this column debuted back in the fall of 2006, it was designed
to sift through the dreck released by the major labels for
the rare gem, and skewer a few sacred cows in the process.
It was also meant as a commentary on the dreck itself, to
show the state of commercial music through the prism of the
most anticipated new releases, and show the folly of the industry
in the form of some modern-day cut-out-bin fare. (There’s
more of it than you think.)
None of that is about to change; we’re just changing captains.
This month we bid farewell to my colleague Erik Hage, who
is leaving The Major Lift after shepherding it through its
first three years in print. His point of view and informed,
colorful prose will be missed.
To clearly delineate the changeover, I’ve decided to jump
in headfirst with a record that Erik, in his estimable tastes,
probably wouldn’t have touched with someone else’s iPod: Animal,
the debut album from Nashville-born singer (though you would
never guess either fact from her “work”) Kesha Sebert, better
known as Ke$ha. She’s already had the two biggest weeks
in download history (her “Tik Tok” is No. 2; she sang on Flo
Rida’s No. 1 “Right Round”), and landed “Tik Tok” at the top
of the Billboard pop charts for eight weeks, the longest
run for a female artist’s debut single since “You Light Up
My Freaking Life.” Yet nobody seems to actually like her.
I say, shut up tr0llz. Call her what you want—“the female
Mickey Avalon” is a bit harsh; I prefer “Katy Perry on meth”—but
when you’re one of the most reviled artists in popular music,
you must be doing something right.
believe it or not, Animal has a better-than-expected
share of pop thrills. Cheap thrills, sure, but whatever works.
This collection of 14 glitter-covered trash-pop party anthems
is by turns delectable and detestable, sometimes both at once,
but rarely is it boring. Producer Dr. Luke is simply the best
at making blown-out, to-the-max commercial pop fodder, and
his force is strong here. Perhaps too strong: The biggest
criticism here is the fact that the production is as much
the star as the singer. There are enough electronic swooshes
and white-noise beats to ensure that nobody over 30 will ever
hear it willingly. And on most songs, Ke$ha’s vocals are autotuned
to the extreme, played for effect but no more appealing than
your average voice simulator. It works on “Stephen,” the vocals
are rendered almost completely robotic, but paired smartly
with the always charmingly robotic- sounding electric autoharp;
it doesn’t click so well on, strangely enough, the singles.
(Doesn’t help that “Blah Blah Blah” is a legitimately terrible
But wait, you say—can she sing? It’s hard to tell through
all the crap, but I think so. With Max Martin and Benny Blanco
(credited as Benjamin Levin) on board as co-writers, there
are some real hooks in here. Songs about dumb boys and dumb
old men, and mostly just about being young and dumb, are lifted
by scads of childish “whoa-oh-oh” and “nyah-nyah” choruses.
“Dinosaur,” the album’s most ludicrous-slash-awesome track,
sports the game-changing lyric “Dinosaur”(“D-I-N-O-S-A/You
are a dinosaur/An O-L-D-M-A-N/You’re just an old man”); on
“Party at a Rich Dude’s House” she sings with cheer about
about “pissing in the Dom Peringon” and the time she “threw
up in the closet” (which apparently really happened, at Paris
Hilton’s place, so . . . right on, I guess?). This is the
recorded equivalent of a blinged-out cell phone.
in pop music, this Tuesday finds two big-name collaborations
hitting the proverbial shelves. After working seemingly nonstop
for the last few years, superstar producer and musician Danger
Mouse is back with yet another new project, this time billed
under his given name, Brian Burton. As Broken Bells,
Burton is teamed with James Mercer, leader of the Shins, for
an stealthily infectious, compact set of organic, moody pop.
For their self-titled release, the the pair play all the instruments,
and though the production isn’t always a world apart from
Gnarls Barkley, Mercer’s stoney vocals and strummy acoustic
guitar make this more of a song-based, than groove-based,
project. Not that there ain’t grooves—excellent lead single
“The High Road” has a Beck-like folk-hop mope; the understated
but outstanding “The Ghost Inside” is the happiest-sounding
dance song about lost hope in an age, featuring a surprisingly
confident falsetto from Mercer. An overall melancholy vibe
permeates, especially on the intoxicatingly dour “Citizen,”
which sounds like it could be lifted from Beck’s Sea Change.
(There’s that guy again.) And as quick as it gets started,
it’s over, and you’ll find yourself playing it again. A very
Another collaboration making major waves this week is the
latest from a gimmick that turned into a monster: Gorillaz.
Plastic Beach is the first record in five years from
the “virtual band” who gave us two of the last decade’s most
indelible, inescapable pop singles (“Dirty Harry” and “Feel
Good Inc.”). Damon Albarn and company get stranger than ever
with their guest spots, enlisting grime rappers Kano and Bashy
and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music
on “White Flag”; Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and “Feel
Good” MCs De La Soul on “Superfast Jellyfish”; Mos Def and
the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on “Sweepstakes,” one of the album’s
standouts. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith gets a talk break on the
bouncy synth banger “Glitter Freeze”; Lou Reed gets a throwaway
track (“Some Kind of Nature”).
through all this madness (did I mention Snoop Dogg?), this
still sounds like one act, which is an enormous credit to
Albarn’s vision. It’s also a credit to Albarn that the tracks
he sings are among the album’s best, and that it’s all kept
light without seeming tongue-in-cheek. That is, except for
the album’s first verse, when Snoop raps, “The revolution
will be televised.” Get it?
That brings us to the best release of 2010 thus far, I’m
New Here, the first solo record in 16 years from protest-funk
icon Gil Scott-Heron. This is a gripping, emotional
recording from a man who’s been through some serious shit,
to say the least. Long gone is that honey-smooth croon of
his jazzy ’70s work; ravaged by time and misuse (or, the logical
result of inhaling mountains of cocaine and chain-smoking
for decades), his voice is now rough-edged with a bit of a
whistle, a wheezy blues shout when he really digs in. This
brings an additional weight to the words, which find him thoughtful
and reflective in a way he’s never before been. He doth not
protest so much here, but rather talks history—his own history—over
a bed of ethereal beats from producer Richard Russell. He’s
always been a bit elusive, but on I’m New Here he sounds
like he’s found peace with himself and the world. Unexpected,
but absolutely fascinating.