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Today's Top 40 Spectrum: The K-K-K-K Took My Sadness Away

There comes a day in the ever-repeating cycle of Top 40 radio when everything sounds even more recycled than usual because the majority of the hits are by artists on their third or fourth single of the year. Typically, that's the death rattle of popular music for the year, as it's clear there's no one in the pipeline that's going to jump out and reinvigorate the charts. But this month's selection of pop slop is a curious exception to the hard-and-fast rule of beating a dead horse: most of these songs, while all but one of them are trite and safe second at-bats for these artists, are actually quite not horrible, by Top 40 standards anyway. Take a gander at this month's rankings, click the links for YouTubing fun, and experience a very anti-climactic (yet oddly satisfying) edition of Today's Top 40 Spectrum:

"Knock You Down" by Keri Hilson (feat. Kanye West & Ne-Yo): Blogulator friend, commenter, and occassional guest poster Molly emailed me a link to this song weeks ago, before it finally hit the top 20 on Twin Cities Top 40 radio and back then I couldn't wait until it finally caught on here. I knew it was only a matter of time, really, what with the reverse-Brandy & Monica "The Boy is Mine" set-up and intensely warm and dramatic production work. Kanye has a lot of zingers too; from "tell me now can you make it past your Caspers? / so we can finally fly off into NASA" to "this is bad, real bad Michael Jackson / now I'm mad, real mad Joe Jackson," Mr. West proves he may actually have been better when he was twisting phonemes and crafting illogical metaphors than when he discovered 8-bit analog synths and Autotune. I mean I love that stuff too, but frealz, the man's rhyming delivery is incomparably awesome and hilarious, especially when he's having fun and acting.

"I Do Not Hook Up" by Kelly Clarkson: I knew I shouldn't have given "My Life Would Suck Blah Blah" as much praise as I did when it was first released. Of course I knew the woman behind "Since U Been Gone" would have something better up her sleeve later. It's called a 1-2 punch for a reason; the second one is always the knockout. This song blows the first single for whatever her new album is called (albums are for idiots, in the Top 40 world) out of the water. Its chorus makes me wish I was epileptic so I could convulse with its rhythm. The picking guitar in the breakdown is vital to the song's vibrant pulse. So how could this be? How could Clarkson have gotten hooked up with a songwriter that cared more about the brawny vitality of a song rather than the emotional release that ultimately kept "My Life..." from being the outwardly gut-nuker of a song that it should have been? Because Ms. Katy "gut-nuker" Perry is the songwriter, ladies and gents. Get a slightly worse, smoker's-voice rendition of the tune here.

"Waking Up In Vegas" by Katy Perry: And so we are left with Perry herself as the final "K" in this post's title. Right now, having listened to the much-more-rocking-than-usual single only a few times, I can already tell it's going to be grower. It's not outstanding nor is it insipid (the video tells a cute-enough story in a way that fondly recollects story-telling pop music videos of the 90s). It's just fine. But in a way that feels good instead of just meh. It's a cathartic song minus the screaming-in-the-rain self-actualization moment or any kind of incendiary orgasm of cleverly mapped-out production. Perry has stepped down from the pedestal of shock (or even the ADD jingle "Hot 'N Cold", which I like) and created just a glossy pop-rock song with a capable guitar lick underlining a straight-line chorus belt-out. This is the expected step from an artist who had slambang success the first couple times and it might sink her career, but I like the calmed down Perry. I can almost forgive her for "I Kissed A Girl". Almost.

"You Found Me" by The Fray: This is exactly the kind of song that should bore me to tears and make me wonder how Train ever got so far as to influence music being released and charted in 2009. But no. If I wasn't going for alliteration I may even place this song above "Waking Up in Vegas". Oh god I'm listening to the arpeggio-laden bridge right now and I want so bad to cut and paste this at the top of this blog post right now. Listen to this song closely and you'll hear post-rock guitar shredding through the blissful chorus, space-pop noodling in the majestic bridge, and a harmonic lick meant for indie-rock heaven in the verse. So if you can't tell, this one's all about the guitar, though the hi-hat work throughout is aces and even the piano isn't dreadfully overbearing like most bands that practice "Imagine"-redux. The vocals are a touch grainy at times, falling into lite-grunge tedium, but luckily (on headphones especially) it gets drowned out enough to make it more about the instrumentation throughout. Bravo, The Fray, bravo. Keep this up and I just may forgive you for "How To Save a Life".

"The Climb" by Miley Cyrus: I was ready to put this song at the bottom of this month's rankings until I fast-forwarded to the final minute-and-a-half. Even if it's not totally worth it, it's at least fascinating and refreshing enough (though the titular metaphor I'm sure helped convince the record execs to let it happen) to hear a Top 40 song with linear production work rather than the usual circular verse-chorus build-release convention. Stick with it though (or just fast-forward like I can't keep myself from doing each time I listen) and you'll find a synthetic symphonic cacophony of plastic intensity in that climax that is (if only just a tiny bit) worth the wait/fragmented listening experience. The percussion is especially crash-tastic, even if the lyrics and Miley's flatline conveyance are pure trash (and not in a good way).

"Goodbye" by Kristinia DeBarge: More like Kristinia DeGarbage. That old Steam song she's sampling ("Na na na nah / hey hey hey / goooodbyyyyeee") wasn't fun the first time it was played at that Milwaukee Bucks game I attended at age 8 and there's no way, even with Babyface himself behind the mixing board, that it will ever be fun again. It doesn't just suck, it sucks my soul. It rips it from my being, throws hot nacho cheese on its face, decorates it with cheerleader pom-pom plastic stringy things, and makes it wear stilettos. My soul belongs inside me, warm and listening to any of the songs above, not this one. Go away and stay, Miss DeBarge.

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  1. Blogger chris | 4:37 PM |  

    All right, I realize I'm the only one who listens to this trash, but in case you're interested, I added Lala widgets so y'allz can add your two cents more easily.


  2. Blogger qualler | 5:17 PM |  

    Haha hey I actually kinda like "How to Save a Life" if only because it's like an AOR good version of Creeper Lagoon's pop masterpiece "The Way It Goes". Can't say I like the new Fray song better than that one, Christoph! Sorry!

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