CreditEvan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press
Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing. This week, Elvis Costello croons on a new soundtrack song, Superchunk issues a blast of disillusionment and Betty Davis delivers a dose of “F.U.N.K.”
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Eminem featuring Beyoncé, ‘Walk on Water’
On the new Eminem single, there is no sense of mischief or joy, no sense of danger or devastation. Instead Eminem, once a master of playful extremes, is in excavation mode, assessing his diminished place in pop culture, and wondering if all the effort it requires to be him — and to spin the gold he has spun — is worth undertaking once more. “Walk on Water” — the first single from his forthcoming album, “Revival” — is grim and ponderous and, to its credit, seems to understand that it might be perceived as grim and ponderous. “Butterflies rip apart my stomach,” he raps, “knowing that no matter what bars I come with/you’re gonna harp, gripe/and that’s a hard Vicodin to swallow.”
Eminem has been self-lacerating before, but perhaps never this soberly. And there are feelings here that are alarmingly, and arrestingly, stark: “Always in search of the verse that I haven’t spit yet/Will this step just be another misstep/To tarnish whatever the legacy, love or respect I’ve garnered?” Rapping about rapping is among his strongest skills, but for every deft turn of phrase here, there are deeply awkward moments, too (“It’s true, I’m a Rubik’s/A beautiful mess”).
A song like this, misguided though it may be — Beyoncé sings the chorus, reduced to an unimaginative avatar of dignity and goodness, and Rick Rubin produces what’s little more than a glum piano — can only come from a place of savvy. Eminem is alive to the way he is seen, and astute enough to know he has few moves available to him, especially in a cultural moment likely to abjure his scathing, violent early work. “Now I’m getting clowned and frowned on,” he laments.
Still, considering that for almost two decades Eminem has been, for white rappers, both the high-water mark and also the most visible and theatrical personality, it is astonishing to hear him rapping — in mood, tone and, sometimes, pattern — like Macklemore. JON CARAMANICA
Sturgill Simpson on Facebook Live Outside the Country Music Association Awards
You could call it a protest, but that would imply that Sturgill Simpson actually cared deeply about what was happening inside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday night at the annual Country Music Association Awards. It seems very likely he did not. Mr. Simpson won this year’s Grammy for best country album, but has little in common with the genre’s mainstream, which is what the C.M.A.s celebrate. He wasn’t bitter, though. Instead, he set up on the street outside, opened up his guitar case (with his Grammy inside) to take donations for the A.C.L.U. and took questions from fans on Facebook Live. He played a couple of songs, spoke of his love for bluegrass and Kanye West, and when asked to deliver a hypothetical C.M.A. acceptance speech, said this: “Nobody needs a machine gun, coming from a guy who owns quite a few guns.” He continued: “Gay people should have the right to be happy and live their life any way they want to and get married if they want to without fear of getting drug down the road behind a pickup truck. Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets and being enslaved by the industrial prison complex. And hegemony and fascism is alive and well in Nashville, Tenn. Thank you very much.” That, for sure, was a protest. J.C.
Elvis Costello, ‘You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way’
Elvis Costello is in crooner mode for “You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way” from the soundtrack of “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” about the later years of a faded movie actress. It’s a piano waltz backed by an orchestra, a throwback style neatly suited to thoughts about the ravages of time and mortality: “From the first flush of affection/to avoiding your own reflection.” JON PARELES
Evanescence, ‘My Heart Is Broken’
Should you be nostalgic for the self-confident rock ’n’ roll urgency of the mid-2000s, take comfort in the fact that no amount of social, cultural or political change has convinced Evanescence to veer from its lite-opera-rock theater. “My Heart Is Broken” is one of the better songs on “Synthesis,” the group’s fourth album and first since 2011, which sounds like an only mildly restrained version of its earliest work. Amy Lee’s voice remains vibrant, soaring and sweet. She makes disappointment sound like romance. J.C.
Superchunk, ‘What a Time to Be Alive’
“To see the rot in no disguise/Oh what a time to be alive,” Mac McCaughan of Superchunk sings in the title song from an album due in February. The distorted blare and galloping beat are true to the band’s indie-rock beginnings, back in 1989; the furious disillusionment is from right now. J.P.
Ron Miles, ‘Is There Room in Your Heart for a Man Like Me’
On his remarkable new album, “I Am a Man,” the trumpeter Ron Miles nestles his light and buoyant sound inside compositions that bespeak an aching memory and a righteous ambition. He has convened an all-star quintet, with Jason Moran on piano, Bill Frisell on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass and Brian Blade on drums. They play seven Miles originals meditating on the revolutionary potential of spirituality, and the need to reject political oppression. On the album’s epic finale, “Is There Room in Your Heart for a Man Like Me,” tension builds around two repeated notes, just a half-step apart, before opening onto a slowly ascending landscape of twirling, laconic melodies and subtly dazzling interplay. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
Lil Simz featuring Tilla, ‘Poison Ivy’
Simbiatu Ajikawo, the British songwriter who calls herself Little Simz, raps, sings and plays guitar in “Poison Ivy,” a tale of a “toxic” romance that she can’t pull away from. Its minor-key groove transforms itself into R&B, psychedelia and North African desert blues, circling through four chords that offer no way out. J.P.
Fuse ODG featuring Ed Sheeran and Mugeez, ‘Boa Me’
On “÷,” the most recent album from Ed Sheeran, he teamed up with the Ghanaian-British rapper-singer Fuse ODG for a light, charming duet, “Bibia Be Ye Ye.” Now, he has returned the favor, singing in Twi on Fuse ODG’s new single, “Boa Me,” a song that effectively blends the two artists’ brands of exultant optimism. J.C.
Betty Davis, ‘F.U.N.K.’
“F.U.N.K.” is part of “Nasty Gal,” the 1975 album by Betty Davis, who was briefly married to Miles Davis in the late 1960s; the full album is to be reissued early next year. Raw and often raunchy funk was her calling; Ms. Davis rasps, teases, moans and screams through songs like “F.U.N.K.” Its lyrics list a funk pantheon, while its groove, elaborated through the crosstalk of guitar and clavinet, and Ms. Davis’s vehement, hopped-up vocals, tell a wilder story. J.P.
Oh Pep!, ‘Half Life’
“Half Life” is a freeze frame at the moment of a breakup: “We pull apart so patiently,” sing the two women in the Australian folk-pop duo Oh Pep! They’re backed by a plush orchestra and a brisk drumbeat, sharing a melody that’s both angular and affectionate, already looking toward the aftermath: “You will become an echo of a sound once heard/scattered through my universe.” J.P.
Errorsmith, ‘Internet of Screws’
Errorsmith, which just released the album “Superlative Fatigue,” is the very occasional project of the electronic musician and software designer Erik Weigand; its previous album came out in 2004. The music uses a bare handful of sounds in ways that are transparent, propulsive and, in tracks like “Internet of Screws,” downright comedic. With its minimal vocabulary of syncopated drum taps, nearly nonstop mechanical blipping and silly, sliding tones, the track is like five minutes of sped-up slapstick. J.P.
Rez Abbasi, ‘Propensity’
“Unfiltered Universe” is the third album in a trilogy from Rez Abbasi, a guitarist of Pakistani descent, who has used each record to look at a different South Asian musical tradition. This one is focused on the Carnatic lineage of South India, and like the others it features Mr. Abbasi’s powerful band, Invocation: the saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the pianist Vijay Iyer, the cellist Elizabeth Mikhael, the bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and the drummer Dan Weiss. On “Propensity,” each instrument seems to be advocating for a distinct interpretation of the song’s rhythm; sparks flash between them. Mr. Abbasi flies into the fray after a darting solo from Mr. Mahanthappa, using his creamy distortion and patient phrasing as a ballast in the swarm. G.R.
Keith Urban, ‘Female’
Don’t do this. J.C.
Louis C.K. responded to the accusations: “These stories are true,” he said in a statement.
The comedian released a statement in response to five women who said they had upsetting experiences with him involving sexual misconduct.
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