Music: Kanye & Jay-Z, Barbra Streisand, Mason Jennings, & Natalia Kills
Kanye West and Jay-Z
Watch the Throne
Oh, the egos have definitely landed. The two biggest names in hip-hop – certainly in their own minds – collaborate on a mostly successful set of tunes that feature the strengths and weaknesses of both artists. Musically, the material often plays to West’s more adventurous side, with pulsing electronic rhythms merging with driving hip-hop beats. Even the occasional use of auto-tune is to artistic effect rather than a need to disguise flat singing. Considering the two’s standing in hip-hop, there’s a lot of bravado in these lyrics, and more than a few WTF? moments (a real West hallmark) to keep listeners constantly on their toes. No matter, highlights like advance single “H.A.M.” album opener “No Church in the Wild” or “Lift Off” (with Beyonce) make it worth the effort.
What Matters Most
Streisand taps into the lyrics of good friends Alan and Marilyn Bergman for a double-disc collection, with the first drawing the most attention as it features 10 tracks she had not previously recorded. (Not to worry, “The Way We Were” fans, it’s on disc 2 of the deluxe edition). So, what do we learn from these 10 newly recorded songs? First off, even as she nears her 70th birthday, Streisand can still bring it vocally, with her natural power shining like a beacon throughout the set. The arrangements don’t get in the way of the vocals, taking a definite back seat, again, to what brought listeners to the party. Beyond that, it’s really a matter of the listener’s own interest in Bergman’s material that will bring them to the table.
Not surprisingly, Jennings opens up on his latest album, a largely solo effort that cuts across an amazing number of musical styles on its brief, nine-track run. Jennings has always been an open book about his emotions through his 15-year career, and this is no different, from the painful cry of “come home” on album opener “Bitter Heart” or the sense of the loss joy of youth on “Clutch.” The whole album has an instant vibe, as it is just Jennings sitting in some smoky bar with a slightly out-of-tune piano and a few friends tossing in accompaniment when needed. All of that merges beautifully on “Well of Love,” which features the playing of The Living Room, a musical conglomerate that provides a perfect homemade vibe for the song.
The young British filmmaker (birth name, Natalia Keery-Fisher) and singer sticks close to modern pop music on her debut disc, sounding more like Katy Perry, but (thankfully) bringing a bit of Lily Allen sass along for the ride. So, you probably know the drill– steady, driving electronic beats, heavily processed vocals, a guest vocalist or two (here, the Hologram himself, will.i.am) and a bright, shiny sound. The chipper sound grows stale pretty soon, though at least there is a bit of bite to the lyrics (see the I-don’t-want-to-marry “Kill My Boyfriend” for an example). Considering artists like Adele and Florence and the Machine are bringing a fresh British sound, it may be a case of coming to the party too late here for Natalia Kills.