Billboard singles reviews: Brad Paisley, Jay-Z

Fri Jul 31, 2009 5:58pm EDT

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ARTIST: BRAD PAISLEY

SINGLE: WELCOME TO THE FUTURE

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Brad Paisley claims his newest single is his favorite among all the songs he's penned. Coming from an artist who has written or co-written the bulk of his 14 No. 1 tunes (with the last 10 chart-toppers being consecutive), that says a lot. Composed with frequent collaborator Chris DuBois, "Welcome to the Future" is modern country at its best -- topical and entertaining. The lyrics reveal bright-eyed admiration for all forms of social progress (from mobile videogames to globalism), and producer Frank Rogers cleverly blends in blippy sonic flourishes among buoyant guitar riffs. When Paisley sings, "Wherever we were going, well we're here/So many things I never thought I'd see happening right in front of me," it feels at once nostalgic and forward-looking.

ARTIST: JAY-Z FEATURING RIHANNA AND KANYE WEST

SINGLE: RUN THIS TOWN (Roc Nation)

Jay-Z demands respect for his Roc Nation conglomerate on the militant first single from his anticipated "Blueprint 3." Adding "Caesar" to his arsenal of nicknames, the rapper boasts about his upper-crust hip-hop wealth over a sharp, malevolent beat produced by Kanye West and No I.D.: "And they ain't spending no cake/They should throw they hand in 'cuz they ain't got no spades/My whole team got dough, so my banquet is looking like millionaire's row," he scoffs. Though Jay's understated delivery is fitting, at times it threatens to belabor the point. "Babe bro" West picks up the energy with his closing verse but falters midstream with a wayward reference to mood rings. Perhaps the song's saving grace: a slowly re-emerging Rihanna, who floods the hook with a resolute, chilling wail: "I'm addicted to the thrill/It's a dangerous love affair."

ARTIST: BOYS LIKE GIRLS

SINGLE: LOVE DRUNK (Columbia Records)

On the title track to Boys Like Girls' second album (out in September), the group offers a rowdy rebuttal to Metro Station's "Shake It," last summer's pop-punk anthem. The song courts the Billboard Hot 100 with a tidy construction, danceable thrust, sexually frustrated lyrics and an array of pep rally-style chants. Along with co-writers S*A*M and Sluggo, lead singer Martin Johnson succeeds in making a breakup sound far more exciting than what preceded it: "We used to kiss all night/Now it's just a bar fight/So don't call me crying/Say hello to goodbye," he shouts. Producer Brian Howes (Hinder, Daughtry) offers just the right spark -- from the bombastic opener to the cyborg drum roll on the bridge -- to make the song feel like an unstoppable hit even after it's finished.

ARTIST: RAKIM

SINGLE: HOLY ARE YOU (Ra Records/Tuscan Villa/SMC Recordings)

The most stoic of all rap icons, Rakim has never been one to concede to trends -- or even update his rhyme style. So it's incumbent on producer Nick Wiz to guide "the God MC" into the new millennium on "Holy Are You," Rakim's first new single since 1999's "When I B on Tha Mic." The track begins promisingly, with a haunting sample of the Electric Prunes' 1968 psych-rock hymnal of the same title. The verses, however, chug along on a synth-driven beat that's more '99 then '09. Lyrically, Rakim is in top form, richly merging self-mythologizing reflections on his legacy with religious imagery. But if his upcoming comeback album, "The Seventh Seal" (due this fall), is to prove worth the near decade-long wait, he'll need stronger production behind him.

ARTIST: INGRID MICHAELSON

SINGLE: MAYBE (Cabin 24 Records)

The last track to make it onto Ingrid Michaelson's upcoming album, "Maybe" gets off to a melancholy start but quickly takes off thanks to resonant lyrics. Over a radio-friendly chorus, the singer resolves to embrace the uncertainty around her faltering relationship. "The only way to really know, is to really let it go," she concludes, moments after hoping for a romantic comeback. The production continues to build until two-thirds of the way through the song, when it abruptly strips down to a single layer of vocals accompanied by fragile guitar strums. This 10-second ease illuminates the sincerity in Michaelson's voice. Then the optimistic hook takes off again, and it becomes clear that the song's duality is all too reminiscent of real-life affairs. Much like her approach to music, Michaelson's love story is strong, risky and mature.

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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