While we won’t be reviewing Jay-Z’s (excellent) Magna Carta Holy Grail in full, we’ve had to write about the two most PressPLAY-friendly joints on the album, which you’ll already have pegged are the Beyoncé-featuring Part II and Justin Timberlake’s Holy Grail. Two sides of the spectrum here: Part II is an absolute smash, a total departure from the bombast of Bonnie & Clyde but keeping the vibe (“I don’t care if they give me life/ I get all of my life from you”). Bey goes all husky over a beat not too dissimilar from Alicia Keys’s Unthinkable, and it’s certainly more her than Mr Carter, who has a bit of a Lana del Rey moment with his “What a beautiful death/Let’s both wear white”. Effortless class from start to finish.
Meanwhile, the Nirvana-quoting Holy Grail opens with Justin Timberlake sounding unfortunately like Danny from the Script. It’s an odd track, as if Jay-Z didn’t quite know what kind of range and melody to give a vocal powerhouse like JT, and instead plumped for a Maroon 5 off-cut. While Jay’s rapping salvages it somewhat, the Smells Like Teen Spirit lines are a little bit embarrassing, leaving it as an unnecessary blight on an otherwise robust album. Meh. We’re off to spin Part II again.
Making another bid for attention in the rap game is Azealia Banks (remember 212?). Banks has always frustrated us, delivering a street-smart 1991 EP with delicious cuts like Fuck Up the Fun, but then ruining it with her Twitter feed, homophobia, and overhyped drivel like Yung Rapunxel. ATM JAM, featuring can’t-believe-he’s-man-of-the-moment-again Pharrell, makes a bit of headway into restoring her reputation. It isn’t the caustic Azealia we’re used to – hell, it’s probably her most chart-friendly since 212 – but there’s a great hypnotic quality to it. We never thought we’d mention them in the same sentence, but this is proof that Banks should take a leaf from Girls Aloud and let the funky music do the talking.
Now over to more pop pursuits, as Naughty Boy – he of La La La fame – will soon be known as the man single-handedly restoring Emeli Sandé’s street-cred. Lifted is Heaven 2.0 in the best possible way, a swirling, arms-in-the-air moment of joy. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it seems to be the maxim here; Naughty Boy continues his trajectory as a bankable pop producer, while Sandé proves the very valid point that she has the potential to be so much better than people give her credit for (at times even sounding like Janelle Monae). Expect it to bother a chart near you very soon, because Lifted gets you higher than an ounce of Whitney’s finest smack.
And finally, finishing our journey into full-blown pop, we have Miss Ellie Goulding. We really hate being mean to people (sometimes) and poor Ellie, with her coquettish demeanour and bleating-sheep vocal, makes us feel like we’re stabbing Elmo. While we were warming to her after the fantastic Figure 8 and My Blood, this is just too big a backward step for us to get on board with it. The awkward posing on the cover, the return of the trademark baa-ing, and that boring refrain of ‘let it burn, burn, burn’ makes us want to do just that, if only to put the whole affair out of its misery.