Posts Tagged ‘heartbreak’

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Monica – Still Standing. (album review)

March 21, 2010

Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago.  Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same.  Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end.  Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly  All Eyez On Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard.  Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks.  Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort.  What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next.  “Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

“Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!).  However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston.  “One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest.  Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship.  Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko.  It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics.  Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole.  Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs.  It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.

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love hurts.

March 3, 2010

Peep the new video to Nivea’s newest song, “Love Hurts”.

I am a fan of Nivea’s music, because she seems to have some artistic control, she has a strong pen game, a lovely voice and most importantly (for this blog entry at least), she wears her heart on her sleeve.  She has her fun club songs, swagger and confidence songs, but she also has love songs that seem to express from the heart her emotions (check “Complicated” and “ILY”).  This new track is no different.  What strikes me about the song and particularly about the video is how fearless she is in confronting her imperfections, her indiscretions and her pain.  By getting Lil’ Wayne (her ex and babyfather) to star in the video as her love interest, she’s vividly bringing to life her regret. There’s no subtext – only text.  Personally I don’t know how wise it is to be so utterly open with your conflicted emotions and reliving your love found and lost for all to see, but it’s undeniably brave and makes for compelling reading and listening.

I remember when I started my course at uni and I told a couple of people that I had some of my music on myspace.  One of them who went and listened to it said that he was really surprised how deep the lyrics were for someone of my age.  I think part of it is to do with my upbringing, seeing my parents constantly battling, going back and forth between love and hate, raging arguments that occasionally got quite violent.  As a child, it was a lot to handle and I don’t think that it’s something that ever leaves you, although I also readily acknowledge that many people go through a lot worse.  But that was more than enough for me to handle.  I think that being taught from an early age that “love is pain” is a realistic but not particularly healthy lesson to learn, and I often wonder how I ended up as seemingly well-adjusted as I have! *insert laughter here* I think that’s why I’ve often had tortured feelings for people I can’t have, why I blatantly have control issues (being conscious of power games), daddy issues and have emotionally attached myself to older, bad-boy style men, and why I was so nervous in starting my current relationship.  It took me about a month and a half to really see and appreciate how lucky I am, how wonderful my boyfriend is and to learn just to breathe, take it easy and start to be open to him about my vulnerabilities, my flaws and all.

Who knows what will happen in the future?  But right now, I am learning that although sometimes love does hurt and has hurt me in the past, it doesn’t always have to be that way.  Love can lift you up, and should lift you up more than it tears you down.  If I were either of my parents, I would have gotten divorced.  But although as a child I prayed for that nightly at times, I am glad that they didn’t and I admire their strength of commitment even though I still wholeheartedly believe that if it were me, I wouldn’t have deemed it worth it to go through what they went through.  But my parents’ relationship is not really any of my business – it’s between them and I can only complain when their shit affects me (which I do, when appropriate).  When does the point come when you put yourself first, your sanity and your heart?  Watching the above video, I wonder if Nivea has really started putting herself first or if she’s still in the midst of an emotional battle and a broken heart?  It is compelling viewing and listening, but it also really makes me think and I wonder if heartbreak and anguish is something a singer has to go through in order to really be able to write heartfelt lyrics and lend vocal credence and soul to singing those lyrics.  I guess that that’s why I had that feedback (and received comments on my lyrics and vocals throughout my singing ‘career’ to date) from my songs on myspace.  To me, my lyrics can and will get deeper as I continue to write and record, and my voice is edgier and more soulful live than it is on record.  (Those are my shortcomings with the technology, which is a constant work in progress!)

In short, I (like Nivea, I suppose) wear my heart on my sleeve, feel pain and am glad to be finally learning to appreciate love without the hurt that has come with it in the past, both in what I’ve experienced and also what I’ve learned from those surrounding me. I wonder if however, Nivea is torturing herself further by putting herself back in the situation with having Weezy in the video.  For me, that reenactment would rip me apart inside.  However she manages to keep it together, she’s a braver person than me and I salute that commitment to artistry and to baring one’s soul.

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empowerment.

February 18, 2010

Yesterday, I decided to get back on the horse and take my first steps towards accomplishing one of my goals for 2010, which is to pass my driving test and get a car.  I’m 24 years old, I’ll need a car for jobs once I finish my current university course, and I also just want to take this step towards freedom.  I feel a little guilty relying on friends who drive, and I want to repay the favour; I’m tired of getting the bus, I’m tired of having to leave Toby’s at 10:30pm just so that I can get home.  I want to do what I want when I want.  So I took my driving theory test for the first time in 6 years, and I passed it.  So onto the practical! I have a CD-ROM to help with this (though I have yet to view it, and unless the CD puts me in a car, I’m unsure as to how helpful it’ll actually be), and I’m going to book an intensive course for a week in the Easter holidays, hopefully with a practical test attached at the end which I can pass and then get my licence.

When I was 18, I took this practical driving test 3 times, and kept failing. The first time, I nearly passed (and perhaps should have), but the second and third time my nerves got the better of me and I couldn’t function effectively.  I know that driving is an industry and examiners are unnecessarily rigid, because they can get money out of people retaking tests.  But I just need to get my shit together and give them an excuse not to fail me.  I’m hoping that being a bit older with more life experience will give me the strength I need to get through the test, but I have to acknowledge the fact that I’m still nervous about it!  But I’m going to try a different strategy (blitzing it in a week rather than taking a lesson each week might hopefully give me less time to get nervous) and my determination to pass – it’s a necessity! – might just see me through.  We’ll have to wait and see.

The theme of this blog entry is in the title – empowerment.  So far, 2010 is shaping up pretty well – two of my three goals seem to be progressing towards successful completion and it’s only mid-February.  I have a wonderful new boyfriend and I am slowly learning to be in a relationship with him.  I am halfway towards my driving licence, with the next steps clear in my mind (and my wallet, *sigh*), and Mike’s neighbour Andrea has a car (Peugeot 306 – nothing fancy but it’ll get me from A to B) which he is going to sell for £800 that I am considering purchasing (not only does he have to go through Mike who can be fearsome if necessary, but I’ve met Andrea myself so he’s unlikely to rip me off – I know where he lives!).  I have got a fantastic best friend at university with whom I am extremely likely to keep in contact after the course ends, and I have shed nearly all the weight I’m looking to shed.  I have got two tattoos that I love, that are exactly right for me, and I am making plans for the third (watch this space! It’s going to require some considerable designing though so I won’t be blogging it next week or anything 😛 ).  In other words, life is good right now. I’ve tried to keep my blog even, to reflect the positives and negatives, the joys and heartbreak in my life in equal measure, in a way that means you can see and feel what is personal to me but also in a way that’s not so personalised that nobody else can relate.  I’ve also blogged about music, fashion, perfume and other things that are personal interests of mine, but which are also interesting to the general population.

This blog itself, along with all of the aforementioned things in the above paragraph, are steps towards my own empowerment.  It’s funny how much can change in six months.  I have a lot of growing to do, but I look at myself and I have come quite far in quite a short amount of time.  I feel like an adult, like I’m not an ugly person but someone deserving and strong.  I can’t be strong 100% of the time, and that’s ok, but I’m stronger now than I used to be and I can see it, I can feel it.  And this journey is only beginning, I have more steps to take (car, job, financial stability, my own place) before I am anywhere near satisfied (hah!) but I acknowledge my progress towards independence and I feel good about it.  I can do this.  We have to empower ourselves each day to get a little bit further towards where we want to be, and I refuse to ever be powerless. This is what I realise now, and I am empowered.

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brokenhearted.

December 2, 2009

How do you stop your heart from breaking?

Ok, I might be being a bit melodramatic.  Basically, I did what I said I would never do, and after some other revelations, the time was right to tell Mike how I have been feeling about him.  Because of certain things, I was almost positive that he would take it well, and I tried to explain it in the right way – basically that more than simple sexual chemistry (though there is some of that too!), there’s such a strong friendship bond and attraction there. I think he’s amazing and I admire him so much.  He’s probably not the best looking guy in the university, and he’s 11 years my senior, but he ticks all my boxes, if you like.

Of course, he took it maddeningly well and was really flattered, but also understood (he is a dream friend, and he’s coming to the tattoo parlour with me tomorrow).  He said that if he were available (i.e. not straight and not married), it would be me and him, and he also said that if he were available, chances are that I would not like him in the way that I do! I don’t know if that’s true – it’s all “if only”, and as much as my whole feelings for him are based on “if only” statements, there’s not much to be gained from pondering that overly much.  I understand why I look up to him so much – he’s got a loving wife and a beautiful little son, and he has common sense and decency as well as a fit body (he’s putting weight on but he carries it well).  I could go round and round in circles explaining how much he means to me, but basically whenever I’m not around him, I miss him and wish he was there. Although I don’t always feel it, I guess I’m quite an independent and capable person and sometimes that gets a little draining, and I know that he could look after me and keep me safe and it would be ok not to be 100% together around him all the time, because he understands me and he understands life.  On a very human level, we really do click.

There’s only so much I can say on the next bit, in the (extremely unlikely) event that the wrong person reads this, but Mike likes someone else more than he should.  And that someone else seems to like him a little bit too.  I could see it coming, and I’m not surprised.  Nothing is going to happen, because of marriages and families and love and loyalty, and I am 90% sure that nothing will happen.  After all, we said that these feelings will probably pass (although not quickly enough in my case) and it will all be fine – there’s no sense in ruining relationships both within the people on the course, and the families of those people.  But now my jealous streak is coming out, silly as it might be.  For two reasons: a) I saw Mike first, he’s my best friend and nobody else’s.  We connected first and we are the leadership couple (HBICs, if you like).  Nobody is coming between that.  But more importantly (this is the heartbreaking bit), b) even if I had a chance, in an alternate universe, I am not the one Mike would choose.  This isn’t news to me – he’s a straight married man.  But however much I already knew this, and however much he says “If I were gay / if you were a woman, you’re so gorgeous and amazing that I would be so into you and you would be so out of my league, you wouldn’t give me a second glance!”, it hurts me.  That now, I have this added role to make sure nothing inappropriate happens between them. Just in case the world tips on its axis and they can’t stop themselves (again, extremely unlikely), now I have to do it.  And all the time, I’m sitting here (and Mike now knows this is the case!) with my own feelings and heart and love (yeah I said it) and I have to be the rational one, all the time thinking “even if you were going to give into temptation, it wouldn’t be with me. Why can’t it be with me?!??” It’s simple sexuality, and there’s nothing I can do about it, but it breaks my heart that even in a million years, it would never happen for us.

Obviously, this makes things easier for me in the long run, because I’m not going to have to restrain myself that much because I know that it would never happen. (I have a feeling I’ve said that phrase quite a lot in this entry – I apologise!)  I’m single, a free agent, and I don’t have anything at stake.  But fuck the long run – this is me right now, and right now I am having these intense feelings and desires and although they’re totally inappropriate, I can’t help them and I can’t help the admiration that I feel, nor the fact that whenever we’re not together, I call out for him and my thoughts never stray from him.  I can’t stop being jealous of Mike and other person, because even if we are best friends, that is all we will be – never mind that that is all they will be too, and we are closer than the two of them anyway.  But why is that not enough?  Why is friendship never enough?  Why is my heart involved?  I wish I could put my heart in a box and stop it from falling apart.  I guess it makes me cherish just how strong and close our friendship is – I certainly appreciate the man he is, and that is why I admire him so much.  When I’m 35, if I have what he has, then I will consider my life a success (he’s not perfect, but he has accomplished a lot of what I seek to).  But what if I never find someone like him? I know I’m pondering what I said there’s no use in pondering, but I just wish things could be different.  I just wish that I could be rational and not have to deal with my heart pangs every time Mike flirts with someone other than me, even though it’s all harmless.  I wish he could hold me tight and promise he would never leave.  I wish a million futile things, and I don’t know what to do about it.

How do you stop your heart from breaking?

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spark.

August 3, 2009

I had another lunchtime meet with another guy, P, today.  I am going to keep things brief because I appreciate my string of various relationships is already getting quite complex (I will provide a spider diagram at some point 😉 ), but he isn’t one you’ll need to track.  He was nice enough, but not attractive to me physically, a bit shy, awkward and nerdy, and although the conversation didn’t run dry, I didn’t find anything we spoke about particularly memorable.  Onto the next.

Or the previous.  Poor P, because yesterday R was a damn hard act to follow.  Handsome, friendly, level-headed, close to family and friends, considerate, articulate (and being from Romania, English is not his first language) and just fun to be around.  Plus he has an interest / passion for perfume, and for travelling.  He was pretty much perfect on first impressions, and we spent a few hours together conversing, probing each others’ thoughts and opinions, talking about food, exercise, family, travelling, love, relationships, perfume, music… all my favourite subjects and more.  I introduced him to a couple of friends I bumped into, and he was courteous and chatty without monopolising a conversation, and when I apologised for socialising in the midst of our day, he said it wasn’t a problem and that it was lovely to see that I had friends whom I got on with so well.  I had the best time, and it was no effort – I was sad to leave him and say goodbye.  Of course, he revealed he had a boyfriend (my heart broke, I picked up the pieces and carried on outwardly as if nothing had happened) in Edinburgh, and then that he was considering returning to Romania in a few months depending on how his life went.  So it may never work.  But damn if I don’t want to follow him to Romania and give it a try – and at the same time escape the UK and all the bonds on my current life to somewhere new and undiscovered.  I can’t recall the last time I met somebody with whom I gelled so much (well, actually I can, but that time didn’t work for other reasons) and was so eager to see again.  Even just to stay friends with him, I would relish it because he was amazing and I had the best time.

Which leads me to ask, what is the “spark”?  I am one of those people who believes that if there is no spark between the two of you, then there is no point pursuing a relationship.  There has to be some sort of intangible magnetism, unspoken attraction that brings you both together.  It has to fit.  I’m not saying that a spark can be enough to hold a relationship together by itself – things are never that simple, and relationships take work and compromise and commitment (among many other things).  But if there is no spark, then what are you working / compromising / committing for?  What is the point of all that effort, forcing something that just isn’t going to work?  So that is why I very much believe in the power of the spark, not just for relationships, but for friendships too (when you hit it off with someone in a platonic way, it can be just as satisfying and thrilling – after all, friends can be for life!).  Because when fireworks explode and you’re floating on a rush of sparks, anything is possible and you feel like you’re on top of the world.  That makes this thing worth pursuing… because who knows what the future holds?