemable from the start. For best... you know, it might be Killers-lite, but I'll take it, 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon, with the runner up being either 'The Hanging Tree' or 'Time Of Our Lives', depending on my mood. Let's hope things improve next week.