5. Songs about Jane – Maroon 5
This one breaks my heart. Today, especially in a post-“The Voice” world, there is little to be enjoyed when it comes to Maroon 5, more aptly named, Adam Levine and These Four Dudes. There 2017 release garnered universal distaste from critics and fans, panning it as uninspired, lacking in character, and overall boring. There was a time, however, when the group was poised as the next big thing.
2002’s Songs About Jane fused elements of jazz, soft rock, and funk to create an intensely fun listening experience. Levine’s vocals were certainly a highlight, but the sensual sound of the band behind him is what made this record as special as it was. Hits like “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved” still enjoy popularity sixteen years later, and benefit immensely from the large instrumental pallet across the project. Maroon 5 has failed to reproduce this sound since, and with the poor reception of their last project, it seems they may not get too many more chances.
4. What A Time To Be Alive – Drake and Future
I realize that it may be slightly controversial to refer to one of the most popular rappers in modern music “terrible,” but I do because its true. While Drake shone early in his career, bringing a smoother approach to the emotional rap/sung music of the later 2000’s, he has more than overstayed his welcome as rap has turned to more organic instrumentation and socially aware lyricism. The hour long bore-fest that was Views proved that Drake’s music functions best as a kind of musical wallpaper, not meant to explore tougher concepts and styles.
Thankfully, the rise of trap music, lead by the constantly successful but equally shallow Future, would provide a perfect venue to showcase that. 2015’s What A Time To Be Alive is far from a game changer, but instead performs the well established points of a trap album very well. Instrumentals are dark and base heavy, themes are violent and simple, and Drake’s articulate style contrasts well with Futures sloppier vocals. “Jump Man” emerged quickly as the projects biggest hit, as well as a good indicator of the records overall content and quality. This album doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it builds a damn good one.
3. Red. – Taylor Swift
I’ll be the first and loudest voice on the anti-Swift bandwagon. The vast majority of her work is overrated and uninspired. Her early work, though honest and fairly well written, is hindered by simply awful vocal performances. Just as she corrected her vocal shortcomings, it seemed she simply lost every bit of writing ability she had left. However, just in the sweet spot, comes Red.
As it nears the ripe old age of six years old, Red. is certainly worth revisiting. While Swifts writes from the limited perspective of a pretty, white, 20-something, she writes honestly, never overstepping her bounds. The instrumentation is well produced and adds to an overall quality which is much higher than her previous work. Red. also marks the official end of Taylor’s time in the Country classification, though her transition was gradual enough that no one was shocked. Now it is fair to criticize the project for a wildly varying tone, especially in the very dated hit “I Knew You Were Trouble,” which dives hard into the dubstep craze of its time, but overall, the record holds a listeners attention for most of its fairly ambitious runtime, and sets a solid example of “good” pop music.
2. Darkhorse – Nickelback
Nickelback is possibly the most reviled band in modern American history, and certainly Canada’s worst export aside from Justin Bieber, but with career that spans two decades an nine studio projects, there must be something there. As with a few other choices on this list, the bulk of Nickelback’s charm comes from their lack of self awareness, and thus, listening to a Nickelback album requires one to drop the same quality.
With that pesky self-awareness out of the way, nothing tops 2008’s Darkhorse. This album is enjoyable in much the same way that watching a Fast and the Furious film is a fun activity. Crunchy guitars lay well over explosive drums and an accenting bass. Each track, of course, highlighted by Chad Kroeger’s grungy vocals, and hyper-masculine, and often overtly sexual lyrics. The album may not fit the mold of “good” in the classical sense, but it’s nothing if not listenable.
1. Unleashed – Toby Keith
While the 90’s will forever be synonymous with Rock and Roll’s angry renaissance, many have forgotten the massive success enjoyed by country music in the latter half of the decade. Artists like Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, and, yes, Toby Keith, rose to prominence with a blend of stadium ready instrumentals, reminiscent of the glitzy style of their 70’s and 80’s predecessors, and an interesting sampling of Mexican and Reggae themes to change the genre landscape to that of the drinking man’s music. These artists also boasted shamelessly twangy vocals and lyrical content which was almost a caricature of the writing which had proceeded them. Enter Toby Keith, and in particular, his 2002 project, Unleashed.
Unleashed is far from a daring effort for Keith. In fact, the subject matter is almost exclusively drinking and patriotism, as one would expect, but its the unrelenting steel guitar, constant use of suspension and release into the final chord, the wonderfully catchy choruses. Toss in a Willie Nelson feature and Toby’s admirable effort to correctly pronounce the word “mariachi,” as well as tracks like “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” “Who’s Your Daddy,” and “Beer For My Horses,” and you’ve got yourself a classic. Listening to Unleashed front to back is like watching your drunk uncle at a wedding with an open bar. He’s drunk, dancing, and occasionally spouting off overly simplistic political views, and you know that its wrong, but you just can’t help but watch and wish that you could some day be that confident.
MAROON 5 – https://open.spotify.com/album/1Rv9WRKyYhFaGbuYDaQunN
DRAKE AND FUTURE – https://open.spotify.com/album/1ozpmkWcCHwsQ4QTnxOOdT
TAYLOR SWIFT – https://open.spotify.com/album/1EoDsNmgTLtmwe1BDAVxV5
NICKELBACK – https://open.spotify.com/album/0GQ9AZBJSj109gmSdSrviC
TOBY KEITH – https://open.spotify.com/album/7ExectJocqn8sMKq4Tn4LY