Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Rihanna ft. Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds

There’s three of them but they’re not the Beatles…


Scott Mildenhall: If the expectation was for Rihanna to return from her overdue downtime rejuvenated, it hasn’t been met. Exhaustion is something rarely covered in pop, whether thematically or sonically, but this does both. It’s an undervalued angle — the closest a Rihanna single has come to it prior is “Stay,” but that had an obvious schedule for controlled explosions of still pent-up emotion throughout. “FourFiveSeconds” is a step after that. Rihanna is ratty — rationality and irrationality heightened simultaneously — getting to the bottom of what she really thinks then voicing it as she mightn’t ordinarily. She cannot be bothered, and it’s only the start of the week!

Edward Okulicz: Rihanna and ‘Ye seem to be trying to give off the impression that hey, their craft is kind of a workaday thing and sometimes they half-ass it to get them through. They’re human! Their songs don’t start out platinum-plated! Very well, then. It’s nice to hear Rihanna singing like this, and her voice sounds stronger than I’d have guessed, too. But seriously guys, take it from anyone who’s half-assed their office job; it comes back and bites you the next day when you realise you made some careless errors or your boss drags you into their office and bites your head off. Show some pride!

Katherine St Asaph: I’m sure this happens all the time without biz reporters present, but Kanye’s premiering this at the iHeartRadio summit, site of his declaration to industry folks of “I didn’t actually mean I don’t care about airplay!”, seems to me rather ominous, the resulting song a strumming horror of a pre-ordained hit. I don’t care how much Internet goodwill Rihanna has accumulated, the song is still ass.

Jonathan Bradley: It isn’t an intrusive public that has had Kanye so down lately; he’s actually been brooding over G.O.O.D. Music’s failure to secure the rights to a 20th anniversary deluxe reissue of Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View.

Crystal Leww: I didn’t get this either, but I was driving through a nice stretch of swampland last week while the sun was setting and the weather was warm outside and this came on the radio and yeah, I guess I do get it now.

Alex Ostroff: Honestly, part of me thinks that the response to this tossed-off delight would have been less confused if Rihanna, Kanye, and Macca waited until the snow melts before releasing it. Everything about “FourFiveSeconds” requires warmth for proper appreciation — either driving in the evening with the windows down, or sitting around a campfire, or just relaxing on a stoop on a Sunday. To my ears, this isn’t half-assed so much as it’s loose. And I desperately want the yelped backing vocals under Kanye’s first verse around the one-minute marker to be Stevie Nicks.

Brad Shoup: Everyone straps on their Buckingham, working on some parody of rock-star indulgence. And everyone’s been in this spot before and came off better. Event singles don’t have to yield events, but Kanye’s patented vocal/bass hybrid and Rihanna’s newfound freedom to crack could have made something much less time-crunched, something shaggier and more possessed.

Anthony Easton: Stripped of producer’s tricks, Rihanna and Kanye are making an argument in favour of their technical skills. The problem is twofold: the first is that production, or working with distinctive production, is a technical skill, and the second is that (especially with regards to McCartney) the delicacy of this is more dull than precise. If I was being less cynical, I would note its delicate beauty.

Mo Kim: Despite being self-indulgent and overlong, Unapologetic stumbled into places that felt more emotionally urgent than anything Rihanna had done prior. Think back to “What Now,” which only got louder and louder in its uncertainty. “I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to do,” was poignant even in its immediate context, but it stands in for another question hanging over Rihanna’s entire career: when you’ve tried everything from runway pop to ghost-in-the-machine love ballads and still haven’t found a musical narrative that’s stuck, what comes next? As expected, “FourFiveSeconds” is a deviation from the likes of “Pour It Up” and even “Stay,” but it turns out that folksy guitar pop fits surprisingly well into her history of wandering. She lets the cracks in her voice shine as she and Kanye West sing about staying optimistic in troubling circumstances. It’s a smart play off America’s long artistic tradition of rough ‘n tumble lovers, and in this light the song also functions as a respectability play: the history of American pop has always been a tug-of-war between dismissing artists of color as low-brow and fetishizing them as an authentic Other. Here you have two musicians, often denigrated as emblematic of the thuggish black menace, who are occupying a sound and a space that doesn’t usually make room for black artists, singing frankly about paying bail and waiting for the weekend to drown their ennui in alcohol. (Not to mention that Rihanna recruited one of the most respected names in pop music only to relegate him to a background role. One can already hear the cries on Twitter bemoaning the end of music.) If “FourFiveSeconds” may not be the safest choice to continue the Rihanna reign, it certainly is a bold narrative turn — and, failing that, among the most raw, vulnerable work she’s done to date.

Micha Cavaseno: The RiRi catalog contains dance songs that compare to the brash ferality of current EDM Pop, but are downright alien to the growing wave of #AMERICANA. So rather than fight fire with fire, Rihanna sneaks in by making a straightforward pop-rock song with a former Beatle. I do not know how this will play for the audiences of “rock and roll” who will look at a girl who’s made shamelessly non-rock songs and a killing, despite the fact that she’s a more believable symbol of generational rebellion and snotty attitude than say, Hayley Williams or… no, wow, that’s about all we got.

Mark Sinker: No one here really to triangulate this impression with (Frank was a bit older and listening in other ways; Martin always disliked the Beatles anyway) but the real-time hit eight-year-old me got from mum and dad’s copy of The White Album, coming out a full year’s wide-open listening after Pepper, was that all the funny little thrown-off half-fragments of songs were the bits I liked best: “Rocky Raccoon,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Piggies,” “Honey Pie”… I doubt I knew enough to spot I was veering towards deliberate artlessness after a surfeit of high-end craft. From the ’90s onwards, rap, pop and R&B have between them mastered a far higher-end craft — in terms of sustained collective invention of arrangement and structure and reach of potential topic — than I think any of the Beatles ever did, together or solo. But I kind of like the almost hidden echo here of that long-ago arrival to the possibility of tossed-off half-formed nothing as your upcoming release. McCartney’s presence centres this recognition, of course, but it’s from the others’ shoulders the weight of BIG IMPORTANT WELL-SHAPED THING feels lifted.

Alfred Soto: Without the electronic clutter Rihanna stands revealed as a singer who can really belt, which is not to say that I prefer it: she’s a blank who can belt, and the final mix insists on her smothering the organ washes. Kanye sounds cute. That’s about all I can say about three superstars on a lark.

Reader average: [7.37] (16 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

17 Responses to “Rihanna ft. Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds”

  1. Whenever I read the name Hootie & the Blowfish I assume they’re just a joke band made up by Americans to trick people, like the UK did with Razorlight.

  2. comment of the week

  3. also this song is so boring and I couldn’t figure out anything to say. [4]

  4. @Scott. Nah, that would be Dog’s Eye View.

  5. Now you’re definitely making things up.

  6. Sad to see that no one referenced “Rent”! (Either approvingly or disparagingly to either the musical or the song in question!)

  7. “now i’m FourFiveHundredTwentyFiveThousandSixHundredMinutes from wildin'”

  8. No RENT Zone

  9. 4,525,600 minutes is a little over 8.5 years. That’s a long ways away from wildin’

  10. That’s, like, high school + college combined D:

  11. (Granted, many of my classmates have no problem wildin’ in the middle of school)

  12. You guys are being way too cynical, giving this a 4.92? To me this track doesn’t sound half-assed at all. Also it doesn’t mean you’re rockist if once in a while you enjoy a song with guitar+organ backing rather than a generic synth-in-a-box/drum machine R&B track.

  13. lol there are plenty of people here who liked this song bro

  14. Tunado, how then do you explain “Little Red Wagon”?

  15. I’m not saying anyone is rockist! I’m actually quite surprised by how well country is doing on TSJ these days. That type of stuff is not really my cup of tea though.

  16. “You guys need to enjoy more songs w/ guitar + organ backing…only it can’t be country.”

  17. You’re twisting my words, dude – but it’s ok