Best Songs Ever: New singles reviewed, featuring Taylor Swift & ZAYN, & more

‘Best Songs Ever’ features various contributors to The Spinoff Music assessing recent songs and singles.

ZAYN & Taylor Swift – ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Forever’

???? One of the most underappreciated aspects of what makes Taylor Swift such a great popstar is her impeccable sense of timing. Traversing the country-pop of Fearless and Speak Now on into the enormous multi-purpose pop of Red and 1989 was made to seem effortless, yet was perfectly planned and orchestrated. Two years since the release of 1989, and following a 2016 littered with various controversies, Swift returns. As a superstar, she knows exactly how to make this a major event; duetting with ex-One Direction member Zayn Malik, hitching the track to the Fifty Shades of Grey film franchise, and dropping it out of the blue into the traditional musical dead space of mid-December for maximum impact.

Featuring co-writing credits by Swift herself and Jack Antonoff of fun., ‘I Don’t Want to Live Forever’ is an excellent slice of slinky electro R&B. Zayn’s falsetto is in fine form, and it would have sat comfortably as a clear highlight on his debut record, while also functioning as a natural outgrowth of the towering pop of 1989. On its own terms it’s a triumphant return, and for fans of the gleaming slightly icy sound of 1989 it’s an exciting glimpse into where Swift might go next. For those slightly less enamoured with Swift as pure pop diva the single is still a very enjoyable listen, though it’s hard not to be slightly wistful about losing the genuine warmth which was once one of Swift’s great hallmarks as both singer and songwriter. – Pete Douglas

???? A late-last-week release in support of the forthcoming second volume in the least sexy film franchise ever to be predicated entirely on sexiness, ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Forever’ is both an exciting surprise and, sadly, an abject disappointment. Apparently put together in just a week by the indisputably formidable team of Swift, Jack Antonoff (fun., Bleachers, this lil’ song) and emerging writer Sam Dew, it’s a love duet that unfortunately reflects the Fifty Shades saga a little too accurately in the total anti-chemistry between its romantic leads.

Swift, for her part, performs pretty admirably; assured and restrained, her delivery makes otherwise clunky lines like “Wondering if I dodged a bullet / Or just lost the love of my life” seem relatively effortless. ZAYN, on the other hand, seems to have arrived in the studio with a dedication to singing as loudly as possible, contorting his throat with a sharp, painful-sounding falsetto that even heavy multi-tracking can’t dull. More than anything, his efforts recall the Fine Young Cannibals’ classic ‘She Drives Me Crazy’, which I can’t help but think is probably unintentional. It’s far from the worst event song I’ve ever heard, but, given its cast, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be deeply disappointed by the disconnect between what could’ve been and what actually is. – Matthew McAuley



Hogdy – ‘Kundalini’

Ever listen to Unknown Mortal Orchestra and wonder what his warm analog sounds would sound like rapped over with the bass on ten? Well, wonder no more. ‘Kundalini’, a song from the debut album from mid-level Odd Future member Hodgy (fka Hodgy Beats), is produced by Ruban Nielson, bringing some of his preferred sounds – reverbed-out guitars, wobbly organs, monotonous yet bouncy drums – to Hodgy’s solid 90’s ‘real hip-hop’ raps. And it works. A breathe of fresh air after all those relentless hi-hats. – Henry Oliver

Urthboy – ‘Crushing Hard’

Filled with lyrcis that might seem better suited to the smooth vocals of a pop-rock heavyweight, ‘Crushing Hard’ is a dark love song that bundles a ballad into three minutes of rap. Where his 2016 album The Past Beats Inside Me Like A Second Heartbeat was built around strong female vocalists, ‘Crushing Hard’ slows things down and has Urthboy standing on his own, brooding. The song samples, and is a precursor to, the final track from Second Heartbeat, ‘Wade In The Water,’ a causal tie-in to help promote his upcoming tour. It’s also worth noting that the song is about not being able to tell your ‘crush’ you like them, which coming from a seasoned rapper is kind of adorable. – Kate Robertson

Ryan Adams – ‘Do You Still Love Me?’

The first single off Ryan Adam’s forthcoming album Prisoner can be taken two ways. Most obviously, it sets the tone for his divorce album, following his official split from actress Mandy Moore earlier this year. One can also see the title as a question to fans, some of whom were critical of his perfectly fine, if slightly gimmicky, full cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. On both that record and his self titled 2014 effort, Adams sounded a little bit like the the slick productions Jeff Lynne generated in the late 80’s. Even so, it’s a bit of shock to hear the full blown hair metal on show here; the guitars are enormous, the drums cavernous, and the chorus simple and repetitive. In less-skilled hands, this might be a dunderheaded misstep, but Adams skillfully co-opts this sound for maximum emotional impact, tying the song together with a haunting Hammond organ part, and creating an odd dead-air Led Zep-style solo section. It’s a success, though it remains to be seen how a whole album of this kind of naked Def Leppard worship might come off when it drops in February. – PD

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