If there's a Guinness record for "most pop artists performing on a pop single," it's probably held by "We Are The World" or its lame-ass sequel from earlier this year. But "All of the Lights" - the fourth single from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - boasts a longer and more random guest list than any pop song Gimme Noise can think of that isn't benefiting a charity or cherished salt-of-the-earth way of life or impoverished children in some foreign backwater country.
Does it sound expensive? Yes.
Does it sound exciting? Sorta.
Does it leave the listener wanting to hear it again? Eh.
Is it pretty much impossible to sort out where, exactly, all the guest performers fit into its dazzlingly triumphant blare? Totally.
Does that even matter? Depends.
Will Gimme Noise go about this in the same lauded play-by-play style we used for the Runaway movie? Of course.
00:00 Seriously, look at this line-up: Kanye West, John Legend, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Tony Williams, Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Fergie, KiD CuDi, Rihanna, and Elton John. What? Apparently, "All of the Lights" is celebrity code for "Gucci Gulch cluster-fuck."
00:09 Don't you just love it when a song opens hard with bold, almost ruptured brass blats? It's like a Heavenly fanfare. It's downright regal.
00:24 "Turn up the lights in here, baby/Extra bright, I want y'all to see this," Rihanna implores on the hook. Please don't worry about Rihanna's eyesight; the extra-bright lights won't blind her, because she'll be wearing a pair of these:
00:50 That's Dream, isn't it, sort of doing this wordless vocal thing that isn't strictly a coo or a yeah or even an ohhh necessarily, but comes across as distinctive.
01:15 Cue flashback to the giant inflatable Michael Jackson head scene from Runaway. Then West is relating some sort of post-divorce child-custody drama situation that hasn't happened to him yet, unless he'd managed to keep this facet of his life hidden from public view until now.
02:57 And now for a dolorous spray of piano chords. Sir Elton, we presume? Meantime, Kid Cudi is getting his; he'd like to see us get our own, but it's hard to say whether he's referring to bottles of Dom, Jacob the Jeweler Jesus pieces, vacation homes, or a banana-yellow rotary telephone.
03:15 Fergie - who steals "Lights" without batting an eye-lash the way Niciy Minaj walked away with "Monster" - is easily having more fun than anybody else on this cut, her raps about pre-VIP obscurity slouched, sideways, and louche, fed through a concave-convex-concave Lil Jon vocal filter, half M.I.A., half Gwen Stefani, all 2010 pop-perfecto.
03:45 You know, it just occurred to me that there could be literally dozens of other artists and musicians buried on this song who weren't appended after the "feat." for whatever reason. Like right at this point there's a keyboard motif that fairly screams "Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park," and it wouldn't have been impossible to meld/melt vocals for any number of R&B stars into the refrain. But we'll never know, and from an outsider perspective there's a ton of wasted space here, where the steamrollering hook is ground into monotony and nothing much is happening, and you wish somebody would grab the mike and pull what Wyclef pulled on the "We Are The World" remake, just some crazy, out-of-nowhere ululations or something. Seriously, somebody remix in some wild solos from Slash and Buckethead or some bonkers Larry McDonald or Brian Chippendale drums or Bjork-ian bleating or something to set this song off. Please?
04:20 Generic R&B dudes huskily taking the reins from Rihanna is not change I can believe in.
04:50 Neither are a constipated Elton John verse and phoned-in whoaa-oh-whoas from Alicia Keys.
04:55 An odd lil coda full of Vocodor'd bebop futzing and acapella piano chord wood-shedding? Intriguing. But it's arriving at the very end of the damned song.