Dispatches From The Mainstream: 12/11/2012

Bruno Mars – “Locked Out Of Heaven”

Sometimes Bruno Mars is not terrible. It used to be, that time only came once a year at the Grammys. Two years in a row, Bruno Mars has taken the stage at the Grammy Awards and performed stylish, retro and totally enjoyable versions of his dull, boring songs. It started with the doo-wop version of “Grenade” from 2011 (complete with all-male back-up singers) and continued in 2012 with a surprisingly rocking version of “Runaway Baby.” Unlike his debut album, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, which featured no doo-wop and very few hooligans, these performances revealed a Bruno Mars who was obsessed with the musical and visual style of eras gone by. I kept waiting for this version of the singer–who I think of as “Good Bruno” or G.B. for short–to emerge in his studio work, but aside from a co-writing credit on Cee-Lo Green’s irresistible “Fuck You,” G.B. was nowhere to be found. When “It Will Rain” was released, I took it as a sign that Bruno had finally succumb to his bland-yet-marketable side, and I mourned the loss of a potentially interesting artist.

If “Locked Out Of Heaven” is any indication, I was wrong to count G.B. out so soon. Bruno Mars finally committed his retro-fixation to record and it resulted in his best song yet. I’m not saying that “Locked Out Of Heaven” could pass for a long-lost Stax record—Mars really belts it on the chorus, but it’s still loaded with modern-day synth—but the verses have an undeniable old-school feel that helps the song stand out without becoming straight-up Fitz & The Tantrums-style pastiche. The funky guitar stabs, the stuttering vocal sample and the rare pop-music bass line that’s actually worth paying attention to all add up to a fun single that will hopefully be a turning point in Bruno’s career.

As for the lyrics, Mars still has a tendency for the dramatic, but considering that he made his name with a song about a woman who was impossibly perfect in every way and another song about a woman who literally dwelled in the realm of the Dark Lord Satan… it’s refreshing to hear him sing unabashedly about the pleasures of sex.

Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin – “Don’t You Worry Child”

If you’ve listened to the radio any time in the last five years, you may have noticed that we’re living in the era of the ‘club song’. Songs about living in the moment, walking into the club in your best clothes, dancing away your problems… usually set to an electronic beat, these songs are fun in small doses, but more than any other sub-genre of pop song, they’re like candy: too much just makes you feel gross. Personally, my enthusiasm for this kind of song started to wane around the 500th time I heard “Party Rock Anthem.”

It seems like the club song is already on the downward slope to irrelevance. Other trends have taken its place, like the pop-folk of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, etc. Even the fist-pumping, synth-laden, pop-influenced EDM sound, the kind of music that seems tailor-made for big, cathartic dance floor moments is becoming uncoupled lyrically from the setting of the club. “We Found Love” by Rihanna and Calvin Harris was one of last year’s biggest hits, and its (somewhat nonsensical) lyrics don’t even hint at partying… unless you interpret the “hopeless place” mentioned in the chorus to be a particularly depressing bar, in which case, I’m sorry.

“Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia and John Martin (who also helped out the band on last year’s “Save The World”) is another example of this trend. The EDM-style beat wouldn’t be out-of-place in a DJ’s playlist or in heavy radio rotation, but the lyrics are about as far from a club song as you could possibly get. Inspired by the beautiful landscapes of Australia, this song features a narrator reflecting on the soothing words of advice his father gave him in his youth. In a musical culture that celebrates youth and glamorizes living in the moment, it’s bizarre–though not unwelcome–to hear a song unabashedly celebrating nostalgia. Where the club song is all about getting you pumped up, this is a song that wants to comfort you while you dance, like a warm hug from a sweaty man wearing a neon-colored headband.

Christina Perri feat. Steve Kazee – “A Thousand Years (Part 2)”

I may have mentioned that I saw the last Twilight film in theaters. One part of the ending I did not spoil is the montage that happens right before the credits, as a result of Bella mind-melding with Edward in order to remind him of their epic love…. or something. For a non-fan of the series, the montage was pretty lame—seeing clips from Edward and Bella’s five-movie love story just serves as a reminder of what a dull, bland trip it’s been—but the song that plays under it goes a long way towards making the scene work.

Yeah, ha-ha, let’s all laugh at Jason because he likes that stupid Christina Perri song from the Twilight soundtrack. You can judge me all you want, but we all know that if a song hits you in the right place and at the right time, it doesn’t matter how mushy and sappy it is. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a song from a terrible movie sung by the woman who wrote “Jar Of Hearts.” Songs like this get made because we all have moments when we’re driving home in the rain and a big, dramatic song comes on, and even though we know it’s just a stupid over-produced pop song, it just gets us and we end up sing-crying all the way back from the Barnes and Noble. I call these moments “Chicago moments” in honor of the band that brought us songs like “You’re The Inspiration” and “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love.”

If you’re familiar with “A Thousand Years” you probably only know the version that played on the radio around the time when Breaking Dawn: Part One came out. But this is not the same version! For one thing, “Part 2” gets a major boost from the vocals of the fabulous Steve Kazee. Kazee is still starring in the Broadway musical Once, and his appearance on this song is a little bizarre, but, hey, if you’re trying to make the leap from Theater Girl Heart-Throb to Normal Person Heart-Throb, I suppose there are worse ways to do it.

Also, the song has been re-recorded and re-arranged in a way that gives the whole thing a lot more texture. The guitars sound like guitars, and the strings actually have some space to breathe instead of just being crammed into the mix. “Part 2” is about thirty seconds longer than the original, so if you’re dead-set against liking this song, it’s just going to feel like the producers were trying to prolong your suffering. But at least give the new version a chance: if a song can actually make the romance of Twilight seem halfway romantic, it’s worthy of acknowledgement, if not outright commendation.

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One comment

  1. Making the leap from Theater Girl Heart-Throb to Twilight Heart-Throb is hardly a stretch, but I wish Steve Kazee the best. I could listen to “Gold” on a constant loop.

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