Some singles reviews this week, plus a couple that didn't make the cut:
Jay-Z, "Show Me What You Got"
The shout-out to James Brown ("Give the drummer some!") near the top is apt: as with Brown's merciless funk workouts, "Show Me What You Got" goes straight for a singular, self-aggrandizing statement, rather than muck about in story, and the dense, celebratory orchestration is meant to underscore the rapper's supposed virtuosity. However, this Vegas-style razzle-dazzle, complete with glamorous brass, show-offy piano glissandos, and snaky Wreckx-N-Effect sax, is intoxicating enough on its own to distract the listener from Jay-Z's laziness on the mic. It's an effective first single in the sense that it raises excitement for Kingdom Come, but its purpose feels limited to promotion (it's also in a new Budweiser ad, with Hova hollering from a convertible), and if its place on the album is as something other than an intro, I'll be worried.
Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats"
As someone who disdains the predictable trad-rock trappings that generally characterize the sound of contemporary country, I'm constantly surprised at how the genre routinely wins me over. Most of the time, it comes down to two elements that country has in abundance: strong, charismatic performers and clever, richly detailed lyrics. On "Before He Cheats," Underwood snarls about a "white-trash version of Shania karaoke" and "three-dollar bathroom Polo" in a big, pliant voice that seethes with contempt at the right moments. If the sonic palette is rather conventional, that's fine: it makes the song's real charms all the more apparent.