Weekly Fiver #19

Welcome to the Weekly Fiver, where I’ll pick five recently released songs of varying degrees of quality and thoroughly break them down for you. No two songs will be on the same tier, and they’ll be listed from best to worst. The top song will be an excellent must-hear tune, while the bottom song will be one you ought to stay away from or else you will make your ears sad. It’s all very scientific.

Excellent Song of the Week

Whatever It Takes- Imagine Dragons

There’s a lot to be said about Imagine Dragons— enough to merit a whole blog post, in fact. In the meantime, let’s stick to the fact that the band has made another inevitable radio staple. It’s a big, motivational stomp-rock anthem with a little hip-hop influence thrown in, as is the custom these days.

This is a song that features the line “Cuz I love the adrenaline in my veins”.

It’s a spiritual sequel to “Radioactive” that will no doubt soundtrack a million workouts. It’s a slice of cheddar from a band that peddles cheese as spectacle, and it works. It just does, okay?!

 

Pretty Decent Song of the Week

Sunset- Acceptance

Sometimes the best palate cleanser is something simple. In a climate where artists are scrambling to mine any scene that hasn’t been scavenged yet and every genre is being mashed up with every other genre, it’s the regular four-piece alternative rockers that stick out. The average has become the outlier.

There’s no boundary pushing here. This is the familiar, uncomplicated sound of a singer, guitar, drums, bass, and a keyboard. There’s a few verses, a few choruses, and a clear-throated vocalist soaked in reverb delivering them with a hard emphasis on melody over lyricism. It’s essentially Don Henley‘s “Boys of Summer” in a minor key interpolation; a mopey man singing about some lost love during the warm months of the year. Nothing less, nothing more.

 

Meh Song of the Week

All I Can Think About Is You- Coldplay

This section typically holds a song that is equal parts good and bad, whose flaws cancel out its good spots. This song however, is the very embodiment of “meh”. It’s precisely in the middle, with nothing pushing it to either side of the spectrum. It’s “meh” turned up to 11. It’s Coldplay on autopilot, harkening back to their Parachutes days as some sort of back-to-basics move. It’s incredibly similar to their song “Atlas” from the Catching Fire soundtrack, with the same lush bloom of sound towards the end coupled with an absolutely unsubstantial melody.

 

Below Average Song of the Week

Less Than- Nine Inch Nails

While we’re talking about artists on autopilot, let’s discuss the new NIN single. Trent Reznor kicked off the year with an EP full of experimental tunes decidedly not meant for radio. It wasn’t very good, but it seemed like a necessary stretching of his legs before once again wading into mainstream music. Turns out that his forays back into rock composition didn’t really yield anything new, as he’s following that EP with a mid-tempo rocker ….full of bleeps and bloops….and Reznor’s agitated speak-singing….that sounds like about twenty other songs he’s already written. Or not written.

What’s the problem, you ask? If the formula works, why shouldn’t he keep on going? He’s paid his dues and should be able to pump out whatever he wants now, even if it is a near-carbon copy of “Discipline” and “Came Back Haunted” and “The Hand That Feeds”. Sure, but if he specifically wanted to get back onto rock radio, maybe he should have properly mixed this song. It sounds like a demo, with the dull drum track only barely getting a facelift in the last thirty seconds of the song. The vocals are dry and mired in the mix while the guitars are grimy, muffled even. For an aesthete like Reznor who’s always prided himself on his studio tricks, this is a huge disappointment. On the plus side, if you want to hear a cleaned up version you need only to find any of the band’s virtually identical previous singles in your music library and hit play.

 

Disappointing Song of the Week

Fleur de Lys- Phoenix

After the breakthrough 2009 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the French indie poppers seem to have developed a problem with writing a melodic chorus. Thomas Mars strangely sticks to flat, single-note lines like the one at this song’s core.

“Now I still look up to you/ now I still look up to you (oh)”

“Now I still look up to you/ now I still look up to you (oh)”

“Now I still look up to you/ now I still look up to you (oh)”

“Now I still look up to you/ now I still look up to you (oh)”

It’s a bland falsetto hook that doesn’t merit the eight-second build-up prior to it and wastes the totally listenable verses and pre-choruses constructed around it. The chord progression change-up near the end is interesting, but it doesn’t amount to much when the vocal line remains unchanged. It really highlights how important every aspect of a song is and how sometimes the strength of one can’t save the incredible deficiencies of another.