Beyonce- Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)

Quality: 4

Clean: 3.5

Genre: R&B, pop

single

Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) is Beyonce’s second single from her album I Am Sasha Fierce. On first listen the music and lyrics converge to create an empowering go-girl kind of message. The beats are heavy and strong, as if Beyonce is shaking a finger in your face. Very danceable and fun, the music is also somehow feminine as if not to separate Beyonce’s power from her female-ness. Have you ever seen the 80’s movie Xanadu? There is a moment in the film where Olivia Newton-John emerges from another realm into our human world. All decked out  in crazy 80’s hair and makeup, her power and beauty do not belong on Earth…the same other-worldly 80’s sound effects are in Single Ladies, signifying that Beyonce too is too much for this world. Lyrics also reinforce the message. I love the way the song begins. Beyonce calls out: All the Single Ladies, all the single ladies, saying: Step UP!! Be strong, you are strong! The chorus is also great: If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it…oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh, telling all the dead-beat boyfriends in the world that there will be no more taking advantage, no more wasting of time. That all the single ladies are not going to be satisfied with less than what is deserved, which of course is the love, respect and commitment that an engagement/wedding ring symbolizes. I like this message. I wish more of my single friends would not compromise for a man. I wish they knew that they are beautiful and capable without one and that they are worth waiting for. They don’t need to change who they are when they meet someone, nor do they need to lower their standards. I love Beyonce for this message.

On consecutive listens however I start hearing other parts to the lyrics. Imagine the situation: you’ve been with a guy for three years, but instead of him proposing like you had hoped, he dumps you. Of course you are devastated and cry your eyes out. But now you are starting to recover and need some validation. Are you really worthless like he said?  So you go clubbing with your girlfriends. You dress to kill and receive lots of attention from the men-folk. They think you are hot and it feels good. So you dance with provocatively with them, and you receive the attention you wanted. Your ex is even there and he’s jealous because he knows you look good. This feels even better. Your confidence is restored and you feel like a woman again.

My problem with the picture painted above is that confidence is restored not because of the content of her character but because of her body.  Every woman wants to know that she is beautiful but it should not be the source of her total self-worth. When the first thing men notice about you is your body, they sometimes aren’t interested in getting to know the rest of you. They may spend time with you but they are really spending time with your body. Beyonce even underscores this when she sings, “if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” Why didn’t she use the word “me”? because she was referring to her body. This might have been the problem with her prior boyfriend.

Overall I think this song is fine. Its catchy and the message is mostly positive but the details are a little shady.

Lyrics:

All the Single Ladies, all the single ladies
Now put your hands up

Up in the club, just broke up
I’m doing my own little thing
Decided to dip, now you gonna trip, another brother noticed me
I’m up on him, he up on me, don’t pay him any attention
Cause I cried my tears, gave him three good years, can’t be mad at me

If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it…oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it…oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

I got gloss on my lips
A man on my hips
Got me tighter in my Dereon jeans
Acting up, breaking my cup
I can care less what you think
I need no permission, did I mention, don’t pay him any attention
Cause you had your turn, now you gonna learn, what it really feels like to miss me

If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it (repeat)
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it

Don’t treat me to these things of the world
I’m not that kinda girl
Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve
Here’s a man that makes me, then takes me, and delivers me to a destiny to infinity and beyond
Pull me into your arms
Say I’m the one you want
If you don’t then, you’ll be alone, and like a ghost I’ll be gone

All the Single Ladies, all the single ladies
Now put your hands up
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it
Don’t be mad when you see that he want it
If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it

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Owl City- Fireflies

Quality: 3.5

Clean: 4

Genre: electronic, bubblegum synth-pop

owl city

I heard Fireflies on the radio which seemed a little out of place. Living in a somewhat rural area, all of the radio stations are either Country, Christian or Ryan Seacrest. Ryan of course only plays the most popular, never anything different or interesting.  You know how it goes: mostly R&B, some Miley, Lady Gaga and once in a while a generic alternative song.  Owl City doesn’t fit those molds.  Electronic beats, and lyrics not about dancing or baby-making, I found the song refreshing. Given, I haven’t been up with the latest Indie releases, I haven’t prowled the internet for interesting and new music for about ten months. My music canvas has been mostly blank so Fireflies was like an invitation to listen to music again.

The lyrics are cute, puzzling and peppy. Falling asleep, or not being able to, and that funny line between the two states of being where reality is blurred seems to be the topic, though it is not clear. Although I’m not exactly sure what he is talking about, I don’t mind because its different and unexpected.

You would not believe your eyes if ten-million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep,
Cause they fill the open air, and leave tear drops everywhere,
You’d think me rude but I would just stand and stare.
I’d like to make myself believe that planet Earth turns slowly,
Its hard to say that I’d rather stay awake when I’m asleep,
Cause everything is never as it seems.
Cause I’d get a thousand hugs from ten-thousand lightning bugs as they try to teach me how to dance,
A fox-trot above my head, a sock-hop beneath my bed,
A disco ball is just hanging by a thread.
I’d like to make myself believe that planet Earth turns slowly,
Its hard to say I’d rather stay awake when I’m asleep,
Cause everything is never as it seems.
Leave my door open just a crack (please take me away from here)
Cause I feel like such an insomniac (please take me away from here)
Why do I tire of counting sheep (please take me away from here)
When I’m far too tired to fall sleep.
Ten-thousand fireflies, I’m weird cause I hate good-byes,
I got misty eyes when they said farewell.
But I’ll know where several are, if my dreams get real bizarre,
Cause I saved a few, and I keep them in a jar.

The music is crackly and beepy with simple bass and a little bit of piano and strings–nice and uncomplicated yet not so basic that its just a loop played over and over. Owl City is just one dude, Adam Young, who’s voice sounds a bit like Postal Service, as does the music itself. Yet Fireflies is more bubblegum and less crafted than Postal Service. Fireflies sounds as if Adam composed the song himself in his basement and recorded it purely for fun, without over-analyzing. In fact the internet-lore is just that: living in his parents’ basement he couldn’t sleep, so he wrote and recorded this song. He became popular via Myspace and now it has escalated to a radio hit. That’s how it ended up on Ryan Seacrest’s station.

The criticism of Owl City is that 1. it sounds too much like Postal Service and is therefore unoriginal, and 2. he’s not Christian enough. I guess I don’t mind that it sounds like Postal Service. Its different enough for me that it isn’t in the same category. Postal Service is actual good quality music with style and meaning, while Owl City is just for fun, silly and all smiles. As for criticism #2…I didn’t know O.C was supposed to be Christian. I go back and forth between the whole Christian-band-sounding-Christian-enough thing.  Perhaps if I had the entire album, I’d feel the same way I did about Family Force Five, that it was too much fun to be fun. But, for now I just like the song Fireflies for what it is.  I enjoy listening to lyrics about something different and positive for once (unlike the rest of Ryan Seacrest radio Lady Gaga gag gag).

Links: Official site (you can listen to the song here), Myspace, Owl City hater review

Family Force 5- Dance or Die

Quality: 3

Clean: 4

Genre: rock, electronic, pop

ff5

There is a Christian radio station in town that primarily plays alternative and hard rock music. I try to listen to it because I want to get to know more Christian music, and I feel like I should try to support a radio station that is at least trying to play good music. The problem is that most of the music sounds the same and I don’t even like it all that much. Consequently, whenever I hear a song that is remotely different or interesting, I try to find out more about it. I heard Fever once and had to look it up. It was different from most other songs on this station because it had electronic elements- the vocals are synthesized- and you know I am a sucker for electronic elements.

Dance or Die is Family Force 5’s second album. Their first was heavier, like Linkin Park, or Rage Against the Machine. Dance or Die is more like a throw back to 80’s synth pop, mixed together with music like The Killers and other such indie/punk music.  When I listened to the songs on their myspace page, I liked, but didn’t love them. I didn’t want to give up though, because I’m always trying to support Christian bands that are different/interesting/don’t sound the same as all the bands/at least good. So I cruised over to Christianity Today‘s music review website (which is actually pretty good). The review basically said the album was too much about fun and didn’t have enough substance either lyrically or musically to carry it. I quickly dismissed the review as being written by old people and bought the album.

I frequently wish there was more music out there, without swears or innuendos, that was fun just for fun’s sake. Fun music doesn’t have to mean anything, it can just be fun. I’m not sure if I’ve changed my mind or not, but the pure lack of substance on this album got on my nerves after a while. The lyrics are just silly. For example, Fever, is about a um, fever, that is well, burning up…”somebody call the New York Times, this fever’s gonna make the headlines.” What does that even mean? Actually, I wouldn’t mind it if there was at least one or two songs with some heft to them, but every song is silly,and meaningless. There are some lyrics that made me think: While listening to D-I-E 4 Y-O-U, I wondered if the song was about Christ, you know the whole dying thing and all…or perhaps even a martyr being willing to die for Christ…but there is nothing in the lyrics to suggest such an interpretation. If the band wasn’t signed to a Christian label I wouldn’t have even thought twice. Another song, How in the World, is a pretty sweet love song, that could be interpreted to be written to Christ, but again, there is nothing in the lyrics to suggest such an interpretation. In fact, there is nothing on the entire album to suggest that this band is “Christian.”

I’m breaking my own rules, because I usually think that a band or album should be taken for what it is, on its own terms, and not for what we think it should be or what it was expected to be. Dance or Die, is supposed to be fun. That was the one and only objective and in that, it succeeded. Also, because they are “Christian” the album is free of swears and innuendos. I should be happy and move on.

I’m not happy. I have to agree that Christianity Today’s review was right on. A single song can be fun, but an entire album should have balance. There should be other songs to bring out a theme, or to remind us why Family Force 5 claim to be Christians, or even that they have emotions. Dance or Die, is one of those albums with two good songs, and the rest sounds too much the same to palate all at once.

Fever:

How in the World:


Kanye West- 808s and Heartbreaks

Quality: 4

Clean: 3

Genre: r&b, electronic, pop

808

I hesitated to post this review here. You might be wondering what Kanye West is doing on a quality and clean blog. It would be like adding a review of one of Madonna’s albums- it almost doesn’t matter what the the content of their music is because their reputations are both so um carnal. Kanye has a reputation for his trash talking bravado, materialistic yet dapper fashion sense and possessing an appetite for causing and basking in controversy. Then there is the way he generally raps about women, similar to other rappers, he treats them like possessions to chalk up on his tally sheet. Kanye is a very talented beat-maker and rapper, consequently he rose to fame quickly. Maybe this is why he has such a big ego, or maybe that is just part of every rappers persona.

Actually what caused me to purchase and then decide to add a review to this blog was the contrast between Kanye’s reputation and the content of 808’s and Heartbreaks. When Love Lockdown came out I was it was not what I had expected. Stylistically and lyrically, Kanye West’s fourth album, is very very different from his past three. The name of the album lays bare the musical and lyrical themes. 808s is a reference to the analogue synthesizer the early 1980’s. It has a characteristically “hollow/tinny” sound which smoothly contributes to the lyrical theme of heartbreak. Instead of rapping, Kanye sings throughout the entire album causing the songs to feel more heartfelt. Instead of the light-hearted, feel-good tempo if his past albums, Heartbreaks is melancholy to its core. The instrumentation is sparse, minimalistic and lonely instead of fully layered and well fed. In the past Kanye has been a little different from other rappers, his production is richly layered and contributes to the message of his songs instead of just background looping. He heavily relies on his favorite tool, auto-tune, as well as as other electronic devices (ie. the electronic voice in Stronger) and uses live instrumentation (actual cello, piano, woodwinds and choirs). Heartbreaks keeps auto-tune as a faithful friend but disposes with the heavy layered devices. There are a few live instruments (including a lovely choir in the first track), but musically the themes are raw percussion with 808 sounding synthesizer beeps and shallow melodies that sound like they came straight from a midi or cheap home-Casio piano.

Lyrically, Kanye’s past songs have been full of bragging how good and easy and full of material possessions his life is. In contrast, Heartbreaks delves into the emptiness of his life, how material possessions mean little  and making lasting positive relationships with women is difficult if not impossible for him. The song that best displays the “emptiness” theme is Welcome to Heartbreak. The lyrics are rich with contrast between the “good life” and his own:

My friend showed me pictures of his kids, and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs.
He said his daughter got a brand new report card, and all I got was a brand new sports car.
Dad crack a joke all the kids laughed, but I couldn’t hear em all the way in first class.
Chased the good life my whole life long, look back on my life and my gone…where did I go wrong?

Kanye’s mother died shortly before he began work on the album. The genuine yet not necessarily romantic heartbreak and grieving portrayed on the album fits with this kind of rift, the kind that rocks you to your core, the kind the death of a mother to a young person (Kanye is only 31) can cause.

The lyrics to several songs give off vibes of a desire for change, yet he is a bit like Peter Petrelli in the T.V. show Heroes. No matter how hard he tries to do what he thinks is right and even to fix past mistakes, he just makes things worse. I can see a man like Kanye deciding to find a real relationship, maybe even invest more in the one he already has. Yet, all he has trained himself to do thus far is treat women shallowly and create relationships based on appearances. One song, RoboCop, reveals the one-sided conversation of a dysfunctional romantic fight, first laying all the blame on the other party, then sarcastically making fun of and putting down that party. He wants to change over night but most people can’t do that. Kanye’s descriptions of the inner workings of his romantic relationships (in the songs, and who knows if they are autobiographical or just songs) reveal a desire for intimacy but a lack in compassion and patience. Perhaps these qualities will develop in time and then he will find and develop a loving lasting relationship, but for now he is caught in the middle; wanting to be someone he isn’t.

I’m fascinated by songs in the main-stream that describe yearning for eternal significance. To me it shows that no one is completely shallow and we all have the same needs at our core. I also know that anyone can change but not everyone does. To me this album shows that universal struggle: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” (Romans 7:21).

As an adult it is fun for me to analyze music with contrasting and unexpected images. However, If I had children between the ages of 5 and 15 I might not have purchased this album (perhaps they would be oblivious at a younger age?). It could send a mixed message to them, and they might not be mature enough to filter the bad from the good. None of the songs have swears but they do portray dysfunctional relationships and talking enigmatically about one’s sordid past. Also, unfortunately, we cannot separate the singer and his image from his music. Kanye is not the type of person I would want to put on display or admire around my young children. With older children however, I think that talking and analyzing media such as this would be very healthy. Teenager’s minds are developing the ability to think through complicated issues with contrasting messages. Parents and teachers are in the role to help teach them discernement in recognizing good and evil instead of just cool and uncool.  I think it can be complicated and I am sure I know people who would not go near this album and others who would go to a concert with their children. Here is a situation that is very gray. Also I do not have children so I can only think about and speculate what I would do. Perhaps I would act entirely different.

Love Lockdown:

Welcome to Heartbreak:

Jem, Down to Earth

Quality: 3

Clean: 3

Genre: Pop

Jem, Jem, Jem. She let me down again. Its Amazing, her first single off of Down to Earth, was uplifting, poppy and fun. It promised more than the album delivered. While musically more mature than her first album, It All Starts Here, her new endeavor is still more on the average side of the spectrum: not exciting, not exceptional, not what I had hoped.

As an album Down to Earth, has a clear theme, which not all pop albums have. The fact that there even is a theme shows forethought and creative direction. The theme itself however is sort of “we are the world”-“why can’t we get along”-“we are all goddesses”, which I find naive and tired. It’s Amazing, sounded good when it was a single, but Down to Earth, Keep on Walking, You Will Make it, and Got it Good all have similar messages, and it blends in with the rest of them. One way that Jem pushes her theme is singing in different languages and using different styles of instruments throughout the album: Japanese, South African and Spanish lyrics as well as influences from Latin, Brazilian, Gospel, piano, electronics, and different types of guitar. Jem’s crunchy, poppy, flavorful texture is a bit like Nelly Furtado or Natasha Bedingfield.

Overall musically, the album is well done, but on the average side of quality. The songs flow well together, draw from a diversity of references yet also have unity. Unfortunately, it lacks a certain pizazz. I give it a 3 for Quality.

Although they contain similar messages, I don’t want to discount that Jem has a number of inspirational or uplifting tracks on this album. The message from It’s Amazing, is repeated and expanded in other songs. Got It Good, summarizes the message well:

Got a soul, got a mind, got a heart that meats in time.You’ve got a smile, got a voice, got the gift of love. You’ve got it good, don’t forget how lucky you are. Darling, darling. Use it to connect with everyone.

She urges her listeners to stop their foolishness and use their talents for the good, to appreciate people for who they are, and to keep on walking.

When I ordered the CD on Amazon, I read a few reviews and I rememer one reviewer said he didn’t appreciate the cynical nature of many songs. I was curious but not put off enough to not order. There is indeed a cynical element to some of the songs. I Always Knew is about how Jem won’t let anything get in her way of getting to the top, including people making fun of her. Its the negative side of Keep on Walking– sometimes in order to keep on walking one must develop some calluses and toughen up. She insists she won’t go so far as to become a *ahem* and the toughening she does is all in the name of music but I’m sure there is also an aspect of pride.

Along with about three semi-swear words on the album, there is other questionable content. One song, I Want You To… is about meeting someone on the dance floor and what you want to do with them. Another song Aciiid!, probably the most dancable and radio-friendly song, is about a woman proudly inviting men to lust after her.

As an average (4 for her inspirational songs, 2 for the two questionable songs) I give the album a 3 for Clean. I also don’t recommend it for those who are looking for an album with zero offences

Cold Play, Viva la Vida or Death and all his Friends

Quality: 4.5

Clean: 4

Genre: Rock

I’ve had this album in my hands for some time now. I’ve also been putting off writing a review because this album is hard for me to analyze. I feel like after listening to it I should have something profound to say, but I don’t.

Musically, the word soundscape comes to mind. The first time I listened to the whole album I was driving for 2 hours across the farmlands of Idaho. The gold, honey and rust colored fields of grain, the wild, rugged sage brush hills of public lands and the kooky wooden barns falling over were perfect visual accompaniment to the album. There is a variety of instrumentation, organic and electronic: piano, strings, rock guitar, organ, drums, a lyre? and more. The music brings to mind urgent emotions such as regret, yearning, resignation, hope, and frustration. I can hear a variety of influences on this album such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire, Air, and of course U2. One interesting aspect of the album is that many of the songs have two distinct parts, almost like the movements of a sonata. If you’ve ever been to a classical orchestra concert, the movements sound like different “songs” but they are part of a whole, and you aren’t supposed to clap between them even though the orchestra pauses for a second. Yes, for example, sounds like a completely new song at about the 4 minute mark, but when you look at the track listing, surprise! its still track 6.

The album, and Coldplay themselves, have been criticized for being too universally palatable. They are definitely polite and don’t venture too far into harsh or experimental sounds. What they do, they do skillfully however. If the listener takes them on their own terms, they are marvelous. On their myspace page, they describe themselves as “very heavy soft rock,” so we must keep in mind, they think of themselves as soft, not hard. The album is lush and brings together a variety of influences and sounds. The variety continues in that some tracks are slow and some are upbeat. The album is cohesive as a whole despite this variety and is knit together with highly skilled hands. It doesn’t break new ground however, and for this it gets a 4.5 for Quality instead of a 5.

Lyrically the songs are interesting and thought provoking. Several songs mention the name of God, death, heaven and the church. I’m always interested at what people have to say about those topics so I listened closely…hmmm I couldn’t really tell what was being said. Some of the songs seem like they are making political references, or perhaps they are literary or historical…I’m not sure. On first listen I thought the words were deep with meaning, hinting at wars and rumors of wars. But on 2, 3 and 4 listens through, it seems the meanings don’t go beyond hints. The title, Viva la Vida, or Live the Life, is perhaps a reference to a play about the life if Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter known for her self portraits depicting the deep suffering of her life. I couldn’t find any information on this however reference however…maybe I’m wrong and its just a nice phrase for an album title. The album cover is a Eugene Delacroix painting of the French Revolution. Another war reference. Maybe its just a theme and hints are all they are meant to be? Its confusing and I leave the record wanting more data instead of being happy to interpret whatever I want. Rolling Stone says what I am feeling nicely:

Coldplay’s desire to unite fans around the world with an entertainment they can all relate to is the band’s strength, and a worthy goal. But on Viva la Vida, a record that wants to make strong statements, it’s also a weakness. Sometimes, to say what needs to be said, you need to risk pissing people off.

I was particular interested in the two songs entitled Lost! and Lost? For my background the titles evoke a religious/salvation idea going about. The interesting thing is that on first listen, the first one (Lost!) sounds almost triumphant, as it to say “I’m lost but I don’t want saving,” and the second (Lost?) evokes more of a weary, humble giving up. The lyrics are the same but the key and tempos are different.

My other favorite song is probably Death and all his Friends because it has a nice instrumental part in the middle, and the lyrics hint at the desire for peace yet not being able to achieve it. It reminds of how humans often yearn for things we cannot have like that verse in Ecclesiastes, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” There is also a second movement to this song which like.

The only song with barely questionable lyrics is, Yes. It is about unrequited lust, yet is amazingly appropriate. It also gets to heart of the problem and reveals the danger involved in acting on lust. The chorus sings: “But I’m just so tired of this loneliness,” but the first verse warns, “my back’s on the line, my back’s on the ropes…night makes a fool of us in daylight.”

For Yes and the ambiguity in general, the album should get a 3 for Clean. The hints at redemption, religion, and the heaviness of live can’t be ignored however. These would give the album a 5. As an average I give it a 4.

Links: pitchfork review, rolling stone review

Jem, It’s Amazing

Quality: 4

Clean: 5

Genre: Pop, dance

Jem: as a child of the 80’s the first thing I think of when I hear that name is Jem and the Holograms!

Ok seriously, I remember when Jem came out with her first album 4 year ago. I heard her first single, They, once on the radio and rushed out and bought the little mini EP, It All Starts Here (which was produced before the full album Finally Woken). My initial enthusiasm was a little much and I was slightly disappointed at the rest of the EP. I still liked it because it was, after all, good pop music and more on the electronic/triphop/dance side.

Jem’s second album, Down to Earth, came out yesterday. I haven’t gotten a copy of it yet…however she’s put out a couple singles already. It’s Amazing, was released as a single in June and on the soundtrack of Sex and the City, the movie. Jem’s contribution is a solid, affirming, motivational and fun song. Lyrically, it reminds me of Mariah Carey’s Make it Happen, or Jordin Spark’s One Step at a Time. Jem urges the listener not to give up, to work hard and to have patience! The chorus is inspiring for anyone needing a little encouragement: It’s Amazing all that you can do, It’s Amazing, it makes my heart sing, now its up to you.

Musically, this song is hard to classify. Poppy, yet slightly more dancy than most pop, the beat is slightly DnB but not really…let’s just say pop. Jem revels in these inbetween genre labels however. Her first album was a little trip hop, a little alternative, a little pop, a little acoustic folk rock. This song clearly has electronic roots looping over and over in the background, but it also has trumpet, guitar, strings, and piano, not to mention Jem’s soothing voice. Oh and as a bonus a computerized 80’s sounding voice at the end urging the listener to trust her instincts, and not give up! Its a good song, not super great. I love it for its positive message and poppy beat. Certainly more creative than most dime-a-dozen pop singers out there. For 99 cents on iTunes I can’t think of a reason not to buy it.

Jem’s Myspace