“Watch The Throne” (2011) by Jay-Z & Kanye West

Riding on the success of Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, two of the most critically and commercially successful rappers of all time have come together to record a collaborative record, Watch The Throne. But where the former succeeded, this album falls flat on its face. Gone is the flow and cohesion that poured out of Dark Twisted Fantasy; gone is 95% of the emotion and 100% of the killer verses.

Watch The Throne has ambition. It is blatant that Kanye is trying to carry over his trademark highly dense production style to this collaboration. Samples from all sorts of genres are flying in from left, right, and centre as Kanye and Jay-Z lazily rap over the top of them. The production is brilliant, no doubt. But the problem, unfortunately, is the rapping. Unlike the clever, intricate rhyming structures that we know both rappers are capable of, Watch The Throne seems to be constructed of boring monosyllabic rhymes and effortlessly (not in a good way) written lyrics, for the better part of the album with no deeper meaning to them at all. Both Kanye and Jay-Z have become complacent – on this album we have two of the greatest rappers in music, and all they can do is talk about how brilliant they are, which is a shame.

There is never really any true chemistry between the two, either. Jay-Z and Kanye both have their own verses and songs, but very rarely do they rap together, playing off each other’s rhymes. The final product is an album which sounds mostly like Kanye recorded some songs, Jay-Z record some songs, and someone mixed them up and put them in random order.

Props go to a few songs, such as “Otis”, but for the better part Watch The Throne is what happens when two of the most famous and successful musicians in the world get together and let their egos absorb them, resulting in a complacent, self-righteous mess.

5.6

“Green Naugahyde” (2011) by Primus

Primus are… different. After not releasing a single album in the last decade, they’re back with their distinctly Primus sound in Green Naugahyde - and again, if you like Primus, you’ll like this. If you don’t, then, quite simply, you’ll hate it.

Les Claypool and company have always had a reputation for being the weird folk of the music industry, labeled alongside the Residents and Frank Zappa/the Mothers. Green Naugahyde breaks no new ground, but sees Primus embrace what they (and only they) know best – creepy melodies, an abundance of slap bass, chanted vocals and satire of Western culture.

A recurring theme that runs throughout Green Naugahyde is childish humour, delivered by Claypool’s nasally voice such that it truly becomes unnerving. Don’t let it put you off, though. Primus have always been respected as one of the most musically gifted rock groups around, even if they are best known for the South Park theme. Claypool in particular is widely recognised as one of the best electric bass players in the world.

Green Naugahyde plays out like a twisted carnival – loud, terrifying and dark. Primus’ return to music has filled a void in the rock scene could only ever be filled by Primus themselves. And what a glorious return it is.

Don’t let this positive review fool you. You either love or hate Primus. If you have given them a good go before this, and couldn’t stand it, then there’s really no point in bothering with Green Naugahyde. If you are a fan, however, or haven’t listened to them before, then this record comes highly recommended.

7.8

“I like it. I really really like it. I think I’m gonna buy it cause I really really like it.” 

“Megalomania” (2011) by Aqua

Aqua will forever be remembered for their albums Aquarium and Aquarius. I’m the first person to admit that I genuinely enjoy their first two records. Who could forget “Barbie Girl”? “Lollipop (Candyman)”? And what about “Doctor Jones”, “Heat Of The Night”, “Cartoon Heroes”, “Roses Are Red”… the list goes on and on. But despite the abundance of subtle sexual innuendo, Aquarium was as much an album for kids as for adults, perhaps even more. Their songs were about fairytales and action heroes. They were mentioned in the same breath as other 90s “Bubblegum dance” groups seemingly aimed at children – Vengaboys, S-Club 7, Eiffel 65. So what happened?

Let me introduce you to one of the singles, “Like A Robot”. If you recall Aqua’s past work, you will remember that they would never, ever be explicitly sexual – but how about this line: “Even after 1, 2, 3 tequila shots you still leave me high and dry, thanks a lot … So why do you still fuck me like a robot?” I can just picture the collective jaw of mothers around the world dropping when they buy their kid an album that they assumed was harmless.

Strangely, as they are usually considered one of the classic groups of the genre, Aqua have abandoned the idea of “Eurodance” and are now, simply, dance. No longer are they the cutesy Danish pop group with spiky hair and bright clothes. Just one look at Lene’s new outfit on the cover would hint towards this. No more songs about fairy tales, siestas or Indiana Jones - Megalomania is about sex, fame and nightclubs. Is this a bad thing? As a longtime fan of Aqua and condemner of contemporary pop, I’d have to say yes. They were once a group suitable for everyone – pure, unadulterated, bubblegum pop music. They used to be able to do subtle sexual innuendo, which you’d listen to as a kid only to think “that’s what that means?” fifteen years later. Now they’re playing dry, bland – and worst of all, generic – club music.

I have to admit, though, it’s not all bad. Lene’s voice has only improved with the ten years since we last heard it on a record. Additionally, the bass-heavy songs are definitely suited for club play, which I’d assume is exactly what they were going for. I guess it’s alright, especially if I hadn’t heard an Aqua album before – but I have, and because of that, it’s just disappointing.

Megalomania is going to polarize both Aqua fans and pop critics. In closing, I have one last comment, which also applies for every album ever released by everyone: MORE RENÉ DIF.

4.2

“Relax” (2011) by Das Racist

When three middle-class college students from New York City released “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” in 2008, their immediate rise to fame on the Internet went hand in hand with their dismissal as a novelty rap group – one of the worst things that can happen to a band after a debut single. In 2010, Das Racist countered these labels with two highly respectable mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man; the former bravely including the aforementioned song that gave them the novelty label in the first place. Inevitably, however, the question that has lingered around Das Racist since 2008 still remains – are they for real?

Let’s take track 8 as an example. “Booty In The Air”. Horribly catchy synthesizer hooks and hand claps provide backing to such insightful lyrics as “She got her booty in the air like her booty was a cloud/And when her booty clap, you know the booty clap loud.” Then follows what I can only assume is a reference to the infamous “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” with the chant “Booty in the air! Booty in the air! Booty in the air! Shake it all around!” Are they for real? Or is this an almost-too-conspicuous critique of pop music?

Exhibit B: “Punjabi Song”.  This begins with a Punjabi chorus courtesy of Bikram Singh, which is followed by “Get fucked up, get bud … Move it out, move it in/Okay, let me do it again”. Again, the question must be asked: Are they for real?

Personally, I would have to say that the majority of the songs on the record are pure satire, saturated with obscure references, absolutely magnificent rhymes and questionable segues. But it has to be asked: does it matter? Regardless of whether Relax is a satire, serious, or simply the product of a few too many THC-filled weekends, it stands as one of the freshest (albeit, not best) hip hop albums I’ve heard in quite a few years. If nothing else, Das Racist unquestionably have endless potential.

7.6