Miley Cyrus — “We Can’t Stop”

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After witnessing Miley Cyrus’ intense bout of media spectatorship this past year (centered primarily on a fickle engagement to Liam Hemsworth), one might hope that the Disney alumnus would take the opportunity to defend her openly criticized affairs in her much anticipated summer release.

“We Can’t Stop,” however, not only fails to invoke the personal but also reinforces the same philosophy that jeopardized her career with “Can’t Be Tamed”: conformity. Lines such as “To my homegirls here with the big butts/Shaking it like we at a strip club” and the rampant Red Solo cups littering the single cover capitalize on college party-scene consumers. Despite assertions of a maturing musical direction, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus resorting to targeting the now-collegiate generation that first brought her fame in her Hannah Montana days.

Aligned with the electronic minimalist leanings of her previous album’s cuts, “We Can’t Stop” also offers flashes of the hip-hop promised in Cyrus’ recent CNN interview. Released a year after her country Youtube performances entitled Backyard Sessions, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus swapping intimate performances for generic productions meant to cater to —rather than move— an already loyal fan base.

Demi Lovato, Unbroken

“And I just ran out of Band-Aids,” belts Demi Lovato on the swooping ballad, “Fix A Heart”. Naturally, this seems like an understatement for what one of Disney’s most popular teen divas has experienced this past year. With the publicity of Lovato’s struggles with bulimia  and self-mutilation piled on top of the departure from the TV hit, Sonny With A Chance, it would seem Lovato would need more than First Aid kit necessities to help her.
Still, the ballad showcases the best –and worst– of her latest album, Unbroken. The most striking element of Lovato’s latest record is the showcasing of her undeniable vocal talent. At only 18-years old, Sonny With A Chance’s has a level of vocal prowess and stamina that fellow Disney queens, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, will probably never achieve.  On ballads such as synth choir soaked “Lightweight” and the empowerment anthem of a lead single, “Skyscraper”, Lovato conquers demanding vocal sweeps with a precision that gives credence to producer and One-Republic frontman Ryan Tedder’s praising of Lovato as a “Kelly Clarkson level vocalist”. Although such ballads prove to be only a minority of the record’s contents, they are Lovato’s most poignant moments, suggesting that Lovato may eventually be capable of breaking free from her Disney roots.
The majority of Unbroken, however, still has Lovato chanting along to bubblegum pleasures that sound as limited as that of any artist still under contract by Disney. The, Timbaland and Missy Elliot featuring club-stomper “All Night Long” includes a superb example of the cliche lines that flood the album’s high-paced tunes: “Let’s keep the party going all night long/All night long.” Despite featuring A-list guests, tracks such as “You’re My Only Shorty” (featuring Iyez), the peace rallying of the Jason Derulo duet “Together” and the guilty pleasure “Who’s That Boy” are at moments laughable with their boring cameos and lukewarm pop rhythms.
While Lovato certainly has the stadium crowding vocals of any chart topper today, the poor songwriting and faux assertiveness of Unbroken stifle the potential for a promising record by refusing to let Demi take off the Mickey Mouse ears.

Rihanna, ‘Loud’

After the notorious Rihanna-Chris Brown abuse case stormed tabloid columns and blogs, both critics and Rihanna’s followers alike accurately predicted the gothic, distorted R&B of her previous album, Rated R. Still, once news about Rihanna’s return to the studio to create Rated R’s follow-up surfaced, everyone asked the same question: Where would pop’s leading lady take her musical stylings now?
Upon listening to Rihanna’s fifth studio album, Loud, the answer becomes immediately obvious. Producers and songwriters keep the music scene’s most current diva even more relevant by making her latest attempt a compilation of her past albums’ styles. Despite the irony in this formula, it works. On the popular singles, “S&M” and “Only Girl (In The World), Rihanna heralds the return to the top-seller Good Girl Gone Bad’s dance-pop leanings. Meanwhile, songs like the Avril Lavigne sampling, weekend warrior anthem “Cheers (Drink To That) and the murder confessional “Man Down” feature flashbacks to the island girl’s Caribbean homages on Music Of The Sun. As the disc’s highlight, “Man Down” is a sonic smoothie of the Bob Marley style vocals and rhythms that blazed across her debut, and the shady story lines that marked 2009’s Rated R as the year’s eeriest musical thriller.
Still, a fashionista knows that one cannot go retro without solid grounding in the present. Keeping this in mind, Loud threads a sense of maturity and freshness throughout, making it a stylish competitor for Hit Album of the Year.

Matt Duke, ‘One Day Die’

As the followup to 2008’s folksy Kingdom Underground, Matt Duke’s One Day Die shows the promising musician’s ventures into harder, more experimental rock. In songs like “Kangaroo Court”, a speedy rocker with distorted vocals akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo work, and the Eagles-esque “Shangri-La”, Duke’s writing promises more texture while still showcasing his talent for irresistible hooks. Duke’s religious undertones are still in full force on the single “Needle & Thread”, and the eerie, small-town commentary “M.L.T.” As a comfortable blend of familiar and radical, One Day Die solidifies Matt Duke as contender for King of The Underground.