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Robin Thicke, ‘Blurred Lines’
It’s probably safe to call “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke’s ubiquitous dirty ditty that your grandma can’t get enough of (hey, it’s catchy!) – the song of the summer. It’s now officially the longest charting No. 1 single of the year so far, and because of its modestly produced easy-on-the-ears groove, this is something we should all agree is a good thing. For Robin, it absolutely is; based on the single’s mega success, “Blurred Lines” will likely be Thicke’s biggest disc (that’s d-i-s-c; not d-i-c-k) to date. But should it be? It certainly keeps to the soul daddy’s established paradigm of bedroom pillow talk and nightlife booty-bouncers, with “Get in My Way” – where he toughens up and drops the signature falsetto – thematically favoring a similarly named Kylie Minogue song and ranking high among the 11 tracks. With its melty flow almost masking the disc’s raciest come-ons (including turning his own last name into a penis pun, as he should) – and its nasty-good rap from Kendrick Lamar – “Give It 2 U” is up there, too. But otherwise, there’s a lot of blurring here, and it’s not just the lines: Thicke’s always been, despite his kinky teases, a vanilla artist, unable to overcome his “second-rate Justin Timberlake” billing – apart from being “the dirtier one.” His namelessness also hasn’t changed. The club-pop predictability of tracks like “Go Stupid 4 U” and “Take It Easy On Me” do him few favors, and “The Good Life” sweetens his horned-up image but still flops. Despite all the sex talk, “Blurred Lines” needs a Viagra. Grade: C
Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’
To recognize that Kanye West is a cocky, self-righteous egomaniac, which he is, is also to recognize how these idiosyncrasies directly influence his ability to create cocky, self-righteous – and almost always masterful – music (after all, what does the album title rhyme with?). A West record, at this point, is about as unpredictable as his temper bouts with the paparazzi, and so we have the latest entry in his motley empire. And it’s another high-art doozy. Like something off Daft Punk’s latest, “On Sight” cranks the electro stammer, and then he goes harder: Squawking rumbles on “Black Skinhead” make for a defiant rush of adrenaline, he throws down on the fame portrait “I Am a God” (and has, of course, a conversation with the Man himself), and “I’m In It” accents a thundering beat with dog barks, bedroom moans and Bon Iver vocals (somehow it works). These kinky sound fusions aren’t just musical, either; West’s words link sex, Jesus and slaves to make bold statements about liberation – both sexual and civil – and the lack thereof. The closer “Bound 2,” with the best guest vocal on the album coming from soul crooner Charlie Wilson, isn’t so much a social commentary as it is, I guess, a love song to Kim Kardashian or something. He gets her drunk and cums on her, and you can’t help but be intrigued by this kind of casual frankness. So let him be cocky. Let him be egotistical. Let him be Jesus. With his rants on “Yeezus” as forward thinking and out-there as the foundation of beats he serves them on, this sounds like it came from a higher power. Bow down. Grade: A-
The poor man’s Rihanna returns with a self-titled outing that’s got some good jams … for an album that sounds like it should’ve been released five years ago. I mean, not just one but two Nicki Minaj cameos? If the optimistic club joint “Livin’ It Up” – and, to a lesser degree, “I’m Out” – weren’t so good, Minaj’s appearance would be even more baffling. But, despite Ciara’s trend lagging (and the club popper “Overdose,” which sounds a lot like J. Lo), she manages to keep all ears on her when she dips into a sexy timbre on the perfect-for-pole-dancing “Body Party” – and the wordplay pop of “Read My Lips,” where she uses kitchen entendres to describe the act of cunnilingus.
Court Yard Hounds, ‘Amelita’
The lightheartedness of the Dixie Chicks sisters’ second side project suggests that, maybe, they’re ready to move on from their country trio days. Natalie Maines has (she released her own – and better – solo disc recently). “Amelita” is an easygoing set of summery folk pop a la Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun,” with the charming mandolin-flecked “The World Smiles” breezing on by and opener “Sunshine” cheerfully chiding a narcissist. The title track and “Aimless Upward,” with its gorgeous two-part harmonies and heavier emotional crux, are obvious standouts on an album that’s just a little too featherweight to be anything more than background music.