Wednesday, December 14th, 2022

Amnesty 2022, Part One

A jukebox comes home, being hoisted through the sky as a man on the roof of a house films it

You didn’t think we’d end a year without observing tradition, did you?

Over the next three days The Singles Jukebox does its duty. For Amnesty 2022 our writers will bring you the songs we missed, and perhaps some you missed too. Expect worldwide hits, local legends and internet curiosities. It wouldn’t be December without it.


The Weeknd – Out of Time


[Video]
[6.70]

Katherine St Asaph: A lot can change in 11 (ELEVEN!) years. The man who skulked and coked his way through city lofts, recording a blacklight highlight reel of increasingly sordid songs like “Life of the Party” and “Initiation,” is now making cute karaoke videos and sounding like Michael Bolton. And his former persona will always keep his current one from being totally credible. Subtextual sleaze just doesn’t hit when you’ve already made it text.
[5]

Kayla Beardslee: I can’t decide whether it’s good or bad that this song sounds really corny.
[6]

Alfred Soto: lol of course it is — Abel’s one of those dudes like Ne-Yo who treats “Human Nature” like Brahms’ Symphony No. 5. The bass pops dutifully, the falsetto cracks at the fissile moment, the keyboards go down the scale. Necrophilia is a game he’s played well; if it doesn’t work with pills and Dom, he’ll ply you with Thriller.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The bass guitar and loft synths that dance over the limp, flat drums sound pretty enough. But the true highlight is The Weeknd’s sprite-like voice, no longer mischievous but despondent, more melancholy than malicious, pressing slightly against each bright synth riff without even looking overcome, waiting patiently, yet choosing not to burst free, simply lying still inside.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Four years ago, to my utter confusion, my #1 single of the year was Taylor Swift’s “End Game,” featuring Ed Sheeran and Future. This year, the same damned thing happened: my favorite single of 2022 is from an artist I generally find okay at best and loathsome at worst, the Weeknd. But when you get it, you get it, and on the gorgeous “Out of Time,” he gets it. Abel co-wrote and largely co-produced this with Oneohtrix Point Never, and their master stroke was to base it around a sample from Tomoko Aran’s 1983 city pop classic “Midnight Pretenders.” That gives “Out of Time” a sleekness and a sweetness that Abel needs, as he often comes off as a creep in his songs; it also helps that lyrically this is a straightforward “I fucked up and I wish I could get a do-over” song, without him blaming his paramour for once. His frankly sterling falsetto adds even a bit more sugar to the mix. As perfect as pop gets.
[10]

Claire Biddles: Oh my god of COURSE The Weeknd is singing about trauma in 2022.
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Every time I think that pandemic time (e.g., everything simultaneously feeling like 20 years but also only 2 minutes) has successfully reset to reality, something happens like me completely forgetting a major release from one of the world’s most popular artists even happened. Seriously, listening to Dawn FM in December of 2022–it was released January 6 of this year, but I’m sure you forgot too–feels like trying to remember a fever dream. Not that I mind though. “Out of Time” is Abel at his suavest and most satisfactory, embracing a concept with bizarro ambition and immaculate execution.
[8]

Michael Hong: For a moment, “Out of Time” almost fools you into believing it can rewrite the ending. It has all the markings of a great karaoke track: nostalgic adoration and a retro instrumental that’s glittery lights but doesn’t overtake The Weeknd’s voice. Best of all, at the halfway point it filters his voice into a makeshift duet. Too sincerely tender, The Weeknd hits rewind before he gets too wrapped up in the nostalgia of the “Midnight Pretenders” sample and dials.
[7]

Ian Mathers: Not to be too “old Jukeboxer yells at cloud” about it, but the main question I always have when sampling basically equates to just borrowing the source material wholesale is: why not just cover it? You’re kinda close to covering it already! Still, the source material here is very strong, even if nothing about the lyrics of “Out of Time” is more distinctive or interesting than what “Midnight Pretenders” already had, and the Weeknd can nail these kind of emotional notes in his sleep these days. So I guess I’ll just appreciate the proof that you can match the music here with two different, good choruses, and they’ll both work.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Both The Weeknd and city pop revival as a genre went from intriguing online oddities to tasteful middlebrow so smoothly over the course of the past decade that it almost makes you wonder what was so interesting about them in the first place. This is fine and I’ve liked it whenever I heard it in a shop this year.
[6]


Little Boots – Crying on the Inside


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Lauren Gilbert: “Turn pain into poetry” is, for me, the essence of pop music.  Music is about emotion, and emotions are not always positive; for every time you fall head over heels in love, you risk more weeks sitting at home in your pajamas, eating Ben and Jerry’s, texting your friends for the 10,000th time that your life is over and you will never be happy again. And eventually, your friends will turn up at your door and drag you out, swearing that you’ll feel better if you go out and dance. You might be crying on the inside, but the bass is pumping, the energy is electric, and you’ll keep moving.
[10]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Is this a tad too on the nose? Yes. Do I care? Not particularly.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: This track can only really work if it’s produced sparkly — which Little Boots is usually great at! — and sung with emotion, not this sheepish, starchy monotone. In other words, it needs to be the Carly Rae Jepsen song it was written as.
[3]

Will Adams: There’s absolutely still mileage in the e•mo•tion-on-sleeve strain of pop, but “Crying On the Inside” is one of its most muted examples. The way the chorus melody hits on the downbeat — “put. my. fav. rite. rec. cord. on.” — makes it sloggier than it should be, where some syncopation would’ve enlivened the proceedings.
[5]

Alfred Soto: A demo, right? Why is the percussion flat? Why does she glance off the most piquant lines?
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: The drums are so low and flattened that the dry, papery voice of Little Boots’ lead is almost too up your face, singing directly to you, you the foolish traitor who spins about then runs. Supported by her background echoes, she floats back for the bridge to take off, carrying the echoes behind her as she lopes over the snares.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: I’m a sucker for a pensive, downbeat vocal line paired with twinkly synths. We all know this. What came up less in my time at the Jukebox is my fondness for choral background vox, which Little Boots also delivers in “Crying on the Inside”. I don’t find the song that remarkable otherwise (it’s a little repetitive and doesn’t have a lot of stand-out moments), but those elements are enough for me to regard it fondly.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Genuinely going to go back to the older Little Boots track to figure out whether she’s always sounded as much like Stevie Nicks as she does in the verses here. The song is in a bit of an unfortunate middle ground to me; I either want a bit more pep or for it to get really sweeping and grandiosely desolate. Once we get to “I put my favourite record on because I’m crying on the inside” I start to see how a more specific and interesting story could have been here lyrically as well as sonically. This might well grow on me, although compare it to her recent “Silver Balloons“, which I quite like on first listen… so maybe not?
[6]

Kayla Beardslee: Cute, though it doesn’t have anything new to add in the second half. Best summed up by the one-word, one-punctuation-mark phrase “Fun!”
[7]


Wednesday Campanella – Edison


[Video]
[6.00]

Michael Hong: Utaha definitely lends youth to Wednesday Campanella through her vocals, a force of joy as she passionately powers through uncertainty. While Wednesday Campanella morph to meet her in the brighter space with sunny future house, there’s something of a disconnect when the drop arrives, a presentation that suggests Wednesday Campanella rely on Utaha for their updated sound rather than the other way around.
[6]

Ian Mathers: A fun song! It’s not their fault Edison was historically a total piece of shit who I, specifically, loathe and the idea that his name is still synonymous with “genius inventor” makes me want to run into a wall, especially when they sing his name over and over. Can we do upside-down smile emojis in this? [Ed: No.]
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: I was gonna do some long convoluted thing here but this song is too damn good for that. And also, obligatory: Thomas Edison was kinda a dummy who got too locked into his own ideas.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: I try not to be An Old about TikTok — any platform that revives Life Without Buildings can’t be all bad. But I don’t remember Wednesday Campanella sounding even slightly close to this abrasive.
[4]


Cécile McLorin Salvant – Wuthering Heights


[Video][Website]
[7.14]

Dorian Sinclair: When Cécile McLorin Salvant covers a song, she doesn’t so much reimagine it as she breaks it down to component parts and builds it into something new. The melismatic, extended chant that opens her version of “Wuthering Heights” renders it unrecognizable, and while I can’t recapture the moment on my first listen where things snapped into focus and I understood what I was hearing, it’s one of my favourite music experiences of 2022. While the bass-and-synth accompaniment in the last third of the track is lovely, it almost feels superfluous; Salvant’s voice is a remarkable instrument accompanied or otherwise.
[9]

Ian Mathers: This isn’t what makes this cover great, but if you played me that a cappella opening and told me it was a demo or a rehearsal or an isolated vocal track from Kate Bush, I’d probably believe you. Knowing it’s not I can tell the difference, and the differences that are differences of performance, not voice, are good choices on the part of McLorin Salvant. And that’s just the vocals; the way this “Wuthering Heights” blooms when that bass comes in is sublime. I love the Kate Bush version(s) of the song, but McLorin Salvant makes it sound like the song was always supposed to sound like this.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I think I may like the original Kate Bush song more as foundational substrate than actual song. Whether it’s Dean Blunt rendering the guitar solo as beat material or Cécile McLorin Salvant’s reimagining, the song brings something special out of artists. Salvant’s take is ghostly and amorphous until that tell-tale hook emerges out of the mist, but its almost formless qualities turn it into something potent, a haunting that lives up to the song’s literary legacy.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Since this site is only liminally alive I feel like it’s a safe time to reveal some of my dirt: Despite being a Kate Bush stan of 17 years, I kind of hate “Wuthering Heights.” The first two-thirds of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s cover retains almost nothing from Kate’s original recording — not the melody, and no instrumental at all, let alone the (sorry) dated production of the original. This version is more like a madrigal, austere yet exploratory — or, in Kate terms, it’s like she re-recorded “Wuthering Heights” for Director’s Cut in the style of “Nocturn.” The effect is startling: hearing as if new a song I must have listened to hundreds of times, trying to get from it what other people do. Then this turns into another straight-ahead cover, and I realize once again that, no, I still kind of hate “Wuthering Heights.”
[6]

Alfred Soto: Essential to her mythos, “Wuthering Heights” means nothing to me except as a harbinger of better things. Cécile McLorin Salvant doesn’t introduce a bass line until the track’s almost over. A pity: Kate Bush understands rhythm grounds her flights into the ionosphere without which the libretto outlines liberation without quite release. 
[4]

Michael Hong: The electric guitar comes a little after the halfway point when she invokes Heathcliff’s name, the demand by a ghostly wanderer. Cécile McLorin Salvant capitalizes on the ghostliness of her cover by letting herself take as much time as she can to let it materialize before she arrives to a familiar face and the warbling stabilizes. I’m left wanting the contact to linger longer.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: An inspired cover of the Kate Bush original and one suited for Cécile. She waits, softly lilting into the void, her voice bright and blinding, then touches down on the chugging bass guitar and to-and-fro synthesizer, recedes, and allows them to fill the mix.
[8]


Seventeen – Hot


[Video]
[7.00]

Kayla Beardslee: Me, someone who has transformed into an avid (avid!!) Seventeen fan over the last two years, on the day this song came out in May: “Um, what the hell is this? Why are they trying to sound like every other 4th gen boy group? Where are the melodies? Oh god, not the motorbikes!” Me, a week or two later: “I mean, at least the performances are good, but considering how amazing the rest of the album is, I wish they hadn’t picked a title track that gives me secondhand embarrassment.” Me, reviewing Face the Sun in June: “Hot isn’t terrible, but it just doesn’t feel much like Seventeen.” Me, idk, sometime in July: “With all the times I’ve watched performances and listened to their new album in full, I’ve sure heard ‘Hot’ a lot even though I think it’s a weak track by comparison; I guess it’s nice that I can at least tolerate it now.” Me, on a walk around my neighborhood in August, getting the desire to queue up this song out of nowhere: “Now hold on a minute, where did this come from? Shit… is Hot actually really good?” Me, accepting my fate and listening to this song constantly in the fall and winter: “Yes… hahaha, yes! DK prechorus! Hoshi corridor! There’s the vocal ping-pong and attention to rhythmic layers that elevates so many SVT tracks! Yeah, sure, you’re all cowboy popstars with your autotune squiggles and lil guitar riffs. Keep going!” Me, about to put this song in my top 10 K-pop singles of the year: I still don’t know for sure whether Hot is bad or good, or how exactly I went on a complete emotional journey in my relationship with this song, but you know what I can tell you? 1) That it is, in its own way, an excellent and milestone Seventeen track through and through, and 2) that it fucking bangs.
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’m a relative newcomer to K-pop, so can someone explain to me whether this whole aesthetic of this music video is supposed to feel camp? Because if it is, I’m loving it. 
[7]

Michael Hong: SoundCloud verses, soaring pre-choruses, and a TikTok chorus. It’s all competent enough even if it feels a bit lost in circles, but its better parts are overshadowed by the thrill of an autotuned lisp on the first chorus.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The lilting guitar is a misdirect. The hopping whistle and prancing kicks are the real drivers of the song, alongside the boys’ well-tuned voices, which spread the gamut from chipper beatboxing; tense, nervous rapping; slight and high-pitched croons; to low chants. They patiently pull each other over the hump and onto the mountain they have been climbing four legs by four legs. But they stop short, then abruptly, as if thinking better, then walk back down.
[7]


Rina Sawayama – Phantom


[Video][Website]
[6.30]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Hold the Girl, as critics have been too eager to point out, can be a meandering journey. At points, Rina contemplates the standing of her British-Asian identity, rides the frustrating vertigo of forgiveness, embodies a toxically dependent relationship, and role-plays an immigrant mother processing the queer relationship of an estranged child–all while genre-hopping with admittedly less finesse than her acclaimed eponymous album. But if Hold the Girl‘s theme of “reparenting” oneself sometimes takes a backseat after the title track, it is more than redeemed with “Phantom,” the album’s emotional and sonic apex. Here, disparate threads about loss, childhood, forgiveness, and pressure finally come to a head, or as she has stated: “I realized as an adult that I have spent my whole life pleasing other people and not realizing it — constantly pushing my boundaries and not realizing the difference between what I wanted to do and what other people wanted from me.” Rina retells her story with an intentional universalism, almost as if she is experiencing it from outside her own body: “Once upon a time/There was a girl/Pleasing the world/Dying to be liked.” Warmly reclaiming her inner child and directly giving herself advice, by the time the song’s bridge comes around, the result is an earth-shattering self-apology: “Inner child, come back to me/I want to tell you that I’m sorry/I’m sorry.” (The last “I’m sorry” triggers a screaming, scorched guitar solo, so cry appropriately.) I was always going to like this album–I’m too close to the target audience, too experienced with Rina’s unique form of identity trauma–but this is the moment that I keep coming back to. When Hold the Girl‘s winding tension finally pays off, the message is explosive: as children and adults, we owe ourselves courage and grace in the never-ending, daunting, life-affirming project that is living authentically. “Phantom” is an allegory, “Phantom” is a therapy session, and most importantly, “Phantom” is a damn good song. 
[9]

Lauren Gilbert: I’m glad Rina has found reconnecting to her inner child healing, but I am frankly bored of the power ballads.
[5]

Alfred Soto: She’s good at power ballads: check out how she ooh-oohs just in time for that Slash-era solo sprayed like ranch dressing over the coda. And she conserves her resources, saving her bile for the verses and the rue for the chorus. Gaga, if you need writing help, here it is. 
[7]

Claire Biddles: This is such a battle between corny things I love and corny things I can’t abide. The therapy-speak, inner-child lyrics are so on the nose, and the reason I couldn’t get into Hold the Girl despite rooting so hard for Rina previously. But the unfashionable classic rock guitar stuff is brilliant, and my favourite thing about her live show — I’m so glad it’s been adopted as one of her signature sounds on record. In the midst of this bombast, there’s also a neat little backing vocal that drifts in and out, a ghostly reference to her phantom self. I just wish these sonic highs were enough to outweigh the Kelly Clarkson-lite lows.
[5]

Michael Hong: Everything on Hold the Girl is extremely hokey, and “Phantom” is perhaps one of the worst offenders. Her reckoning with her younger self is built on feebly obvious clichés, and pulling from the angsty nostalgia of ’00s pop-rock ballads makes it sound like Radio Disney.
[2]

Kayla Beardslee: This was my least favorite song on Hold the Girl on first listen, largely because of its placement on the tracklist: directly before it are both a better bombastic pop-rock song and a more moving ballad (“Hurricanes” and “Send My Love to John”), and when you’re already 40 minutes deep into an album and looking towards the end, this is not the kind of music that’s going to create a lasting impression. (Gosh, and it’s almost four and a half minutes long?) I have warmed up to the song a bit after listening to it enough to remember what it sounds like, but — and I hate when I agree with the grumpy side — it’s almost a moot point considering how decisively the adult contemporary stuff on Hold the Girl is outflanked in style by that brief island of darkness in the middle of the tracklist. I would rather just go listen to “Imagining,” et al. again than think about tracks like this or “To Be Alive” any longer.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: People keep calling Hold the Girl a radical departure from SAWAYAMA, but it’s really not. “Breakaway” happened in the early 2000s, too, right alongside Evanescence and “Toxic” and everything else Sawayama’s debut is better known for pastiching. Her debut also had lots of earnest, sappy power ballads like “Chosen Family” and “Tokyo Love Hotel” — whose cowriter, Lauren Aquilina, also did this. (When I first heard Hold the Girl, I thought it had to be another casualty of the sophomore-album trap where you bring in outside pop songwriters to dilute yourself. But no, the credit distribution’s pretty the much the same as SAWAYAMA, and the same cowriters even.) And Rina Sawayama is really good at earnest, sappy power ballads. This ballad isn’t even one I relate to. If there’s a problem I didn’t have as a teenage girl, it’s being pleasing to the world. If I were to meet my inner child, whatever the fuck that means, I’d have some very specific cautionary words to tell her that would probably make her think I was the phantom, some Ghost of Life Future. So, as a narrative, “Phantom” isn’t for me. But Sawayama understands that a song about not being ashamed of yourself can’t be ashamed of itself. And if its self is most truly expressed through a storm-tossed ballad rhythm, through belting about self-love while background oohs and full guitar solos carry your words to the lighters in the back row, then let it be true.
[7]

Will Adams: After reading the initial reactions to Hold the Girl, I was anticipating some early-’00s, 6/8 pop-rock anthems in the vein of “Breakaway” or “I’m With You”. What I got was… mostly that, but with the same saccharine touches that previously kept me from embracing Rina. The “girl/world” rhymes, the on-the-nose text painting of the title… have I really just been hardened some twenty years after the source material? Have I given up the ghost? I’ve loved Rina’s previous explorations of growing pains… am I really becoming a phantom of my old self, who would feel at all times and never shy from showing it? I might regret this score. 
[5]

Ian Mathers: One interesting thing about being in therapy for really the first time (by which I mostly mean “being able to afford therapy” lol amirite folks) is that I can admit that a lot of things in “Phantom” make me uncomfortable in a way that I wasn’t so much denying before as I was straight up unable to perceive. And that I’m more comfortable living with that discomfort and not driven to equate it with actually disliking the song. There’s a directness to the emotional expression here, the lyrics, the vocal performance, the guitar solo, hell, even the eye contact in the video, that makes me feel like my skeleton is on fire. It feels like musical theatre in a way that suddenly clarifies part of my problem with a lot of that stuff (to be clear I still have plenty of problems with the genre/form on more aesthetic grounds). It’s not as if it’s just emotional expression per se I have difficulty with; contrast “Phantom” with Let’s Eat Grandma’s “Watching You Go” (one of my favourite songs of 2022), and right down to duelling guitar climaxes both feel similarly intense to me, but the latter in a way that resonates perfectly with something in my core and “Phantom” in a way that makes me want to run out of the room. My therapist would probably at this point ask me gently if maybe it feels too much like Sawayama is directly asking for something that deep down I really want or need myself, and when I try to deflect by pointing out that 41-year-old cishet white dude me and Sawayama have clearly been through very different types of things in our lives, he would acknowledge that but point out it doesn’t magically get rid of the things I’m feeling. If I was much younger, like 15 years ago, I’d probably tell you parts of “Phantom” make me cringe, but I’d think I meant there was something lacking in the song and not that it’s making me feel like Toshiro Mifune not quite dodging arrows in Throne of Blood. I don’t know how often I’ll go back to “Phantom” in the near future, but I’m grateful to be at a place in my life where I understand more completely that it’s me, not the song.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Thickly picked guitar over thudding drums, gently threaded poetry through buoyant voices, a spinning glut of strings, a need to recapture one’s fleeting youth! What is this, a crossover episode?
[10]

Reader average: [10] (1 vote)

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

3 Responses to “Amnesty 2022, Part One”

  1. Picture credit: this highly entertaining video https://youtu.be/YI2ahfm0H5Y

  2. thank you for that completely correct Nobody Gets Me – Phantom comparison

  3. jsk otm about the weeknd and city pop

Leave a Reply