My use yesterday of the phrase "two disappointing albums" might have been a bit harsh. However, though both have a couple of standout songs, I don't know that either has very many songs that are worth listening to repeatedly. Still, they're worth a look.
I posted Mario Vazquez's (whose last name everyone wants to spell "Vasquez") debut single, "Gallery," a while ago, and was pretty positive in my review of it, though I'm not sure that it's totally stood up over time. Despite it being pretty clear that he was pursuing an R&B direction, I was still interested in his self-titled debut album. Much as I expected, it's R&B-lite; it has a lot of songs that, with only mild changes, could probably be categorized as R&B-influenced pop. For some people, it will probably be an enjoyable album. However, though the music (not necessarily the lyrics--we'll get to that in a moment) is generally inoffensive enough, rarely does it stand out. If we cut out a couple of songs, it might be tolerable background music. However, there are some songs that just don't quite feel right. If you wanted to look at Mario's personality or personal life, you could probably draw some interesting conclusions about why he feels the need to sing such over-the-top "look at what a good lover I am" songs. Normally, I don't criticize lyrics, but tracks like "Fired Up" just feel over-the-top but not genuine--possibly the worst combination.
I Bet--this is one of those over-the-top songs, about nothing more than Mario bragging about how "he bets" that another guy can't measure up to him. Despite the off-putting lyrics, musically, it's one of the better songs on the album, a mid-tempo pseudo-burner propelled along mainly by the same little combination of notes over and over again. I keep expecting it to turn into Uncle Kracker's "Follow Me," though.
Everytime I--a little more ballad-ish, with a pleasant enough chorus--a bit stereotypical and with by-the-book verses, though. A number of Mario's songs seem to have one good idea going on in them, but that just doesn't seem to be enough to power an entire song.
4 The 1--more in the vein of "Everytime I" than "I Bet," it's another ballad. Songs like this are pretty, I suppose, but I'm having trouble finding any single-worthy songs (he has some songs that, if released by an already-established artist, might be fine enough to get a decent ride on the charts through the power of association and not totally letting people down, but for a newcomer, there's not much that has the necessary ear-catching quality to allow one to break).
Finally, just because I want to show how off-base the album can go sometimes, here's the aforementioned Fired Up.
There's just so much posing throughout the album--I can't help feeling that, if Mario had found a way to avoid the typical R&B tropes and be a little more true to himself (cliche as that sounds), the album could have been better. As it is, though, I don't think it'll be a break-through. It has some lyrics that will probably be treasured and quoted by girls in search of a "special song," but staying power? Probably not.
(Full credit for the songs goes to Oxygen Chunks.)
For a complete change in genre, we have The 33rd Element, the debut solo album of Arsenium, former member of O-Zone (yes, for Americans, the group that made the "Numa Numa" song) and Moldova's representative at the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest. Out of the two albums of today, his is the one I'm more disappointed with, both because I had higher hopes (all I wanted was something fun--that shouldn't have been too difficult, should it?) and because it's worse--though I can envision some people enjoying Mario Vazquez's album (even if I am not one of them), I have difficulty picturing many people who will truly be pleased with Arsenium's effort. In fact, you've probably already heard the two best songs on the album: "Love Me, Love Me" (his first single) and "Loca" (his Eurovision song, which, even if many people--including Eurovision voters--did not like it, I did like). The latter half of the album is just remixes, but the really disappointing part is that the new songs just aren't fun or good. It is possible I just don't have an appreciation for the type of music he's pursuing, but, in my eyes, there's only one other song on the album really worth listening to.
Love Me, Love Me (Radio Edit)--Arsenium's debut single. It has hints of folkiness intermixed with Europop; I'd also say it's sort of trashy (that's not an insult or condemnation--I called Sergey Lazarev's "Fake" trashy, and I love that song--just an attempt to describe what it sounds like). This is definitely not everyone's type of music, but if you're into the pop that comes from this area of the world, this is a fun song, strings, bounciness, and all (and with several moments where you think it's about to end, but it doesn't).
Loca (feat. Natalia Gordienko and Connect-R)--his Eurovision song. It's got this sort of up-and-down feel and has gimmicky use of Spanish, as well as tiny bits of rapping (which I don't even mind--it's funny, more than anything). Even people that liked "Love Me, Love Me" disliked this song, and it does sound different (no strings, less all-over-the-place energy, and less Europoppy, I suppose), but I think it's fun--just don't take it too seriously.
My Love--as of right now (hopefully, my opinion will change), this is the only other song on the album I think is worth listening to, though it's mainly only the chorus that pushes it into the listenable category. It's definitely more like "Love Me, Love Me" than "Loca." I really feel like I'd heard this song before listening to the album, but I can't find anywhere that says it was a previous single or anything...
It's possible this album might grow on me--I hope it does, but it doesn't feel like the sort of album that's meant to be a "grower," more an instant pleasure that could be instantly trashed after listening to it but that's good enough that you want to put it on again. Unfortunately, it just doesn't seem to have the fun and ability to draw you in that songs like "Love Me, Love Me" or O-Zone's "Dragostea Din Tei" did.
Finally, on a random note, does anyone else see more than a passing resemblance between these two songs?
Darin - Step Up
US5 - In Da Club (Source, thanks!)
No? OK, just me, then...
To buy Mario Vazquez's debut album, Mario Vazquez, go here (physical) or here (digital; only valid for US residents); to buy Darin's second album, Darin, go here (physical) or here (digital); to pre-order US5's most recent single, "In Da Club," go here (physical). I don't know of a store where you can buy Arsenium's debut album, The 33rd Element (recommendations?), but you can buy his first single, "Love Me, Love Me" here (physical) or look on eBay. You can also get "Love Me Love Me" here (digital) and "Loca" here (digital).
Next up: I really don't like being negative, and I don't want to totally condemn these albums, because they may work for some people...tomorrow, I'll try to pick something I can be more positive about--maybe a theme not centered around a particular person, or just one really good song.