Justin Timberlake: After the Grammys, during which Justin Timberlake performed “Suit & Tie” (The 20/20 Experience‘s first single) as well as another song, “Pusher Love Girl”, JT released “Mirrors”, a song which, with its fuzzy synths and sugary chorus, is far more like the golden tracks off FutureSex / LoveSounds than was the almost disappointing and overly glitzy “Suit & Tie”. “Mirrors” is an eight-minute exploration of love and devotion complete with synthetic handclaps and chilling harmonizing. It’s a diamond, to be sure, and recalls “What Goes Around / Comes Back Around” from FutureSex. The chorus is instantly listenable, lovable, and memorable, and the two-minute outro (“You are, you are, the love of my life” repeated across a diverse soundscape) showcases Timbaland’s production at its most complex and delicious. If 20/20 Experience reflects “Mirrors”‘s quality, we have quite an album to look forward to. 9/10.
Mariah Carey: “Almost Home”, a new song Mariah Carey wrote and performed for the new James Franco film Oz The Great And Powerful, seems to have been sung with an eye toward sniping the Grammy/Oscar for best song in a film right out of Adele’s hands. Carey’s pipes are on point as usual (a five-octave range is hardly surprising from her anymore), but the weird demurring electronic background beat clashes with the song’s un-compelling lyrics, which are hard to imagine away from the events of the film (and I haven’t even seen the film yet!). Film songs are often about as good as the films they’re in, and Oz doesn’t seem like a particularly good movie. “Almost Home” is a skillful performance of a flavorless pancake; perhaps it’ll make emotional impact when played over shots of James Franco’s face, but not until then. 5/10.
Rick Ross: Ricky Rozay is one of the most prolifically featured rappers in the game right now, and for someone who doesn’t have the time to listen to the deep cuts off God Forgives, I Don’t (and who does?), it’s refreshing to hear Ross in a song all to himself. He certainly capitalizes on all three minutes of “Box Chevy”; the division between verse and hook is almost nonexistent, and Ross jumps through the whole story of himself and his brand, Maybach Music, displaying versatility he doesn’t always show off in his verses. He jumps from Trinidad James to a Central Florida reference (holler!) to any number of other subjects, and it’s one of the strongest tracks we’ve heard from him in a while (for the strongest track, see “Diced Pineapples”). It’s also one of the most vulgar. Rick Ross is fat. This song is fat. I mean that. 7/10.
The Strokes: I could be crucified for giving “All The Time”, the new song from the Strokes (the first in about a year or so) anything less than a 10/10, because the Strokes have some of the most cultish fans in indie rock. I’ve never been a huge fan of this band (and they have nothing but huge fans), but I really do like this new song, despite the fact that I can’t understand any of the lyrics. The guitars and backing instruments fill the whole soundscape but don’t drown out Casablancas’s unique timbre, especially on the jangling chorus. This one passes by quickly and expands in depth upon being replayed. It can, however, cause headaches. 7.5/10.
Phoenix: Honestly, I’ve listened to “Entertainment” about four times now, and I can’t find any definitive ways in which it’s difficult from the landmark tunes on the indie rock group’s debut album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Phoenix specializes in what one might call walking-energetically-down-the-street-in-the-morning-during-a-parade-rock, and that vibe is still here in full force the moment the song, off their upcoming album Bankrupt!, begins. There’s nothing much to say here except that it’s Phoenix, it’s good, and even if the words are almost as unintelligible as the Strokes’s, it’s still catchy as anything since “1901”. 8.5/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor