Posts Tagged ‘gimmicks’

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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lady gaga – bad romance. (video treatment)

February 1, 2010

Lady GaGa’s new album The Fame Monster is an album I took a long time to come around to, but I have finally learned to appreciate its merits and its songcraft a lot more than that of The Fame.  I still think that Lady GaGa is somewhat gimmicky and repetitive, but the talent is evident in the music and I really like even “Speechless” (which I couldn’t stand to listen to for the first couple of months).  Lead single “Bad Romance” may repeat elements of “Poker Face” and “Paparazzi”, but I love the song and there’s a certain cinematic element (I’m talking beyond that of the Hitchcock references in the lyrics).  So when I am listening to / singing along to the songs, I imagine performing it and slowly but surely, a whole storyline began to unfurl in my head – so I thought it would be fun to get that down on this blog for you all so you can get a little taste of how my creative brain works 😉

Intro

Video fades in on an office scene for some sort of Soviet / Eastern-European corporation.  Two very big, very important looking men are sat at a conference table in the centre of the screen having an argument and barking into mobile phones in Russian.  In the back left corner of the screen sits a handsome man behind a desk, wearing a grey designer suit and thick, black-rimmed glasses, reading a set of papers intently.  In the back right corner of the screen sits Me, also in a black designer suit and glasses, typing furiously on a desktop computer.  After an intense conversation, the big-wig sat on the right of the table stands up, clearly frustrated, and walks over to me and barks a string of orders at me.  I stop typing, exasperated, stand up and look my boss dead in the eye.  Without another word, I pick up my Gucci shoulder bag from the floor, take off my glasses (never breaking gaze with my boss), put on a set of huge black Prada sunglasses and walk out of the office – I have apparently quit.  As I walk out, the other secretary-guy looks at me in shock / awe.

Shot of me walking out of a faceless skyscraper, half-running as I hit the street.

Back to office, the other guy frantically grabs his papers, collects his back and runs off after me.  Both of the Russian CEOs look on in shock, then after a beat begin barking into their phones once more as servants bring them tea / vodka / some unidentifiable drink in a steaming clear square glass mug.

Song starts / 1st verse

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Caught in a bad romance

Ra Ra-ah-ah-ah
Roma Roma-ma
GaGa
Oh la-la
Want your bad romance

I want your ugly
I want your disease
I want your everything
As long as it’s free
I want your love
Love love love
I want your love

Shot of me walking purposefully down the street as music begins to play.  Cut with shots of my peer trying to catch me up, running after me, dropping papers and having to stoop to pick them up as pedestrians crowd around him.  Slow motion – a tear begins to fall from his eye.  Intercut with me running up the stairs to my flat, getting changed, putting on new clothes: shiny, black, designer, silver jewellery. As I turn around to go out the door, presumably for drinking and dancing, my colleague is there. We look at each other: close up on his face, on my face.  Another tear falls from his eye.  I close my eyes slowly.  He kisses my cheek.  I move my lips to his ear and whisper something.  Fade out…

2nd verse

I want your drama
The touch of your hand
I want your leather studded kiss in the sand
I want your love
Love love love
I want your love

You know that I want you
And you know that I need you
I want it bad
A bad romance

The camera spins around disorientingly to reveal a dark mirrored ceiling, green laser beams shooting here and there, people in various states of undress and sobriety dancing, drinking, shouting, kissing, fumbling, conversing.  Slow motion of a cocktail that contains coke falling on the floor intercut with my colleague / boyfriend standing by a booth, looking anxious.  As the glass hits the floor and the liquid spills out, cut to a scene of me in a bathroom staring hard at the mirror in an accusatory manner.  Close in on my eyes (wearing blue contacts).  I lip synch the words “I want your love”, then strut out of bathroom and grab boyfriend’s hand, who smiles.

1st chorus

I want your love and
I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your love and
All your lover’s revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh

Caught in a bad romance
Ra ra-ah-ah-ah

Roma roma-ma
GaGa
Oh la-la
Want your bad romance

We make our way through the club, pushing our way through the crush of people unwilling to give way. Close up on our linked hands, my set lips, his eyes looking to me.  As we walk past, slowly each member of the crowd’s head turns to watch us pass by.  We stumble out of the club into the cool night air, the sky pitch black.  Limousines line the pavement and there is a queue of important looking businessmen, all in shades Karl Lagerfeld-style, all pouting and puffed up in their suits waiting to get into the bar next door to the club we have exited.  As we stumble drunkenly past, laughing and holding onto one another, the camera focuses behind us as one of the businessmen, in an Armani suit and black fur overcoat, leans out of the queue and raises his sunglasses so that his eyes are visible.  He looks in shock, then automatically whips out his iPhone and taps furiously on it.  We go on, laughing deliriously as we smoke our cigarettes and totally oblivious to what has just happened.  The camera cuts back to the man, who raises the phone to his ear, begins to talk, and slides the sunglasses back down to hide his eyes, puffing on a cigar.  Fade out as the screen spins and we wander back into the block of flats where I ran to after quitting my Soviet secretary job.

3rd / 4th verse

I want your horror
I want your design
‘Cuz you’re a criminal
As long as you’re mine
I want your love
Love love love
I want your love

I want your psycho
Your vertigo shtick
Want you in my rear window
Baby you’re sick
I want your love
Love love love
I want your love

Some time appears to have passed.  Back outside the club, same line of limousines, same pitch-black sky, same drunken revellers falling out of the nightclub.  An identical queue of identikit businessmen line the streets waiting for the bar.  A limousine pulls up in front of these businessmen, and the door opens as the man in the fur coat from the queue prior steps out.  From nowhere, paparazzi and a multitude of flashing lights appear as microphones are thrust towards the door of the limousine.  A beat, and then I climb out in skintight black jeans and a leather trenchcoat and dark sunglasses with leather cuffs.  I smile dazzlingly for my entourage as minders, having appeared from nowhere, clear a path through the paparazzi for me.  Freeze frames as flashing lights illuminate me shielding my eyes, signing an autograph, waving to the surrounding crowd.  Behind me, my boyfriend gets out of the car, a serious tight-lipped expression on his face, and he lunges forward and clasps my hand to pull him through the crowd, but I get knocked over and our hands come apart (close-up).  Cut to the VIP section, purple velvet ropes cordoning off us from the rest of the club: within the area is a giant plush black leather sofa in front of a table piled with bottles, cocktails, glasses of unidentifiable substances, a smear of white powder.  Sat on the sofa is me, my boyfriend (sat apart and not engaging in eye contact) and a heavy-set, stoned-looking bodyguard half-asleep.  Businessmen talking into phones mill around while the crowd dances, lights flash and I stare into the distance.  I fumble for a packet of cigarettes and a lighter, and I reach over to whisper in my boyfriend’s ear, but as he is about to respond (a smile flickering across his face), one of the businessmen reaches over and shakes my hand and begins to talk.

2nd chorus

You know that I want you (’Cuz I’m a free bitch baby)
And you know that I need you
I want it bad romance
Your bad romance

I want your love and
I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your love and
All your lover’s revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh

Caught in a bad romance
Ra ra-ah-ah-ah

Roma roma-ma
GaGa
Oh la-la
Want your bad romance

Exasperated, my boyfriend gets up and stalks out the back of the VIP area; concerned, I brush aside the businessman and go after him.  Walking to the smoking area, I fumble to light my cigarette as I walk through a walkway framed on either side by barbed wire.  Camera flashes go off continuously, hands clutch excitedly at me through the gaps in the barbed wire; one of them grabs my shoulder and I fall to the ground, dropping my cigarette.  I scrabble around on the ground for it and look up.  The camera pans up from the ground (my line of sight) and a Gucci shoe trails upwards to a shin, knee, leg.  The camera scrolls up to reveal my boyfriend looking down at me.  Close-up of his disapproving gaze.  I gather myself on the ground, a tear forming in my right eye, and begins to roll down my face – the camera does not pull away.  He walks past me as I kneel on the ground, bereft and lost, puffing desperately on my cigarette, and I begin to crumple and cry.  Eventually I go to run after him, but I can barely hold myself upright.

Bridge part 1

Walk walk fashion baby work it
Move that bitch c-razy
Walk walk fashion baby work it
Move that bitch c-razy
Walk walk passion baby work it
I’m a free bitch baby

Hands clutch through the barbed wire as I start to run, and this time the walkway seems to be interminable.  Intercut with footage of me running is a shot of a police car parked stationary; a black police hat, a set smirk on an unidentifiable male face.  From nowhere, policemen rush through the walkway at me, the hands retreat and the camera flashes stop.  Beating me with truncheons, I crumple once again to the ground, my sunglasses and hair askew, my clothes slightly torn.  One of them handcuffs me, and as I lie on the ground, cuffed, hands start to creep back through the wire to grope at me.  Fade out.

Bridge part 2

I want your love
And I want your revenge
I want your love
I don’t wanna be friends

Je veux ton amour
Et je veux ta revenge
Je veux ton amour
I don’t wanna be friends
(Want your bad romance
I want your bad romance)
Want your bad romance!

A television in the corner of a mystery white room flickers on and off with footage showing “Alan has been arrested” ; “Star meltdown” ; “Dumped and detained!” among other headlines.  Close up on my face, clear and almost angelic, mouthing the song lyrics. My eyes are a liquid electric blue, my skin is pale and sunlit.  The camera pans out to reveal that I am in a straight jacket in a white, padded room with just a television in one corner, and a fold-out bed / sofa in the other, all white.

3rd Chorus

I want your love and
I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your love and
All your lover’s revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

Caught in a bad romance

Grief-stricken, I throw myself around the padded room, bouncing off walls, pounding the floor, tearing stuffing out of the pillow with my fingernails.  The camera retreats further back to show the room with a giant glass window looking in; doctors pace outside tapping pens against clipboards, looking unconcerned and business-as-usual. Tears roll down my face as I sing pleadingly into camera.  At the phrase “Caught in a bad romance”, the music stops, and all that can be heard is the sound of my breathing as I look full-face out of the screen.  The camera switches to my view, and outside the cell stands my ex-boyfriend, looking in at me.  A smile of sympathy plays across his lips, and at the same moment we press our hands together, regretfully, against the glass.  A doctor then comes and escorts him away, and I follow his gaze as he is shepherded down the corridor, looking back at me.  The camera zooms out further to show that in the two cells either side of mine are the two Soviet big henchmen from the intro office scene, barking Russian into their phones just as they were in the office.  The whole scene fades out to white…