Rihanna – Anti

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Rihanna wasn’t supposed to last this long. She’s talented and charismatic, but not enough. Her voice sounds unique now only because we’ve heard it in a dozen songs. She doesn’t have the iimmediatepersonas of other artists like Carly Rae or Melanie Martinez or Lana Del Rey. She always had good hooks and connections with famous DJ’s. That’s why so later in her career she could still make a crappy song like “We Found Love” a hit.

Her best songs were never creative. She just had good vocals and hooks. What makes Anti sounds so weird at first is because there was no build up to such an album. There was nothing weird or wild about Rihanna. She was always a conformist, so much so that she pretend to be a tough rapper on “Bitch Better Have My Money”. Even Bieber’s move to AltR&B makes more sense. He was huge. Rihanna doesn’t feel as huge as him, but just a talented vocalist with good hooks.

As brave as this album is, it’s misguided and pointless at the end. For a while I was sure it was incomplete, with the accidental leak at all. It takes a while until you realize “Kiss It Better” is pretty good. “Consideration” and “James Joint” are interludes which feel more like B-Sides recorded for the heck of it, just to try it. The pounding drums of the first track are interesting, but the novelty wears off quickly. There’s not much there besides Rihanna telling us she’s independent and we should respect her for who she is.

Who is she, though? When you adopt cliches that tell me you’re artistic, how artistic and original are you, anyway? Bieber didn’t just adopt the atmospherics of AltR&B. He experimented with it, putting the stripped-down “Love Yourself” right next to the moombahton of “Sorry”.

Anti is artistic and experimental in a predictable way. Instead of adding new things, it just removes club-friendly beats for ‘atmospheric and minimalist’ beats’. Instead of hooks, we get vocal acrobatics. Just because these things aren’t so radio-friendly doesn’t make them good.

These elements aren’t supposed to make your record inaccessible, anyway. Anyone who thinks experimental music is meant to be difficult on purpose never heard great experimental music. Experimental music ism’t merely different, but it find a way to make its difficulty and oddness enjoyable. Experimental music isn’t so much about ‘being difficult’, but about finding new ways to enjoy music.

Rihanna can’t find something to replace her club-bangers with. The last three tracks are all a throwback to ‘Good Ol’ Soul Music’ with vocal acrobatics. It’s just an obvious attempt to cater to ‘serious listeners’, sort of like how “Titanium” was for a while the only acceptable EDM song. What’s their point, though, besides being a throwback? Can’t I just listen to “Good Ol’ Soul Music” instead of Rihanna’s copy? Just compare “Never Ending” to “Stay”. The former is ‘stripped down’ by only having an acoustic guitar doing something in the background, and Rihanna doesn’t sound interesting. She just sounds serious.

Seriousness is another problem. A common misconception is that ‘quality music’ is always serious. It’s the sort of stupidity you expect from young people who just discovered guitars. Rihanna thinks that by never having fun we will respect her, but all it makes is for a joyless, boring album. The best tracks here are the most fun. The guitar of “Kiss It Better” and the bravado of “Desperado” are a lot of fun. Both are progress. They take the toughness of Rihanna and put it in a more melodic, soulful direction. It’s this mix of soulfulness and aggression which makes it genuinaly experimental, weird but fun.

You can imagine Rihanna in the studio, scowling like a character from Texhnolyze writing off ideas. A producer suggests bass wobbles there. Another one points out to Korn’s remix of “Bitch Better” and suggests adding a metalcore breakdown. Another one thinks that maybe she should try to rip off Black Moth Super Rainbow. “No,” Rihanna says. She’s a serious artists now, so we must not do something too crazy. Let’s just make everything vaguely atmospheric using a lot of small sounds and sings low-key. Let’s make none of the songs stick out, because serious artists make albums and not songs.

Too bad Korn’s addition of guitars to “Bitch Better” is wilder than everything here. Even if you take an album-centric approach, you still need songs that make the album worthwhile. I could enjoy an album full of “Kiss It Better”‘s and “Desperado”‘s. They may not be big singles, but they sound like complete songs with hooks. “Yeah, I Said It” just sounds like a collection of pseudo-atmospheric sounds and vocals. It’s almost a parody of alternative R&B.

Or maybe Rihanna just smoke a lot of weed and the whole album is meant to be enjoyed in a drug-induced haze. There are a lot of psychedelic albums that are very enjoyable without drugs, so I don’t see how it is a defense.

Anti is an important album, but only the surface. Rihanna officially becomes a ‘serious artist’ in the worst ways possible. It’s serious, uses the most predictable techniques to inform you it’s artistic but doesn’t contain an actual novel idea or weird. It doesn’t really challenge you or startle. It’s just boring and joyless most of the time. Rihanna could make a great album if she looked to “Desperado” but here, it’s mostly just posturing.

2 bitches who owe Rihanna money out of 5

 

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Sia – This Is Acting

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The role of songwriting is a long-winded debate in music communities. Do artists have to write their own songs to be talented? Do they have to mean what they say to be good? If a rapper writes a convincing song about robbin’ and killin’ and then it’s revealed he’s a cop, does it ruin the song?

This Is Acting somehow must be important to this debate, but I’m not sure how. It’s a collection of rejected songs Sia wrote for others. It’s supposed to reveal, perhaps, something about the singer and the songwriter. Imagine “Alive” if it was sung by Adele or “Space Between” if it was sung by Lana Del Rey.

I can’t imagine anything profound. All I can imagine is that these songs would be far more bearable if Sia didn’t sing them, especially “Space Between”. Sia’s main shtick is that she’s a ‘serious’ Pop star in an age full of Carly Rae Jepsen’s. She stretches her voice. She has huge arrangements and her tone is always grave. There are no “Call Me Maybe”‘s here.

Yes, there’s “Cheap Thrills” and “Sweet Design” but they still sound serious. Sia is that terrible of a singer. She may have technical chops, but like Adele she sucks out the life out of every song. She’s using every song as a vehicle to impress. It’s like a guitarist who can’t stick to a killer riff and has to shred over everything.

Some of it is not entirely Sia’s fault. She has an ugly, unbearable voice. Insulting a female voice as ‘muscular’ in the age where feminism is a hot topic must sound wrong, but there’s no better way to put it. It’s not ‘muscular’ in a way that makes it aggressive or tough or resilient. It’s ‘muscular’ in the fact it removes every sign of femininity. All that’s left are signs Sia had great vocal training and could hold notes.

You can still make a decent record with good hooks if you use your voice right. Sia is always sure she’s on American Idol and that she needs to sing it like the world depends on it. So you get “Move Your Body”, a song hilarious song that would’ve been a B-Side if Rihanna sang it. In the hands of Sia, it’s more serious than any ballad Adele sings.

Adele is an important point of comparison since both have the same annoying technique of being overly serious. At least Adele sings songs that are serious. She may overdo the vocal acrobatics but she has the right tone. Sia thinks songs like “Cheap Thrills” should be sung like they’re about stopping hunger and poverty. “Sweet Design” is the only song that’s somehow fun.

Sia has been terrible since “Titanium” but at least she sounded like she meant what she sung. She sounded like she really believed that the song is the most important thing to happen on earth since the Great Oxygenation Event. Here, it’s so obvious she’s acting.

In truth, authenticity doesn’t matter. Actors and authors write/act things they haven’t experienced all the time. The most important thing to do is to convince the listener you mean what you say. That’s why a lot of musicians can sound thoughtful while being horrible criminals.

Sia is a horrible actor. She’s so detached from the material. Instead of sounding like she believes in the importance, she only does it because the script says so. She follows the formula of a typical Sia song all the way, but the formula is too obvious to ignore. It’s not a grand concept that unites the songs. These are merely serious Pop songs about not being defeated.

If Sia believed in this material, maybe the overblown nature of the music could’ve had some charm. Dream Theater are often fun because they’re oblivious to how ridiculous they are. Sia doesn’t sound like it. She sounds like she knows what sells, that people will gobble it up because it’s more serious than Carly Rae Jepsen.

It can be interesting for a while to guess what song was meant for what artist. In the end, it’s just a collection of overly-serious ’empowering’ anthems. “Titanium” and “Diamonds” were crappy songs. Anthems are supposed to fun. They need a lightness to them. Sia sounds both overly serious and counting her money for all those who wanted copies of “Titanium”. Sia may reveal Pop music is all an act, but she also reveals she’s a horrible actor. I really don’t care if Rihanna doesn’t write her own songs. She’s convincing at least.

The chorus of “Reaper” is horrible. Sia sounds so moronic holding the note as if the world depends on it while the song doesn’t demand it. “Move Your Body” is so serious I can’t listen to it with a straight face. It’s appallingly bad. “Alive” is somehow decent.

1 chandeliers out of 5

Adele – 25

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There are people who think Adele saves the music industry. Unlike othe singers, she has technical abiliy and can sing live. People like this are actually what is wrong with music, not Pop singers who don’t strain their voice. 25 has the tricks that can dazzle an ignorant person. Adele’s voice never remains still. She always pushes it. Building a shelf that can reach outer space is also impressive, but not meaningful or practical.

What’s the point of these vocal acrobatics, anyway? Vocal acrobatics are the anti-thesis of being expressive. A person who’s broken wouldn’t have thr strength to make sure they hit all the right notes. Of course, music is artificial and I’m not sure if Pulambo was as angry as he seemed to be on Glassjaw’s debut. You put an act, but it has to be convincing.

“Hello” is a really good song wrecked by horrible singing. Your average person can sing it better if they switched the style. When the chorus hits Adele hits such notes that makes you wonder whether she’s so broken. When SR-71 made “Hello Hello”, the singer never stretched his voice like this. He was restrained, the knowing the relationship is doomed but by showing some warmth maybe things will improve.

There’s no warmth in “Hello” because of how technically proficient Adele is. She cannot create an intimacy with the audience because she sounds like an American Idol contesntant trying to impress the judges.

The sparse arrangement doesn’t help at all. Instead of creating intimacy, it actually ruins it by pushing Adele’s voice forward. It only emphasizes how the focus should be on Adele’s vocal skills.

Things improve so much when Adele tones it down. “River Lea” is the best track and not just because it doesn’t drill into your head how technical Adele’s vocals are. Toned down, Adele sounds more sincere and soul-searching. The marching drums are also a break from the boring arrangement of piano and strings (which was redundant the first time, anyway).

The idea that technical ability equals good music is a common fallacy of the ignorant. It’s easier to judge it, it takes less thought and it’s not as challenging. The (beautiful) lyrics behind “Hello” or the melody don’t matter. You don’t have to go through much comparing-and-contrasting. If the singer hits the notes or the guitarist can shred for hours, then it’s good music.

Music is good because it’s good for something, and I’m not sure what 25 is good for. It’s supposed to be a heartbreak album, but you can’t sound heartbroken when your vocals are so perfect.

The uber-serious image of Adele also has something to do with the popularity, but it’s the type of seriousness artists have because they have nothing else. It’s like that anime, Texhnolyze, where everyone looks tough and don’t express emotions, which makes it more emotionally shallow than a Michael Bay film.

Don’t wear a serious cover unless you can back it up. Most artists aren’t good enough to do that, and even those who are don’t tend to try to be so important. Adele clearly thinks this is an important record. If she didn’t, then “Hello” wouldn’t have been a Michael Bay version of a ballad. But how is the set-up of just vocals and piano more artistically valid than electronics or guitars? There’s more loneliness in Skream’s “Where You Should Be” than in any other track here. That song has a cold feeling to it, like the detachment you feel. There’s a reason Drake’s vocals are always lower.

But all Adele has to tell us is trite things about heartbreak and love. In “When We Were Young” she recommends taking a photograph because youth doesn’t last. On “All I Ask”, she gives up on having any melody at all. That track is the worst offender. It’s just an obvious show-off, having nothing but a voice and a piano. It’s perhaps the most stripped-down song and the most pretentious.

Besides “River Lea”, the only deviation is “Send My Love”. It’s a bit of a fuck-you-I’m-over-it song and it’s another one where Adele doesn’t stretch her voice. Instead of sounding defiant though, she sounds bored and tired. Instead of throwing herself at a different type of song, she sounds out of confidence. It feels more like she put it on the album so it won’t be all ballads. I don’t see how a tired upbeat song is any better to a tired ballad.

25 was a big event and if you’re into Adele ballads you’ll love it. After listening to so much music though, I need more than just vocal acrobatics. YouTube is full of such acrobats, who can sing popular songs technically better but with much less personality. Adele isn’t any different from them besides the fact she writes her own songs. That’s not a good thing, considering only “Hello” sounds salavageable too. Melanie Martinez did an emotionally-wrecking album without showing off any technical ability. I wonder if Adele will ever learn.

1.5 hello’s out of 5 outside’s.