Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

“CTRL (Deluxe)” by SZA Album Cover [RCA]; John Legend performs at the 48th Grammy Awards

A trio of deluxe editions highlighted a quiet week of releases.

The first was Remi Wolf’s “Juno (Deluxe)”, adding five new songs to the original tracklist including “Michael”, which dropped a couple weeks ago. “Sugar” & “Liz” are the highlights, especially the latter, which might be my favorite performance from Remi I’ve heard yet, overcoming some clunky songwriting in a couple spots.

On the first anniversary of “INSIDE”, Bo Burnham released “THE INSIDE OUTTAKES”. It is very much what it says on the tin, so unless you loved “INSIDE” (I did) you probably won’t get much out of these deleted scenes. “The Chicken” is the song that works best without its accompanying visuals.

Outside of deluxe releases, Logic did his best Beastie Boys impression on “Bleed It”. I completely understand if that sounds nauseating. I thought it was alright. “Vinyl Days” will be for the better if this is the only track that sounds like this though.

The new Angel Olsen album “Big Time” is… an odd turn. I was not a fan of the country direction the first singles went in, and was really hoping the 3rd and final single “Through the Fires” – a stark piano ballad with no country twang whatsoever – was more indicative of the rest of the album. It wasn’t. But the album bizarrely ends with “Through the Fires” and closer “Chasing the Sun”, which even works in some gorgeous strings a la Olsen’s 2019 record “All Mirrors”, and is again twang-less. Both songs sound like they belong on a different (much better) record. “Chasing the Sun” was my favorite deep cut, the only one I’ll be listening to again.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “2am” by SZA

The 3rd deluxe edition surprisingly came a whopping 5 years after the original version’s release, with SZA dropping “CTRL (Deluxe)” to mark the occasion.

With all the rumored turmoil at TDE that’s been all but confirmed by their A-list artists, the release of this deluxe edition is giving me big ‘Frank Ocean releasing Endless to get out of a contract’ energy.

I obviously don’t know the particulars of SZA’s contract. I’m just glad we got ‘new’ SZA in 2022, even if it isn’t the 2nd album everyone’s been hoping for.

I say ‘new’ because these are of course 7 tracks recorded during the sessions from 2014-2017 that produced “CTRL”. Apparently some have been performed live by SZA for years, and one is even an alternate, Travis Scott-less version of “Love Galore”.

They’re all new to me, and for the most part I see why they ended up on the cutting room floor. “Miles” & “Percolator” are too brief to be much of anything. “Awkward” is just that – awkward. “Jodie” is a little too breezy for its own good.

“Tread Carefully” is good. It does get a little repetitive.

The best of the bunch is “2am”, a far more interesting take on PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “Come And See Me”. It feels the most complete, polished enough to have ended up on the final tracklist from 2017. There are some raunchy double-entendres, the beat is tweaked from the original to be more atmospheric, and SZA gives a great performance. It even ends with a transitionary beat switch like a few songs from “CTRL” did, that actually sounds like something from SZA’s EP “Z”.

Only one thing will appease SZA fans: the new album that Top Dawg is apparently holding for ransom. But “CTRL (Deluxe)” is a nice reminder of how unique SZA’s sound & songwriting style is and why I really hope we get to hear a proper new release this year.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Ordinary People” by John Legend

Let me be positive to start: John Legend is very talented. This song is beautiful.

Outside of the brilliance of Alicia Keys, it’s the peak of the piano R&B that had a bit of a renaissance in the mid-2000’s.

Lyrically it’s by far Legend’s best work, a slice of life ballad that doesn’t get nearly as overly-sentimental or preachy as much of his other work. The piano playing stands toe-to-toe with anything else he’s ever done. He’s grown as a singer since – this was just his 2nd ever single – but the vocals here are still full of passion.

Legend exists in a weird stratosphere in music, almost as if he’s two completely different crooners that share a face. Early on he was compared to Alicia Keys similarly to how Sam Smith got Adele comparisons early on in their career. He was a songwriters room darling, the newest ‘man behind the piano’ understated star. Big enough to be well known, but not well-known enough for snobs to stop labelling him as underrated.

Collaborations with the likes of Common, Andre 3000 and Kanye West gradually raised his profile, eventually culminating in the West produced album “Love in the Future” which had the hit single “All of Me”.

And that’s where it feels like the 2nd career starts.

He’s no longer the singer 3K wants to ‘step from behind that piano’ on “Green Light”. He’s front and center on magazines being declared the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.

There are now plenty of people who know who John Legend is because of “All of Me” and nothing else, or because of Chrissy Teigen and nothing else. People who have never heard “Ordinary People”, but love a good John Legend Christmas commercial.

I can’t say I love any other John Legend song other than “Ordinary People”. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way and I think John knows that. Every album cycle of his there are at least one or two songs peppered amongst all the shots at radio-crossover that feel like an attempt at re-capturing that lightning in a bottle songwriting from 2005.

Or maybe I’m totally wrong. Maybe Legend feels more artistically fulfilled than ever. Either way, this is my favorite John Legend song.

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