As the host of VH1’s Best Week Ever, dapper comedian Paul F. Tompkins makes a living siccing his snark on cultural ephemera. Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy does much the same via his witty rhymes on songs like “Drnk Txt Rmeo” and “Cookie Jar,” both from 2008’s The Quilt. Unsurprisingly, when the talking head and the rapping mouth came together to pass judgment on a pupu platter of the year’s most noteworthy tunes, neither one held back. Well, maybe with one notable exception…
Check out these nine songs, then check out Travis and Paul breaking down 10 more in the January 2009 issue of SPIN, on newsstands now!
VAMPIRE WEEKEND, “OXFORD COMMA”
Blog-fueled smarty-pants phenoms declare their disregard for punctuation particulars atop a spare, breezy groove.
McCOY: This song is really pussy, for lack of a better word. I don’t understand the buzz about this band. I just remember going to the bodega and all of sudden seeing them on the cover of every magazine.
SPIN: Including this one.
McCOY: I know. I was like, “What the fuck?”
TOMPKINS: When I saw these guys, I was mostly worried they were freezing cold because they were wearing those gigantic sweaters.
McCOY: All the hype about Vampire Weekend reminded me of Snakes on a Plane.
TOMPKINS: I’ve always felt that Vampire Weekend are the Snakes on a Plane of music. They’re harmless, though. Innocuous. I call it innocu-rock.
McCOY: Innocu-rock! That’s it!
TOMPKINS: Do you get freaked out by Belle and Sebastian? Vampire Weekend is for you.
LIL WAYNE, “GOT MONEY”
Weezy shares his know-how vis-à-vis getting, spending, and retaining a large amount of currency.
McCOY: I’m a huge fan of Wayne, but this Auto-Tune thing is completely out of control.
TOMPKINS: I’m officially mad about it.
McCOY: [Zapp’s] Roger Troutman is rolling in his grave! Back in the day, when you were using a vocoder and talkbox, you had to at least be playing something.
TOMPKINS: That was what Peter Frampton used on his guitar, right?
McCOY: Yeah. With those things, you had to manipulate the note with a guitar or keyboard. Now you just push a button. It’s like, “I wanna sound like a robot,” and you hit the button and that’s it.
TOMPKINS: I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve used Auto-Tune before. Sometimes I want to sound like a robot when I tell jokes. I won’t deny it.
McCOY: That’s my beef with all of this. You used to actually have to be able to sing. Now it’s just so easy. You just press a button.
TOMPKINS: In the good old days you at least had to turn a dial. Turning dials is a lost art.
KATY PERRY, “I KISSED A GIRL”
A curious ingenue discovers the chart-busting pleasure of Sapphic smooching.
McCOY: Uh, okay. I’m not talking bad about this one.
TOMPKINS: [Laughs] Not this one?
McCOY: This is my girlfriend.
SPIN: Travis isn’t joking.
TOMPKINS: Oh, okay.
McCOY: This song fucking rocks! This is cutting-edge right here! And I’m not just sucking my girlfriend’s dick.
TOMPKINS: You know who I feel bad for? Jill Sobule.
McCOY: Definitely. I told Katy there was already a song called “I Kissed a Girl,” and she was like, “Nobody remembers that shit.” But what’s good about this song is that it’s now cool for young girls across America to kiss each other.
TOMPKINS: Katy Perry is the Rosa Parks of getting girls to make out with each other.
McCOY: We need to skip songs now.
GUNS N’ ROSES, “CHINESE DEMOCRACY”
The long-awaited first single from the longer-awaited new album sees a multi- tracked Axl Rose spurring on a small army of guitars.
McCOY: I was at the Tommy Hilfiger show a couple years ago where Tommy kicked Axl’s ass.
TOMPKINS: I heard about that. You were there?
McCOY: I saw it. I look over and Tommy and Axl are going at it. Dude has to live with himself after getting his ass beat by Tommy Hilfiger.
TOMPKINS: At least it wasn’t Karl Lagerfeld. By the way, when does the song start?
SPIN: There’s about a minute of ambient noise at the beginning.
TOMPKINS: We’ve been waiting 16 years for silence?
McCOY: This better kick ass soon.
TOMPKINS: What was the 16 years for? Was he picking out bandannas? It definitely wasn’t for this. This reminds me of the season of The Sopranos when Adriana wanted to be a manager, and she worked with this awful metal band from New Jersey. They sounded like this.
McCOY: The woman who played Tony’s wife on that show is hot. She’s a cougar.
TOMPKINS: She is. But I’m talking about a different actress.
McCOY: Tony’s daughter? She was hot, too.
TOMPKINS: The fact that we’re talking about The Sopranos doesn’t say much for the song.
McCOY: I can’t fuck with this shit. I just see Axl’s shitty cornrows and that half-plastic face. The Darkness are better than this.
TOMPKINS: Wait! Is that Buckethead playing?
McCOY: Buckethead is awesome. I’ll give ’em that.
THE KILLERS, “HUMAN”
Brandon Flowers and crew return to the synth-rock safety of Hot Fuss.
McCOY: “Are we human or are we dancer?” Is that a quote from something? Is it from a book? I’m trying to figure out what the fuck it means.
TOMPKINS: Those two things aren’t necessarily exclusive. You could be a dancing human.
McCOY: Maybe we’re tiny human dancers.
TOMPKINS: By the end of the song do we find out whether we’re humans or dancers?
SPIN: It’s left ambiguous.
TOMPKINS: I hate those kinds of endings!
McCOY: This reminds me more of their first record. They had a cool Depeche Mode thing going on when they first came out, with the eyeliner and shit.
TOMPKINS: I like it when a fella throws on some eyeliner.
McCOY: It’s even better if the eyeliner runs. That looks fantastic.
TOMPKINS: If Alice Cooper taught us anything, it’s that.
McCOY: The band has the wrong name, though. The Killers! I want something more menacing. This is too soft. They should be called the Hurters.
METALLICA, “THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES”
A barrage of double-kick drumming, heroic soloing, and Möbius strip guitar riffs helps metal gods’ angst sound, well, angstier than it has in years.
TOMPKINS: Metallica are ridiculous. When I saw Some Kind of Monster, I went in not being a fan and I came out — still not being a fan. But at least I understood why I don’t like them.
McCOY: This song is definitely butt rock at its finest. After, like, …And Justice for All, Metallica became the masters of butt rock.
SPIN: What’s butt rock?
McCOY: Creed. Nickelback. If you wanna go back to the roots, you’ve got Seven Mary Three.
TOMPKINS: You know what this sounds like?A Metallica song.
McCOY: There’s a definite Metallica formula.
TOMPKINS: I almost feel guilty about not liking this because I know its means something to somebody. But to me it just sounds hilarious. I don’t know what Metallica’s magical formula is, but I know it always results in something that sounds like this.
Click to page 3 for takes on Britney, Death Cab, and the Jonas Brothers!
BRITNEY SPEARS, “WOMANIZER”
Sounds like this girl’s got a chip on hershoulder. It’s about time the media started paying a little attention to her.
TOMPKINS: Give it to me, Britney! Give it to me! Who am I kidding? This is not good.
McCOY: Britney looks great these days, though.
TOMPKINS: It was touch and go there for a while. She’s a good kid. I’m glad she’s still around. I don’t want to listen to her music, but I’m glad she’s still around.
McCOY: The melody is like a nursery rhyme. Nursery rhymes never go out of style.
TOMPKINS: This song has five words in it. The melody almost reminds me of “The Farmer in the Dell.”
McCOY: It’s kinda “I Kissed a Girl”ish.
TOMPKINS: What a medley that would be!
McCOY: “I Kissed a Womanizer.”
TOMPKINS: I can’t listen to this anymore.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, “I WILL POSSESS YOUR HEART”
The decade’s biggest “bookish” band gently delivers a winsome eight-minute epic about a creepy stalker.
TOMPKINS: I saw these guys live for the first time at Radio City Music Hall this year, and I didn’t realize how energetic they were. You don’t expect that with the type of music they make. I also didn’t expect how many glasses were on people’s faces at that show. That might have been the most glasses ever inside Radio City at one time.
McCOY: A lot of sweaters, too.
TOMPKINS: A very bearded crowd.
McCOY: Ben Gibbard’s cool, though. He’s another guy, like Estelle, who sings great live and on record.
SPIN: You’re the first person to ever compare Ben Gibbard and Estelle.
McCOY: He earns it, man. I’m a huge fan of his lyrics. He gets straight to the point. No magic tricks.
TOMPKINS: I forgot how long this song is.
McCOY: I’ll be honest, I’m getting antsy.
TOMPKINS: But I love the way he sings, “It’s going to take some time.” I always appreciate it when songs describe what’s happening in the song. Message received, Ben Gibbard.
McCOY: Death Cab are practical that way.
JONAS BROTHERS, “BURNIN’ UP”
The Disney factory’s latest tween idols serve up purity-ring power pop.
McCOY: This sounds like Maroon 5 Jr.
TOMPKINS: Come on, these little fellas are trying hard.
McCOY: The whole Disney thing is running the industry. I want to be signed to Disney. I want that demographic. What do I have to do? Do I have to shrink a few inches? Should I shave?
TOMPKINS: You need to look more like a chick. I love how all the Disney guys look like girls, but all the girls are hardcore sluts. There’s always camera-phone pictures of them bangin’ someone — usually right around the time the girls are ready to start their own careers.