Posts Tagged ‘Ginuwine’

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

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Unapologetic might be Rihanna’s best album yet. In truth, I’ve been struggling to work out how to start a review of this album without referring to her previous masterpiece Rated R, which was a tour de force that exposed an angry, vulnerable girl trying to figure out the aftermath of love gone wrong. This album came out when I was in the midst of trying to untangle and deal with my own feelings of unrequited love, and resonated with me on such a level. On the other hand, Unapologetic comes out when I am happily in love and settled in my own life. This time, Rihanna’s narrative is quite different to my own – and yet Unapologetic, to its credit, still connects with the listener, drawing them into her fury that this time is more simmering than explosive (on Rated R, all-out rage only begins to subside into a quieter, more vulnerable, bubbling – yet nevertheless powerful – anger at around “Photographs”, two thirds of the way through the record).

Of course, Rihanna’s life has changed considerably since then. An even bigger star now than she was 3 years ago with the ability to only release number 1 singles, now she has a number 1 album to match. Meanwhile, her atomic breakup with Chris Brown (precipitated by his fists) has metamorphosed into media-baiting behaviour, ill-advised collaborations with Brown and the rumoured (likely true, if the photographs and ineloquent tweets and confessions of her ex are to be believed) rekindling of their romance. Unapologetic: why shouldn’t Rihanna forgive her abuser, her first love? Why shouldn’t she work with a hot male R&B star? Why can’t she misbehave, smoke, drink, party night after night like anyone in their early twenties? Despite what naysayers like to purvey, her career certainly hasn’t suffered for it. But the material on the album – none of which was written by Rihanna but all of which has a stamp immediately more personal than the scattergun Loud that hit dizzying heights all too infrequently, and than the ultimately unsatisfying Talk That Talk that petered out halfway after such a promising start – displays a thoughtfulness that suggests that while Rihanna may be “unapologetic”, she’s not unaware of what is going on around her, what is happening to her and certainly of what is being said or claimed about her. Unapologetic continues where Rated R left off: there are certainly hits, but nearly every song carries a depth of meaning that exudes confidence, confusion, sex and honesty.

Opener “Phresh Out The Runway” is swag personified, and is effectively Rihanna making an entrance. While it’s great to start the album, and an excellent song to listen to for an immediate energy boost when you’re half-asleep leaving the house on the way to work, it’s not the meaningful content I’ve discussed above. Neither is the other David Guetta collaboration, “Right Now”, a club diversion that rehashes previous album highlight “Where Have You Been” to pleasant but unremarkable effect. But on lead single “Diamonds”, we get a childlike chant, a sparkling midtempo strut and a powerful vocal that lyrically echoes previous megahit “We Found Love”: where there were “yellow diamonds in the sky”, now we are “shining bright like a diamond in the sky”. Rihanna’s vocals have grown more impressive over the years (whatever she’s smoking, I would like some) and where she may have simply been a vehicle for delivering hit songs even on the consistent Good Girl Gone Bad, now it’s she who transforms a song into a smash. The chorus is powerful yet sincere, and lyrics such as the telling “I choose to be happy” betray a sense of desperation in trying to convince herself that a romantic relationship is truly infallible rather than fleeting (as are the moments portrayed in the accompanying video). It’s a fantastic performance, and a refreshingly downbeat choice for a lead single that nonetheless packs punch.

The next trio of songs could all be described as downbeat yet potent, but each has its own place on the album. “Numb” works atop a sensual Egyptian-sounding ostinato and pounding drums, while Rihanna drawls monotonously that nobody “can’t tell her nothing… I’m impaired / I’m going numb, I’m going numb”. Interestingly, the vulnerability continues as the lyrics imply that for all her power and “double-dares”, Rihanna sees herself as the defective one. “Pour It Up” in contrast is celebratory of women who are in charge (like Rihanna, of course)… and yet the vocals and beats are submerged in aural tar, as if Rihanna is high off the champagne, weed and money referenced in the songs. None of these songs are instant, and yet on repeated listens they reveal themselves as worthwhile and interesting – “balling out” may not be as fun as it’s cracked up to be. “Loveeeeeee Song” is also very chill, working from a traditional R&B template that’s chopped and screwed into something less recognisable. It’s a romantic ballad dressed up as a nonchalant come-on. So far, the theme of Unapologetic is that appearances can be deceiving – Rihanna is flawless, cocky, confident, nonchalant, vulnerable, determined to be happy, numb, impaired, intoxicated, worried about “sounding too desperate”, in need of love and affection… It’s a spiralling morass of emotion dressed up as a percolating limousine ride.

Things become much more straightforward with “Jump” – i.e. SMASH. Dubstep breakdowns done right and made fresh and dynamic; a sample of “Pony” by Ginuwine that could have easily been problematic (as is so often the case when interpolating excellent material) but instead elevates the music; Rihanna is cocksure and forthright. But within a couple of songs, we have an explosive ballad that I saw described by a user on Popjustice as “fire and ice blasting out of the ground”. “What Now” is flawless and one of Rihanna’s best works – a mid-tempo ballad that quickly becomes bombastic, overwrought and emboldened by one of her best vocal performances to date. As drums explode and guitars roar to a climax, lyrics profess that “I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout”. The emotions certainly do come out, so palpably that the cut is utterly absorbing and one of Rihanna’s best. “Stay” directly follows this and is the quietest track on the album, serving as more evidence of Rihanna’s improvements as a vocalist and interpretative singer – she is capable of taking a song and breathe life into it, whatever the subject matter or emotional standpoint. It’s just been confirmed as Unapologetic‘s second single and appears to be a fan favourite, though I wouldn’t go any further than saying the song is fine – I would certainly champion other tracks over this one. But its contrast with the other songs on the album and with Rihanna’s usual output gives it its own place on the album.

“Nobody’s Business”, the duet with Chris Brown, is the perceived “event” of the album, sampling Michael Jackson to boot. But musically it’s a little bit flat – the existence of the duet says more than its sonic attributes. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world… ain’t nobody’s business.” Yet another contradiction in an album full of them, both lyrically and musically. Is Rihanna purposefully spiting all of those who supported her during the fallout of her abuse suffered at Brown’s hands? Is it offensive? Or are they just teasing? It seems very pointed when Rihanna sings “Let’s make out in this Lexus” – as opposed to what happened in a car last time! It’s a trying sentiment that seems difficult to understand – but once again, let’s remember that Rihanna is “unapologetic” so what does it matter? She is going to do what she wants, she’s young and in love, and hopefully she won’t get hurt again in such a way. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” is the album’s centrepiece that, like “The Last Song” from Rated R, captivates the listener with exceptionally personal exposure. Where the previous track aims to provoke without any substance to back it up, here the confessional actually reveals a lot. “I was his Marilyn Monroe / Brown eyes, tuxedo, fast cars / A James Dean on the low.” We are clearly taken back to that fateful night of Rihanna’s being attacked (and interestingly, she hints at Chris Brown’s alleged bisexuality to boot, which may or may not have something to do with the night in question).  The bravado of “Nobody’s Business” is completely gone here, and as the song transitions into “Mother Mary”, Rihanna sounds less sure of her swagger: “I swear I wanna change”. The lyrics touch on the nature of fame, as does worthwhile bonus track “Half Of Me”, and implies that whatever we think we know about Rihanna, us outsiders never get to see the whole picture and so we shouldn’t judge… but Rihanna understands that we inevitably will. As much as “Nobody’s Business” claimed to be happy-go-lucky and ready to dive into love-as-sex, “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” shows much more depth of thought (as in “What Now”) and heart that encourages repeat listens. This is another highlight of Unapologetic.

The closing songs of the album feel like a plane coming into land. “Get It Over With” is sublime, like a song-length interlude that urges the climax to “come on and fucking rain”; anger gives way to fatigue and surrender to whatever will be, good or bad. “No Love Allowed” is, contrastingly, a deceptively sunny reggae song that once again confounds expectations set up by the previous song. But the lyrics are spooky and uncomfortable, as was its precursor in spirit, Loud‘s “Man Down”. In direct opposition to that song’s subject matter, here it’s Rihanna yelling “911 it’s a critical emergency / Better run run run and charge him with the 143.” It’s a neat (perhaps too neat?) inversion of “Man Down” and seems to shed more light on the Chris Brown saga… but as highlighted in “Half Of Me”, how much do we ever know about Rihanna? We’re not privy to the whole story – according to “Mother Mary”, she’s going to “make the best scene they’ve ever seen.” “Lost In Paradise”, last but not least, is a bass-heavy closer that implies the story is not over, because now Rihanna has to find meaning to the paradise she claims to be stranded in if she ever hopes to find her way out.

For an album where Rihanna does not carry a single songwriting credit (though she is an executive producer), Unapologetic sure feels personal. And honest: an album filled with contradictions that are often calculated but nevertheless sound/feel like they have genuine meaning. The journey of the album is consistently riveting and reveals its complexities on repeated listens. There may be few answers to fans’ questions (however many sordid details it provides), but this rings less as Rihanna being deliberately elusive and more as she herself not quite knowing how to proceed. After all, she’s naked on the damn album cover – how much more vulnerable can one be, clothed only in a flimsy gauze of words, slogans and hashtags? In a world where her lover became her abuser and now may become her lover again, and where soundscapes and lyrics distort and contort around and through her voice, the one thing – no, two things – Rihanna clearly knows is how to release hit singles, and how to craft a powerful album.

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Quiet Storm Inspirations II. (download)

August 1, 2010

As promised, here is the “sonic mood board” that inspired my album Quiet Storm (which you can download here).  Where the last “Inspirations” album was comprised of songs that inspired particular facets of songs on Quiet Storm, this one is more indicative of what music I was listening to when I was inspired to create the concept of the album: nocturnal, sexy, emotional, romantic, soft and tough, vulnerable and strong in one go. As you will see from the tracklist before, it’s an R&B compilation through and through; I’d go as far as to say that these are some of the best contemporary R&B songs over the last 15 years (interestingly, quite a few of them are early Missy Elliott / Timbaland productions… I miss those days!).  Of course, the list is not exhaustive and I had to cut down from over 50 songs to the 19 that you see here; anyway, I hope that you will enjoy downloading the album, listening to the songs and perhaps discover some artists or some songs that you didn’t know, or hadn’t heard in ages.  Download link is at the bottom underneath the tracklisting.  Enjoy!!!

1. Aaliyah – We Need A Resolution (f/ Timbaland)
2. Ginuwine – Pony
3. Mariah Carey – The Roof
4. Ryan Leslie – Addiction (f/ Cassie & Fabolous)
5. Kelly Rowland – Flashback
6. Omarion – Ice Box
7. Janet Jackson – Empty
8. Toni Braxton – Rock Me, Roll Me
9. Shola Ama – (I Don’t Know) Interlude
10. LeToya – I Need A U
11. Dru Hill – Beauty
12. Nicole Scherzinger – Whatever You Like (f/ T.I.)
13. Nicole Wray – Make It Hot (f/ Missy Elliott & Mocha)
14. Brandy – Come As You Are
15. Total – Rain
16. Mýa – For The First Time
17. R. Kelly – Feelin’ On Your Booty
18. Rihanna – Question Existing
19. Sugababes – Maya

DOWNLOAD

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Joe & Ginuwine concert.

October 17, 2009

Last night, Davina, Deena and myself went to the Bristol O2 Academy to see Joe and Ginuwine.  In short, we had a really good time!  Here are some photos:

It was a really good night (despite the fact it was finished by 10pm)!  Both guys’ vocals were on point, Ginuwine did a nice tribute to Michael Jackson that was celebratory without being cheesy (basically they played some MJ songs while he hyped the crowd without singing along or anything like that), and Joe pretended to leave and then came back and performed “No One Else Comes Close” on acoustic guitar, which was the highlight of his set (along with an extended version of “I Wanna Know” – bliss!).  A couple of niggles:  Ginuwine did not perform any of my favourite songs of his, except for “Pony”.  I know that it’s important to perform newer material, especially for the younger kids in the audience who may not know his older stuff, but “When Doves Cry”, “What’s So Different” and particularly “So Anxious” are too damn good not to perform.  And they were big hits back in the day!  This is the second time I’ve seen him live… I’m thinking of sending him a message and letting him know.  Does anyone know his twitter?  He’s coming back to Bristol in December (which is really good! He must like it here 😀 ) with Tank and Tyrese to do some TGT stuff… I will probably go and see him again!

Joe looks a lot better in person than he does in his photos, and he did do my favourites: “I Wanna Know”, “No One Else Comes Close”, “Stutter” and “Where You At”.  However, when he did “Where You At?” he said “This is old school!”  Isn’t it only a couple of years old? Hardly what I would consider “old-school”, especially since he did “I Wanna Know” (which EVERYONE sang along with, and he extended it – it was epic!), “Stutter” and “All The Things (Your Man Won’t Do)” – one song that is even before my time and which I am going to download this very evening.  Honour the older songs in your catalogue – especially when some of them are more soulful and bump harder than the new shit that passes for “R&B” these days.  But I was really pleased with his performance – his voice was really good and I’m glad he did such a good job of his songs old and new.

A final question – what’s with wanting a sweaty towel? Ginuwine trailed his towel over him and then threw it into the crowd, which cause the predictable mini-scuffle (at least he didn’t lose his ring like last time at Panache, when the security had to jump into the crowd and bounce everyone out of the way looking for it)… I don’t understand.  Is the person who gets the towel honestly not going to wash it, just because it has Ginuwine’s sweat on it?  That’s kinda gross.  I don’t get it… not even if it were Mariah Carey’s towel would I be that manic.  Le shrug.

But I had a good time, and wanted to share it with y’all – especially as I haven’t updated for a little bit and I don’t want you to think I’m neglecting y’all! I appreciate you reading and I don’t forget it.  Thankyou 🙂

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layin’ in the bed bumpin’ Jodeci…

October 6, 2009

… is exactly what I’m doing right now.  (Thankyou Mariah Carey – “The Impossible”, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel) Wrapped up in a daydream, I took half an hour longer to do my veterinary nurse job profile for university because I kept pausing, laying my head on the bed and just dreaming and wishing about things that could never come true.  Inappropriate crushes, unlikely crushes, unrequited crushes.  Following on from my previous post where I was lamenting the fact that all the best, most mature, solid and sexiest guys are straight (and usually a few years older than me), I… am lamenting that very same thing!  So let me regroup a sec and come with a progression.

I think that possibly the most accurate thing I said was wanting someone who feels comfortable in their own skin.  Looking at B’s sudden decision to contact me last weekend, I was talking to Mike about it and he said exactly what I was thinking, “What does he want you to do about it?” And I can’t make somebody feel good about themselves, and I can’t be responsible for healing anyone’s deep-seated personal issues.  If you’re coming to me expecting me to do that for you, then I’m really sorry but I just can’t.  And I won’t – I have my own things to deal with, and I can keep myself together relatively well but I can’t give over that much of myself without my own life just falling apart.  Right now, I need somebody who’s not perfect, but who has it relatively together and can offer me as much as I’m offering them.  That’s the way it is.

I wonder if it is true that “we’re always on the lookout for the next person”.  Right now, I am more or less adamant that I want to get myself sorted and stable with this course and whatever comes afterwards (fingers crossed, a job!).  I want to get a car and I want to move out (it’s come to the point where I sort of dread coming home and whatever mood I might find my parents in – my own place is looming!).  Once I’ve sorted those things, then maybe I will consider really trying for a long-term relationship – until then, if it happens, then great, but I am honestly honestly not looking.  I am flattered if people flirt with me, and I may flirt back for fun, but I’m tired of being dicked around so I’m not looking for anything serious unless it trips over on my doorstep.  Which would be a first.

I just wish that I could have the kind of relationships I have with my friends, both guys and girls.  We can go for drinks and chat for days, we can party, we can hang around one of our places and listen to music and just mess around and be silly. It’s easy.  And I understand that relationships involve a certain amount of effort and compromise and sacrifice – but it shouldn’t feel like hard work constantly, otherwise the rewards of the relationship aren’t enough to make it worthwhile, I don’t believe.  I just want to be with somebody who wants to be with me, who has fun being with me and who makes it easy to be with them.  I mean, good looks and independence and money are all lovely, but if it’s still hard work, I guess I’m getting a little lazy (thanks LeToya).  Just be good to me (thanks again LeToya) and genuine and I’m not that hard to please.  Sometimes I like to go shopping or go out to drink or dance or whatever – I’m 23!  But sometimes just lying together listening to music or watching a film is the most intimate, wonderful thing.  Especially if you have strong arms and nice broad shoulders – I’m not usually someone who admits this (and my height and stature seem to contradict what I’m about to say), but sometimes it’s nice to feel fragile and have somebody scoop you up and make you feel safe.  Just buy some proper R&B CDs – Ginuwine, Jodeci, Usher, Mariah Carey, Dru Hill, Aaliyah are good starters – and put some nice cologne on and invite me over… nothing more, nothing less.  Let’s escape into a private daydream, just for a few hours… and you got me. 😉