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Album review: Skylar Grey's 'Don't Look Down'

Album review: Skylar Grey's 'Don't Look Down'

Can Eminem's protege break through on her own?

On  “Don’t Look Down,”  Skylar Grey’s extremely long-awaited Interscope debut, out today, the singer/songwriter has catchy beats aplenty and often has something poignant to say. The two don’t always intersect, but when they do, they are powerful.

Grey has been a fixture in the music industry for nearly 10 years, ever since she signed a publishing deal with Universal as a songwriter at 18. She released an album under her real name, Holly Brook, which tanked, and she has spent the last several years retrenching and working on her songwriting. She approached producer Alex Da Kid and the two wrote Eminem/Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” together. The pair also co-wrote Dr. Dre and Eminem’s “I Need a Doctor,” on which she is the featured artist. She floated a few singles two years ago that didn’t hit (and aren’t on the album) before focusing on “Don’t  Look Down,” which Eminem executive produced.

One thing that’s clear from the first track is you don’t want to make Grey see red. Her voice may be fairly tame, but her threats are not. On album opener, “Back From The Dead,” she tells of reuniting with an ex-lover, who skipped out on her. Against a rat-a-tat persistent beat provided by Blink-182’s Travis Barker, she objects to his return just when she seems to be getting her life back together. “I’m so confused, I don’t know what to feel/should I throw my arms around you or kill you for real,” she sings, and she sounds like she means it. Big Sean plays counterpoint as the lover trying to worm his way back in.

Those death threats become real on “Final Warning,” a tune that plays out like part 2 to  “Love The Way You Lie,” (she wrote it at the same time). The track opens with a steady synth beat with Grey’s voice recalling Dido’s sometimes flat delivery, but as the song progresses, it becomes clear that she will no longer put up with his abuse:   “Go into the kitchen, coming back with a knife because I’ve had enough this time...if someone’s going to get hurt, it’s not going to be me.” The sound of a domestic battle plays in the background until it ends with the gunshot. Does the fact that she’s the one pulling the trigger make it OK since it seems to be an act of self defense?

After this rather dark opening couplet, Grey runs through a gamut of experiences and styles: from dealing with an unexpected pregnancy on the aptly titled “Shit, Man!”  (with a rap from Angel Haze) to “White Suburban,” a jazzy, piano closer about her “first time” and the sadness she feels when her former paramour looks at her with indifferent “disregard.” She veers from playful to deadly serious thematically, from Alanis Morissette on “Pulse” (listen and see if it doesn’t remind you of “You Oughta Know”) to sounding like Sheryl Crow backed by a beat machine on “Religion.”

There’s much to like about the album, especially the thoughtfulness that went into some of the lyrics, and Grey’s voice, while fairly standard, has a certain charm. However, there are times when there’s such a disparity between the strength of the beats vs. the strength of the lyrics that miles separate them, no more so than on “C’mon Let Me Ride,” the first single that came out in December featuring Eminem. The beats are ridiculously infectious and even though the song is meant to be lightheaded, tongue-in-cheek and full of sexual innuendo, the lyrics are so inane: “I’m not like the sluts in this town/They make me blah in my mouth,” it’s hard to get through it without grimacing (the song peaked at No. 33). Other times, the beats dominate a track so much, such as on “Glow On the Dark,” that they overwhelm the uplifting message and her voice.

 “Don’t Look Down” sounds like Grey made the album she wanted to: one that shows her many different sides: lover, fighter, muse... but your appreciation for it will depend upon your tolerance for the often misplaced reliance on beats.
 

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<p>Demi&aacute;n Bichir and Diane Kruger in &quot;The Bridge.&quot;</p>

Demián Bichir and Diane Kruger in "The Bridge."

Credit: FX

Review: FX's 'The Bridge' a gripping look at crime on the border

Cops Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir investigate a serial killer

Many elements of FX's new crime drama "The Bridge" (it debuts tomorrow night at 10) may seem familiar. One of its two main characters, El Paso homicide detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) suffers (undiagnosed) from Asperger's syndrome, putting her into good, if socially clumsy, current company with the likes of Temperance Brennan on "Bones," Will Graham on "Hannibal" and both the Cumberbatch and Miller versions of Sherlock Holmes. It will spend most of its first season dealing with the pursuit by Cross and Mexican cop Hector Ruiz (Demián Bichir) of a baroque serial killer, which invites immediate comparisons to "Dexter," "Hannibal," the current season of "The Killing" and virtually every other serial killer-obsessed cop show of the moment. And it is, like "The Killing," a remake of a popular Scandinavian series, "Bron," which was set on the border between Denmark and Sweden.

But what makes "The Bridge" special, and potentially great, is an attribute more often applied to real estate than TV drama: location, location, location.

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Watch Fred Armisen's infomercial for Queens of the Stone Age's new album flash drive

Watch Fred Armisen's infomercial for Queens of the Stone Age's new album flash drive

CDs? What are those for?

"Remember the compact disc?" Myself and HitFix cohort Liana Maeby only barely do, so that's why you may want to jump on the USB bandwagon. Or at least that's what Fred Armisen's latest character Ricky Chism is trying to get you to do.

Queens of the Stone Age are putting their new album "... Like Clockwork" on a special USB Flash Drive that contains extra goodies like all of the music videos, lyrics and hi-rez photos, plus there's the rest of that 8 gig to spare (and it doubles as a bottle opener). Ricky's infomercial gets the benefit of uplifting stock rock in the mean time. The band gets its own awkward moment. Hi Josh.

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Meredith Vieira is getting a daytime talk show


Meredith Vieira is getting a daytime talk show

NBC Universal say it'll launch "The Meredith Vieira Show" in fall 2014.


"Under the Dome" sees another decline, yet still dominates
About 10.6 million watched last night's episode.


Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" meets "The Cosby Show"

Watch a mashup of Cosby's intro with this summer's hot new song.


"Eastbound & Down" adds "Django Unchained" star Omar Dorsey

He'll play an NFL player turned talk show host in the final season.


Ryan Seacrest and Khloe Kardashian will guest-host "The Kris Jenner Show"

Jenner's talk show will feature a celebrity guest host every day.


Key & Peele to host the TCA Awards

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele will emcee the Aug. 3 ceremony.


Ronald D. Moore's "Outlander" casts its lead

Scotsman Sam Heughan will play Jamie Fraser in the Starz sci-fi series.


Bird poops on Jimmy Fallon's desk

The Laughing Kookaburra from Australia couldn't help itself.


"Teen Mom" Farrah Abraham tossed out of rehab

She was said to be "disruptive influence" on other patients.


Watch Charlie Day in an old Thomas' Bagel commercial
The "It's Always Sunny" star talked to Jay Leno about his bagel-promoting past.


"What Not to Wear" gets final season premiere date

TLC series kicks off its final season on Aug. 9.

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<p>Key &amp;&nbsp;Peele.</p>

Key & Peele.

Credit: Comedy Central

Key & Peele to host the TCA Awards

Liam Neesons' biggest fans will emcee for the Television Critics Association on August 3

I can tell you who the new TCA Awards hosts are with just two words:

Liam Neesons.

Okay, maybe two more (plus an ampersand):

Key & Peele.

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"Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls"

 "Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls"

Credit: NBC

'Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls' doesn't know what it wants to be

More camping than "Survivor," this show is a muddy mess

How can I describe "Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls"? Imagine "The Amazing Race" without the travel (with the exception of the ten teams of two landing on a rugged piece of New Zealand wilderness). Then, a twist: teams compete against one another sometimes and work together as a group other times. Add in inspirational backstories for the teammates, a "Survivor"-esque elimination, "Bizarre Foods"-worthy snacks (fish eyeballs, anyone?) and pee drinking. Yes, pee drinking.

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<p>&quot;The Blacklist&quot;</p>

"The Blacklist"

Credit: NBC

Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Blacklist'

James Spader works, while Megan Boone fights against spotty writing

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:The Blacklist (NBC)
Airs:Mondays at 10 p.m.
The Pitch:"Alias" meets "Silence of the Lambs," with James Spader as Hannibal Lecter.
Quick Response: While Diego Klattenhoff, Harry Lennix and Ryan Eggold mean that "The Blacklist" has a few other actors you know, it's important to be honest: It's a two-hander. As James Spader and, to a slightly lesser degree, Megan Boone go, so goes "The Blacklist." In a perfect cat-and-mouse game, you'll have investment in both animals, but you can probably get away with only caring about the mouse or the cat. I'm not sure whether James Spader is mouse or cat, but nobody will have any problems watching the "Boston Legal" star work his eerie brand of creepy-zen magic here, playing a master criminal with a government background, exotic tastes and a personal interest in newly minted FBI Agent Liz Keen. This is what Spader does best and even if "The Blacklist" had no other compensating features, I'd probably watch Spader leer enigmatically for at least a few more weeks. Spader's foil is Megan Boone, who has been in a few things I haven't seen, but instantly comes across as a well-conceived genetic blending of Minka Kelly and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I like the toughness that Boone is bringing to the character and the illusion of emotional openness, where you think that Spader will be perpetually cryptic and Boone will be easily readable, only to discover that might not be the case. However, the writing in the pilot really cripples Boone's character for me. There's an adoption storyline that screams "Smash" in the worst way possible -- Does anything scream "Smash" in the best way possible? -- and if you're a writer attempting to give a character professional credibility, having that character plan to take a long lunch break for adoption counseling on THEIR FIRST DAY AT THE FBI, you've done something very wrong. I get that they're trying to show that the character is trying to prioritize family, but IT'S HER FIRST DAY AT THE FBI and she's apologizing for not being able to have an all-important adoption meeting. When I actually write this review, it's going to be 2000 words about that adoption meeting and the soullessness of attempting to simultaneously maternalize a main character and build tension through an endangered child. Except that I won't have time for that. Sigh. So Boone is fine, but I have major reservations about the character. I think, in fact, that there are many writing sins in the "Blacklist" pilot that Joe Carnahan's muscular direction is covering up. I'm nervous about how things might unfold with a lesser director in Week 2. Oh and the plot twist/reveal that 100 percent of all viewers guessed from the trailer? It hasn't been revealed yet, which either means they're going a different direction or that they think we're really dumb.
Desire To Watch Again: I'll stick around for a bit to find out if the answer is "different direction" or "dumb." James Spader makes things watchable and there's at least the potential that this could be a weekly crime-fighting romp in the "Alias" mold. In fact, how on Earth did somebody *other* than J.J. Abrams give Megan Boone this big break? She's 100 percent his flavor of leading lady. Still, based on NBC's confidence, I wish this was more fully formed than it is.

 

Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'The Tomorrow People' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'Hostages' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Sleepy Hollow' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Trophy Wife' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Michael J. Fox Show' 
All of my 2012 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2011 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries

 

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<p>Junior isn't the only bad thing about &quot;Under the Dome,&quot;&nbsp;but he's almost certainly the worst.</p>

Junior isn't the only bad thing about "Under the Dome," but he's almost certainly the worst.

Credit: CBS

Review: 'Under the Dome' - 'Manhunt'

Your local critic has had about enough of this Stephen King adaptation

A quick review of tonight's "Under the Dome" — most likely my last on the subject — coming up just as soon as I know about the Sherman Anti-Trust Act...

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"The Bachelorette"

 "The Bachelorette"

Credit: ABC

'The Bachelorette': The final 5 confess their feelings

It's a magical week on Madeira Island until one bachelor is sent home

Hometowns are next week! You know why I know that? Because this is repeated by someone every two minutes throughout this episode of "The Bachelorette." Still, I can understand why everyone is beating this particular drum. The hometowns are considered pivotal in this franchise, and for good reason. Getting the family stamp of approval is not only key, but not getting it is pretty much what sent Des packing in Sean's "Bachelor" season. No one can forget her asshat brother Nate picking a fight with Sean, and as we learn in the promo for next week, no one has been able to successfully lock him away in a kennel until this season is over. I'm not sure if getting cut this week is a more merciful plight than facing Nate, but never mind. The bachelors and Des are on the beautiful Portuguese Madeira Island, and all is well for at least a moment. 

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Why CBS decided to air 'Big Brother' racism


Why CBS decided to air "Big Brother" racism
"It was ultimately part of the story in the house," says exec producer Allison Grodner, noting that Aaryn's ascension to temporary house leader "gave us a launching pad to be able to tell this story."  She adds: "I do feel it would be irresponsible to put hate on the airwaves just for hate's sake. You need to have some sort of context."


"GMA" beats "Today" by the widest margin in more than 21 years
Last quarter, the two morning shows were separated by an average of 789,000 total viewers.


Jerry Seinfeld's kids -- ages 7, 10 and 13 -- have started watching "Seinfeld"
But they haven't seen "The Contest."


Elton John slams "The Voice" for creating "nonentities"

"Nobody on 'The Voice' in America has had a hit record," he says. "Nobody on 'The Voice' in England has had a hit record - they're nonentities." PLUS: Chris Mann weds, and Jessie J drops out of "Voice UK."


How can "Parks and Rec" take advantage of Chris Pratt's new buff body?
How about adding Andy's long-lost brother Randy?


"Brooklyn Girls" book series hopes to capture the popularity of "Girls"
The new feel-good book series revolves around "Pia," instead of Hannah.


Why Bravo should pull the plug on "Princesses: Long Island"
At this point, all the controversies seem to be manufactured for publicity. PLUS: Why can't I stop watching "Princesses"?


truTV orders a spinoff talk show for "Impractical Jokers"
"Jokers After Party" will feature the "Impractical Jokers" stars chatting about their favorite pranks.


Mandy Moore talks about being on 2 failed pilots this year

"You win some and you lose some, and you just have to get back up to bat again," says Moore, who was on ABC's "Pulling" and CBS' "The Advocates."


Watch Betty White host her own NBC talk show nearly 60 years ago
"The Betty White Show" from 1954.


MTV's new Moonman reeks of desperation

The cable network is trying to attract young viewers with its move to Brooklyn and new Moonman, but most young viewers don't remember a time when MTV played music videos.


Can Paula Abdul revive "SYTYCD"?
Ratings have been down 27% this season, and Paula's association with "American Idol's" glory days may help reverse the show's downward trend. PLUS: Erin Andrews will also guest-judge on Tuesday.


Elisabeth Moss gets "Fresh Air"

The "Mad Men" star talks about Peggy Olson's evolution with Terry Gross. PLUS: Watch "Meow Men" featuring cats.


Rob Kazinsky didn't know about his "True Blood" character until after joining the show

"I auditioned to play Ben," he says.


How "Game of Thrones" empowers social outcasts
A former stripper writes how impressed she was that the HBO series showed sex workers to be tough and complicated. PLUS: "GoT" meets Gotye, see the concept art of "Game of Thrones," and Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams have a "vinception."


It's a "Buffy" reunion
Charisma Carpenter and Nicholas Brendon came together for Comic-Con Paris.


Listen to the "Doctor Who" theme slowed down to 20 minutes

20 minutes of otherworldly mood music.


"Laguna Beach": Then & Now

As MTV begins re-airing the first two seasons, check out the O.C. reality stars evolved.


BBC America presents "Dangerman"

The reality show premiering tonight stars Jonathan Goodwin -- "The Incredible Mr. Goodwin."

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<p>Rooney Mara</p>

Rooney Mara

Credit: AP Photo

Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen join the cast of Stephen Daldry's 'Trash'

Richard Curtis writing the adaptation of Andy Mulligan's children's novel

British director Stephen Daldry currently holds what I believe is a unique record: all four of his films to date have received Oscar nominations for either Best Picture, Best Director or both. That he's managed to maintain this Academy favor even when his last two films -- "The Reader" and, in particular, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" -- ran into some critical opposition means any new project of his will be regarded in some quarters, however blindly or cynically, as a prestige player.

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Watch: Franz Ferdinand's new single 'Right Action' gets an instructional video

Watch: Franz Ferdinand's new single 'Right Action' gets an instructional video

Remember the 2000s

Do you remember Franz Ferdinand's 2004 breakout single "Take Me Out?" Their new music video for fresh single "Right Action" should jog your memory.

The slick animated clip features a similar style of instructional-manual-meets-lyric-video, as the band mugs old-school. The quartet rocks through their cool chorus and lead singer's Alex Kapranos allows his wry sarcasm over lines like "Sometimes I wish you were here / weather permitting."

The instrumentals feel a bit forced, which is why the video helps it to work a bit better, smoothing its odd angles.

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