Thursday, December 20, 2007

TCR Top 30 Singles of 2007

I going to wait until the new year to post this, but screw it. I'm probably not going to get the chance to post it for another couple weeks, so I'd rather get it out while I've been tinkering with it than leave it alone for a couple weeks.

30. Enrique Iglesias - "Do You Know (The Ping Pong Song)"
This is Enrique's best single in a very long while, very possibly ever. Sure, it follows the normal Enrique formula and there's not a whole ocean of difference between this and "Escape" or "Be With You", but the melody to this is just so sharp and the ping pong percussion is amazing. Just ridiculously catchy. Of course really catchy pop songs are kinda dime a dozen, which is why it doesn't rank higher, but I appreciate it for what it is.

29. Lori McKenna - "Unglamorous"
One of the best country singles of the year barely even qualifies as a country song at all. Nevertheless, it's a great celebration of ordinary life, with a good melody and a great twangy country singer. A great pop song with a slight country twang, I recommend this to anybody, even people who don't normally like country.

28. Colbie Caillat - "Bubbly"
For whatever reason, I feel free to openly proclaim how much I like Hilary Duff or Aly & AJ, but I just feel so embarrassed for liking this. It's "inoffensive" and "vanilla". Somewhere along the line, those became the biggest insults you can give a song. But I don't mind inoffensive and vanilla (both of which this definitely is). It lacks a huge vocal hook. But it's sweet and cute and infectious. I think there's a place for sweet and cute in music. I love the way the over-cuteness and preciousness of the lyrics interact with the over-cuteness of the music to make some kind of pure, uncut cute. It's like the Milo and Otis of pop songs.

27. Finger Eleven - "Paralyzer"
This is a song that I originally was not too big a fan of, but I've come around on it. Yeah, it's a "Take Me Out" ripoff, but "Take Me Out" is one of my very favorite songs of the decade so that doesn't bother me. I like the disco-fied indie rock a lot better than normal indie rock, so I'm glad that a song like this can come around a become a hit. Danceable and catchy, and one of the five or ten best choruses of the year. Not much to like about this song beyond the chorus, I'm not a big fan of the vocals, the instrumentals are boring "Take Me Out"-lite, and the verses go nowhere. This is scientifically exactly how far a great chorus can take a mediocre song.

26. Ciara - "Like a Boy"
Possibly underrated here. I love the minimalist beat and the vocals are great. The lyrics do nothing to grab me, and while I like the melody I don't love it. It's still one of the best R&B songs of the year and it's a real damn shame it wasn't a bigger hit. I just wish it had a bigger hook.

25. Miley Cyrus - "Start All Over"
A great slice of catchy teen pop-rock, manages to keep an extremely high energy throughout without becoming tiresome. Great for dancing around to, and one of my very favorite melodies of the year. A true highlight from Miley's sophomore album, which even though it was exactly as good as her first album was still disappointing.

24. Sara Evans - "As If"
Really weird and unsettling to think about these lyrics in the context of her personal life, so I just ignore that aspect. It does have good lyrics though, about ignoring all the bad crap in a relationship in a desperate grab to hold on to the good stuff. Easily relateable and not too common in song lyrics. What is harder to ignore than the lyrical context is the awesome pop country melody and Sara's knockout vocal performance. Better instrumentation/production could have pushed this a lot higher.

23. Ashley Tisdale - "He Said, She Said"
Ashley Tisdale's vocal performance is very, very bland in this song and the lyrics are very generic and boring. Which means there's nothing to recommend this song beyond the melody and the production. Fortunately, they manage to be strong recommendations. I love the clappy, stuttering percussion on this song, it really lends a sense of urgency to the verses. It's all building up with a stuttering rhythm and swelling music in the pre-chorus, then it all falls out into a gorgeous, spare chorus. Amazing.

22. Tim Armstrong ft. Skye Sweetnam - "Into Action"
A ska song in my top 25! A song off the Tim Armstrong solo album in my top 25! I never would have guessed, even though I do like a lot of the old Rancid ska songs like "Time Bomb" and "Ruby Soho". This is the natural extension of the sound he had there, and it rolls along nicely into the second or third catchiest hook of the year, as sung amazingly by Skye Sweetnam. It's a lumbering rhino of a song, but it's a great one nevertheless.

21. Cupid ft. DJ Unk and Fabo - "Cupid Shuffle (Remix)"
I think it's well established by now that I love novelty songs an unhealthy amount, and this is one of the best in a long time. I've never actually danced this song, nor have I heard it played on a dance floor, I just genuinely like the song on its own merits.

20. Sophie Ellis-Bextor - "Catch You"
The best Blondie song never released by Blondie. A real dizzying delight, and the first song of 2007 that I really loved, even if it is a bit of a pure pop overload.

19. Katharine McPhee - "Over It"
I have long been a fan of Katharine McPhee, ever since I first saw her on Idol. She was my favorite that season, despite a bad tendency to oversing songs and her seeming compulsion to be the big Whitney/X-tina diva that she totally is not. I worried that would spill over to her music, but turns out her album is mostly just a bunch of warmed over R&B stuff. There are some highlights on there, like "Open Toes" and especially this song, a direct "Too Little, Too Late" rip that works because the formula is so awesome and because Kat sings the hell out of the song. In it's own subtle way it manages to be one of the prettiest ballads of the year. (Not that I mind blatantly pretty ballads a la Mariah but they just aren't right for Kat).

18. Ne-Yo - "Because Of You"
Speaking of which, this mid-tempo ballad is one of the prettiest songs of the year in an unsubtle way. The strings and bass in the musical backdrop are awesome, and the melody is just such an awesome gliding, soaring triumph. This is what Ne-Yo excels at, and he sings the hell out of it. It's the male "Irreplaceable", and though I don't like it quite as much as that song, it's still a really great one.

17. My Chemical Romance - "Famous Last Words"
"It starts out fairly standard, but ends up being nothing short of a genuine rock epic, weaving about 3 or 4 different, equally big, parts together with a great deftness, and all 3 or 4 parts are great, especially the main chorus! It sneaks up on you, but once it hits, it hits hard: emo-rock has met its peak with this song." -- That's my singles jukebox review of the song, and I'm a little bit lower on it now than I was then, but it's basically true. (In particular, it is not even the highest rated emo-rock song on this list).

16. Vanessa Anne Hudgens - "Say OK"
I think I've run out of words to say about this song. I still think it's the second-prettiest dang song of the year and that Vanessa's blank, piercing voice is just startlingly perfect for this song. Nobody appears to like this as much as I do, and I've come to terms with that. I'll just keep listening.

15. LeAnn Rimes - "Nothing Better to Do"
The best country song of the year is this barn-burning stomper by LeAnn, that is probably underrated on this list, but this is where it felt right. High energy and catchy and awesome in the same way that the best Miley songs are high energy and awesome. It hits you right in the face. Probably the best song she's ever released.

14. Fall Out Boy - "The Takeover, The Break's Over"
This is emo-rock only because of who it's by. It sounds like a normal rock song to me, and Patrick Stump is one of my favorite rock vocalists working today. It intricately weaves melodies together just as deftly as "Famous Last Words" and while it's not nearly as anthemic as that song, it's just as well-constructed. The way it bursts into its main chorus is great, and it manages to hold it all together with a simple but great "We don't fight fair" hook and a simple but great guitar line.

13. LCD Soundsystem - "Someone Great"
This was immediately my favorite song on the LCD Soundsystem album, which is possibly a sign of rapidly approaching middle age. Actually, I just love the hooks to this song, though the emotion is apparent throughout and lends it a certain depth. I don't have much to say about this song that any other publication doesn't.

12. Amy Diamond - "Stay My Baby"
Man, it's so awesome. Amy's made a habit of actually releasing her best songs as singles (except "All The Money In The World"), which allows her to do really well on my lists. This Max Martin penned ballad is just as catchy a ballad, it's own way, as most of his classic boy band ballads were. A great return to form from both Max and Amy.

11. Eve ft. Sean Paul - "Give It To You"
For whatever reason, I've always really loved Sean Paul, even though his hooks kinda are all the same. This is his best song since "Get Busy". Not to minimize the accomplishments of Eve, who provides amazing rapping, and this is all on top of a ridiculously catchy guitar loop. A real surprise.

10. Girls Aloud - "Call the Shots"
Much better than anything off Chemistry, and just as good as all of their classic hits. I guess "The Show" and "No Good Advice" are still their best songs, but this is a great ballad. I never thought they would release another song I loved this much, much less a ballad! I love love the bouncing rubber bandy musical backdrop to this, and the slight electro-flair in the chorus. I often think that GA songs go too far on the electro stuff, but it's really restrained here and I think the song really benefits from it. Another real surprise.

9. Britney Spears - "Gimme More"
IT'S BRITNEY BITCH. Not that much better than a few other similar songs on her album, I guess, but the melody to this grabs me. Who could have guessed this song would be this good? More on Britney in the rest of my year end stuff. "Gimme gimme more/gimme more/gimme gimme more" is my #1 favorite hook of the year.

8. Shop Boyz - "Party Like a Rockstar"
Awesome novelty song+really catchy chorus+rap song glorifying golf+genuinely funny lyrics+"t-t-totally dude"= top 10 spot on Greg's list, guaranteed.

7. Natalie Imbruglia - "Glorious"
The higher we get up the list, the more we get to songs I've already written a lot about, which makes it hard to add more. This is still the absolute prettiest song of the year and Natalie is still probably my favorite female vocalist. Oh hell, I'll quote myself: "A really pretty acoustic ballad from Natalie. OK, all of Natalie's songs sound kinda the same -- that's true, and this will win her no new fans. But I'm a previously declared fan of Ms. Imbruglia, and I really, really love this song. It's so pretty and summery! It's got a very catchy melody, and Natalie continues to be one of my 3 or so favorite vocalists in pop music today. This contends for her best non-"Torn" song. Really fun and amazing."

6. My Chemical Romance - "Teenagers"
This is bratty, entitled pop-punk in the way a lot of people hear Avril, but I always just find Avril silly. Not that I don't like Avril. Anyways, this is MCR's "Girlfriend", and it beats Avril at her own game, as it manages to have an even more infectious chorus, and be self-entitled in a much less annoying way.

5. Rihanna - "Shut Up and Drive"
I love the lyrics to this though, even if the central analogy is a bit obvious (Prince, for one, made the same analogy 20 years ago). The melody grabs me too, and yeah the "Blue Monday" sample is a bit too obvious for my tastes, but I think it all works.

4. Spoon - "The Underdog"
Yeah, this one shocked me. I thought there was no way I could like another indie song this much, and had basically written off that "Take Me Out" was a fluke and I was done with indie after that. This, on the other hand, is definitely the best indie song since "Take Me Out", with it's stuttering guitar line, hand claps, and great horn hook. The vocal hook is deceptively simple on this, it seems like he's just rambling on and on, but it gets hella stuck in my head anyways. It's all about the instrumentation on this, and it manages to be really danceable too!

3. Aly & AJ - "Potential Break Up Song"
OMG Greg likes an Aly and AJ Song. I dedicated an entire post to this song. It is located here.

2. Natasha Bedingfield - "I Wanna Have Your Babies"
I'm absolutely shocked that TashBed released a song that I like even more than "Unwritten", but here we are. If Natalie Imbruglia is not my favorite female vocalist in pop today, then TashBed is. I dunno what it is about her mannered vocals I love, but it just works for me. This is completely bonkers in both the music and the lyrics, and I admire its sheer dedication to bonkers-ness. Tash's performance really sells here that she's holding in, about to explode, ready to burst. The whole song is just bursting just below the seams with warmth and energy and love. It makes this the most true to new crush/first love song I've heard in a long, long time. This was #1 on my list for a lot of the year, and I keep liking it more and more. I like this song more than I liked "Sweet Temptation", but less than I liked "Not This Year".

1. Miley Cyrus - "See You Again"
Obviously, this is not a surprising placement. I have written very much about this song already, which is my favorite Miley song ever and has the best pure melody since "Come Clean", at least. And NOT ONLY that, but it features Miley's best ever vocal performance, by far. The whole chorus is just pure musical genius. Best part is still "My best friend Leslie says 'Oh she's just being Miley'."

Thus we have the best 30 singles of the year. Future posts will explore best albums, TV shows, and movies (featuring a TRUE SHOCKER at #1), but not for another week or two probably.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

The Movie: Enchanted
Starring: Amy Adams, James Marsden, Patrick Dempsey, Susan Sarandon

This review contains slight spoilers towards the end, please be warned.

Brief Plot Summary: A fairy tale (animated) princess, Giselle (Adams), meets the man of her dreams, Prince Edward (Marsden), and they are engaged to be married. Unfortunately, Prince Edward's evil step-mother (Sarandon) does not approve of the coupling and thrusts Giselle into the real, non-animated world. Edward follows to find her. While in the real world, Giselle searches for Prince Edward, and meets up with single father Robert. They start to click. I'll stop further so I don't spoil the UNBELIEVABLY SHOCKING TWIST ending.

Commentary: Enchanted falls into the same realm of family oriented holiday fare that gets released every year. For whatever reason, this film has been extremely widely critically praised, whereas similar films such as Sky High and Ella Enchanted were basically panned. I've even been reading that it's possible that Amy Adams could be nominated for an Oscar for best actress, a prospect that both delights and baffles me. I'd love to see it, but I'm not entirely sure why this one is a sure-fire Oscar contender while, say, Reese Witherspoon in Just Like Heaven is completely beneath that ceremony.

Oh wait, do I sound negative? Then let me state up front: Enchanted is quite possibly my favorite movie of the last several years. Sky High and Ella Enchanted are the two closest, most obvious, parallels to this movie in the last few years. And while I am a big fan of both of those films, I don't think there's really any doubt that Enchanted is substantially better than both of them. So what's the Enchanted difference?

First, the humor in the movie was frequently genuinely funny, thanks to the stellar comedic performances of Amy Adams and James Marsden. The scriptwriter for this is clearly well schooled in Disney films, and he satirizes the most ridiculous aspects of these movies excellently. Working purely as a vehicle for humor, this movie just blows away all of the other movies of this type. The costumes and production design in this movie are also pitch perfect and frequently beautiful. Amy Adams has been singled out for the most praise in this film, understandably. She is just incandescent in this role, and she really makes you love the character of Giselle. Not only is she funny, she hits the emotion in the movie really well, and just charms the hell out of you.

The movie toes the line between saying that the fairy tale romance & fantasies do exist and do come true and between showing the fallacy of these notions when transported to the real world. By believing in the supremacy of true love while at the same time acknowledging that true love is a deep emotion and requires significant work to achieve and maintain, the film has staked out a fairly unique place. It's a dangerous ground, as it could end up being pandering or self-contradictory, but I think it manages to get out a coherent and consistent message, and I think there's a lot of truth to the message it tells.

Further, the love story in this movie was so great. It's really one of the better love stories I've seen on film. There's a scene right towards the end where Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey dance with each other which is just heart-bustingly beautiful and perfect. It made me cry (tears continued intermittently through the part where Patrick wakes up Amy with the kiss), which was really embarrassing because I was watching the movie in the theater with my brother, mother, and sister-in-law (I hid my tears). My favorite movie scene of the year, I think.

So did I have any problems with this movie at all. Yes I did, and it's one that several other reviewers mention too: the ending. I guess I understand basically what they were trying to do, seeing as all of the movies of this time seem to end with a big action sequence. Since this parodies Disney movies, it makes sense to throw in a big action ending too, and try to subvert the conventions. Unfortunately, the execution takes you right out of the movie and doesn't feel right. Fortunately the sequence is fairly short and easily ignorable/forgettable.

I have no particular comment about the animation scenes. They were fairly well done, but seem to exist solely for the purpose of setting up the plot. Ditto the songs, which are basically necessary given the nature of the film. I was not notably impressed by any of the songs, which were generally not too good. The "That's How You Know" sequence was very funny.

So, back to the beginning. Why Enchanted and why Amy Adams with all the critical praise? The answer is that I don't know but it really warms my heart to see that when a movie of this type is executed this well the critics sit up and notice.

Final Grade/Comments: The fact that I wanted to watch the movie over again immediately after seeing it, despite the lack of a game-changing twist or complicated plot speaks to how much I enjoyed it. The young woman sitting behind me said to her companion, as the movie was ended, "Oh my God, that was like the best love story ever." OK, while I can't quite agree with that hyperbole, I do say this was the best movie of its type in a long, long while and it beats 99% of the Disney fare it's spoofing at their own game. The poorly conceived ending is not enough to sway this away from a 10/10 and my guess is I would have enjoyed the movie even more had the sound in the theater I was watching the movie at not kicked out for 10 minutes during what appeared to be a crucial scene.

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