Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Patrick Stump ft. Lupe Fiasco – This City

“And you say Chi city!”


Andy Hutchins: Here we have the rent control “Homecoming”… which somehow spends a lot more time in Chicago’s ‘burbs than the hood. You could be forgiven for not knowing it’s about Chicago if you don’t know Stump and Fiasco are both from there: the color of the Windy City is washed out in favor of too-big shimmering synths and a hook that goes for anthemic and ends up bland. Lupe’s verse, one with more bite and verve than anything on LASERS, is good enough for me to wish this were Fiasco ft. Stump. Enormous missed opportunity in the bridge: should have had a Mrs. O’Leary’s cow reference.

Michelle Myers: I live in Chicago and I too think it’s the greatest city ever. So the chorus here — both Lupe’s “what if I told you my city was the best?” and Patrick’s “this city is my city and I love it” — makes my heart swell with municipal pride. But, the verses are disappointingly general, largely focused on the broad faults most major cities in the US have (drugs, gangs, corruption). The only reason I know this is about Chicago is because I know that the guys performing the song are from Chicago. If you’re going to write an homage to your hometown, make sure it doesn’t sound like it could be about anywhere.

Brad Shoup: For all the R&B mannerisms in his arsenal, Stump still strains for his feelings. One of the hallmarks of blue-eyed soul is its effortlessness, and the man reeks of effort. As for “This City,” it fritters away the chance to land a chart single that big-ups an actual location. Both artists are from the Chicago area, which makes the generalism so galling. Lupe injects a bit of reality, if not geography, but cops out at the close. This is the sort of tune ESPN slurps up for tournament coverage, so I hope you like key changes and new-sincerity backing vocals.

Sally O’Rourke: I guess “This City” is supposed to be about Chicago, given the presence of two of its native sons, but the overt non-specificity is cleverly engineered for maximum pandering; one imagines Stump plugging in “hello Cleveland”-type shoutouts during the summer tour. Lupe doesn’t exactly exert himself on his verse, but at least he seems to be rambling toward vague social commentary. Naturally, he’s kicked off posthaste to make way for more synthy bombast and nebulous blandery.

Zach Lyon: I am a huge fan of Patrick Stump’s attempt at an R&B career makeover — that his voice is so well-suited for it is one of the major factors to Fall Out Boy’s better tracks. And I’m a fan of nearly everything else he’s released solo, especially “Oh Nostalgia,” one of the top two or three It Gets Better tracks. But this. Oh no. If I were loyal to Chicago I’d take this as a slap in the face. Two Chicagoans going on about their love of someone else’s city. Well, no one else’s city, really, as this isn’t about an actual city, it’s just a tacky ploy at gathering the good will of anyone who happens to be loyal to a city, or wishing they were loyal to a city. Just as hacky as any song that lists off a bunch of cities in its third verse and prays that every one of those cities will take it as their own (especially when they play it in Ottawa, throw “Ottawa” into the list and then bask in the audience’s love), and similar to “We Built This City” (but only half as good), which it eventually starts to sound like if you’re weird about city songs. It’s shameful. On the performance side, it doesn’t get better: Lupe gives so little to his verse, which is literally a rambling paragraph with no poetry, flourish, effort, or attention paid to the rest of the song. Stump gives just as little. If I were either of them, I’d be disappointed in the other.

Jake Cleland: The great quality of Patrick Stump’s vocals is his ability to make anything sound huge, but the instrumentation here feels like it’s struggling to keep up. The drop into the key change is awkwardly placed right at the end giving it no time to properly land, and the synths are hazy and shallow. Stump deserves to be judged harshly because he’s a perspicacious songwriter with significant potential, but the motley construction of this song shows some of the growing pains intrinsic to the transition he’s trying to make. Next to the phenomenal “Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)” it puts the consistency of his forthcoming album in doubt.

Al Shipley: I’ve been rooting for Stump to actually get to release his album with some degree of commercial success with the knowledge that that would invariably involve some awkwardly deployed guest rappers. What I didn’t expect, however, was a forced attempt at Chicago’s answer to “Empire State of Mind.” If it gets the album in stores, though, I can deal.

Jonathan Bradley: Patrick Stump does not have the easy charisma of Kanye West, but his answer to his fellow Chicagoan’s “Homecoming” has a chorus its equal. West would have been better advised to employ Stump, who’s more R. Kelly than Chris Martin is, for his hook. Never mind; the former Fall Out Boy’s paean to the City of the Broad Shoulders is an earnest love letter written with awkward prose in electric fire. Guest, Second City native, and sometime Kanye collaborator Lupe Fiasco tries to address the segregation paradoxically prevalent in a city so historically tied to African American hope, but only ends up with a line better suited to an essay on housing covenants or redlining than a pop song. (This is, unfortunately, an actual lyric: “The property value might go down to a level that’s economically unacceptable and socially taboo for us to live around you.”) It’s unnecessary, too: that Stump, who less than a decade ago sung the concertedly suburban anthem “Chicago is So Two Years Ago,” is now able to so naturally embrace the moves of R&B and Michael Jackson says far more than talk of gangs or real estate markets. Nonetheless for all the broad scope, there’s something lacking here, that same something that leads the chorus to culminate in the oddly unambitious “If I have my way I’m going to stay here.” As affectionate as is its treatment, it never accomplishes the earthy ground-level intimacy of something like BBU’s “Chi Don’t Dance.” This glitz is Magnificent Mile at best, but it hopes to unite the South Side with Wicker Park.

Katherine St Asaph: Cities are not lovable. They’re not even hateable. I was born in a suburb of Detroit that my Detroit friend can’t visualize and whose Wikipedia page sums up in a defeated visitors-bureau sigh of “shopping, dining and many cultural activities.” That was a year; another year was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, which exists for me as a pizza place and my aunt’s house, both of which were pasted into my memory years later. These cities threaten nothing for me but the memory of their existence. I grew up in Gibsonville, but all I remember is a home that upon revisiting is a houselike box, a main street that upon revisiting is a scab of ramshackle, anachronistic storefronts and a street grid that upon revisiting is the formaldehyde-filled nervous system of subdivisions I don’t recall. It threatens nothing but its prior impressions. Burlington became a highway exit with schools; Greensboro a half-revamped downtown and many strip malls arranged in a spittle splatter; Winston-Salem the same with less revamping and after spitting a stricter angle. Chapel Hill became a bed, some stores and a highway to an office; New York is becoming a different bed, different stores and the subway to a different office. Everything else is steel, documents, cruft: the same steel every building uses, the same documents that choke every local government and the same cruft suffocating every iteration of a life. You can understand cities, even to the point of suffusion, but you’ll never love them because they won’t love you. They can’t; they’re inanimate. The city didn’t get it made for you or break it for you. The city isn’t gentrifying itself — you know the assholes would’ve harnessed that by now — or adjusting its own property values. The city didn’t blink awake centuries ago and amuse its creaky timbers by min-maxing up a broken educational system. It only knows how to stand still as humans pour their humanity and their inhumanity, their synths and their anthems over its spires and down and through the ground, see the city slick with their reflected work and call it reciprocity.

Ian Mathers: Guys, I love cities. I was born in the smallish city where I currently live, but I grew up in a small town, and that was nice, but as soon as I could move I went to a city and I can’t imagine ever living ouside of one again (if I were American, I imagine I would have gone to school in NYC and never, ever left). I could give you some accurate-but-sappy-and-pretentious reasons why I love cities, but what it comes down to is this: I feel as strongly about certain cities as this song does, and I don’t even have the roots that Stump and Lupe clearly thrive on. Honestly, this song gets me a little choked up. Neither of them are blind to the faults of the city, but that’s not why you love a city, especially one you grew up in. When you love a city, you love it “from the problems, all the way to the solutions,” when it’s stupid hot, when there’s smog, when there’s gridlock, when your sports team loses, when gentrification hits, whenever. You’re in it for life, and with all the pro “country” boosterism these days (the scarequotes are for the number of those doing the boosting that live in, ahem, CITIES), we need a song too.

Jer Fairall: I suppose it’s a bit unfair to this that any such municipal ode immediately invites comparison to this song, for me, but seriously, Stump’s (and Lupe’s) conflicted observations go no deeper than a) here’s a bunch of crappy things about Chicago, and/but b) I’m from here, so it still rules anyway. That’s not even mentioning what a musical atrocity this is, with Stump’s always shrill faux-glam vocals taking on an even more infuriating degree of awfulness now that he’s switched to a mock-funky Timberlake-doing-MJ preen. And what of Lupe’s already fragile credibility? Consider it completely blown.

Alfred Soto: I could accept this “Ebony & Ivory”-style juxtaposition — privileged white boy getting schooled in hard knocks by earnest black guy — if the aptly named Patrick Stump didn’t sound like Steve Perry fronting a Timbo percussion loop from 2006. He’s got the looks and the money, but no brains. Don’t bore us with just a chorus.

Edward Okulicz: Taken out of the context of mall-punk and into near-R&B territory, Stump’s soaring vocals don’t seem quite as special competing against an array of hook-singers — even though he’s his own hook-singer, if you know what I mean. The banality of the words in the verses is mitigated by a big chorus, sold baldly but completely by the truck driver’s key change at the end. Lupe Fiasco’s bit is boring but inoffensive and reads like I could have written it, yet there are enough moments of genuine passion to suggest that Stump’s versatility has only been hinted at thus far. The big chink in the armour is that he lacks his erstwhile lyricist’s ability to write the personal, nay the obscure, as universal.

Martin Skidmore: I kind of ignored Fall Out Boy, but this isn’t at all bad, a big soft rock number sung with some style and feeling, and Lupe contributes a very lively guest rap. I’m not so keen when he goes into his highest tones, but I am quite impressed with the rich arrangement and passion of the whole thing.

27 Responses to “Patrick Stump ft. Lupe Fiasco – This City”

  1. ‘If you’re going to write an homage to your hometown, make sure it doesn’t sound like it could be about anywhere.”

    Conversely, if you’re going to write an homage to cities, make sure that it sounds like it could be about anywhere,” I guess.

    And I love the Weakerthans, but the crucial difference between “One Great City!” (…not their best song) and this song is that Samson actually DOES hate Winnipeg, even as he loves (some of) the people in it. That song is about staying in a place you loathe, at least some of the time; this song is not.

  2. You can understand cities, even to the point of suffusion, but you’ll never love them because they won’t love you.

    I guess I can’t love music (or books, or films, or art, or any hobby) either. What about a pet? Or a baby? If we define love as existing only when it’s reciprocated, then I guess I don’t love anything except my immediate family. I’d rather view love as anything that gives me pleasure, anything that makes life worth living. Plus, you’re working from a rather strict definition of a city, one that confines it to its infrastructure. To borrow an old axiom, a church isn’t the sanctuary; it’s the congregation.

  3. But to the extent that any city makes life worth living, it’s the people or amenities there. The city itself is just a framework, half of the frameworks look alike anyway, and most function more or less alike.

  4. It sounds to me like you’re defining a city as its infrastructure, Katherine, which seems peculiar to me. Correct me if I’ve misunderstood.

    (I enjoyed your blurb immensely, regardless.)

  5. That’s exactly how I’m defining cities — as places. I don’t know and haven’t experienced any other definition. Anthromorphizing places is great for fiction, but I don’t understand how people do it and believe it’s happening in real life.

  6. But cities, as we experience them, are about so much more than concrete and electrical wiring. They’re collections of history and culture and people and stories and ideas. Considering a city without thought to what people do there and who those people are makes no sense; if they were different people doing different things, the city would be a very different place.

    Simple example: Times Square. If you go to Times Square, you’re going to have some variety of a Times Square experience, and that experience occurs because it’s packed with people, and traffic, and businesses who are willing to put up lots of money to pay for expensive glowing billboards all over the place. If you could enter a Times Square without those things, as the buildings alone, you’d have a very different experience to anyone who’s ever been there. Now multiply this concept across five boroughs. The idea that a city has only an architectural dimension, and not social, economic, political, and cultural dimensions as well seems quite disconnected to the world in which we live

  7. But cities are defined as cities (not towns or rural areas) precisely by the number of people who live there, not by the amenities or square footage. At any rate, i’m far more interested in the idea of love as something that must be reciprocated, which doesn’t square with any interpretation of that concept that I’ve ever come across.

  8. I don’t think it’s anthropomorphizing merely to think of a city in terms of its inhabitants. It’s a city precisely because it has a certain number of inhabitants; the infrastructure was built specifically for those inhabitants. Any city is an integrated network of infrastructure, business, people, etc.

  9. (That comment was in response to Katherine. I completely agree with Jonathan.)

  10. But history and culture and stories and ideas are all things that people have. If all of that were to disappear tomorrow, there’d be a bunch of buildings and nothing else, because the city doesn’t give a shit about any of this. Half of Times Square’s “Times Square-ness” is because advertisers are going berserk, the other half is because tourists are going berserk. If those vanished tomorrow, it’d look like any other square, perhaps a bit more open than some.

    The borough I live in, for what it’s worth, is functionally identical to parts of Chapel Hill except that there’s an elevated train through it. The N train eventually turns into a subway, and every time it passes that patch of land, I swear I’m on uptown Franklin Street.

  11. Before I take off for the weekend (for Vegas, of all cities), I wanted to mention second Bradley’s enjoyment of Katherine’s blurb. I thought it was a wonderful corrective and stunningly written.

  12. “This is the sort of tune ESPN slurps up for tournament coverage, so I hope you like key changes and new-sincerity backing vocals.”


    Also, my LASERS joke was redacted and now I don’t even remember what it was. Rats.

  13. “Half of Times Square’s “Times Square-ness” is because advertisers are going berserk, the other half is because tourists are going berserk. If those vanished tomorrow, it’d look like any other square, perhaps a bit more open than some.”

    So we’re agreed that Times Square and “any other square” are different things, and that’s because of the advertisers and the tourists? And yet, when the tourists have left and have gone back to wherever in the world is their home, that berserkness that makes Times Square Times Square vanishes. If the advertisers pulled all their money out, and used it to instead run TV commercials in markets all over the country, they wouldn’t be dividing up Times Square and broadcasting it in little packets. An aspect of Times Square would vanish. Times Square exists as we know it because the buildings and the tourists and the advertisers interact with one another to create something more than any of the three can contribute on their own. That something is (a small part of) The City.

  14. Right, but the advertisers and tourists are human influence. The city doesn’t give a shit what happens to Times Square, because it is incapable of giving a shit about anything. It is inanimate. It is a place. It is a bunch of buildings that corporations have made look really ugly in one place. This is also why I never say things like “I love this city” or “I love this town” and fundamentally don’t understand them — it’s the people you love, or the venues, or the experiences.

    Because when it comes down to it, the city does not care about you, because it can’t; if you stop having it made, the buildings are guaranteed just sit there static as the people and the systems they made screws you. It’s less that you can’t love something that doesn’t reciprocate; it’s just that it’s not the best use of love, and it will end up hurting you. This is possibly the point Lupe Fiasco tried to get at in his verse, but (in true Lupe fashion) it’s clumsy and never gets there.

  15. Oh, you two. The residents of this city would care very much about what happens to Times Square, especially, say, if it went back to being porn theaters. I’m not sure that this is the best example to use here; TS is first thing people here think of when talking about the Bloomberg-led mall-ification of NYC.

    I’m sad I missed the chance to review today’s selections; especially this one. Mostly because I would have mentioned this:

  16. I also liked Katherine’s blurb (a lot), but I suspect the root of the disagreement here stems from semantics:

    “But history and culture and stories and ideas are all things that people have. If all of that were to disappear tomorrow, there’d be a bunch of buildings and nothing else, because the city doesn’t give a shit about any of this.”

    What myself, Jonathan, Sally, et al would say, I think, is that once you’re down to “a bunch of buildings and nothing else,” the city has disappeared as well. It’s true that “city” is used in both senses in English, the “bunch of buildings sense” and the “things that people have” sense, but in general I think when people say things like “I hate to leave the city” or “I need to get out of the city for a while,” it’s taken as fairly uncontroversial that they mean the latter sense. So I think Katherine’s reading of “city” as STRICTLY one of the two senses is both a bit atypical (certainly among commenters here) and perfectly reasonable, even if I think it’s missing part of the concept.

    This song is still great, BTW.

  17. I’m not trying to be willfully contrarian. I just have yet to become really attached to a city or town in the way that’d lead to a Patrick Stump song. There are books full — literally, there are books — of rhapsodic prose about Chapel Hill, for instance, none of which resonated with me like they were supposed to. It’s probably unfair for me to cite anything about New York, hence “becoming,” but still.

  18. Oh man, Weakerthans and “Chi Don’t Dance” both brought up. These blurbs >>>>>> “This City.”

  19. Anyway, re: city love, I always thought I was in the minority when pointing to “the citizenry” of a city as being its main differentiating factor. But maybe not. Not talking about the simple amount of people within a city, but the way each city has of making so many people so alike, the way individual cities attract certain types of people, the way those people mold the city in their own vision, the way that vision molds the generations to come, etc. I always hear people referring to “the architecture” before they refer to the people. But of course, the architecture of a city can be a reflection of the people — the idea is that cities are individuals, they do have personalities, and character, because a city is the sum total of every human being that inhabits it.

    On another, possibly related hand, if I lived in, say, Detroit (and very few people do), I would wear that history with intense pride, knowing that the city is responsible for, like, 50% of American music. And on a third, more unrelated hand, let’s not forget the power branding has on city love — I don’t think there would be nearly as many millions of people claiming a love of New York if it weren’t branded so expertly (beginning decades ago with its campaign to attract filmmakers and film studios with tax cuts — NY would not be the city it is without the film industry).

  20. As a Chicagoan, I’m insulted that my city could inspire something this fucking bland.

    I suppose the references at the end about “burn it to the ground… or let it flood” are supposed to reference the Chicago Fire (yeah, I’m sure Patrick has really strong feelings about something that happened over a century before he was born–especially when nothing that actually came out of the fire was mentioned*) and the flood of ’92. But they’re just dropped in there, at the end, at Chicago’s hardly the only city to burn or flood.

    And seriously, “drugs and gangs, corruption and pollution”? That’s not Chicago so much as “standard symptoms of urban malaise.” What major US city CAN’T claim those?

    I really liked this YouTube commenter’s suggestion, though:

    Hmm…being from chicago, I’m surprised he left out the most common season: construction.?

    Also, did I hear Lupe say we “root for the same team”? Not if he’s talking about baseball, we don’t.

    *one of the (many!) awesome things about Chicago is the pretty consistent grid system, making the streets much more navigable–which only happened because of all the rebuilding they needed to do after the fire. I mean, at least he could’ve done the tourist thing and brought up the Water Tower or something.

  21. I’m most surprised that Patrick described the weather here as “warm or storming or down right stupid hot.” Seriously? Most of the year it’s cloudy and sleety and down right stupid cold.

    “I feel as strongly about certain cities as this song does, and I don’t even have the roots that Stump and Lupe clearly thrive on. Honestly, this song gets me a little choked up”

    I didn’t put this in my blurb, but I was riding the El and listening to my ipod, and this came on shuffle and I nearly started crying.

  22. “This glitz is Magnificent Mile at best, but it hopes to unite the South Side with Wicker Park.”

    Also, what? What’s this song or Patrick Stump (who’s from NEW TRIER!) got do with Wicker Park?

  23. Or the South Side for that matter. (Honestly, we’d rather not be united with Wicker Park.)

  24. I’m most surprised that Patrick described the weather here as “warm or storming or down right stupid hot.” Seriously? Most of the year it’s cloudy and sleety and down right stupid cold.

    The simple explanation is that the song is not about Chicago.

  25. @Michelle, Poubelle: As in, Stump and Lupe re trying to unite the entire city, and those two places are examples of the geographical and cultural gap they are trying to bridge. If the examples aren’t better (or worse, don’t make the point, which seemingly, they might not!) it’s because I reached the limit to my Chicago knowledge.

  26. They’re not terrible examples, but it’s a bit weird to compare the entire South Side (which is a huge region of Chicago comprised of many neighborhoods and a lot more socioeconomic and racial diversity than people give it credit for) to Wicker Park, which is just a tiny part of West Town, and not really as important as Josh Hartnett movies and outdated hipster stereotypes might have you believe.

  27. I really wish Chicago could finally get a song to match all the wonderful anthems to New York. This is not that song.