ARTIST: CHRIS BROWN
SINGLE: YEAH 3X
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Chris Brown perfected his brand of R&B-flavored pop music with singles like "Forever" and "I Can Transform Ya," although his most recent hit, "Deuces," presented a more thoughtful pose. "Yeah 3x," his latest single from fourth album "F.A.M.E.," finds the singer returning to dance music without missing a step. The song is peppered with beats that sound as if they came straight from a "Super Mario Bros." videogame, and the track makes the most of its thick bassline. As kinetic as the backing beat is, Brown steps gracefully over the rhythm and forcefully advises the listener to "throw away all your problems/'Cause right now it's party time." Brown's career has had its share of twists and turns, but "Yeah 3x" proves he can still turn out a speaker-bumping track.
ARTIST: GWYNETH PALTROW
SINGLE: COUNTRY STRONG
At the recent Country Music Assn. Awards, Gwyneth Paltrow was given the chance to prove she could hold her own sharing the stage with the genre's elite. "Country Strong," the song Paltrow performed from the forthcoming film of the same name, allowed the Oscar-winning actress to demonstrate a lovely voice and impressive command of the spotlight. Paltrow might not have soared if she was paired with a weaker debut track, but songwriters Jennifer Hanson, Mark Nesler and Tony Martin have provided her with an excellent vehicle about strength in the face of adversity.
ARTIST: JAMES BLUNT
SINGLE: STAY THE NIGHT
James Blunt is done singing about heartbreak for now: The Englishman who held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2006 with his tender single "You're Beautiful" is simply ready to have some fun on "Stay the Night." Written alongside OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and producer Steve Robson, Blunt's latest single is loose, upbeat and propelled by catchy acoustic guitar riffs. The soft-rock tune hinges on its light lyrical content, a genial toast to the simple things. "Stay the Night" is a great new sound for Blunt, who'll return with new album "Some Kind of Trouble" in January.
SINGLE: GET BACK UP
As his legal troubles have forced him to release his next album from prison, T.I. offers a plea for public forgiveness on "Get Back Up," the first single from forthcoming set "No Mercy." The rapper adopts a disarmingly earnest tone for the song, which uses a mellow beat and rhythmic hook provided by another artist formerly steeped in controversy, Chris Brown. Unfortunately, the usually agile wordsmith flows awkwardly on the track, with his lines often sounding like talking points scripted by a publicist. "I admit it/Yeah, I done some dumb shit/Disappointed everybody, I know/ Try not to hold that against me, though," T.I. raps. Instead of previewing his new album by dwelling on his problems, T.I. should have used "Get Back Up" to move past his mistakes.
ARTIST: JOHN MELLENCAMP
SINGLE: SAVE SOME TIME TO DREAM
For all of his studied recalcitrance -- he did dub himself the Little Bastard, after all -- John Mellencamp is at heart an optimist whose songwriting yearns for a better world. That hopeful sentiment kicks off his 25th album, "No Better Than This," as "Save Some Time to Dream" concludes that "your dream might save us all" amid a three-chord guitar pattern and gentle groove. Mellencamp works with a rustic sound that manipulates his vocals in a manner that is both lo-fi and immediate.