Dessert – OR DISASTER?…
Martin Kavka: There’s a lot to hate about this: the first minute is filled with keyboard stabs that feel like Nazis goosestepping on your belly after a filling Passover meal, and at times the track seems to be too cluttered for its own good. But there’s also a lot to love. When the drum-and-bass rhythm comes in at 1:00, it’s an exhilarating rush. And Ne-Yo. My God, Ne-Yo. I’ve rarely understood his appeal, but he communicates a depth of emotion here that I’ve never found in his solo songs. This song would rate a 4 without him.
Jonathan Bradley: All the ingredients are present for this to be an absolute monster: soaring synth stabs; a valiant, heart-tugging lyric; and top-notch performances from all three vocalists (Kanye West’s “This is bad, real bad/Michael Jackson” is possibliy the best of many highlights). But the track as a whole is oddly unfocused. I’m no fan of Theodor Adorno, but his Frankfurt School critique of popular culture at least acknowledged that assembly-line production requires pseudo-individualization to work. Hilson, Ne-Yo and West perform “Knock You Down” as if they are entirely unaware anyone else appears on the track with them. The result is a song about an intensely personal emotional experience with no actual person experiencing the emotion. This disjointed, multivocal approach works within the postmodern bounds of hip-hop, but R&B still requires a dominant performer directing the music. “Knock You Down” is admirable, but if it had the single-mindedness of, say, this week’s The-Dream/Mariah collaboration, it would be an easy .
Al Shipley: It’s always confusing, if not downright frustrating, when this kind of starpower is assembled for a single, but no-one involved thinks to write a halfway decent hook. All the lead up to that first chorus makes it feel like a hit, but when that monotonous refrain kicks in the whole thing sinks like a stone. The verses ain’t so hot either, but Ne-Yo’s is the lone bright spot, not so much because Keri’s bad but that he’s better. And I just knocked off another point listening to Kanye go on and on.
Rodney J. Greene: Other than the illustrious roster and Ne-Yo’s hilarious couplet — “I used to be commander-in-chief of my pimp ship, flying high/Until I met this pretty little missile that shot me out the sky” — I’m not sure what’s supposed to be notable about this. Keri, Kanye, and Shaffer barely acknowledge each other, let alone display any chemistry.
Ian Mathers: Hilson sings a hell of a nice hook, but I’d be happier if she and West switched places in terms of the time they get (and I’m not a huge Kanye fan normally). He absolutely kills at the kind of vulnerable arrogance “Knock You Down” calls for, and while Hilson backs him up well, that’s what it feels as if she’s doing; backing him up.
Alex Macpherson: The day that Kanye starts using a dummy, or maybe duct tape, as a fashion accessory can’t come soon enough. In his second guest verse, he actually rhymes “OMG” with “woe is me” – a totally unacceptable decision which is definitely the nadir of something or other. A pity: Keri is as elusively chameleonic as ever, but her song is firm and quietly resolute. Fucking Kanye, though! You can feel that terrible line coming and start anticipating it earlier and earlier, until eventually you just spend the entire song in the brace position preparing to flinch.
Tom Ewing: This is gorgeously trifling, all four players – Keri, Kanye, Ne-Yo, and the bouncy robo on keys and drums – flirting with each other and you, never hinting at any commitment beyond the next ten seconds’ entertainment. It’s talent cruising lazily along in second gear, and by the end of this year all you’ll remember of “Knock You Down” is that Kanye rhymes “woe is me” with “OMG”. But it’s not the end of the year, silly, it’s spring, and forgettable is just fine.
Hillary Brown: Five and a half minutes of bliss! I would not have known to expect this, even considering the roster. It’s kind of a little orchestra of gorg, peppy enough not to get boring, crammed with fluttery up-and-downs, and interesting and sort of heartfelt to boot.
Dave Moore: You’d think that Keri Hilson’s non-personality would pose problems for memorability, but it turns out it’s the excess of “personality” on this track that really drags it down. Kanye West hugely oversells a verse he texted to the studio on the cab ride over and Ne-Yo does a passable but tacked-on rehashing of catchphrases from his last album. W-T-F is going on in this song? Why-T-F can’t it all just get along? (Kanye, I am available to ghostwrite.)