The Hot Take #6: Brandon Flowers, Mariah Carey, Hot Chip, and more

The week's new singles, reviewed.
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The week's new singles, reviewed.
Rolling Stone

Welcome to The Hot Take, a new feature where a selection of writers discuss some of the noteworthy single releases of the closing week. This week we take a look at the new singles from Brandon Flowers, the Rolling Stones, Mariah Carey, Hot Chip, Nate Ruess, Refused, Chelsea Wolfe, and many more. 

(Check out the Score Review at the end of the post.) 

Brandon Flowers

"Lonely Town"

Brendan Frank: Brandon Flowers' lyrics usually high wire between buttoned-up, sophisticated sadness and perpetual adolescence, with an inclination towards the latter in recent years. It worked well for him in 2004 as a glossy alternative to the kids in ripped jeans with fuzz pedals. As his gestures have grown bigger and more dramatic, particularly as a solo act, they’ve gotten progressively emptier. Enter “Lonely Town”, a jumbo-sized 80s sendup that ends up saying very little. Ignoring for a moment that Flowers lifts what is supposed to be his hook from the timeless “Solsbury Hill”, “Lonely Town” is content to rip from Passion Pit, Chvrches, et al, with a few half-hearted stabs at experimentalism. C-

Miranda Thompson: "Lonely Town" could be a rip from a new John Hughes film – the one where the brooding lead (that’s Brandon Flowers) sits in his room playing all of his instruments in the hope he gets asked to play at prom (and get the girl, duh). There’s the tootling sax – let’s be honest, any song with sax in it is worth a listen - there’s gospel choir backing, there’s some relentlessly prodding keys tripping along all the way through. So far, so classically anthemic Flowers. And then you hear the vocoder. Just one little warped diversion, but still, it’s gone so Cher! And you think, maybe he won’t get the girl this time. B-

Luis Tovar : It seems lazy to call "Lonely Town" a synthesizer update to "All These Things That I've Done", but lazy turn deserves another, and this song is lazy. Like that other "classic" Killers tune, everything is borrowed and none of it seems real. The nostalgia, the emotion, the artistic credibility. Still, it's a catchy tune. C+

Average:C+

The Rolling Stones

"Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (Alternate Version)"

Peter Tabakis : This proto cut of Sticky Fingers’ fifth best song isn’t a standalone gem. Unlike the breathtaking version of “Wild Horses,” released earlier in April, it's rough, half-finished. But "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" is revelatory in the same way early takes of great works often are, as a peek into the process. You can hear Mick Jagger groping with a melodic and lyrical through line. Evidence of the song’s marvelous singalong chorus is, here, only instrumental. The foundation of Keith Richards’ and Mick Taylor’s guitar dueling, though, is already in place. Still to come: Taylor’s iconic, latin-tinged, extended interlude.

Witnessing the creation of what will become an entry to an immortal body of work only supports a declinist view of popular music. There may be better examples of songcraft, rock or otherwise, in recent memory. But few polished songs, of the near-past or present, approach the aural zap of this, a mere Stones throwaway. A 

Samuel Tolzmann : So much fun! Critically speaking, this doesn’t top the slicker, more dynamic album version of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” but the temperature here in western Massachusetts hit 68 degrees today and this rough-and-tumble guitar-based take was made for me to blast from my porch boombox. B-

Genevieve Oliver : Objectively, obviously, this is a good song. But listen – it’s 2015. What even is the point of continuing to uphold the patriarchal canon of “classic rock” via dumbass, clearly money-grubbing reissues? C

Nathan Wisnicki : “Alternate version” is a misnomer — this is clearly a demo, an abbreviated and somewhat slower warm-up for the masterful seven-minute version on Sticky Fingers (set to be reissued early next month). (And sans-sax, too.) The album version features some of Keith’s fiercest riffing and moved seamlessly from blues-rock into a Santana-ish jam. Here Mick is shoutier, rougher, and there’s some guitar licks that you can liken to the more countrified numbers from the same album. Not exactly revelatory even for superfans, but it still blows everything else this week out of the water. The moment around the 2:25 mark when the guitars sort of sidle through each other is the kind of moment that makes you realize how rare it is in any era for a band to command such a knack for rock songs with grooves loose enough to relax to. A-

Austin Reed: Go ahead. Remaster the Rolling Stones all you want. See if I care. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” was always the hidden heartbeat of Sticky Fingers. “Brown Sugar,” was incendiary, and “Wild Horses,” was one of the best tracks the Rolling Stones ever recorded, but both of them lacked that Jagger brood—the self-conscious quiver that has been mimicked and replicated by millions ever since. It’s Jagger’s how-dare-you urgency that shoves Keith Richards’ elementary-yet-electric solo work into such critical limelight. Sure, this newer, more alternate version means we barely understand what Jagger is saying, but on the other hand, who’s really trying to decipher hidden meaning anymore? I love this. B+

Average:B

HEALTH

"New Coke"

Miranda Thompson: You can almost see the pit forming as this dark, fuzzy track builds and builds before the hi-hat stutters, trips and collapses into that epic, drum-crunching Sail-type drop that some people lose their shit over. If you love waiting for the drop, you are going to LOVE this, and after six years away from the studio ‘noise-rock’ LA lads Health have clearly decided that’s what they’re into. Still, there’s plenty of big guitars and ethereal warbling to plug the gaps between the stop-starts. B+

Austin Reed: Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t really care for music that evokes a visceral compulsion to vomit all over a bathroom. Oh, and won’t you look at that? The people in this video feel the same way. Small world. D

Brendan Frank: “New Coke” is a melting pot of styles and genres; drum ‘n’ bass, breakbeat, dub and noise all show up at some point or another. It’s HEALTH’s first new material of the decade, and it’s as combative as ever, the aural equivalent of that point in the night where you just realized the last drink was one too many. If projectile vomit isn’t your thing, I’d stay away from the music video. B

Average:C+

Lightning Round!

Mariah Carey, “Infinity"
Peter Tabakis: Peter to “Infinity”: “Oh, hey! Ha ha, yeah, it’s been a while. Good to see you, too! So, um, I want to ask you something. Would you, uh, be my date to the junior prom?” B+
Samuel Tolzmann: Considering how far this artist’s star had fallen recently, a return to form feels like a step forward. However…this video…I can’t. B
Nathan Wisnicki: A bunch of people put a hell of a lot of effort into convincing us that they put effort into this. D+
Genevieve Oliver: I was laughing too hard along with the mind-bogglingly OTT lyric video to realize I was being beamed through time back the ‘90s, where I eventually collected my wits and confronted my young self, telling her, don’t worry, Mariah is your constant in this fluctuating universe. B

Hot Chip, "Burning Up”
Miranda Thompson:yawns This snoozy synth lullaby is more likely to make you want to take a nap than go "fuck shit up" or "party hard". C-
Austin Reed: Phenomenal. Why Make Sense is one of my most anticipated of the year, and Hot Chip has done nothing yet to change my mind. Carry on, fellas. A-
Brendan Frank: 
A surprisingly gentle, emotive track from “Hot Chip”, but not lacking in humor either. B

Taio Cruz, "Do What You Like”
Katie Steen: Cheesy and contagious.  Makes me wanna shake my sexy round thing. B
Matt Malone: Any six-year-old could have written this song, BUT it’s groovy. Points for mainstream production using prime funk synths and bass on this otherwise mediocre track. C+
Zach Bernstein: Sounds like a Eurotrash version of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." Whether that's a good or a bad thing is open to interpretation. B-

Nate Ruess (of Fun.), “AhHa"
Katie Steen: AhhhHH why's he yelling at me?D
Matt Malone: What? No. Boring. Slowest four minutes ever. D
Zach Bernstein: No disrespect to Ruess, who genuinely has one helluva voice, but this song is astoundingly irritating. C-

Of Monsters and Men, "I of the Storm”
Katie Steen: Feels gimmicky. D
Matt Malone: This track does absolutely nothing new. D
Zach Bernstein:Why did no one tell me that Mumford & Sons were featuring Carey Mulligan on their latest single?!?C-

Kehlani, “The Way” (featuring Chance the Rapper)
Katie Steen: Yay sex! B+
Matt Malone: It’s a liquid, languid, lascivious track by an almost-Tinashe whose minimalist beats tie in quite beautifully, actually. Through the trite gratitude in their sex talk, these two voices actually fit quite well as a unit. Not bad! B
Zach Bernstein: A little bit off-brand Grande, but Kehlani is most certainly talented, that stutter-step beat remains mildly engaging, and Chance's verse is sufficiently entertaining. B-

The Game, “Ryda” (featuring Dej Loaf)
Katie Steen: "Rida-da-da-da-da-da..."  Ooo, I like that! B
Matt Malone: It’s nothing new, but it’s boatloads of fun. DeJ Loaf—the next big thing, if you ask me—keeps it very very afloat with her raspy, uncaring sassraps. B
Zach Bernstein: My biggest celebrity sighting in NYC over the last two years was the time I saw the Game coming out of a TGI Fridays near Penn Station. I don't really have much else to say. C-

Refused

"Elektra"

Samuel Tolzmann: ATTENTION: THIS SONG WAS COWRITTEN WITH SHELLBACK, who was heavily involved in making Taylor Swift’s 1989. Punk is pop is punk is pop is punk. OMG do you think Refused and T-Swift will collaborate? #Monogenre. #Sweden. #Yes. Oh, the song? It’s really fucking great. A-

Nathan Wisnicki: I’m still looking forward to the Swedish hardcore gods’ long-awaited return, but this first taste is worrisome. It’s not news that they still command a keyed-up, righteous thunder with tightness and clarity, even with the drums shifting off the beat here and there. But the plain truth is that the riff isn’t anything to write grandma about, Dennis Lyxzén’s voice when he’s yelling now sounds like Dave Grohl in corny R-A-W-K!-mode, and the repeated shouts of “Nothing has changed!” strike me as pandering. The Shape of Punk to Come was so powerful in part because it took its tight thunder as a given in a world that’s fucked anyway. “Elektra” seems more self-conscious that everything’s fucked; presumably, the band came to the (understandable) conclusion that they need to prove they’re still up to it. But that remains to be heard. C

Genevieve Oliver: This sounds, in wistful nostalgic fashion, like my mom driving my brother and me around suburban Connecticut, circa 2002, blasting Linkin Park on WXRK because classical music “stressed her out.” Mostly, it makes me wonder what makes some ‘90s punk reunions more stomachable than others. B

Peter Tabakis: “Elektra” is a fleet and muscular comeback for Refused. Cascading metric shifts fire the neurons first trained by an introductory course in music appreciation. And how can anyone deny its hyper fretwork? But this rush comes with little aesthetic reward. Like the calories from a complex marzipan sculpture, empty virtuosity goes down as a mixture of spit and simple sugars. 

Average:B-

Chelsea Wolfe

"Iron Moon"

Genevieve Oliver: If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a moderately creepy, tenderly soft interlude colliding with a massive, noisy-as-fuck chorus. I mean, one of my favorite songs ever is Slint’s “Good Morning Captain.” “Iron Moon” is nearly as much a fucking devastating emotional bulldozer as that tune, which is possibly the greatest compliment I could ever bestow? At least, the huge, gathering-thunderstorm theatricality Chelsea summons is easily something out of an apocalypse movie, or a Coleridge poem. I’m trying to find my way home… A

Nathan Wisnicki: I guess a lot of people are struck by the apparent novelty of juxtaposing a delicate trip-hoppy voice with big loud sections of doom metal roar. Except I’d say “juxtaposing” is too kind a word; “shoving together” is more like it. What’s the point of suffocating the listener if it’s all gonna be halted on a dime to swivel to another one of those soft, “ethereal,” and totally unremarkable arpeggiated acoustic passages? At least the doom parts give you a soundtrack to falling into the chasm. But even there, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of great doom shouldn’t be swooning. D+

Samuel Tolzmann: Mad props to Chelsea Wolfe for writing pop songs without letting her years of dedicated service in the black metal trenches go to waste. That’s really the best way to describe “Iron Moon” – it’s a somber piece of gothic pop that hits hard with the intensity, texture, and scope of metal. Wolfe’s improving as a vocalist with every release, too. Her work here, flipping dangerously between fragile flutter and rock-star howl, reminds me of Beth Gibbons in Third’s harshest moments. B+

Peter Tabakis: Polly Jean Harvey should feel flattered by this plodding, loud-soft-loud, noise ballad. After all, her fingerprints are all over it. But unlike a Harvey cut, which would shoot for a distant cosmic plane, “Iron Moon” remains earthbound and gulps its own tail. Chelsea Wolfe earns points for her impeccable taste, if not the tidal waves of sonic murk that crash across the track. I'm hardwired to love a song like “Iron Moon.” So what explains the broken circuit? Blame it on familiarity. In this case, at least, it breeds indifference rather than contempt. C+

Average:B-

Score Review

Brandon Flowers, "Lonely Town" C+
The Rolling Stones, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking (Alt. Version)" B // Song of the Week
HEALTH, "New Coke" C+
Refused, "Elektra" B-
Chelsea Wolfe, "Iron Moon" B-
Mariah Carey, "Infinity" B-
Hot Chip, "Burning Up" B-
Taio Cruz, "Do What You Like” B-
Nate Ruess (of Fun.), “AhHa" D+
Of Monsters and Men, "I of the Storm” D+
Kehlani, “The Way” (featuring Chance the Rapper) B
The Game, “Ryda” (featuring Dej Loaf) B-