A few months ago, Trustafarian favorites Sublime re-formed, replacing deceased frontman Bradley Nowell with Youtube sensation Rome Ramirez. The resulting album, Yours Truly, set precisely no one on fire, and in fact stands as one of the most egregious sins white people have committed against reggae in quite some time.
SuperHeavy isn’t quite a reggae group, but it does count Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley as one of its own. Other members include Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, and Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman. If the whole enterprise smacks of desperation to you, then congratulations, you’ve figured out SuperHeavy; Damien’s the only one of these performers with a good album in recent memory (last year’s excellent Nas collabo Distant Relatives), and really, he’s only on hand to add some world-music credibility. Ditto Rahman, who sounds excellent on “Satyameva Jayathe”, but who really adds little to the proceedings; SuperHeavy ushers Marley’s gruff patois into a series of ponderous reggae tracks the same way the crew has Rahman on-call to lend legitimacy to a couple of vaguely Bollywood production numbers.
It’s all incredibly clean and calculated, centered around the vocal interplay between Jagger and Stone, a pairing that yields zero chemistry, and only serves to highlight the banality of the compositions. Both vocalists woefully past their prime in terms of cultural relevancy, they reduce themselves to shtick here; Jagger phones in a series of quavery, peacock-y leads, and Stone is on hand to fill in the spaces with a series of increasingly ugly vocal runs. It’s all quite boring, really; it’s almost unbearably leaden, and so calculated in its attempts to bring world-music relevancy to the proceedings by having Marley and Rahman waiting in the wings, and overcooked, and without any discernible musical highlight. Stiff mediocrity is the name of the game; just listen to “I Can’t Take It No More” for proof. First, Stone screeches “auggghyeyeyeeeeeah… what the fuck is going on?”, apropos of absolutely nothing, and then a workaday guitar riff kicks in, over which Jagger spouts some preening nonsense about politicians (they always be talkin’, see, and he’s tired of it); and then Jagger and Stone agree that they “can’t take it no more”, followed by a burning desire not to “fake it no more”.
Despite the shrewd lyrical prowess required to rhyme “take it” and “fake it” – I wonder if there was any talk of “making it” during the writing sessions? – it’s all a very gross enterprise, and SuperHeavy, as an album, would be a lot more palatable if it were packed with more unmitigated disasters like “I Can’t Take It No More”. But no, most of the album is boring; it fades into the ether without leaving an impression one way or the other. As much as Jagger and friends would like to believe that having people from other countries on hand constitutes diversity, the sad truth is that these are by-the-books, warmed-over pop songs, made discernible and noteworthy by absolutely nothing.
At least Demi Lovato doesn’t have an ounce of SuperHeavy’s pretense. When we spoke to singer/songwriter Bleu a while back, he hinted that Unbroken was going to be a pretty good pop record; not too far off the mark, as it turns out. Unbroken may not bear the critical appeal of Radiohead, but it certainly makes a case for the Disney diva’s pop breakout.
Apparently, Unbroken bears a certain amount of fan trepidation – looks like Demi Lovato was making guitar-pop albums before this, and here Unbroken arrives, awash in glittery synths and pounding Timbo beats and Jason DeRulo duets. But no matter: isn’t an album being straightforward, unabashedly pop a lot more palatable than an album half-heartedly attempting to be a big, important rock record? Timbaland’s skittish, “Toxic”-recalling beat for opening track “All Night Long” is perfectly groovy and goes down easy; “You’re My Only Shorty” is a breezy duet with Iyaz that’s, quite honestly, significantly better than duets with Iyaz and songs called “You’re My Only Shorty” have any right to be; and “In Real Life”, the track co-written and produced by our friend Bleu, is a total charmer, an inversion of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” that waltzes nimbly on a midtempo stop-start beat and a lurching Beatles organ.
Unbroken is a good pop album because it embraces being a good pop album; unlike SuperHeavy, it has no designs on larger importance, or a storied musical pedigree to rely on. It’s merely a synth-blasted, intensely melodic, immaculately produced pop record, rife with sticky melodies and crackerjack hooks. Had SuperHeavy been similarly self-aware (and less, um, Joss Stone-y), they could have created just as enjoyable a pop album; as it stands, Mick Jagger got bested by Demi Lovato.
Grade, SuperHeavy: D-
Grade, Unbroken: B-
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