Ke$ha, “Animal” (RCA)
Auto-tune — a pitch-correcting software — is supposed to be dead, according to Jay-Z, whose “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” was one of 2009’s biggest hip-hop jams. But the singer Ke$ha clearly paid no mind to the MC’s prediction. With the record- breaking hit single “TiK ToK,” Ke$ha shamelessly name- drops and smack-talks her way through the auto-tune-addled party track.
How alive is auto-tune? “TiK ToK” sold 610,000-plus downloads in the last full week of 2009, making it the biggest selling song from a female artist in one week. The dance track misplaced Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” — a fitting note, given that “TiK ToK” more than resembles Lady Gaga’s song, especially when you compare choruses.
To Ke$ha’s credit, there is more to “Animal” than the infectious, on-fire single. “Take it Off” is a fiery dance floor filler, and “Your Love is My Drug” is a fun-loving, summery pop track that recalls the simplicity of the Vengaboys. Boulder electro-rappers 3OH!3 guest on Ke$ha’s “Blah Blah Blah,” a track that flip-flops gender roles and sexual mores. The song is a natural for dance clubs.
The electronic-leaning ballad “Stephen” is charming in its teenage bewilderment: “Why won’t you call me/I’m sitting here waiting/I’m feeling pathetic/I can’t take rejection.” The driving “Blind” comes off like a great Pink track — and that’s because its chorus is nearly identical to Pink’s hit, “U + Ur Hand.” Some of the other slow jams don’t fly, including the throwaway track “Hungover.”
As far as the dance tracks that flop, “Party At a Rich Dude’s House” and “Dinosaur” are both songs that might have worked better as Avril Lavigne B-sides. “Boots & Boys” is a failed experiment in sex-addled ’80s revisionism. While Ke$ha’s true identity is hidden among her inspirations, “Animal” is still a blast of a record — and one that could end up defining much of 2010. – Ricardo Baca
Snoop Dogg, “Malice N Wonderland” (Priority)
Snoop Dogg has officially made the transition from the streetwise thugs he raps about in his music to the corporate honchos who profit from those tales. And on new album “Malice N Wonderland,” he makes sure we know about it.
Pictures of Snoop in a sharp gray suit adorn the CD booklet for “Wonderland,” platinum records littering the walls of his office. As newly appointed creative chairman of Capitol’s Priority Records, Snoop is in charge of a vast and wildly influential hip-hop back-catalog (think N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Ja Rule).
Musically, that’s not such a bad thing. He still reaches back to his early days for aesthetic inspiration (the brief but punchy “2 Minute Warning”) but smartly channels the talents of peers and producers such as The-Dream, the Neptunes, Timbaland and Lil Jon to showcase his ostensible versatility and taste.
Since Snoop is both a brand and a medium, his tenth album isn’t much of a departure from previous work (“Pimpin Ain’t EZ” with R. Kelly and “Gangsta Luv” feel especially lived-in and familiar), but it’s also possible to interpret this disc as a virtual greatest-hits collection. Summing up a career is hard enough, and on “Wonderland” Snoop makes a case for both his longevity and the enduring appeal of straight-up West Coast gangsta rap. – John Wenzel
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