Muse, “Survival” | It’s easy to read Muse’s official Nazi marching song for the 2012 London Olympics as an overt piece of comedy, but at this point, how can we even tell when Muse is trying to be funny? They’ve been trapped in a widening gyre of self-parody for so long that it’s become impossible to know whether they’re in on the joke. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and assume “Survival” means to be every bit as idiotic as it is, but that actually makes me like it less.
If it’s a joke, it’s an obvious and one-dimensional joke. I’d enjoy it more as an act of genuine artistic insanity and clueless hubris than as a bit of bloodless irony. “Survival” starts as an evil “Mr. Blue Sky,” then deteriorates into a gruesome blend of fascist Queen and “Avi Satani” choirs — but I’ve seriously botched something, because that sounds like the description of a totally fucking awesome song, and this is empirically not one.
Blur, “Under The Westway” | I didn’t expect to hear Blur in 2012, and I certainly didn’t expect to hear them doing their best work. “Under the Westway” improves on their better material; it drops the Britpop grandiosity from their mid-’90s material and the US-indie pretense that followed (and, thank God, pretty much everything from Think Tank). It stands alongside their best ballads — or anyone’s best ballads, for that matter.
Damon Albarn spins one of those long-con melodies that David Bowie did so well: it seems meandering on first spin, but it’s indelible after a couple more. It also has some of Graham Coxon’s best guitar work; after the first verse, he drops a great five-second lead break that sounds a little like Brian May not trying too hard to sound like Brian May. Above all, it sounds like Blur in a way I didn’t know Blur could. They were always a distinct enough band, but maybe it took all the weight of a varied career and a long hiatus to solidify a real sense of their dimensions — or maybe it only took a song as good as this.
Green Day, “Oh Love” | Despite a life-long distaste for the group, I don’t kick over the radio every time a new Green Day single comes on. They whack out an inoffensive tune once in a while, even if everything sounds stewed from the table scraps of better songs. I heard this for the first time this afternoon and it didn’t seem so bad, but be warned: this is not a track that stands up to multiple listens. Two spins and you’ll spend the verses waiting for the chorus, three spins and you’ll spend the chorus waiting for the end. In a few months, if it saturates the radio like some of their other tunes, you’ll spend the whole track waiting for death.
No Doubt, “Settle Down” | Ten years after they wore out their welcome with the “Hey Baby/Hella Good” shitshow, No Doubt returns with something a little more palatable. It’s clear that they’re trying to take a half step back toward their classic Tragic Kingdom sound, but “Settle Down” doesn’t quite wash off the goop. It’s not plain bad, just a little overripe; it’s got a tune hiding in there somewhere, but all the tedious Diplo fripperies make it sound more like NoDoubtVEVO than No Doubt: slightly too modern, slightly too antic to stick on the first listen.