Over the weekend, “FourFiveSeconds,” a new song featuring Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, was posted on Rihanna’s website and iTunes. Rumor has it that this song will be featured on both Rihanna’s and West’s upcoming albums. Rumor also has it that McCartney, who appeared on the previous West single, “Only One,” is coproducing West’s new LP. We got our own band on the run together to discuss “FourFive … ” and Kanye’s Beatlemania.
Chris Ryan: Whenever you can get Rihanna, Kanye West, and the third-best Beatle in a room together and you come out with the musical equivalent of a pair of TOMS, I think it has to be considered a disappointment. This song is #nolaces, man. Slip it on. “Hold me back, I’m about to spaz,” is a very Yeezus lyric sheet kind of sentiment, but it’s hard to imagine the guy who made “On Sight” nodding his head to this. Or maybe it’s not. Kanye’s sonic highway has always had an easy-listening lane. Some of his best work — “Family Business” — wouldn’t feel out of place in an elevator. It’s not the softness I object to, it’s how generic it feels. You can’t save this from being a Joan Osborne B side just by having Rihanna squeak some fun, “Sweet Virginia”–ish ad libs in the background. Now, will one of you Mac Heads lecture me about Ram?
Steven Hyden: My initial reaction, which I reserve the right to amend upon further review, is that this isn’t very good, but in a weirdly deliberate way. The first two singles seem to be teasing an LP that breaks with Kanye’s marathon streak of landmark albums, playing down his own legend in much the same way that Macca broke with the impossible standard of the Beatles with his first full-fledged solo LP, 1970’s McCartney. Paul didn’t bother trying to top Abbey Road any more than Kanye is concerning himself with making another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye instead is focused on family and recording songs as he’s in the process of writing them, like Paul was when he was fiddling around with stuff like “The Lovely Linda” and “Kreen-Akrore.” I suspect that this new Kanye record won’t make sense for a very long time. But critics also hated McCartney at first and when you hear it now it sounds like proto-indie rock.
Still hoping this project takes a turn toward McCartney II, which is the Yeezus of Macca’s catalogue. Kanye could redo “Temporary Secretary” with fresh sniffing sounds!
Molly Lambert: WINGSYE.
Sean Fennessey: So I’ve had this take spring-loaded in the ol’ take-gun. It was all about “Bound 2” as the conclusion in an important chapter of Kanye West’s story. Demons exorcised, he was finally ready to make the intimate love album he’s been hinting at since “Apologize.” What would come after Yeezus would be the inversion of Yeezus. Kim and Kanye and North’s secluded fairy tale. We-zus. When it was announced that Paul McCartney would be the spiritual guide for his next album, a McCartney/Ram-style album seemed too obvious to avoid.
As Steve mentioned, those are the first two solo McCartney albums, inspired by his time with his family in a cabin in Campbeltown, Scotland, far away from the since-dissolved Beatles. They’re small, strange, achingly earnest albums that were dismissed in their time and seemingly confirmed Macca’s reputation as the saccharine sop to Lennon’s true-genius cynic. But time has lifted their standing. I suspect that will happen to whatever Kanye does next. No one wants to hear how much Kanye loves Kim, just like nobody wanted to hear Paul wank off about his lovely Linda. McCartney singing, “But tonight I just want to stay in / And be with you,” was the 1970 equivalent of Kanye’s “Stop everything you’re doing now / ’Cause baby you’re awesome.” We all know the feeling, but maybe don’t say it out loud.
Here’s the thing, though: This song has hardly anything at all to do with Kanye West or Paul McCartney. This might be the single best Rihanna vocal performance ever. And this is her song, not theirs. Is the arrangement a little coffee shop by way of Korg Triton? Sure. But maybe that means Rihanna is about to record her Court and Spark. Who’s more equipped to write a modern-day “Free Man in Paris” than Rihanna?