Dig These Discs :: Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Calvin Harris, One Direction
Divas descend on December's Dig These Discs, with a long-awaited CD from Christina Aguilera, and a new collection of old hits from Kelly Clarkson. Rihanna rips out the hits in "Unapologetic," and music powerhouse Calvin Harris comes out from behind the scenes with his own selection. Teen heartthrobs One Direction finish things up.
One of the best artists recording today, Rihanna made a big splash when she hit the scene six years ago with her debut single from "A Girl Like Me." Since then, she’s honed her skills in "Good Girl Gone Bad," "Rated R" and "Loud." Still, her voice is not perfect, her range is limited and she sings and curses as if she could cut a bitch. But that doesn’t stop you from loving her. Like a moth to the flame, there is something about this island-born Barbados brat that is draws you in, despite the burn. Her brutish "fuck you" demeanor is thrilling, even if her reunion with brutish boyfriend Chris Brown isn’t. He duets with her on the single "Nobody’s Business," sampling Michael Jackson’s "The Way You Make Me Feel." She launches the album with the intro, "Phresh Out The Runway," a hard-hitting, deliciously profane, fast-moving electronic tune that is as fresh as its name. She follows with the lead single "Diamonds," which is currently number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and although it is a simple song, there is something hypnotic about it. She sings, "You and I we’re like diamond in the sky, you’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy, when you hold me I’m alive, we’re like diamonds in the sky," and it instantly becomes the story of every love you ever found and lost. Actually, that’s the case with most of her songs, which may explain why she is the youngest solo artist to get 11 singles on the chart, and the highest-selling digital artist in U.S. history. Deep bass opens "Pour It Up," as the song profiles the naughty Rihanna who was rumored back in May [supported in part by her own Instagram photos] to be getting down with the strippers, singing, "strip clubs and dollar bills, and I still got my money." An odd pairing with Eminem results in "Numb," a song ostensibly about being high, "impaired/ no worse for wear." Anyway, it’s nice to see him getting work. Rihanna teams up with Atlanta rapper Future for the electro track "Loveeeeeee Song," a deep R&B tune, as she makes an interesting argument for love, singing, "Why window shopping? You own it." The intensity builds on "Jump," which samples the Ginuwine tune, "Pony." Rihanna makes it her own. She teams up with David Guetta for the dubstep treat "Right Now," singing, "Tomorrow way too far away, and we can’t get back yesterday/ but we young right now, we got right now." She shows her singing chops in the ballad "What Now," with the heartstrung lyrics, "I spend every hour just going through the motions/ I can’t even get the emotions to come out/ dry as a bone but I just wanna shout." Less successful is her ballad with Mikky Ekko, "Stay." The later half of the album lags, with the bland "Get Over It" and "Lost in Paradise," which never quite hits its mark. Although "Love Without Tragedy" makes me want to shake Rihanna until she realizes you don’t have to die for love, the line "I never thought this many people would even know my name" is touching and humanizes this good girl gone bad. Don’t take it the wrong way, boo; as they say on the block, I ain’t mad at ya. Rihanna will launch her "Diamond World Tour" in March 2013.
(Def Jam Recordings)
"Lotus" (Christina Aguilera)
Booty-shaking diva Christina Aguilera is back in the spotlight with "Lotus," her collection of 13 new hits destined to remind people exactly how hot her shit is. And after the heartbreak of the stinkers "Bionic" and "Burlesque," plus her public divorce, we could all use the reminder. She kicks things off with a dubstep, auto-tune vibe in "Lotus Intro," where she urges, "Rise up lotus, this is the beginning." The dramatic spoken-word break at the end is very reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s style. The drama pours over into "Army of Me," where she compares the broken pieces of herself to an army rising up, where she is stronger, a fighter, "a thousand faces of me." Her yodeling vocals in "Red Hot Kinda Love" are catchy, reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s "The Sound of Music" samples, and she channels Rihanna in the heartbreaking confessional track, "Sing For Me" and "Cease Fire." Aguilera rocks in the infectious "Make the World Move," seizing upon the power of music to bring people together, singing, "Turn up the love, turn down the hate." Aguilera doesn’t even want to know his name, singing "Its true what you heard/ I’m a freak I’m disturbed," in the erotically-charged, "Your Body." The dubstep flows in "Let There Be Love," a hot dance track. The fine piano intro in her ballad "Blank Page," hearkens back to her early work, allowing her to show her amazing vocal range. Say what you will, the girl can sing. "Around the World" has a island backbeat that suits Aguilera’s work well, as does the filthy track, "Circles," in which she invites her enemy to sit and spin on her middle finger, with a few "motherfuckers" thrown in for good measure. In "Best of Me," Aguilera meshes electronic flourishes with acoustic guitar for a plugged-in song about heartbreak that morphs into an anthem of self-empowerment. She hits the sauce to forget about her heartbreak in the closer, "Just a Fool," which has a nice country twang to it, with guest vocals by country star Blake Shelton. For her first album in two years, Aguilera has seized upon all of the current popular fads in music, but somehow avoids having the result be derivative. "Lotus" comes off as a strong album, with several breakout tracks sure to see radio play.
"Greatest Hits" (Kelly Clarkson)
Singer Kelly Clarkson has made a career singing about her deluge of personal heartbreak, and her vow to never walk that path again. She made "American Idol" what it is, as winner of the inaugural season in 2002. Clarkson was immediately signed to RCA Records, and her 2002 single topped the Billboard Hot 100. Her first album "Thankful" had some hits, and lead to a rock album, "Breakaway." In this expansive collection of 17 of her best tracks, Clarkson kicks things off with what is perhaps her most famous hit from that sophomore album, "Since U Been Gone." This anthem of self-empowerment in the face of heartbreak has made her something of a heroine among women and teenage girls. The album version is clean and focuses on Clarkson’s fine voice, which is rich and versatile. In 2009, she went mainstream with her fourth studio album, "All I Ever Wanted," featuring "My Life Would Suck With You," the second song on this best-of album. When it came out, the song quickly became Clarkson’s own best-of, breaking records for the biggest leap to number one in a single week in the history of the Billboard Top 100 -- a record it still holds today. She taps into her female power in "Miss Independent," from her first album "Thankful," singing, "What happened to Miss No-longer-afraid?/ It took some time for her to see/ How beautiful love could truly be." Clarkson’s voice has grown and matured over time, as evidenced by her 2011 breakout hit, "Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)," another anthem of female empowerment, as she notes, "It doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone." Her heartfelt ballads include many anguished tunes from her second album, "Breakaway": "Behind These Hazel Eyes," about being swallowed and spit out by love, and "Because of You," about finding oneself through the disappoint of another. "I’ll spread my wings and learn how to fly...out of the darkness and into the sun," she sings in the title track, "Breakaway." And for pure love, nothing beats, "A Moment Like This," Clarkson’s first single, released way back in 2002. On the flip side of this equation lies Clarkson’s brash, never-again vein of songs, including, appropriately, "Never Again," lead single from her third, self-produced album "My December." The following track, "Already Gone," also fits into this category, and showcases Clarkson’s high vocal range. "You don’t know a thing about me," Clarkson levels in "Mr. Know It All," and in the kick-ass track, "Walk Away," she spits out, "I waited here for you like a kid waiting after school, So tell me how come you never showed?/ I gave you everything and never asked for anything/ And look at me, I’m all alone." The greatest hits compilation also contains a few nice surprises, among them a duet with Clarkson and country singer Jason Aldean in the twangy love ballad "Don’t You Wanna Say," with Clarkson singing, "I don’t just wanna make love, I wanna make love last." And in "People Like Us," she shares her hope for the future with those down on their luck, singing, "It’s hard to get high when you’re living on the bottom/ we are all misfits livin’ in a world on fire, singing for the people like us." She dips into the easy-going, loving vibe of the ’70s in "Don’t Rush," with clap tracks and squealing electric guitar riffs. And just in time for the holidays, she closes the album with "I’ll be Home For Christmas," a perennial holiday favorite. Although in truth, Clarkson is far too young to release a ’greatest hits’ album, we’ll gladly take it.
"Take Me Home" (One Direction)
The English-Irish boy band One Direction comprised of Niall Horan (voted the hottest), Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson hit the music scene last year in a big way. After finishing third in British TV’s "The X Factor," they were signed to Simon Cowell’s Syco Records, and dropped their studio debut album, "Up All Night," on which they wooed leagues of young ladies with the anthem of low self-esteem, "What Makes You Beautiful." They sold 12 million albums, and are back now, with "Take Me Home," their new 13-track CD that will come with a 2013 World Tour launching next February. Their first single, "Live While We’re Young," is an unrepentant pop anthem of youth culture, with the band promising to sneak their girl out of the house, saying, "I know we only met but let’s pretend it’s love...tonight let’s get some and live while we’re young." The bouncy "Kiss Me" is pure shopping mall saccharine about showing off your hot girl to your friends, while "Last First Kiss" is a bit more heartfelt, although with the same end goal. "Little Things" is a slow, acoustic guitar-driven love song that has him recounting the little things he loves, from the laugh lines around her eyes to the dimples at the base of her spine. The song shows some maturity and introspection. The ballad "Change My Mind" is another slow love song that the girls will go crazy for, and "Over Again" begs for a fresh start on love. In "Back for You," they promise to return to love, and the boys urge everyone to hit the dance floor in the drum-lead "C’mon, C’mon." The Katy Perry teen pop vibe sings in "Heart Attack," and reminisce about the playing guitar on the beach in the summer of ’09 in the plodding, "Rock Me." The jazzy "I Would" is a love-you-better song, with the One Direction boys spelling out L-O-V-E in what is a commonly-employed method in the album. Too bad most of their fans are too young to spell. In "They Don’t Know About Us," the boys counter the jealousy everyone feels about their real, true love. They end with "Summer Love," singing, "Don’t promise that you’re gonna write, don’t promise that you’ll call, just promise that you won’t forget we had it all/ cause you were mine for the summer, now we know it’s nearly over. Feels like snow in September but I always will remember you were my summer love." While I don’t think One Direction will unseat anyone from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they provide the bouncy pop tracks that the girls love, and really, isn’t that enough?
"18 Months" (Calvin Harris)
Adam Richard Wiles, a.k.a. Calvin Harris, is a Scottish DJ, singer/songwriter and record producer who has made a name for himself by pairing up with some of the music industry’s most accomplished singers. He has written and produced records for artists including Kesha, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, and more, and they have repaid the favor by teaming up with him on 10 of this album’s 15 tracks. Harris has an amazing handle on the current fads in electronic rock and dubstep, and this album is a showcase of everything good. Kelis lends her whispery voice to "Bounce," which has a sick drop point midway through. Harris wears his heart on his sleeve in "Feel So Close," with a toe-tapping electronic heartbeat. He wins by including one of his biggest hits, Rihanna’s "We Found Love." He makes the most of audio ’star wipes’ in "We’ll Be Coming Back" featuring Example, and rocks his instrumental electro piece, "Mansion." Harris teams up with Nicky Romero for "Iron," which has a break-beat ’80s feel to it. Ellie Goulding’s unique voice shines through in "I Need Your Love," as Harris builds the electro beats and clap tracks around this artist whose voice is meant for singing love songs, creating a wonderful discordance. Foul-mouthed rapper Tinie Tempah shouts it out British-style in the club track, "Drinking From The Bottle," singing, "If you ain’t high you not on my vibe." And Dizzee Rascal and Dillon Francis spit on the banging rap track "Here 2 China." Florence Welch makes a mountain out of a molehill in the stellar "Sweet Nothing," creating a fabulous song with just a smattering of lyrics and Harris’ pressing keyboards. The R&B juices flow in the funky "School," replete with effects. And Ne-Yo breaks fresh with his smooth vocals in the dance track, "Let’s Go," singing, "It’s all about where you goin’ no matter where you been." "Sounds like laser music," commented a listenerd about "Awooga," the closing track. It’s high time that Harris got the attention he deserves, and this stellar album is just the vehicle to do it.