If the Album Analyzer dissects projects by both Run the Jewels and Taylor Swift in a single sitting, you can expect one thing: that he’s lost his mind.
Swift’s “1989” and Run the Jewels’ “Run the Jewels 2” both dropped at October’s end. Despite obvious differences between the now-pop princess and industrial rap duo, their releases describe popular music in 2014’s strange trend — a constant slew of gritty rap and polished pop albums.
“Run the Jewels 2” by Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels incite lyrical riots, ask how a modern-day Jesus might respond to America’s current issues, and perfect the notion of the guitar rap Run-DMC sought to achieve in the ‘80s all within “RTJ2’s” first three minutes.
“RTJ2,” the duo’s sophomore effort, simmers at its start with the paranoia-percolating “Jeopardy” and quickly hits its peak with track two, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.”
“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” expands on all standout aspects from Run the Jewels’ prior work. Group member and producer El-P’s sample stutters across the beat more, and in El-P’s initial performance, he utilizes silent space and repetition until his effort is more than a verse or humorous punch line.
Then there’s Run the Jewels’ other half: Atlanta rapper Killer Mike whose performance on El-P’s production leads to his career’s most memorable moments.
Killer Mike ushers in the album through on the aforementioned “Jeopardy” with a stream-of-conscious rhyme scheme only Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah could replicate. After uttering nonsensical poetry, though, he and his social commentary add a strange characteristic to “RTJ2”: themes that tackle today’s issues over bombastic beats.
Sex and drugs are plentiful throughout Run the Jewels’ second album. But for each silly Lil Wayne- or Rick Ross-type brag, El-P and Killer Mike add a complicated dimension to “RTJ2” with lines like, “Who’s that voice on the side of the phone that shakes and rattles his bones? / Could it be the man behind the man behind the man behind the throne?” from “Lie, Cheat, Steal.”
Killer Mike’s verse on “Lie, Cheat, Steal” could make “RTJ2” a five-star effort by itself. All 11 tracks amaze, however — demanding that the Album Analyzer give his first perfect score.
Final Rating: Five out of Five Suns
“1989” by Taylor Swift
Swift’s transition from country to pop compares to when the Album Analyzer switched from playing football to golf in high school: If you’re not great at either, the change is irrelevant.
Listeners can, however, notice Swift’s new direction from track one, “Welcome to New York.” In “1989’s” opener, she attempts to channel the essence of New York in a three-minute snippet. It’s an interesting attempt — backed by minimalistic keyboards and hushed strings — but she can’t seem to get past the city’s “bright lights” and potential to foster “true love.”
If anything, “Welcome to New York,” embodies the larger issue with Swift’s “1989”: She simply scratches the surface in regards to numerous genres or themes, and the ideas she works with are a bit tired in the first place.
With “1989,” Swift exhibits interesting charisma — even incorporating descriptive lyrics her prior albums included none of. “Remember when you hit the breaks too soon / 20 stitches in the hospital room,” she sings on “Out of the Woods,” track four, passing on the abstract, silly ideas from past efforts and utilizing concrete images.
But “Out of the Woods” is a rare moment on “1989”: a well-developed idea.
Swift seeks to deploy entirely different styles in each of the album’s 13 songs, and it’s a commendable effort until listeners hear the finished product. “All You Had to Do Was Stay” somewhat replicates Haim’s fantastic throwback pop from last year — but only if the Haim sisters gave up halfway through the recording process. “Shake it Off” makes Pharrell’s “Happy” from spring sound Bob Dylan-esque.
All in all, praise Swift for taking artistic leaps when her old music-making formula proved ever-successful, but don’t expect much from “1989.”
Final Rating: Two and a Half Out of Five Suns