I listened to the new Lady Gaga song. The one written for the new Top Gun movie. Once, twice, three times. I then took pause, and decided to listen to it again completely divorced from my ultra-critical brain.
I sometimes feel I’m being too demanding of modern pop artists. Other times I don’t think I’m demanding enough. After listening to Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” three times, I wasn’t sure which side I was on.
Was this a stratospheric hit on par with other soundtrack anthems like “My Heart Will Go On” or “I Will Always Love You”? Or was it, as I initially felt, lacking something? I simply couldn’t decide if my standards were too high or not.
So I listened to it thinking of the context it was meant for. IMAX widescreen, surround sound, Pepsi Cola in hand, Tom Cruise in a jet.
When experienced that way, this song must be fantastic. It’s all bombast, Fourth of July, fireworks and pyrotechnics. It’s a quintessentially American song.
Without the spectacle though, it’s just not as soaring as it thinks it is. For one, the drums are slow as molasses and shockingly sparse. It’s really just a bass and a snare driving the chorus. It’s also missing some background elements that would make it as gigantic as it wants to be. The guitars are nice and crunchy and the duelling leads towards the end are a nice touch, but it needs a more thrilling conclusion. Big synths, more reverb, more drums, everything. If you’re gonna go big, go bigger.
So no, it’s not “My Heart Will Go On”. It’s not even the semi-satirical “Ashes” Celine wrote for Deadpool 2. It’s certainly not “Take My Breath Away” from the original Top Gun, and it need not be said that it doesn’t fly at half the altitude that “Danger Zone” (one of the greatest songs of all time) did.
For the first time ever, Arcade Fire seem uncool.
Since 2004 they were untouchable, an enigmatic ensemble on par with other venerated hipster acts like Talking Heads, Vampire Weekend, Daft Punk, Parquet Courts or Devo. Even during their missteps there was an air of invulnerability around them.
But they’re different now. The lyrics are different. Win Butler talks differently. They’re just a band, promoting a new album.
WE is good. I haven’t listened to it as thoroughly as I’d like to, but I am certain that at least one track from it will make my year-end list. It feels a lot like a full-length extrapolation based upon the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??”.
It’s also very commercial, and the hyper-glossy nature of it is part of the difference in their demeanour. It feels like Arcade Fire: the millennial remake. It’s the musical equivalent of The Karate Kid, Aladdin, Halloween or any other beloved childhood property that received a serviceable but generic update in the past 10 years. Technically it’s excellent, but that spark of originality is gone. The public will always remember “Wake Up”. It’s hard to see them remembering “Unconditional II (Race & Religion)”.
Reading any given post on this website you’ll find at least one reference to clipping distortion, that dreaded trend that I absolutely loathe. Of course every band under the sun needs to give it a try, even though at this point it’s gone from hip and raw to overdone and cringeworthy. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now, but I’ve accepted the fact that artists will likely use it on at least one song on their album. I always have my fingers crossed that it’s on a song with a poor melody, sparing a good song.
Death Cab for Cutie are back and new song “Roman Candles” is just slathered in clipping distortion, but you know what? I don’t care. It’s a really bad song and wouldn’t be good even with the cleanest production available. Hopefully this spares the rest of their upcoming album.
My Chemical Romance have also returned with a six minute single called “The Foundations of Decay”. A nihilistic take on Aerosmith’s “Dream On”, the song is also distorted, but not in the usual way. There’s no clipping or peaking. Gerard Way and company have found an entirely new way to mess with the quality of their music, making it sound like the patch cords connecting their instruments and microphone weren’t entirely plugged in, causing an electronic hiss to mar the entire song. It’s like a wire was accidentally severed and the copper was frayed, leaving an incomplete connection.
Whatever it is that they did, it sounds bad and ruins an otherwise excellent song.
Florence + The Machine finally released new album Dance Fever and it’s pretty much in line with the first two singles, not as much as the redeeming “My Love”. The whole album sounds like it was recorded live, at once, and with microphones up to the instruments. In any regular song, it sounds as if the instruments are all alongside one another. On Dance Fever there’s an odd emptiness between all the various instruments, a buffer of silence that was absolutely intentional, to make the record sound “organic”. Instead it just sounds like a live version of itself, a companion to a properly recorded album we’ll never hear.
“Past Life” is a pretty middling as a Cold War Kids song, but as an Arkells song it’s the best thing they’ve done. Interesting how that can change your perspective on a song.