Thursday, May 03, 2007

Studyin' Orphans

Reviews of Avril, Hilary, and Miranda Lambert are forthcoming. Just need a few more listens. Meantime, here are some orphan song reviews. Songs that got me through the tough studying:

1. Point of Grace - "Circle of Friends"
Review: From 1996 through 2000, when I was in high school, I was heavily involved in my local church's youth group, and so was thus exposed to a crapload of Christian music. I was never huge on it then, and some of it is just embarrassingly bad looking back on it now (Michael W Smith - "Friends"; Avalon - "Testify to Love"). Recently, though, I've been re-examining some of the songs that we used to listen to, and there's two aspects of Christian music I'll still rep for: early Amy Grant and this song (er, counting only CCM and not genre Christian music, e.g. "Jesus Take the Wheel", or hymns). Early Amy Grant I've talked about before, so I'll talk about Point of Grace. They're a tightly harmonized, airy voiced trio of female singers who do lite-pop, definitely the Christian Wilson Phillips. And while that's not my favorite genre, this is a kicking, snapping little song that has nice lyrics which don't beat you over the head with Christianity, and great hooks in the chorus and pre-chorus. The girls are good singers and have good harmony. The whole song is an airy, floating song, like a cloud. It rolls along, washing over you without ever grabbing you, and just gently opening up. It shows a great restraint in both the melody and chorus. If all Christian songs were this good (I'm looking at you, Steven Curtis Chapman) the genre wouldn't have such a bad name today. [8/10].

2. The Hives - "Hate to Say I Told You So"
Review: Man, is it just me or does this song hold up REALLY well. When it came out, it was one in a sea of jangly pop-rock tunes in the vein of The Strokes and The White Stripes and The Vines and whatever. They all blended together in my head and I never really particularly paid too much attention to this song. And anyways, it really isn't as good as "Last Nite" or "Fell In Love with a Girl", which probably caused me to underrate it at the time, but those are two excellent pop tunes. Which means this is pretty danged good too. The fuzzed out jangly guitar creates a propulsive beat that drives the entire song forwards. There's not much of a melody, and the guy isn't much of a singer, he's basically just talking the words. But the rhythm of the verses fit right in with the propulsive beat of the guitar and bass and push the song way forward like a charging train. The song doesn't rock particularly hard, and it doesn't have a very fast tempo, and it doesn't REALLY drive that hard, it just gives the impression of driving hard. Which, it turns out, is good enough. [8.5/10]

3. Blue October - "Hate Me"
Review: A modern rock song, in the vein of more classic, growly rock. The singer's got a kind of whiny voice and the chorus is a classic annoying emo shouting chorus. But good god does this song inject a ton of emotional wallop. What are the lyrics about? I'm not really sure, it sounds to me like he's got one incredibly messed up relationship with his girlfriend, but Wikipedia says it's about his mother, which is just crazy! For a big, manly, growly rock song, the singer and melody sound like they are about 5 seconds from completely breaking down and falling apart. It's teetering right on the edge, which is a dangerous place to stay, but it deftly rides it the entire time. Song makes me wanna cry. Uh, yeah, so what I'm saying is that it definitely should have made my top 50 singles last year. Whoops. [9/10]

4. BBMak - "Ghost of You and Me"
Review: Well, BBMak were like a 3rd tier boy band. Actually, they PLAYED THEIR OWN INSTRUMENTS and so WERE NOT a boy band, or so the marketing went at the time. Whatever. The most notable thing about them was their guest appearance in an episode of TCR favorite Even Stevens. And their biggest (only?) hit, "Back Here" was a limp, boring little number that never went anywhere. But this minor followup hit was, I think, a far superior song. It's actually probably my favorite boy band ballad (OK, maybe "Shape of My Heart"). Most boyband ballads just ride on airy harmonies and hope that they can just let the beauty carry them, when really the singers usually have too weak a voice to make something interesting out of a limp ballad. And on first listen, that's what they are doing here. But the verses cascade into a beautiful, flowing melody in the chorus that lift the song above generic boyband drek and into something a little more. The singers aren't anything special, and there's nothing to the lyrics, but it's all about the melody here, boys. [8/10]

5. Katharine McPhee - "Home"
Daughtry and McPhee both have songs called "Home" on their debut albums? Whatever. McPhee's is way better. This is an extremely pretty song without much of a melody, but unlike BBMak, Kat DOES have the vocal strength to knock it outta the park. It's a love song, with lyrics that aren't groundbreaking, but feature several very nice turns of phrase. And the plinking piano line underpins the song with a touch of class and keeps it from going off the rails. A very light drum kicks in on the chorus, adding a slight beat to the whole affair. The instruments slowly build up throughout the chorus and in subsequent choruses until eventually the entire song is soaring and kicking. It's very lovely one it's all kicked in, and rather than beat you over the head with it right from the start, they build it up gradually, almost imperceptably. And before you know it it's kicking around under the vocal line and adding power to her declaration of love. Katharine has a great voice. American Idol ballad is never a good sign, and it deservedly has a horrible reputation of being treacly, over the top, and cliched. Cliched I'll give you but this is very nicely restrained and Katharine knows better than to inject too much emotion into the vocals (if anything, the opposite is the problem). A superior ballad. [8/10].

Just five songs for today folks. Gotta get back to Hilary, Avril, and Miranda! (all 3 are great).

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