Posts Tagged ‘edge’

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Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (album review.)

April 6, 2012

It’s time to accept that the Nicki Minaj that we heard on her mixtape (and best album to date) Beam Me Up Scotty is gone. The Nicki Minaj that we heard stealing the show on Kanye West’s “Monster” is a distant memory. Now, the Nicki Minaj who pleasantly surprised us with her bubblegum rap confection “Super Bass” is asserting herself throughout Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Nicki Minaj may not have concretely realised her Roman Zolanski alter-ego (who shows up at the start of the album, but his fangs have been sanded down after his explosive showing on “Roman’s Revenge”), but throughout her career we have seen her evolve and shift through persona after persona. The hard female rapper we heard on Playtime Is Over gave way to the exciting cyberspace femme fatale with the ridiculous flow and heart of gold on Beam Me Up Scotty, who tarted herself up with colourful outfits, wigs and softened edges for Pink Friday. Although her rap credentials have become less indisputable, mainstream success has opened Minaj to a new audience: pop. Teenagers, little girls dancing and rapping along to her songs on youtube, people across the world now want to hear what Nicki Minaj has to say. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finds Minaj trying to please everyone whom she has courted throughout her career. Does she succeed?

Well, the album is certainly diverse and there is something for everybody. After the insane and yet exciting “Roman Holiday”, the album is stacked with urban tracks designed to prove that Nicki is still in touch with her musical roots. “Come On A Cone” is a fascinating listen, and the genuinely unexpected “dick in your face” interlude about two thirds of the way through the song is a refreshing thrill – but Minaj can no longer get through an entire rap song without resorting to her trademark ridiculous vocal tics. This is a gimmick that initially served to set Minaj apart from other female rappers, but now it sounds like a party piece that is trotted out to fulfil the listener’s expectations. The song succeeds, but it could have been more. The tracks which follow are chock full of features, which is nothing unusual for a rap album, but here they serve to mute Nicki’s own impact on the material. “Beez In The Trap” is catchy but incredibly basic while “HOV Lane” is single-entendre bragging that may pay tribute to Jay-Z and to Minaj’s potential to be a supernova rather than just a star, but compared to the more insightful work Minaj has done on the past (for example on Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Can Anybody Hear Me” or Pink Friday‘s “Moment 4 Life”) it rings a little hollow. “Stupid Hoe” is an ill-advised tirade against Lil’ Kim that is so ridiculously silly that the bite in Minaj’s lyrics is muzzled by the repetitive hook and uninteresting beat. The buzz single for this project, “Roman In Moscow”, was so much more than all of the rap tracks that actually made it onto the album because the production was exciting and the flow and rhymes were unbridled and interesting. It showed that the ‘old Nicki’ is still alive, but there is no longer a place for her among any of Minaj’s current, more successful incarnations, which is a shame. As oddly structured and jarring as they may be, “Roman Holiday”, “Come On A Cone” and “Roman Reloaded” are the most successful songs in the first half of the album because although they are not amazing, they grab the listener’s ear and don’t let go.

After some tepid R&B slow jams which are so rote that they barely deserve mentioning, let alone a place on this album (“Right Thru Me” and “Your Love” from Pink Friday were miles better than these), we get to ‘pop Nicki’. This abrupt about-face in the album really should have been split into two discs on the physical version, but it’s not the disaster that other reviews have reported. “Starships” is at once derivative of LMFAO’s and Rihanna’s latest smashes, and yet also entirely the mutant spawn of “Super Bass” (without which ‘pop Nicki’ would never have come to triumph over ‘old Nicki’ or ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Harajuku Barbie’ etc.), but my god is it fun. This song absolutely deserved to be a single and to be successful – I feel conflicted because Nicki Minaj shouldn’t have had to so deliberately manufacture such a hit, but its hit status is undeniable. “Pound The Alarm” goes one better and is an absolute gem that Britney Spears probably wishes she had recorded. “Whip It”, “Automatic” and “Beautiful Sinner” repeat this formula ad infinitum (or ad the next 15 minutes), and although the songs are great fun, they expose Minaj’s crossover aims as so calculated that a little bit of this fun is taken out of them.

The album winds down with some mid-tempo, more thoughtful songs such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever”. Strong hooks and mainstream production make these songs perfectly enjoyable, and although the lyrics show more insight from Minaj than the preceding half hour or so, they’re still calculated. “Fire Burns” and “Gun Shot” close the album (before the jarring “Stupid Hoe”) and they are the most genuine tracks of the second half. “Fire Burns” is this album’s “Save Me” (one of the highlights from Pink Friday), and the regret and sadness in Minaj’s delivery rings true. “Gun Shot” features Beenie Man and brings a little Caribbean flavour that Minaj hasn’t explored since Pink Friday‘s bonus tracks, or Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Keys Under Palm Trees” or title track (her shout-out to Trinidad at the beginning of “Beautiful Sinner” certainly doesn’t count). While so many of the second half’s tracks are deliberately and irresistibly exhilarating to a head-spinning extent, “Gun Shot” is a less manufactured but, if anything, more uplifting ray of sunshine.

Do I like this album? Absolutely. Do I feel that it squanders Minaj’s potential? Yes, and no. This has been a hard review to write, because there’s so much here to deal with. The mainstream-aimed songs are good, but many of them are so deliberately manufactured to be hits that the genuine feeling is often ironed out. The rap songs are acceptable to good (barring the mediocre slow-jam section in the middle), but the featured artists rarely measure up to Minaj’s own potential, while simultaneously limiting her own space to shine. The weird songs are absolutely interesting, but Minaj doesn’t need to rely on inconsistent alter-egos and silly voices to be compelling. Beam Me Up Scotty proved this, and I find it sad that Minaj isn’t encouraged to exhibit her rap skills and singing in a more genuine way. “Roman In Moscow” and “Fire Burns” are remnants of the Minaj we have previously experienced. And while I genuinely am happy for the existence of songs like “Starships” and “Pound The Alarm”, their aggressively insane exuberance is something that Minaj may risk exhausting herself trying to outdo on Pink Friday: Roman’s Resurrection (or whatever comes next).

I believe that Minaj genuinely enjoys catering to a range of audiences, but as Beam Me Up Scotty and even Pink Friday demonstrated amply, she can do this in a more integrated and less scattershot way. Everyone was wowed by Minaj’s feature on “Monster”, but there’s nothing approaching that venom or spark here; her album-closing declaration that “I am the female Weezy” is reductive. Minaj is not a female Lil Wayne, female Jay-Z, new Lil’ Kim or resurrected Lauryn Hill. Nor is she Roman Zolanski, a cockney grandmother, a Harajuku Barbie or anything else – she is more than the ‘mere’ summation of these characters or costumes. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a genuine talent who is producing good music but coming dangerously close to losing the edge that set her apart so definitively in the first place. I fear that the more mainstream success that Minaj garners (and it will likely be deserved), the less heartfelt and genuine her music will become. There’s a difference between creating art that is deliberate in its purpose and achieves its goals, and art that is so focus-group tested and aiming to please that the quality is filtered down to a semblance of what it originally could have been. And while we can respect and admire an artist’s potential, we can’t praise them for what they have the talent to create if they don’t actually create it, or realise their potential consistently. And so Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a blast to listen to, but it also warns that unless Minaj takes stock and finds away to hone all of her personalities, she may ultimately spread herself too thinly and become nothing to anyone, rather than something to everyone.

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Sugababes – Sweet 7. (album review)

February 7, 2010

Sweet 7 marks the 7th album from the Sugababes, and the first album from the newest incarnation of the group, consisting now of Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.  Furore of no original members remaining aside, Sweet 7 evidences a complete glossy polishing of the group’s sound that started upon Mutya’s departure after Taller In More Ways, one of the group’s best albums.  Sweet 7 is full of pounding clubby pop uptempos, with a couple of ballads at the end to slow down the pace.  For the most part (the piece-of-trash “Thank You For The Heartbreak” aside), these are well-written, catchy pop songs with a couple of pleasant surprises along the way.  “Wear My Kiss” and “About A Girl” are smashes-in-waiting that don’t deserve to fare badly on the charts just because of bad feeling towards the group’s revolving-door lineup.  “No More You” sounds like a Stargate production in the vein of Beyoncé’s smash “Irreplaceable”, and standout “She’s A Mess” has some hilarious lyrics (“drinking bottle after bottle after bottle…” / “Everybody go mad, everybody go psycho!”) and multiple hooks, plus an irresistible instrumental coda that keeps you dancing and pressing repeat.  This track sounds as if it could be addressed to Ke$ha, dissing trashtastic, classless girls everywhere (perhaps Amelle has reformed her drunken antics and girl-bashing self?) who just live to party and get drunk.

The ballads that close the album feel a bit tacked-on, and could have been better incorporated into the sequence of the album as a whole, but “Crash & Burn” and particularly “Little Miss Perfect” are well-sung efforts that offer a nice change of pace from the mostly relentless 4/4 beats of the disc.  Sunny acoustic-led track “Sweet & Amazing” offers a lyrical insight on optimism and getting what you want out of life; the message is nice and appreciated, but the lyrics themselves come across as trite and banal.  Still, the overall vibe of the song is endearing. Perhaps “Sweet & Amazing” and “Little Miss Perfect” are also answers to those who have criticised the group for ousting last founding member Keisha Buchanan, stating in not so many words that the group had to do what it had to do to survive and to maintain a healthy inter-member relationship.  Who knows – but these songs at least give a little bit of meat for fans and listeners to bite into.

However, Keisha’s absence is gaping for two major reasons.  One: anyone who has heard the original Sweet 7 sampler with Keisha’s vocals knows just how much better “Get Sexy” and “Miss Everything” sounded before.  This is largely a production error: the intro on “Get Sexy” no longer grabs the listener with any vocals; Jade Ewen’s voice on “Miss Everything” is unnecessarily auto-tuned within an inch of its life, and the modulations on her voice are at least double that of Heidi’s and Amelle’s, which seems illogical considering that Jade Ewen is far and away the best vocalist in the new incarnation of the group.  Indeed, the new rendition of “Wait For You” places Jade front and centre, and her vocals particularly in the second verse are nothing short of thrilling. Technically, she might be the best vocalist the Sugababes have ever had, and it is almost a shame that she sacrificed her solo career to be part of the group; especially when the re-produced songs make little effort to blend her vocals with Heidi and Amelle’s.  Through no fault of Jade’s own, at times her vocals stick out like a sore thumb, not just because she outclasses her fellow members at nearly every turn, but because the vocal mixing appears to have been carried out by an orang-utan.  This seems to be a running theme with the Sugababes, as Amelle’s vocals on tracks such as “Red Dress” sounded nothing short of harsh, but with newer songs came a more subtle, blended approach to the production.  Hopefully future albums will exhibit the same approach.

Two: as hinted at in the introduction to this review, the Sugababes’ new music is extremely polished, but it has lost nearly all semblance of any originality the group had.  Songs such as “Overload”, “New Year”, “Round Round” and “Situations Heavy” sounded unique to the group, as if they could be sung by nobody else.  The shout-out of “RedOne!” at the start of “About A Girl” might as well be changed to “We’ve used Lady GaGa’s producer, please love our single too!”; “Thank You For The Heartbreak” could be sung just as easily (and probably better) by the Sugababes’ biggest rivals Girls Aloud; “Miss Everything”, while a ridiculously catchy song, features Sean Kingston in an unnecessary attempt to pander to the American market.  “Crash & Burn” sounds like something Chris Brown could sing and in fact did sing on his mediocre Graffiti track “Crawl”.  Only towards the end of the album on quirky tracks such as “Give It To Me Now” does a shade of the Sugababes’ original spunky personality creep in. I’m a believer that when the group lost Mutya Buena, they lost what made the Sugababes that irresistible combination of street, edge and class.  Even looking at the album and single covers from Sweet 7 (not to mention the horrendous video for “About A Girl”), the Sugababes are posing in skimpy outfits and pouting like their lives depend on it.  In the old days, their individuality stood out; perhaps in a loss of confidence, the group now looks and sounds desperate to fit in, which is a shame as they used to lead the pack, and with a strong set of well-written tracks on Sweet 7, they don’t need to resort to such pedestrian tactics.  In trying to be edgy and stand out, the Sugababes have lost their sense of individuality and ironically end up blending in with your average girl group or classless female singer.

So, what to make of Sweet 7?  It’s balanced heavily towards the uptempo, but most of its songs do succeed and the album is a fun listen with a few standout cuts.  Jade Ewen is a thrilling addition to the group, and were the vocal production a little better, her voice would elevate the material to stellar status.  The ballads are serviceable for the most part, and in my opinion there is only one unlistenable song on the disc (putting the album ahead of Change and Catfights And Spotlights).  However, it’s a shame that the Sugababes have lost that spark and class that set them apart from the rest of the pack.  In trying to compete with the rest of the shallow, faceless current pop music scene – regardless of who now comprises the group – the Sugababes have automatically lowered themselves to the level of their peers, and that is sad because they could have made a great album instead of a solid but unexceptional one.

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don’t take it personal.

December 15, 2009

I apologise for not having blogged in a little bit.  Real life has kinda taken over, and if you follow me on twitter (please do!!! – I have my latest tweets on the right —> ) then you’ll have an idea why.  Basically, although I’ve been open that I’m slightly envious of the fact that Mike likes someone other than me, and that other person seems to like him back (although there are marriages, children and mixed signals thrown into the mix), I’ve been handling it pretty well.  Yep, that’s right, you spotted the past tense.  Well, I’m handling it well again now.  But we had our Christmas meal on Friday night, and I might have got a little bit paranoid and possessive.  Allow me to elaborate.

Mike & me are HBICs on our course.  We do more or less everything together, we are friendly with everyone and everyone knows us as the smokers / naughty guys talking dirty at the back of the class / dedicated and working in the library on the sly / fun and easy to talk to / the ones who organise the social events on the course.  The third person in our equation is someone Mike noticed early on, but has only been included in our circle the last few weeks.  I knew that Mike was developing feelings before he admitted it to me, but it is still hard to accept.  I know he’s a straight married man, but what does a not-stunning 33-yo woman with 2 kids, an overly-possessive husband and an average wardrobe have on me?  Ok, she is a lovely lovely person, and admittedly has sparkling blue eyes and a shapely butt. But I’m 24, I apparently “look immaculate” (Julie), am “very pretty / beautiful” (Mike!!! and others), I can sing, dance, write and produce my own music, I smoke, play piano and guitar, I’m quite intelligent and “articulate” (Leanne) and “really good to talk to and understanding” (Penny, Emma, Mike).  What the fuck more can I do?  How many more hoops do I have to jump through?  I’m missing the point.  Sexuality is sexuality, although I firmly believe that although you can definitely be instantly attracted to physical traits, ultimately the body is the wrapping and the gift is the person inside (I mean that not in a sexual way, but in an emotional / spiritual / personal way).  Somewhere along the line, he’s my best friend but he doesn’t see all of who I am – otherwise if he has feelings for the woman, he certainly would have feelings for me as we share a good heart and a love of innuendo.  I’m going over old territory here, but although he’s my best friend at university and I utterly cherish that, sometimes it’s maddening that I can’t have more.

Anyway, I admit I’ve been a bit envious.  But I’ve also been more than there for him as much as I can, despite my own feelings for him (which he knows about).  The day of our Christmas meal, I was feeling extremely nervous and on edge, despite telling myself that they are adults, they can do whatever they like and it’s not my job nor my place to keep them apart.  I felt that I didn’t want Mike to be regretting anything the next day, that I might be a bad friend if I let him down by not keeping him rational, and that I would have my heart hurt in the process.  I played “Russian Roulette” multiple times, since that song, those lyrics and the whole Rated R album seem to be the story of my life right now, and nervously arrived at Mike’s house.  For a while I felt fine – we got to the restaurant, Mike said that after we went for late-night drinks and conversation the night before he was feeling more balanced about it all, I was confident and happy.  But then she eventually arrived, I felt the focus slipping away from me, I ended up having a lot to drink (note: 5 sambuca shots in one go is never a good idea), and then my hitherto good handle on the whole situation (which admittedly I had been managing pretty well, considering it’s a lot to bear) flew out the window.  I had to corral our whole group (who were splitting off in various directions, somewhat annoyingly – again I blame the alcohol!) into BSB on Corn Street, and then no matter how much I danced, smoke or drank, I couldn’t help but keep looking back at the two of them chatting in the corner.  In short, I was driving myself crazy, and Mike knew that I was really tense.  Apparently I said a couple of not-so-nice things about how little I trusted her (the drink talking, not that that’s an excuse), and I was dashing on and off the dancefloor and in and out of the club like a crazy person trying to keep my emotions and sanity in check, and then failing miserably.  I didn’t offend anyone, I didn’t do anything stupid or say anything revealing – I even managed to cover for the two of them when an observant Jenny remarked “how close they are… I wonder if they like each other?” (my reply – “Nah, we’re all just close friends” before linking my arm through Mike’s).  I am a good friend and my heart was and is in the right place.  But that night, my head was not.  More than my own envy or my own feelings, I wanted to be a good friend to Mike and stop him from doing anything he would regret in the long term.

At the end of the night me and Mike were walking back from dropping Jenny and her at the car park, and we had a little talk.  I was in a very bad mood, and it took me a while to work out why.  I called Mike to apologise for my mood, and he said it was ok, and I offered to explain what it was tomorrow.  First thing next morning, he texted me to ask how I was and why I had been feeling down.  I explained, he said I didn’t have anything to apologise for and not to worry or think so much. (For the record, “don’t think so much” is an astute but lousy piece of advice!!!)  I felt silly all weekend, but I thought that things were going to be ok and I was looking forward to seeing him on Monday.  Since I had his house key, I had arranged to give him that back.  Fast forward to Saturday night – Mike isn’t replying to my texts (this is unusual behaviour!), I was feeling fed up, caged at home, and decided to go out with Nick to a party and get drunk.  I had a fantastic time, and although I still had Mike at the back of my mind (or midway, maybe), it was whatever.  Life goes on.

Sunday I was in Starbucks working on my essay, when I get a call from Mike (after not replying to another text of mine telling him I had a crazy dream where we were both mercenaries undercover at an underground Nazi gathering led by Daniel Craig, except Mike was being hunted by the police for drug trafficking… yeah) to ask me if I was at home, and if I could give him his house key.  I had his key in my bag so I met him and his nephew Jack outside Harvey Nichols, handed it over (along with some tobacco, since I had run out of cigarettes on Friday night and smoked several of his rollies… it was also a little bit of an “apology offering”) and we had brief conversation.  Once again, everything seemed fine.  But then in the evening, we had texts which went unanswered, others which were answered and I just didn’t know where I stood.  Obviously I was overreacting, but nevertheless I couldn’t stop my own guilty feelings from colouring my judgement and thinking that I might have ruined our friendship.

Monday comes, I’m talking with Henna outside university when Mike rolls up.  He’s fine, but melancholy.  I apologised, we talked a lot about Friday, but things just weren’t the same.  He seemed glum, I was sad, and although we were talking and spending time together it just wasn’t the same. No innuendos, no physical contact, and at one point he thought I was in a piss with him (when I wasn’t!) and I explained what I was feeling and he said that “although I promised I’d never hit you, if you keep worrying then I will!”  Despite that, it was like our friendship was a shadow of its former self.  I texted him in the evening, but no reply once again.  I felt like I was being punished when I had apologised, been told there was nothing to apologise for and not to worry about it!  I felt like I really was a product of my mother’s emotional fuckery and my father’s control freakishness, and yet I couldn’t stop my brain from over-analysing every little thing (I apologise to Nick, Adam, Nana and everyone else I stressed out to over the past few days – y’all are so understanding and I really appreciate it.  Thankyou. 🙂 ).  I felt so down, that after everything our close friendship had been somehow ruined, that despite my ability to be truly honest with Mike about my deepest darkest secrets and tell him things I can’t remember telling anyone, he couldn’t come correct to me and tell me what the matter was.

This morning I waited for him at our usual block, on edge and feeling sorta upset.  We met up and went to the library, he apologised for not replying to my text (I pretended it was nothing) and the black cloud persisted for a while.  But I soon realised that it wasn’t to do with me – in fact, I was the only person he could spend time with but still be honest about his moods.  I didn’t press him, but I realised that his home situation was really getting him down.  I offered him reassurance, friendship and a hug where appropriate, and tried to give him space.  As the day went on, we perked up (despite the fact we were writing an essay!) and I felt finally reassured that I still had his friendship, and that I can’t be responsible for him always being in a good mood, or for him being down.  His being sad makes me feel sad for him, but however much I might drink on a night out or however much guilt I feel, I can’t hold myself responsible for his moods, no matter how good friends we end up being.  I learned that I really do take things too personally, that I can’t turn my brain or heart off however much it might be convenient sometimes, and that I can be someone’s best friend but I can’t stop them from making a mistake – all I can do is be there for them, give them space to breathe and a shoulder to lean on when they need it.  This weekend was an emotional rollercoaster for me, but it wasn’t without its lessons and I try to take that away from it.  Drinking and love doesn’t mix, and you can only hide your heart under a façade for so long before it nevertheless starts to chip. Now I’m repairing myself and we’re all taking a deep breath and gradually going back to normal, and that’s a relief.  But I promise not to forget what I’ve learned this weekend, and I appreciate (once again) my friendships so much.