It’s time to go BIG! This week, we’re looking at two of the biggest tickets in the entire music industry and one who’s steadily making his way there. U2 finally released their long-awaited, much-refined sister album to 2014’s Songs of Innocence, Taylor Swift FINALLY agreed to letting her reputation run amuck on Spotify’s basic streaming service, and Andy Grammer returns with his third album. After that, while the jury deliberates, we’ll take a listen to an artist who helped pave the way for Andy Grammer’s style, as Mat Kearney gears up for his next album with a brand new single. It’s a lot to take in, we may need a bigger sound system… let’s get to it.

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Album 1: The Good Parts, by Andy Grammer (12/1/17)

Andy Grammer is definitely the least recognizable name on today’s “menu”, but he is pretty popular and he has headlined an NFL halftime show on Thanksgiving. (It didn’t go over too well, but being criticised is one way to prove that you’ve arrived.) Regardless, he’s had some pretty big hits including the lead single off of this album, FRESH EYES, which fortunately falls beyond the first four tracks. First up, then, is SMOKE CLEARS.

This starts with a nice, bare vocal with some soft piano touches behind it. A lot of extra elements are added in to fill out the sound, but it’s definitely not too busy. It’s very laid back, like a vacation soundtrack. The hook has a slight touch of Chainsmokers-like electronica. It’s nice oh-ooo-ah-ohhh. FREEZE starts out without much ado as well. This definitely feels like a summer album – despite the reference to cold temperatures. (Actually, freeze is more a reference to pausing than being cold). It’s fun, but this one seems more incomplete than the opening track. Rounding out the songs is the title track (roll credits). So, if you don’t like his voice, you are not going to like this album because there is really not much beyond that on these songs. This almost feels like a TobyMac song. I like him, but I can see where it would wear thin.

BONUS: SPACESHIP has a little bit more to it, but not much. The main difference here is that Grammer is using a hip hop cadence, which gives it a different feel. Also, there’s sentiment because he’s singing to an unborn child. Kind of a weird metaphor, though… is the baby an alien?

Album 2: reputation, by Taylor Swift (11/10/17)

Taylor Swift may be (or have) the absolute best marketing mind(s) on her side. After launching at the top of the charts with an impressive sales tally in week one, Taylor hasn’t really looked back. It seems the lack of streaming options was strategic and has encouraged more purchases. And now that a formidable challenger has released this week, perhaps the added streaming options will provide a much-needed boost to keep her in the # 1 slot at least one more week? Time will tell.

The album opens with a pretty familiar (second single) …READY FOR IT? which opens with a thick drubbing bass and a few other sound effects that fall somewhere between a record scratch and an electronic tiger growl? Maybe 16-Bit music? I’m not particularly a fan of this song arrangement and it is kind of a rehashing of WILDEST DREAMS thematically. It has it’s moments, but I’m not sold. END GAME is interesting in that it features some guest spots from rapper Future and the all-encompassing Ed Sheeran. The problem is that it’s not really a Taylor style song. Future sounds ridiculous with that stupid auto-tune. What a terrible choice. I like when Taylor gets to sing. Sheeran’s verse is cool, too. That guy can do pretty much anything on a track. Better, but not great, still. I like the strings in I DID SOMETHING BAD, but she comes across as so vindictive in all of her songs. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m bobbing along to the hook. The shotguns blasts are dumb, but it’s a nice pop chorus after a strong build.

BONUS: Okay, if she wins, DON’T BLAME ME. (Get it?) No, that’s the name of the fourth song. Oh my, I can totally feel her country-pop roots here. I really like this one. It’s right in her lane – a good balance between her past and the experimental, semi-darkness of where she apparently intends to go with her career.

Album 3: Songs of Experience, by U2 (12/1/17)

U2 may be the biggest band EVER – even bigger than the Beatles, Mariah Carey, and Shania Twain? At least that argument can be made. They are over 40 years old and the very hint of a new album and tour still sends shockwaves throughout the industry. And speaking of Taylor’s marketing, they are sneaky clever with their marketing. Last time, they hijacked everyone’s iPod with free copies of their album, this time, it comes free with concert tickets. Publicly, it says “we love our fans!” Privately, it says, “These count as first-week album sales!”. Anyway, do they still have it?

LOVE IS ALL WE HAVE LEFT provides a rather ominous tone to open the album. Bono’s vocal is laid bare, and after all these years, if it’s only love that’s left, it’s plenty to sustain the melody. Wait a minute… auto-tune? Come on. I guess as a counterweight to his actual singing. Oh, maybe that was an intro, but no, it totally counted. Enter the Edge and his signature guitar riffs kicking off LIGHTS OF HOME. This is a nice rhythm and sound and it comes across as confident and vulnerable at the same time. A nice guitar solo about halfway through and I’m certain that I should have been paying more attention to the lyrics. I’m still just taking this all in though. Oh, a choir-like sound on the tail end, nice. The third song was released as a single and I think it was featured as the Tune Du Jour, but I haven’t listened to it since, so YOU’RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME is still hitting me as a fresh song. I don’t have my best headphones on right now, so I may be missing something, but this one sounds almost distant, as if it was intentionally mixed to make you lean in and pay closer attention. Definitely has the full banquet of musical elements and layers one expects from the U2 experience, though. An obvious choice for a single. I like this one.

BONUS: GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY may also have been a single. Oh, yeah, this is the one with a sermon of sorts at the end. Something about being rich and greedy, but I’m getting ahead of the song. This follows BEST THING nicely and has a driving tempo and plenty to like. I’d say the drums are the most enjoyable element here for me.

TUNE DU JOUR: BETTER THAN I USED TO BE, by Mat Kearney
Mat Kearney hit the scene in the mid-aughts, ushering in a new era of singer-songwriters, along with Paul Wright and Shawn McDonald. It was a sound based out of the upper west coast that featured acoustic guitars, hip hop, and harmonies. A decade later, and Mat’s about the only one left and he’s, um, better than he used to be? It’s a little more mature of a sound and I like it. I anticipate a February release based on his tour schedule and I can’t wait.

peace… love… bdg…