Posts Tagged ‘Christina Aguilera’

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creative instincts.

November 2, 2011

So I have been a busy bee and I haven’t had much time to write on this blog. But moreover, I haven’t really had anything that has come to mind as really worth posting… I have been too busy living life and not insightful enough to be reflecting along the way. But through talking and thinking about things in interesting conversations with Toby and Nick, I have decided that now that I am settled in London (I have been here nearly 2 months, which I can’t believe – it’s flown by!!!), I am going to pursue some projects. Here is a list:

  • Music. I have recorded precisely one verse since I moved to London. I love the new music I have been making, but it has trailed off. Partly because in my current flat, the only place I really feel comfortable singing is in the kitchen, as it’s the only space that isn’t close to the corridor, or to my neighbour’s room. (I don’t want to deafen them, or get a bad rep!) But I realise I need to really get myself back in motion and finish this new album!!!! In addition, Nick has been telling me about the fabulous Open Mic nights at the Cellar Door near Covent Garden. So in order to prove to myself that I can still sing, perhaps I shall slowly gather courage to perform something. I am aware that the sheet music for the Burlesque soundtrack, and for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way are both available. So what do we reckon? “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”? “Yoü and I”? “Bound To You?” “Marry The Night / Americano / Judas” medley?!?! I have to do something to keep my musical proclivities going, and to keep my performance and vocal skills alive.
  • Swimming. I have been fairly good (if not exactly excellent) with my walking to work. But obviously, winter is fast approaching and I will be less inclined to walk in bad / ridiculously cold weather, in warm clothes. So Les Senteurs (where Nick works) is opening a new branch in Marble Arch (you should go and check it out – fabulous perfumes!) and there is reportedly a swimming pool nearby. I have swimshorts from when Toby and I went on holiday to Seville, so Nick and I are planning to do some exercise at the pool there after work. It sounds like a good plan – I want to slim down a little bit.
  • Drawing. Once upon a time, I used to be fairly good at drawing. And watching Toby knit and create things, I know that I am not really a very crafty person and into handicrafts and the like. However, I am an artistic and creative person, and I am not bad at Photoshop and digital designing (my fashionista and styling instincts are ever useful in this regard). But recently I have been tempted to take it back to basics and get back into drawing. I think I will start out slowly and simply, and get myself a sketch book and a nice pencil or two, and start off by drawing what is outside my window. And as I gain my skills back and become more confident, I will hopefully be able to draw more elaborate, complex and inspired/imaginative pieces.
  • Cooking. Again, Toby is a fabulous cook. I am not a bad cook, but I have never ever had remotely enough patience to be bothered with it, unless I am cooking for someone else (which happens literally once in a blue moon). I admire the way that Toby instinctively knows what flavours go together, when a meal is ready, how to improvise with ingredients and flavours. I have never ever had an instinct like that as far as food is concerned. To be quite truthful, food has been an enemy of mine ever since I can remember – even though I am now no longer going through the weight loss issues I did as a child. I don’t enjoy food the way that a lot of people seem to – I can appreciate when something tastes nice or is artfully made, but I don’t derive pleasure from every meal the way that some do. To illustrate this, I have exactly the same thing for lunch every day at work. And it doesn’t bother me, because I don’t cherish the meal or the food. All I cherish is the fact that I have conditioned myself to be satisfied with a small lunch, and that this is good because it’s not going to add weight to me. (Sadly, by the evenings I am often ravenous and therefore often overeat – putting me back to square one!) But, back on topic after that brief digression, I feel that while the balance that Toby and I have of “he cooks, I clean” is totally satisfactory for both of us, I would still like to cook a little bit more. Because a real man knows how to cook, right?
  • London underground photo project. This is the big one that I have been contemplating for a few weeks now. Toby took me on a couple of photo walks around London, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them beyond the fact that I went to places I wouldn’t normally go. I wasn’t doing any photographing – Toby has a super-duper camera and so took lots of pictures, but I can’t be bothered to lug that around! Plus, a lot of the other people on the photo walk were basically being offensively touristy and taking pictures of everything and everyone (often in swarms like paparazzi!!), swarming upon the landscape without any respect for the world and public around them. It’s hard to explain, but that sort of behaviour basically appears to me as a little undignified. But each to their own. However, I have had the idea of documenting my life in London by taking pictures outside the tube stations I end up near, and expanding this to collect them all. A bit like Pokémon – gotta catch ’em all! But it will also be a fun project and spur me to explore the city a bit more. So perhaps that is something I will start doing very soon! What do you reckon?
So there you have it – my personal and artistic aims for the next few months. Let’s see how I do! xx
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top 15 albums of 2010.

January 2, 2011

It’s that time again! Last year my list had 20 albums on it; this year, due I think to the generally deteriorating quality of popular / mainstream music, I have chopped the list down to 15 – if I had 20 albums on it, there were inevitably a couple of albums on the list which had but a handful of good tracks. This does not necessarily make a good album – so for the sake of quality over quantity, this year my list is shorter and sweeter.  Enjoy and comment if you like / dislike / agree / disagree!

15. MonicaStill Standing (check my review here!)

Highlights: Still Standing, Stay Or Go, Love All Over Me, Believing In Me

Skip: If You Were My Man

14. Diddy – Dirty MoneyLast Train To Paris

Highlights: Yeah Yeah You Would, Angels, Hello Good Morning, Coming Home

Skip: Someone To Love Me, Shades, Loving You No More

13. The-DreamLove King

Highlights: F.I.L.A., Abyss, February Love, Florida University, Take Care Of Me, All Black Everything

Skip: Make Up Bag, Sex Intelligent (Remix), Yamaha, Veteran

12. Toni Braxton Pulse (check my review here!)

Highlights: Yesterday, Make My Heart, Hands Tied, Lookin’ At Me, Wardrobe, Why Won’t You Love Me

Skip: If I Have To Wait, Hero

11. Teairra MaríPoint Of No Return mixtape

Highlights: Detroit, Body, Girl Power, Coins, My Lovin’, Holla, Over

Skip: Super High

10. Jazmine SullivanLove Me Back

Highlights: Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles), Good Enough, Stuttering, Famous, Luv Back

Skip: Don’t Make Me Wait, Redemption

9. Nicki MinajPink Friday

Highlights: I’m The Best, Roman’s Revenge, Save Me, Check It Out, Your Love, Girls Fall Like Dominoes

Skip: Did It On’Em, Fly, Last Chance

8. Janelle Monáe The ArchAndroid (check my review here!)

Highlights: Dance Or Die, Cold War, Tightrope, Oh Maker, Say You’ll Go, BabopbyeYa

Skip: Mushrooms & Roses, Neon Valley Street, Wondaland

7. ShakiraSale el Sol

Highlights: Loca, Antes De Las Seis, Gordita, Lo Que Más, Islands, Tu Boca

Skip: Sale El Sol, Addicted To You, Mariposas

6. CiaraBasic Instinct

Highlights: Ride, Gimmie Dat, Heavy Rotation, You Can Get It

Skip: nothing!

5. Kanye WestMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Highlights: Dark Fantasy, Power, All Of The Lights, Monster, Runaway

Skip: Gorgeous, So Appalled, Hell Of A Life

4. DrakeThank Me Later

Highlights: Fireworks, Over, Up All Night, Fancy, Shut It Down, Unforgettable, Find Your Love

Skip: Show Me A Good Time, Thank Me Now

3. SadeSoldier Of Love

Highlights: Soldier Of Love, Babyfather, In Another Time, Skin, The Safest Place

Skip: Morning Bird, Bring Me Home

2. M.I.A. /\/\ /\ Y /\

Highlights: Steppin’ Up, XXXO, Lovalot, It Takes A Muscle, Tell Me Why, Illygirl

Skip: Teqkilla, Story To Be Told

1. Christina AguileraBionic (check my review here!)

Highlights: Bionic, Woohoo, Elastic Love, Lift Me Up, You Lost Me, Vanity, Bobblehead

Skip: Prima Donna, My Girls, Birds Of Prey

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believing in me.

August 10, 2010

Yesterday I performed three songs at the BAYS (Bristol Active Youth Group) 2010 summer party: “Russian Roulette” by Rihanna, “No One” by Alicia Keys and “You Lost Me” by Christina Aguilera. I was privileged that Ness invited me to perform, and it also gave me the opportunity to prove several things to myself.

  1. I hadn’t performed in front of an audience for a few years, and I wanted to know that I still had what it takes to entertain people and that my voice was still enjoyable for people to listen to.
  2. That I was capable of singing 3 relatively vocally-intense songs in succession, in front of an audience without messing up or without my voice failing me. Basically, that I could do justice to the material I had chosen.
  3. That I could still competently sing these songs despite the fact that I am now a smoker.
  4. That, despite my absence from performing, I could perform through the nerves.

I am happy to report that I proved all of these things to myself and I did a great job: everyone seemed to enjoy my performances and was very complimentary about my voice; one girl even said she wanted to marry me! (I think Toby would have something to say about that!) So that was lovely: I also enjoyed watching Ness dance to Lady GaGa, and there was an MC beatboxing who was fantastically talented… some of what I saw would put celebrity musicians to shame. It was touching to see young talent on display in my community, and moreover, a group of young people coming together to do something positive for their community.

Then, today I have just come back from my driving lesson. Despite the fact that it’s taking a lot longer to reach my driving test than I originally anticipated, I finally got roundabouts 100% sorted out (my last problem area) and now I feel that I will be capable of doing everything I need to in my driving test. Plus, my driving instructor was less of a fool this time than he was last week. So I am feeling good: this is the way I like to start a week, with a sense of positive accomplishment two days in a row.  I hope this continues, especially considering that the time has finally come to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday. I have to keep up my sense of self-belief, because this is how I can keep transforming and improving my life. 🙂

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hypersex.

July 27, 2010

I’ve spent the last 4 weekends away from home with my boyfriend Toby: the first weekend in Peterborough, and the latter three in his new flat in London.  I’ve had a terrific time each time, and it’s a marker of how far I’ve come that now when I am at home in Bristol during the week, life feels empty and, well, a bit lifeless.  I’m finally feeling the love I so desperately longed to feel in the first few months, and I am truly lucky to have found him: I now only fear some unforeseen circumstance or twist of fate breaking us apart and taking this amazing man away from me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I just enjoy the times we share together and watch our relationship grow: I have let down my hard-to-get, impenetrable guard and now he sees me as someone who is often vulnerable, sweet and soppy.  During my last two visits, we went to the cinema to watch Eclipse and Inception, and as well as enjoying the films, I cherished the fact that going to the cinema with my boyfriend and cuddling up on the seats, arms linked & heads on each others’ shoulders, was something I thought I’d never get to experience.  It made me feel young, carefree and happy, like the teenager I no longer am but always longed to be.

However, as well as displaying and embracing my softer, romantic side, we also enjoy having sex and often joke that we must be nymphomaniacs.  The sex is the best I’ve ever had, and I am not going to go into specifics because y’all don’t wanna read that and I want to keep that between me and Toby.  But I feel like I finally get to unfurl the wings of my sexuality without embarrassment or shyness.  I have always been a sexual person, and I remember my body being a constant source of fascination as a child (and I mean way before puberty, which I hit early anyway).  As a boy and now a man, I’ve occasionally felt slightly ridiculous for being in touch with myself in a non-macho, non-“I want to fuck everything that moves” way.  I mean, I definitely get horny, but for me my sexuality is less about posturing, racking up notches on a bedpost to prove my virility to others and allay my own insecurities and more about feeling intangibly good in my own skin, exploring what feels / tastes / good and what my body can do to synchronise with my soul and feelings and heighten my experiences as much as possible, and then also sharing that with another person and trying to heighten their experience, someone who knows you and is always uncovering new things about you as you grow together, is a privilege.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of fashion has grown and evolved as well, and my having tattoos is not only an embodiment of my darker, more dangerous side with personal emblems for me, but also an expression of sexuality. I believe that tattoos are very sensual things (I’m not interested in getting them as a fashion statement per se, and I will never be seen with a tattoo that is “on trend” because it’s “on trend”), and having someone firstly pierce your skin with a needle shows an immense display of trust; to leave a symbol or picture or message on you that has meaning is exhilarating; then to display tattoos, to let someone in on their meaning, to allow someone to touch that part of your body, is a thrill that for me is part of sexuality.  For me, I don’t need or want everyone to see my tattoos all the time (partly because for work I need to exercise some common sense and be able to cover them), but they are for me first and then for my friends and finally for my boyfriend (who likes them nearly as much as I do!).  Just as wearing sexy outfits, fitted clothes (both of which are again decidedly un-macho), certain colours and styles is more an embodiment of who I am at that particular moment, on that day, at that stage in my life and of who I am as a person (the different layers) than displaying labels, belonging to a particular social clique or taking part in a contest to display as much of myself as possible.  For me, sexuality and promiscuity are two extremely different things. I’ve come to the point where I am happy enough with my body to wear more or less what I want (apart from all the outfits I can’t afford!!! but I’m getting there slowly 🙂 ), and in contrast to my attention-seeking performance outfits of the past (leather trenchcoat here, ripped jeans with handcuffs there – though those outfits were definitely fun and I’ve very glad I wore them!), I am less about turning heads (although that’s always nice) and more about satisfying my own standards.  Which are usually higher anyway! But I also appreciate that I want to feel that I look sexy in my clothes: some people are not concerned with that stuff, but I am – call it vanity, call it what you want. The difference is that now, what validates my sexiness is primarily how I myself feel, and secondly what my boyfriend and close friends think and say. I’m more comfortable in my skin to be more about pleasing myself and to know that yes, some people’s opinions do matter and I want to please others too.  But I also know that the general public is not important, and that I shouldn’t feel intimidated or afraid to be who I am. My sexuality, sensuality, fashion sense, looks, physicality and being as a whole may occasionally be compromised by external forces – I’m only human – but I know that it shouldn’t be and I’m better at making sure that it isn’t 90% of the time.  I am learning to be comfortable in myself as a sexual being, a sensual being, and it’s thrilling that I can listen to sexually-themed music (the thought process behind this post was set in motion while I was dancing to “Desnúdate” from Christina Aguilera’s Bionic album, which I still utterly adore) and understand more of it – not because of the meanings of the words (which are translucent), but because my life and my maturity is falling in line with those things.  I’m growing, and I am grateful to my friends, to Toby and to life in general for provoking me and allowing me to do so. 🙂

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.

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performance anxiety.

March 25, 2010

Last night myself and several of my coursemates, as well as Toby and his friend Miguel went to Mr. Wolf’s to watch one of our friends on the Careers Guidance course, Emma, perform some songs with her guitarist friend.  She sang Whitney Houston’s “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”, Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart” and Eric Clapton’s “Change The World”, and did a fantastic job.  Emma and I spent an afternoon last term comparing our CD collections and marvelling over just how similar they were, since it often feels like nobody else in the UK listens to the same kind of music by artists such as Allure, Kelly Price, Angie Stone, D’Angelo and so on.  Obviously some people must buy their albums because otherwise nobody would stock them, but it’s rare to find somebody with whom you connect on such a musical level, especially as a singer or musician.  So I respect her music taste and her talent, and she was genuinely good (and outclassed the other performers that night 😉 ).

When she told me about the Open Mic night and her impending performance on Monday, she mentioned that I should perform something.  I thought it sounded like a nice idea but a little short notice, but nevertheless I dragged Toby to the UWE music practice rooms to hammer out a piano version of Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams”.  It sounded fine (after Toby’s hints that making it an octave lower would sound good – which I did; and that I am not Christina Aguilera and should stick to less notes – which I sort of did but I love putting some runs in my vocals, because that’s part of my style and sets me apart somewhat), but I felt that it required more practice than I’d be able to gain in two days.  So for the reason that I didn’t feel it was polished enough or “ready” to perform, as well as I had never been to the venue and didn’t want to rain on Emma’s parade since we were all going to see her, I decided not to perform.  Next time, I will, and I’m since working on a piano version of “Lift Me Up” by Christina Aguilera to compliment the Beyoncé song.  They sound ok, and with a little practice I reckon they’ll be performable and effectively show off my vocals and my piano (something I’ve always needed to work at is playing the piano and singing at the same time). 

And yet the thought of doing that is a little scary to me now.  I used to perform regularly at Open Mic nights at Oxford (gaining notoriety in the process, which was pretty complimentary), concerts at school and sixth form where I used to sing, dance, play guitar and piano – the whole kaboodle.  I even performed at a Hiroshima Remembrance concert, which was outdoors and to the public.  I’ve done a lot of this, I should be used to it.  So why am I nervous?  I guess that now I have a boyfriend, and some close adult friends, their opinion means a lot to me? I don’t want to fall short of their expectations? Is it stage fright?  Admittedly, the last time I performed on a stage of any sort was 2 years ago, but Mike and I did an impromptu version of Beyoncé’s “Disappear” at my house and I managed to perform well in that and impress him suitably.  So maybe I just need to bite the bullet and do it, once the songs are ready. 

The other thing that fills me with a little nerves is the fact that I have had mentioned to me that a few of my colleagues on the course have visited my myspace and listened to the songs I’ve put up from the Quiet Storm album (which incidentally you can download here) on there.  Now, obviously the purpose of my myspace is to promote my music to the public and my friends – it’s for public consumption.  But to hear that people have listened to my stuff and liked it makes me feel funny – I guess partly because while I’m proud of this album, I feel that I still have a long way to go and develop, particularly in my production and vocal production (I have done a couple of songs more recently where I feel my voice sounds more impressive on record).  So I feel like I don’t want them to judge me yet. Also, I guess once again their opinion matters to me more than I expected it to, more than it should? I mean, Mike, Toby, Hannah, Karina, Nick… all my close friends’ opinions are understandably important to me and I am flattered by the support of all my friends.  And I’m flattered by the support of other friends who don’t know me so well – it is really nice – but I don’t know what to say, because somewhere within me my insecurity says “Do they really like it or are they just saying that and laughing behind my back?” I mean, I should be like “Who cares?” but my music is such an intimate, personal part of me that it’s important for me to produce, and if that essential aspect of who I am is a source of mockery or easily dismissed, I have to admit that that would probably hurt me, at least a little bit.  I totally understand that you can’t please anyone anyway, and at the end of the day my musical executive producer is myself – I’m my own harshest critic.  But I just hope that their support is sincere, because it means a lot to me.  And I guess that when I do perform “Sweet Dreams” or “Lift Me Up” or whatever else I end up doing (I am extremely liable to changing my mind in these sorts of things!), I am hoping that I can justify and live up to that support, their expectations of me.  I want to impress, I want to please people.  I guess that that way, it validates my singing and my music (my lifelong passion and ambition) and I can get a little bit closer to pleasing myself.  So I’m going to bite the bullet and go for it, but it’s harder than I thought and I didn’t expect it to be.