Under the Scalpel 03.25.10: Lil Wayne & Eminem, Blake Shelton & Trace Adkins, Julian Velard
Posted by Mark Ingoldsby on 03.25.2010
This week Under The Scalpel tackles three questions: Why must every man born south of the Mason-Dixon Line be portrayed as the arrogant personification of every Jeff Foxworthy punchline? Why would a major label drop an artist on the verge of releasing 'one of the most prominent breakthrough albums of 2009'? And is Lil Wayne actually capable of writing a good song? These heavily biased reviews are brought to you by the sometimes humorous, always heartless guitarist from the rock band A Simple Complex.
"Under the Scalpel: Dissecting Pop Culture One Song at a Time" is a weekly column written by Mark Ingoldsby, songwriter and guitarist for the hard rock band A Simple Complex. Meet the band's new drummer on April 1st by following them on Twitter and/or Facebook.
Lil Wayne & Eminem – Drop The World
Tonight's Special: Crow
As Lil Wayne sits at Rikers, I stand before you forced to eat crow. Weezy has done what I previously insisted was not possible. He released a song I not only like, but have put into regular rotation on my music playlist.
First, a little back-story. Here are just a few of the many things I've written about the Dreaded One (in more ways than one) and his music over the last 17 months:
- "Wayne releases a new song about as often as I sit on a toilet – often with the same results."
- "The man can barely use the English language."
- "My favorite punching bag"
- "Wayne's raps make fifth grader poetry look like Shakespeare."
- "I felt like I was being waterboarded."
- "He has no idea how stupid he sounds to the average person."
- "Spitting his typical stream of nonsense..."
- "...his usual stream of ridiculousness, babbling on aimlessly."
I still feel this way about the rest of Wayne's songs. And until recently, I never imagined he was capable of releasing a song I would find any redeeming qualities in. But a month or so ago, I stumbled on "Drop The World", the second single from his album Rebirth. This song is the gold ring in the fertilizer, a treasure stumbled upon unexpectedly in the nastiest of places.
Surprisingly, "Drop The World" is filled with genuine emotion related through well-crafted metaphors and emotional dialogue.
"I've got ice in my veins, blood in my eyes,
Hate in my heart, love in my mind,
I've seen nights full of pain, days of the same,
You keep the sunshine, save me the rain,
I search but never find, hurt but never cry,
I work and forever try, but I'm cursed so nevermind,
And it's worse, but better times seem further and beyond
The top gets higher the more that I climb."
Wayne's lines are good, but the guest appearance from Eminem is even better. Honestly, without his involvement, the song may never have caught my attention in the first place. Em's lines throw gasoline onto the fire that is Wayne's anger and despair.
The track's music feels a bit thin. The song alternates between disappointing synthetic drum sounds and better-sounding rock drums. It features tinny, subdued guitar chords buried too deep in the mix. It also showcases a couple new wave synth lines that make The Cars sound more modern. Yet it still works in a "that's a pretty solid demo, dude" kind of way.
Before you run out and buy this track expecting greatness, it does have its flaws. I mean, it IS still Lil Wayne. The main line of the song "Girl, I'm-a pick the world up and I'm-a drop it on your fuckin' head" ranks right up there with cheesy threats I haven't heard since the 1980s, like, "I'll hit you so hard your momma will feel it" and "I'm gonna knock you into next Wednesday." Yeah, whatever you say there, tough guy. He may as well be singing "If I lose my temper you're totaled, man… Totally."
Next, I don't mind the occasional F-bomb for emphasis and impact, but unfortunately Wayne overuses it to the point of stupidity. Add Em's F-bombs to the total and the "Tilt" light starts blinking. Too much, guys. Now it's taking away from the song.
Lastly, Wayne still can't help but sound like a constipated Prince. I know I've said this a number of times but it continues to ring painfully true. Hearing him strain to push words out makes me want to slip some Ex-Lax into his pot brownies.
These drawbacks aside, "Drop" is still playlist-worthy. Listening to Wayne express his frustrations in a well-presented collection of metaphors that, quite frankly, I never imagined he'd be capable of saying, forget writing, has become a welcome addition to my music mix.
How many times are we going to be asked to salute the same old list of Bible Belt cowboy-wannabe white trash idiosyncrasies? Must every man born south of the Mason-Dixon Line be repeatedly portrayed as an arrogant personification of every Jeff Foxworthy punchline?
Well, open that gullet wide. Because here comes another serving of glorified southern-boy stereotypes showcased and celebrated like a freshly inked tattoo of the General Lee.
"Hillbilly Bone" is one more dopey collection of textbook southern culture icons and expressions that is completely predictable and painfully cliché. I could have correctly guessed half the words to this song down before having even listened to it. Let's see...
- Grits and Greens
- "Like a Pig to Mud/Cow to Cud"
- Hollering "Yee-haw"
- Someone Named "Bubba" in the Family Tree
- Ford F-150
- Conway Twitty
- Toothless Cousin-Boinkers
Okay, so that last one's not in there. But the rest, of course, are.
The lyrics and music video for "Hillbilly Bone" beckon the listener to basically stand up and pump their fist alongside Trace "Boss Hogg" Adkins and Blake "Rosco P. Coltrane" Shelton in support of the pride felt by those who choose to act like a modern-day Gomer Pyle. Thanks, but no thanks.
The song goes from bad to worse when you realize it is really saying that all people, including you and I, are rednecks; we just don't realize it yet. "We all got a hillbilly bone down deep inside no matter where you from," Shelton and Adkins sing together in the track's hook. Kiss my grits, Mel. You won't find me line dancing, "honky-tonkin'", or mating with barnyard animals any century soon.
Each chorus ends with a cornball "Bone-ba-ba-bone-ba-bone" lyric that sounds like it was shamelessly pilfered from the J Geils Band song "Piss On The Wall". In the song's video, each time he sings this line, Adkins casually points down to his pork and beans. Wait – I think I just heard a "Gah-hyulk" from the back of the room. Now that's some funny stuff right there, son.
I'd like to hogtie the two knuckleheads that wrote this dumb song with a Confederate flag and force them to watch reruns of Hee-Haw until their heads explode. And no, I'm not referring to Shelton and Adkins; they didn't write this crap. Professional country music songwriters Luke Laird (co-wrote two #1 hits for Carrie Underwood) and Craig Wiseman (wrote the #1 country songs of the years 2002 and 2004) are responsible for this disaster.
These cowpokes can stick this hackneyed country boy bragfest where the sun don't shine. Not impressed.
There's nothing like a charming song with quaint lyrics and cheery music to put a smile on your face. Julian Velard, whose music is described as "pop perfection with a raised eyebrow," accomplishes this with his song "Joni".
In it, Velard chats up a stressed-out, lonely girl at the bar, offering his home as a better place to hang out and eventually crash. He assures her that he can handle the weight of her worry in return for good company, and (with good humor) pledges to do whatever he must to convince her to accompany him back home. Shaving and showering are just two of the many sacrifices he's willing to make in hopes of winning her favor.
"I'm not like other guys, so Joni don't act surprised,
If I say something like I wanna get to know you, it's 'cuz I wanna know you,
I'm willing to shave and shower, willing to buy you flowers,
Willing to do anything that I have to, but not just 'cuz I have to,
'Cuz you're all right Joni, all right by me,
I can tell you're lonely, could use the company…
Joni, I don't live far, we can leave this bar, I got cable,
I got cable!"
Velard's heartfelt pleas are wrapped in a witty tongue-in-cheek candor that makes this song a brilliant combination of romance and levity. And he delivers the lines with a pleasant baritone that reminds me of Crash Test Dummies vocalist Brad Roberts.
The music of "Joni" is instantly appealing. The track brings together an uplifting combination of crisp percussion, bouncy piano, euphonic strings, lively bass, and the ring of bells that sound as if they are coming from a music box. As I listen, I'm reminded of other classic pop-rock songs like CTD's "Afternoons And Coffeespoons", Ben Folds Five's "Army", and Elvis Costello's "Every Day I Write The Book".
Velard had self-released three CDs before attracting the attention of EMI Records a few years ago. But despite generating a fair amount of positive press for what was called "potentially … one of the most prominent breakthrough albums of 2009," Velard was unceremoniously dropped from his label.
"We've all heard countless stories about major labels breaking the hearts of artists, shelving records for months, years, maybe even for good," Velard relates in his blog. "They lift musicians to the pinnacle of their profession, only to drop them out in the cold to fend for themselves. Sad to say I am another casualty. But rather than dwell in the darkness, I'm trying to see light at the end of the tunnel."
Fortunately, Velard was still able to self-release some songs from his time spent with EMI. The Planeteer was released in late 2009 and includes the "new mix" of "Joni". This track was my first exposure to his music – thanks to The Spectrum (Sirius 18).
Don't let a major label's stupid move be responsible for your not discovering this Kindergarten gym teacher-turned-pop rocker. Give this excellent song a listen! And of course pass it along to anyone you know named "Joni".
Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)
If You Like: Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Billy Joel, Crash Test Dummies, Elvis Costello, Train, XTC