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Album Review: Adele - Easy on Me

Album Review: Ed Sheeran - =

Album Review: Lady Gaga - Dawn of Chromatica

Album Review: Imagine Dragons - Mercury Act 1

Demi Lovato appears on All Time Low's new cut of their hit song Monsters

AdeleAlbum Review: Adele - Easy on Me

pitchfork.com

On the first day of October, the number “30” appeared mysteriously on the side of the Louvre, the Colosseum, and the Empire State Building as if it were a Bat-Signal. It was, in fact, a long-awaited announcement about the return of Adele. That Adele, the smoky-voiced British singer who writes colossal ballads about the long arc of memory, who knows better than everyone else what it’s like to be heartsick and shattered, who croons as if from a completely different dimension. In her world, every event feels like a grand reckoning; there are no lowercase feelings. It has been six years, and in that time Adele has gotten married, and then separated from her husband, with whom she shares a child. 30 is about, in her words, “divorce, babe, divorce,” the ultimate pairing of artist and subject.

Years ago, Adele joked to fans that 30 would be a drum’n’bass record “just to spite you.” Rest assured: No such tricks are played on “Easy on Me,” the album’s lead single. For better or worse, it stays loyal to a classic formula, down to the black-and-white music video directed by the same person behind “Hello.” Even if you’ve never seen an Adele video before, you could probably anticipate its plaintive imagery: Adele in a dilapidated home, pensively looking out the window; Adele driving away in her car, glancing at the rearview mirror; Adele putting on a cassette, letting the stereo crackle. After a first listen, the song already felt familiar—it reminded me of ballads like “One and Only,” from 21.

“Easy on Me” is tender: Whereas previously Adele urged an ex to grow up—“we both know we ain’t kids no more”—this time she pleads for understanding: “I was still a child.” The stirring ballad relies on little more than piano and that divine voice of hers; she extends the syllables in her words, gliding easily between the notes within them: “Go e-e-e-e-easy on me, baby.” Even if the song isn’t really treading new ground within her own discography, Adele’s powerful delivery feels refreshing at a time when many artists seem to be fond of under-singing; when she charges that “I had good intentions,” soaring forcefully into the line, it sounds like she’s wincing the entire time. There may be new heartbreak to reckon with, but Adele still delivers the same satisfactions.

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Ed SheeranAlbum Review: Ed Sheeran - =

pitchfork.com

Ed Sheeran is older now; he’s married and newly a father. With all this change comes a new set of trite observations about love, life, and partying amid anonymous and synthetic pop music.

Life, man. It’s a highway. It’s a trip. It passes you by. Just ask Ed Sheeran. In the four years since his inescapable blockbuster ÷, he married his childhood sweetheart and had a daughter. Sheeran has hit the ripe age of 30 and while he still indulges in the occasional pint down at the bro-tel, dude’s on diaper duty, and proud of it. All of these big changes loom large across Sheeran’s latest album, =, from the literal first words out of his mouth. “I have grown up, I am a father now/Everything has changed, but I am still the same somehow,” he dramatically declares in the opening seconds of the album on “Tides,” a soaring arena rocker about how life changes, like tides.

So who is this different-but-not-really version of Sheeran, other than unwaveringly heavy-handed? For starters, he’s fully embraced the synths that he’s been flirting with since the start of his career. Throughout most of =, Sheeran’s trusty acoustic guitar is gathering dust somewhere, abandoned in favor of the flashy 1980s pop and R&B-lite that is currently dominated by the Weeknd. Two years after he dabbled in dancehall with Justin Bieber and rapped alongside Eminem and 50 Cent, Sheeran has decided to rush the charts on his own once more, without any guests. Lead single “Bad Habits” is a Bronski Beat ripoff that’s all late nights, neon lights, and empty conversations. As suggested by an ominous synth line and a vampiric music video, the whole thing is meant to be a little spooky, a little edgy. But despite Sheeran’s fangs, “Bad Habits” has zero bite. It’s the same deal with “Shivers,” an unfortunately catchy song about dancing “’til the sunlight cracks” and not much more.

Over the first decade-or-so of his career, Sheeran has gamely played the part of pop’s biggest dweeb, a self-proclaimed underdog who appealed to moms and teenage girls alike. Once in a while he would attempt to poke a hole in this nice guy image by swiping his claws at a wanton ex, her swole new boyfriend, or the music industry. But that was the old Ed. On =, there’s a silver lining to every relationship gone sour, and every photo is developed in sepia. He’s settled into the comfort zone of songs that will haunt weddings for years to come, like “2step,” in which he raps about “Two-steppin’ with the woman I love.” Even at his most passionate, Sheeran sounds as threatening as a meringue peak.

But then again, who is listening to Ed Sheeran hoping for a little jolt of danger? = doesn’t venture very far beyond the idea that true love can ride out any storm, that a loving embrace can stop time, that happiness can be restored with a single kiss. And = offers plenty of songs that will make someone out there say “aw” while waiting to fill their prescription at a pharmacy. Like “Tides” before it, “Love in Slow Motion” takes the physics of its title literally and tries to freeze a vision of candlelit romance into amber. “Overpass Graffiti” is one of the album’s strongest songs but Sheeran sabotages himself with lyrics that seem destined for an Instagram stock photo: “We’ll never fade like graffiti on the overpass.” (Ever heard of a pressure washer?)

When the slightest whiff of conflict arises on =, it’s quickly brushed away by the reassurance that this too shall pass. “Read my mind, there’ll be ups and downs/But it won’t change a thing between you and I,” he croons on “Stop the Rain,” an optimistic track inspired by an ongoing plagiarism lawsuit. Even a misplaced wedding ring—lost somewhere between “we made love in the sky” and “overslept and missed the Northern Lights”—on the gratingly saccharine “Collide” isn’t cause for concern. Every song does the work for you, the most obtrusive example being a ballad called “The Joker and the Queen” which pushes card game metaphors to their breaking point (“When I fold, you see the best in me”).

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Lady GagaAlbum Review: Lady Gaga - Dawn of Chromatica

pitchfork.com

A remix album of Lady Gaga’s 2020 dancefloor epic is less a wall-to-wall collection of club bangers than an expansion of the Chromatica cinematic universe, featuring Charli XCX, Arca, Rina Sawayama, Doss, and more.

It was a tragedy that Lady Gaga’s Chromatica—an album made not just for dancing in the middle of a sweaty, crowded room, but for engaging in communal healing—was released at a moment when it could only be enjoyed in isolation. The timing of Dawn of Chromatica, then, feels less like a tragedy than a cruel joke: a full-throttle remix album with contributions from an all-star roster of pop freaks, unleashed in the world just as a brief and blissful reprieve from pandemic anxiety is replaced by a renewed sense of uncertainty.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Dawn of Chromatica is less a wall-to-wall collection of club bangers than an expansion of the Chromatica cinematic universe: new characters, new sounds, new memes approved and distributed by the Supreme Leader. It’s a welcome excuse to revisit an album that’s galvanized and brought together so many queer people in the year since its release. And thanks to its unusual degree of coherence and flow, it’s a project you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home without feeling a crippling sense of FOMO.

Part of what made the original Chromatica so satisfying was its excavation of ’90s house music. It was consistent and relentless in a way that other Gaga albums—even Joanne, with its pink cowboy hat and committed country drag—never quite managed. The most memorable revisions on Dawn of Chromatica create new links to other standout moments in the Gaga discography. The wailing riffs and drum fills plugged into Rina Sawayama and Clarence Clarity’s take on “Free Woman” place it squarely in the Born This Way ecosystem, and Dorian Electra’s trashy remix of “Replay” pushes the leather-and-metal energy even further into the red.

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Imagine DragonsAlbum Review: Imagine Dragons - Mercury Act 1

pitchfork.com

There have been other rock bands from Las Vegas, but none have embodied the city’s essence like Imagine Dragons. Packed with all the pyrotechnics and budget-busting pageantry of the Strip, each of the band’s albums has played like an imagined Cirque Du Soleil production, as if they were designed not for stereos but for stages. If you’d never seen a picture of frontman Dan Reynolds before—and, despite this band’s monumental success, a lot of people haven’t—you might guess he looks like Criss Angel.

That embrace of brute-force spectacle has made Imagine Dragons one of modern rock’s few true blockbuster attractions, one of the most streamed bands of the Spotify era. But monetizing music isn’t the same as making people care about it. With no central personality for fans to feel truly vested in, the band can seem as anonymous as the black-shirted techies that strike the Wynn Encore Theater each night. On their fifth album, Mercury – Act 1, Reynolds works to change that, teaming with rock’s patron saint of prestige, Rick Rubin, for a humanizing makeover, complete with the requisite songs about suffering and mortality that Rubin demands from all of his charges.

Rubin’s presence softens Imagine Dragons’ sound in places, and after so many albums that played like the THX sound effect drawn out for an excruciating 50 minutes, that’s a welcome change of pace. In rare moments, Reynolds’ Rubin-mandated vulnerability works to his favor, especially on album highlight “Wrecked,” which he wrote about losing his sister-in-law to cancer. Here his clumsy lyricism, usually a liability, becomes an asset. When he sings, “We were there for the ups and downs/And there for the constant rounds of chemo,” it’s touching in its plainspokenness.

Overstatement is still this band’s very reason for being, though, so for most of Mercury they fire their emotions out of a T-shirt cannon. Reynolds’ snarl-yell, his signature since “Radioactive,” is one of the most grating sounds in popular music, and he goes absolutely nuclear with it on “Dull Knives,” which stews in wall-punching rage even as it pleads for empathy: “I’m crying for help, it’s such a cliché/Invisible pain, it’s filling each day.” Even worse is “Cutthroat,” a fuck-shit-up, you-want-a-piece of-me Woodstock ’99 throwback that’s the most dirtbag thing Fred Durst never wrote. Ironically, that song is immediately followed by one called “No Time for Toxic People,” a true Spider-Man-pointing-at-Spider-Man moment: If you’re looking to cut toxic people out of your life, try starting with the ones who wrote “Cutthroat.”

Elsewhere the band’s genre hopping, the secret sauce behind their billions of streams, leads to some truly stupefying combinations. With its pillow-humping synths, “Monday” is a sleazier rewrite of Muse’s “Madness,” while the hip-hop experiment “Follow You” sounds like Post Malone covering Queen at karaoke. Dopier still is the Bleachers-styled “It’s OK,” where good intentions and implied LGBTQ allyship are undercut by goofy ’80s Vacation-soundtrack vibes and the mock-Caribbean accents of its chanted chorus. Did they really intend for the album’s big self-acceptance anthem to sound this much like Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day”?

It’s truly rare to hear an album talk out of both sides of its mouth so incoherently while pandering so desperately in all directions . Mercury tries to be all things to all people, but mostly it’s a headache, a grim study in just how patronizing popular music can be in 2021. Imagine Dragons do intermittently demonstrate some signs of growth, but these don’t count for much; attempts at maturity really don’t go all that far on an album that mostly sounds like a truck full of teens driving by and flashing the shocker at you.

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Demi LovatoDemi Lovato appears on All Time Low's new cut of their hit song Monsters

msn.com

Demi Lovato appears on All Time Low's new cut of 'Monsters' with blackbear.

The pop punk band have teamed up with their "long time friend" Demi on a new version of the track from their acclaimed LP, 'Wake Up, Sunshine'.

Frontman Alex Gaskarth said: “Demi’s been a friend for a long time and we’re really excited that she was down to lend her absolutely incredible voice to this song as we reimagine it and continue to celebrate all the ways it’s connecting with fans around the world."

The collaboration had been teased by both the 'Tell Me You Love Me' hitmaker and Alex and co on social media, with Demi sharing a picture of her cartoon self as a teaser from the lyric video for the track, which dropped alongside the song.

While Alex revealed that he waited a decade to finally get Demi to collaborate with the 'Lost In Stereo' hitmakers.

He tweeted: “Let’s goooooo!! Celebrating this song by getting another REAL one to absolutely shred it with us feels v v nice. A collab ten years in the making. Big @ddlovato (sic)"

Meanwhile, Mark Hoppus recently revealed it's "a matter of timing" before his and Alex's side project, Simple Creatures, release new music.

The Blink-182 star and Alex launched the project last year, with the release of two EPs, 'Strange Love' and 'Everything Opposite'.

And whilst the pair are keen to put out a third collection, Mark admitted it was "difficult" for them to fit in the time to work on their tunes while All Time Low were busy with promo and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, the 'All The Small Things' hitmaker, who described Simple Creatures as a "labor of love", revealed they are just a few songs away from finishing their next EP.

Mark said in September: "Simple Creatures is like this ongoing inside joke that the world gets to take part in. The whole concept was everything opposite of what we would do in our bands and we wanted to do something that was different to Blink or All Time Low.

"We want to continue making music but it's very difficult for me and Alex to do it. All Time Low is launching an album and we're in a pandemic so we want to get back in the studio and make more rad stuff but it's a matter of timing.

"We have the beginnings of another EP of music. We just have to finish it up and write a new song or two. But we both love it.

"It's a labor of love and something that we do outside of our normal bands. I think there's no limits and no rules and we can do whatever we want. That's what I also love about Blink, but Blink is this giant machine that takes a long time to pivot and do things. This is something that we do for the love of music and being silly."

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