My Life II ... The Journey Continues (Act 1)
We get nervous when someone makes an album and names it as the sequel of one of their best albums, especially when the namesake for the album dropped over 17 years ago and was a pivotal album in that artist’s career.
But if anyone can fulfill a promise to bring that level of greatness on a new album, it’s Mary J. Blige. And, wow, does she ever deliver.
Mary J. comes out of the gate swinging on the bouncy first song, “Feel Inside,” which features a blistering contribution from rapper Nas. The infectious beats and Blige’s silky voice just keep delivering on tracks like the sparse grooves of “Midnight Drive” and “Mr. Wrong,” as well as on funkier tracks like “Next Level.”
This is how supremely badass Blige is: She covers a Chaka Kahn song on the record and doesn’t eff it up, and instead delivers a glistening modern take of “Ain’t Nobody.”
Need further proof? She also holds her own with Beyoncé, who we all know has a track record of outshining any and all lesser divas who happen to be in the vicinity — if not elbowing them completely out of the picture — on the elegantly laced slow-burning track “Love a Woman.” It turns out the two reigning R&B divas work great together.
Beyond the slickly produced but still-tasteful tracks, Blige also proves she can still hold it down on old-school analog songs like the acoustic-guitar-and-piano-driven “Need Someone” and the brilliantly upbeat “25/8.”
We hope there’s an act III in the future.
Talk That Talk
Born This Way: The Remix
We’re beginning to think Madonna and Janet Jackson had it easy back in the day when all they had to do was make an album, do a few videos and do a tour once every three or four years.
Today’s pop stars, in comparison, have to keep cranking out the product at a breakneck pace. This is Rihanna’s third album in as many years, on top of international touring, commercials and a role starring in what looks like the silliest action movie of 2012 (“Battleship”).
This is probably what happened. They all saw Britney and Christina fall off when they took the smallest of breaks to have a kid, get married, get divorced, make a crappy movie or all of the above. So now the biggest of the pop superstars — Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry — are so fearful of our short attention spans that they keep hammering us nonstop with singles, albums, remixes, magazine covers and other whatnot before we’re even done with the last widget they launched at us.
Granted, Rihanna leaves all the songwriting to team upon team of producers but, damn, girl — you can’t be up in our face all the time, especially when all the albums start sounding the same. Like last year’s “Loud” and 2009’s “Rated R,” Rihanna stays in her synthetic-pop safety zone of thumping dance tracks (“Where Have You Been”), mid-temp grind (“You Da One” and “Drunk on Love”), the title track featuring yet another Jay-Z guest appearance) and an ethereal island flavor (“Watch N’ Learn”).
Sadly, the most interesting tracks the album, the delightfully dirty “Cockiness (Love It)” and “Birthday Cake,” are the shortest songs on the album, with an average running time of under two minutes.
Rihanna, we love you but, please. We need our space.
Gaga, we need a breather from you too. You are wearing us out.
Yeah, your albums take longer to make and you write or co-write all your own songs. But you’re beating us up with new product too. Let’s see ... eight of the 14 tracks on this album and two remixes each of the singles “Born This Way,” “Judas,” “You and I” and “Marry the Night” were already released when those singles hit stores and iTunes.
You greedy little minx!
Seeing as Gaga is one of the biggest and most adventurous pop stars on the planet right now, she could have at least given us an entirely fresh batch of remixes or some alternate versions of songs off the album that we haven’t heard a million times.
Yeah, we know she was busy meeting the president, planning a world tour and doing a Thanksgiving special, but damn.
Luckily there are some really cool remixes to sate our frustration. Goldfrapp does a bang-up job with a twisted and narcotic-slow rendering on “Judas.” The Hurst version of the same song is pleasantly choppy and complex as well. The Horrors turn “Bloody Mary” into an awesome and pulsing goth/new-wave feast.
Otherwise, the rest of the remixes paint the songs with various shades of discotheque, which is OK but so predictable.
The Path to Totality
Welcome to Reality
Cherry Tree Records/Interscope
Popular music has a new “it” genre: dubstep.
Not actually, but you can’t really sell the sound if you call it something established, like drum and bass, electronica, industrial or any of the other dozen terms that apply to the aggressive and catchy subsection of electronic dance music. So now we have the term dubstep, which means the genre will be dead soon because once a movement of music has a name, it can be killed by greed, hype and the record industry.
Just like grunge, nu-metal, emo, trip-hop and all the other blanket terms that came down the pike, dubstep is probably going to have a short shelf life.
How do we know this? Because bands from outside the genre are jumping on the bandwagon.
Korn, a band that helped crystallize the nu-metal genre, collaborated with Grammy-nominated dubstep artist Skrillex for its latest album. And it works for Korn. The band members like to veer off the beaten path every two or three albums, if for no other reason than to make their longtime fans appreciate them more when they snap back to their usual nu-metal form.
“The Path of Totality” bristles with metallic fury but is tempered by the processed percussion, obnoxious low-end and dominating synth sounds bouncing between frenetic choppiness and chilly ambience.
It’s not exactly the caliber of Nine Inch Nails, and there are times when Korn should have bucked against being completely swallowed by Skrillex, as most of the live instruments, especially the bass and drums, got steamrolled in the mix under all the electronic wizardry. But the album does swing for cheap seats on tracks like “Bleeding Out,” “Sanctuary” and “Narcissistic Cannibal.”
Dubstep duo Nero, a relative newcomer to the genre, represents the more club-friendly side of the category than the metallic intertwined styles of Korn and Skrillex. But Nero can still take someone’s head off without guitars.
For the most part, the album bounces between bass-heavy, four-on-the-floor headbangers with dive-bombing synth lines (“Doomsday” and “Fugue State”) and guilty pleasure electro-dance-pop (“Must Be the Feeling”). But the group’s secret weapon is the angelic singing provided by guest vocalist Alana Watson, which elevates “Me and You” and “My Eyes” to greatness. The cover of The Jets’ “Crush on You” is, at the very least, cute.
Overall, both “The Path of Totality” and “Welcome to Reality” are fun batches of songs, either of which would make a decent soundtrack to a night of debauched fun. So go ahead and dig in before the genre inevitably gets oversaturated and fades away.