Dispatches From The Mainstream: 7/22/2013

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Avril Lavigne – Here’s To Never Growing Up

Don’t-give-a-whaaat Ke$ha-style partying by way of Taylor Swift’s pseudo-countrified pop. Is this what it’s come to? I thought you were better than this, Avril! Actually, no, I didn’t, but seeing someone clinging to relevancy this desperately is sad, unless it’s someone truly heinous, which Lavigne never was. Did you know she’s 28? I’m not saying that to make you feel old—she’s too old to sell this kind of bubblegum and too young to get any pathos from the concept. It’s not surprising that she’s chose this path: while most of her music is general adult contemporary, “Girlfriend” is her biggest and brattiest song. Never growing up isn’t so much a lifestyle for Lavigne as it is a marketing ploy.

But the real issue here is that name-drop at the front of the chorus. What Radiohead song do you know that’s suitable to be sang at the top of your lungs? Ms. Perry’s “The One Who Got Away” raised similar questions last year, but Lavigne throws hers right into the refrain and forces you to really grapple with it. Which Radiohead album are these ladies listening to? Is “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” appropriate music for a Mustang make-out session? Is it even possible to sing “Kid A” at the volume Lavigne suggests? I have more questions than answers, obviously.

David Guetta – Play Hard (feat. Akon & Ne-Yo)

EDM is the musical equivalent of empty calories, but even by the standards of modern dance music, David Guetta’s work is dumb with a capital ‘d’. Moreso than Calvin Harris, David Guetta’s music is derivative and comically unsubtle, and some accuse Harris of making the same song over and over again, at least he’s doing it without ripping off Afrojack. Although, D. Guetta and Afrojack have a working relationship, so… maybe Mr. Jack is cool with it?

I don’t want Guetta to be a plagiarist because despite his obvious flaws and the role he played in transforming the charts into an across-the-board synth-fueled bacchanalia, I like his music. It’s big and loud and you can jog to it, and on occasion, it’s fantastic. (See: “Without You”). “Play Hard” doesn’t have a lot going for it aside from that famous synth line in the chorus, but at least this time Guetta credited the original artist.

“Play Hard” is dull—Akon can really suck the energy out of a verse, huh?—but it’s worth a listen just to hear the sound of pop music eating itself in some kind of substance-free Ouroboros scenario. “Better Off Alone” came from a different time, when electronic music was a rarity on the charts, sung by unknowns. Now it’s everywhere, with big-name artists of all genres ready and willing to jump on the train. Alice DeeJay is remembered fondly for their one big song; when David Guetta finally runs out of steam (around the time he samples the chorus from “Castles In The Sky”), he’ll be looked back on with exhaustion and annoyance. Alas, the perils of success.

Capital Cities – Safe And Sound

Here’s the argument against Guetta-style hedomism. This falls somewhere between “alternative” and “dance,” but wherever you place it, “Safe And Sound” is a great reminder that the synthesizer has more settings than “hedonism.” Even in pop music, it doesn’t have to be all build-up and release. Electronic sounds can be more soothing and inviting than a six-string if you use them right.

It would feel a little silly to call this minimalism, but it’s simple, for sure. All I can make out is a synth, a drum machine, a horn, and two guys singing—maybe a little guitar on the bridge, but only for accent. And it works! So much Top 40 is overstuffed to the point where you can’t identify the individual instruments, so it’s nice to hear something this basic.

It’s a bit repetitive and there’s one real groaner of a lyric—“hurricane of frowns”—but the message of the song is so uplifting that it feels more like a mantra, something you chant in order to encourage positive thoughts. The music just goes along with that: the synth line is warm and smooth, and the horn, oh, the horn. The horn is the great under-used instrument of modern pop music. It’s almost cheap how easily a horn signifies triumph, hopefulness or just sheer exuberance, but it’s used so sparingly in “Capital Cities” for what a major part of the song it is. I say we give them a pass. In fact, I say we give everyone a pass. Let’s throw a horn into every pop song we can until we’re all sick of it.

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