Ask yourself for a minute just what makes for a full-throttle pop stunner, and “What If” by Five For Fighting masterfully answers. Start with a memorable piano hook, then layer on thundering percussion and staccato vocals over an eventual guitar hook at the chorus which simply can’t be expunged from your mind. Draw listeners in with the music, then hit them with a deceptively simple line of questions which stand to probe the deepest failings of a relationship, putting us in the unenviable position of seeing things through another’s eyes.
“What If” proves itself to be up to the challenge of throwing 2013’s pop fans a lifeline, an instantly repeatable song which reveals more on each listen as we dig deeper into what first seemed simple but later becomes far more complex. “What if you told my lies? What if I cried with your eyes?” Ondrasik asks, emotion brimming over from every falsetto note left ringing in our ears. “Could anyone keep us down?” Here, he sings to an unseen second person of a relationship on the rocks, questioning both himself and her about where the failings lie. Is it me? Is it you? Are we both equally to blame, for simply never considering the other’s point of view? What if all that’s needed to save the relationship would be for both to “rise up” and admit that no one’s right?
It fits perfectly in line with Lucas Jack’s “Paralyzed” off Sun City, another song which dared to pick apart a broken relationship knowing as he did that there might not be a way to put the shards of shattered glass back together. “What If” does this with a hook aimed more for mass consumption than deep-thoughts contemplation, but it is refreshing to hear such nuanced lyricism on such a dead-on-arrival format as pop top 40 radio. If Five For Fighting has a hit with this, there’s evermore potential for songs like Lucas Jack’s to push the boundary of pop introspection even further.
Take a chance for a minute and give this a listen. He’s thrown us a lifeline, but if we don’t take it …
A career in flames, but they still lack a clue
I wish Fall Out Boy could see just how far they’ve fallen since their career crashed and burned with the collapse of Folie a Deux. Unfortunately they think that a dash of Maroon 5 mock-swagger plus Bruno Mars-esque backdrop hooks equals a whole lot of Fun. And it’s not. Not by a long shot. “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” merely showcases a band whose career long ago went up in smoke attempting to create a pop juggernaut while playing by the old rules, figuring we’re all so desperate for a radio earworm we’ll gladly submit our brains for their control.
While once a powerful fixture in the world of top 40 hitmaking, Infinity On High marked their peak, and the five-year absence after “hits” like “America’s Suiteheart” failed to exceed trainwreck status suggests a total lack of direction. It’s been a long slow slide, and worse yet, they think they can Save Rock and Roll with their absurdly titled sixth studio album, due out in April. If this single is the best they can do, I think rock and roll would rather die a slow painful death than to submit to Patrick Stump and Co. as its savior. Sorry boys … the fall-out shall be swift: This critic knows what your songs did during the hiatus, and he’s not buying. Here’s hoping the rest of America follows suit.
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Though I aim for this site to cover all forms of pop music, sometimes I let real guilty-pleasure bubblegum too easily slip through the cracks. Mandy Barry’s music clearly aims for the top 40 radio aesthetic, with a sound akin to early Rihanna, before “Umbrella” made her a household name. Having heard two of Barry’s songs (the other being the four-to-the-floor Britney-esque club track “Girl Break Up”) it’s clear she’s got an ear for hooks.
What she doesn’t have is a producer with a deft touch. It’s a shame “Second to Breathe,” which overall is her strongest single, doesn’t take its own title’s advice. The overwhelming mix drowns a hook-laden, keyboard-heavy hook in tribal percussion and broadly-defined synth touches — the song, though solid, can’t completely shine through the mess. There’s a great deal of pop potential here if she takes the time to focus on stripping these pop tracks down to their strongest elements. Each track is worth a listen to hear what pop hit-makers sound like before they get their big break and the studio opportunities and advice which frequently come with such. Mandy Barry’s not all the way there yet, but I like her chances.