Summer 2017 saw new releases from old favorites, reigning superstars, and talented up-and-comers. Two Crimson Arts editors break down the biggest albums and singles released since you left campus.
Arcade Fire: “Everything Now”
Arcade Fire, with the help of a viral marketing campaign, excited the indie rock world with the announcement of a fifth album, their first since 2013’s “Reflektor.” “Everything Now,” which came out July 28, shows the continuing influence of electronica on the group, who came to prominence via orchestral indie anthems. “Everything Now” has its high points: All three iterations of the title track stand among the group’s finest songs, and “Signs of Life” boasts an undeniably catchy melody. But “Everything Now” lacks both the lyrical insight and musical ingenuity of Arcade Fire’s previous work. At 47 minutes, it feels much longer, in part because its middle section drags, weighed down by bland melodies and more ponderous explorations of the same ideas frontman Win Butler has been singing about for years.
DJ Khaled and Rihanna: “Wild Thoughts” (single)
DJ Khaled and Rihanna are no strangers to massive chart hits. With song-of-the-summer candidate “Wild Thoughts,” they have ... another one. Khaled et al.’s production heavily samples Santana’s “Maria Maria”—Billboard calls it “practically a cover with different lyrics.” But Rihanna, a Harvard favorite since long before her visit to Sanders Theater sent campus into a frenzy, gives the song a sultry, refreshing update. Her trademark sound overshadows Bryson Tiller’s less memorable verse, though his smooth delivery adds an R&B inflection to the Latin-pop sound. The song has also inspired some excellent remixes.
Lana Del Rey: “Lust for Life”
As Lana Del Rey discovered in 2013 with “Summertime Sadness,” putting the word “summer” in the title can help us suggestible listeners choose it as our soundtrack of the season. Sure enough, her fifth album, “Lust for Life,” reached the top spot on the Billboard 200, partly on the strength of its single “Summer Bummer.” “Lust for Life” doesn’t represent much evolution for Del Rey: Its sweeping, baroque-hip-hop production and sex-and-summer subject matter sound much like the rest of her output. But the formula works—and these whopping 72 minutes of gorgeously sung and richly arranged melodies might make for the most fully realized Lana album. The high-profile features, including The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, and Sean Lennon, embody her signature synthesis of retro and contemporary, lending the album some needed variety.
Somehow, Lorde, who became a world-famous multi-millionaire at 16, has become one of the most widely relatable songwriters of her (our) generation. Her lyrics are just that evocative, that immediate. After a fan-torturing three and a half years since her debut, Lorde returned with a much-anticipated sophomore album. Nearly every song could have been a hit single: Catchy melodies, super-accessible production, and captivating lyrical turns of phrase abound, from the opening anthem “Green Light” to the reflective but upbeat “Supercut” to the closing pop gem “Perfect Places.”
Taylor Swift: “Reputation” (single)
Taylor Swift shocked the world with the surprise announcement of her album “Reputation” (out November 10) after a carefully staged social media blackout. Its lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” has been as divisive as Swift herself has been in recent months, following her very public off-again, on-again feud with Kanye West. While the darker, hip-hop-influenced single has caused many fans to lament—and haters to celebrate—that “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone / ’Cause she’s dead”, it’s clear that Swift is, once again, taking advantage of the free press generated by any and all controversy. And to spectacular effect—the music video, a sequel in the spirit of “Blank Space,” broke Adele’s record for YouTube views within 24 hours (43 million).
Tyler, The Creator: “Flower Boy”
Tyler, The Creator’s fourth solo album, “Flower Boy,” shows huge progress from his previous effort, 2015’s “Cherry Bomb”, which was equally admired and panned for its youthful ambition and experimentation. From Tyler’s confidently introspective lyricism, to his more sensitive yet energetic production, to the album’s cohesive sound throughout its short 46 minutes, “Flower Boy” is Tyler at his most comfortable: He’s finally found a balance between his aggressive (“Who Dat Boy”) and angsty (“911 / Mr. Lonely”) sides. Despite his extensive past usage of homophobic slurs in his lyrics, Tyler includes more homoerotic lines in “Flower Boy,” rapping: “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.”
Taylor Swift wasn’t the only artist to be reincarnated this summer: JAY-Z ended his four-year creative dry spell with “4:44,” a lyrical and musical blast from the plast. On “4:44”’s opening track, “Kill Jay Z”, Jay Z evolves into JAY-Z, rapping: “Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real / But you can't heal what you never reveal”. JAY-Z certainly takes this advice throughout the album, addressing problems on scales ranging from the personal, such as his long-hypothesized infidelity to Beyoncé or his beef with Kanye West, to the societal, when he prescribes strategies for preserving black excellence on “The Story of O.J.” or “Legacy.” And it’s clear that JAY-Z is thinking about his own legacy: He raps with a fluidity evocative of his once-upon-a-time lyrical talent, and his co-executive production with No I.D. utilizes samples like an album from 2007, not 2017.
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