Posts Tagged ‘Irreplaceable’

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Beyoncé – 4 (album review)

June 11, 2011

So it’s been a really, really long time since I wrote an album review. I was going to do one for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, but then didn’t. (The album is really good and well put-together, btw.) I was going to do one for Nadia Oh’s Colours (which is a ridiculously fun, exhilarating listen perfect for the summer) and I still might. But this album tops them all. I am a Beyoncé fan, but even I didn’t expect her to come out with this. Perhaps it’s fitting because of the stage in my life where I’m at – but she’s in love, I’m in love, she wants to talk about love on a deeper and more soulful level and I can be more receptive of that now and really get to grips with the music, the vocals and the lyrics.

Sonically, the album is very cohesive (a mature, soulful and slower-paced set) – “Run The World (Girls)” aside. Part of me feels like it is tacked on the end, another part of me feels like the song is an exhilarating climax to a mainly slow-burning set. It’s a killer single which heavily samples Major Lazer’s “Pon Di Floor” and makes you want to dance, but in comparison to the rest of the material, it feels a bit… basic? It certainly feels more modern than everything else on the album, but that means it sounds less timeless… the fact that Beyoncé has already made several songs celebrating “Independent Women”, “Survivors” and “Single Ladies” makes it feel like “Girls” running the world is almost a downgrade? I love the song but it should stand alone, and I would have preferred the album to end with the ballad “I Was Here”, which is straightforward Ryan Tedder production and Diane Warren lyrics – Beyoncé’s performance saves the song with solemn vocals that add weight to the sentiment of leaving your mark on the world once you’re gone. In the hands of a lesser talent, the song would sound trite, but Beyoncé gives it life.

But there are much better tracks – namely, the rest of them. Opener “1+1” is stripped-back soul with a soaring guitar climax, and Beyoncé’s commands of “Make love to me” sound at once desperate and assertive in the best way. What’s striking is that Beyoncé has made an album that sounds like the work of a legend – she evokes Stevie Wonder (the joyous “Love On Top” with its audacious multiple key changes that have you wondering “how high is she going to go?!”), the Isley Brothers (“Rather Die Young”, with its sun-drenched soul that declares Beyoncé’s utter dependance on her lover), Prince (“1+1”), Michael Jackson (“End Of Time” with its commanding vocals over a bombastic bassline and brass section, and an irresistible melody) and Sade. But more about that later…

Beyoncé sounds like Beyoncé on but two songs: “Best Thing I Never Had” evokes her monster hit “Irreplaceable”, with the same theme of being better off without a foolish boyfriend. Symbolyc One employs a beautiful flowing piano melody in place of “Irreplaceable”‘s acoustic guitars, but Beyoncé is clearly a grown woman now. Her vocals sound almost too soulful, too nuanced for the music, and it takes a few listens for all of the pieces of the song to come together. In contrast, “Countdown” is an album highlight, which evokes the swagger of “Upgrade U” and repeats the theme of #winning with her lover by her side. The use of Boyz II Men’s “Uhh Ahh” in order to create the titular countdown is cleverly done, and Beyoncé rides the brassy, bouncy Caribbean-lite beat with effortless flair.

Other album highlights include “I Care”, which may have basic lyrics (the chorus: “I care / I know you don’t care too much / but I still care”) but are once again transformed with Beyonce’s masterful vocal, which plumbs despair and soul to make the song truly transcendent. You can feel her pain, you can feel her desperation, you can feel her frustration, and that is the talent of a true artist. When Beyoncé’s voice intertwines with a soaring guitar solo after the song’s bridge, the listener is shown just how powerful a singer she is – not just technically, but emotively too. “Party” is an early 90s R&B throwback that evokes early TLC in its chunky-yet-chilled production, and En Vogue in its multi-tracked harmonies. The best song of all is “I Miss You”, which is produced by upcoming talent Frank Ocean and evokes Sade’s best. The lyrics are simple yet evocative (and I personally relate to this as my boyfriend and I are currently working through a long-distance relationship – but if you read the blog, you already know about that, and this song is more about missing someone you’ve broken up with – I just prefer to appropriate the lyrics for my own emotions!), and Beyoncé’s vocal is restrained and yet so deep and real. When she sings “No matter who you love / it is so simple, I feel it / it’s everything”, a lump is brought to your throat and you can’t help but be transported to a place of loneliness, of longing and of love.

This is why 4 is Beyoncé’s best album, superceding B’day’s tiger-hungry anthems and I Am… Sasha Fierce’s finest moments. Beyoncé is an artist. She has made an album which she has so clearly poured her heart and soul into – listening to the vocals, there is something here that wasn’t there before. A soulfulness, a longing, a power that comes out through the gritty texture of her voice and the soaring riffs that transcend lyrics and production. There’s a majesty and a bravery in singing such raw songs about love, about death, and about life over productions that are mainly understated and subtle in a way that Beyoncé hasn’t really done before (“Disappear” from I Am… Sasha Fierce might have clued us in, however!). This album is made to be listened to from start to finish, and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a try.

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come home to me. (new single!)

February 21, 2010

Without further ado (I know I’m late! I meant to release this in conjunction with Valentine’s Day, but Valentine’s came and went… sorry!) I present to you the third single from my album Quiet Storm, which you can preview here on my myspace and download from this blog post through Megaupload.  The song is called “Come Home To Me”, and it’s a mainstream pop/R&B ballad incorporating elements of Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, as well as a ballad production inspired by The-Dream.  Check out the song – I really hope that you enjoy it!

To finish, please download my album – it’s free – and I hope that you like it.  I will close by adding a little bit of info about the song, taken from the Quiet Storm track walkthrough I did for the album release.  Thankyou xxx

Come Home To Me

For me, this track is definitely going to be a single from Quiet Storm.  It’s very short and sweet, very immediate, and the beat is quite reggae-inspired, despite the overall feel of the production being straightforward R&B/pop.  The thunder rumbling at the very start of the song fits in with the overarching idea of a “Quiet Storm”, but it also represents the lyrical motif of the song, saying that although we had storms in the past, it’s time to get over it.  It’s about a lover who may have been unfaithful or made mistakes, so you had a bust-up, but now you’re ready to forgive them and give things another try.  It’s about recognising that sometimes, even though we may try to be strong and independent, ultimately we have to forgive someone’s transgressions and not cut our nose off to spite our face.  That’s not always the right message, and sometimes someone may do something too serious to be able to let them back in.  But when it’s the little things that cause a breakup, with time you can see whether it’s really worth being alone or whether it’s better to forgive and make up.  The song steals from Rihanna’s “Umbrella” towards the end, with the “forever ever ever eh eh eh” at the end – that was just a little bit of fun!  The backing vocals in the second verse are also inspired from a nu-classic Janet Jackson track, “Take Care”, from her 20 Y.O. album, which IMO is one of her best works and seriously underrated – another track which infused the concept and production within my album.

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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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what christmas means to me.

December 20, 2009

I remember when I was little I would count down the days to Christmas Day so eagerly.  About the 22nd December, I would be so excited I couldn’t sleep.  And then on the day itself, I’d be up ridiculously early, eager to open my presents and be spoiled for the day before we would go to my nan’s for a big Christmas lunch, relax in front of the television watching one film or another while my mum and my nan chatted, my grandfather slept and my dad made a nuisance of himself in one way or another.  Eventually we would go home to wait for the inevitable boredom that was Boxing Day. But overall, it’d be a lovely day and hold the type of memories I’ll always cherish.

I guess it’s called growing up, but I don’t feel at all the same now.  Part of it is that those memories are irreplaceable – my grandfather is now dead, my grandmother is in Australia this year, and the year before last spent the day in hospital with my granddad, and my father is the one who cooks now (nowhere near as well, though it’s ok) and we eat here at home.  There’s no eagerness to open my presents, and since my parents don’t seem bothered by what I get them, they wait until 11am or something ridiculous like that just so that I can see their faces and suss out whether they really like their gifts.  In other words, the childhood traditions of Christmas are completely broken and gone; we do things differently now, and sometimes I wonder if I was the only one who ever enjoyed Christmas.

Nowadays, I dread the day itself.  There’s nothing to watch on TV, there’s nowhere to go that isn’t parent-sponsored (my friends are all busy with their families, obviously; there aren’t any buses and as I don’t yet have a car – something which I’m looking to change in the very near future – I am essentially home-bound), the sanity of my nan’s conversation and the scrumptiousness of her cooking is poorly imitated by my father.  And I feel bad for saying that, because it’s not that his cooking is bad; it’s not. It’s perfectly edible, but it’s not the same.  I have a lot of my own issues with food, eating food and generally feeling guilty for it. (Another down side to Christmas – every cigarette I have is under surveillance, so I am currently eating more and smoking less.  Not good for my figure, nor my state of mind!) But nevertheless I am always eager to taste my nan’s cooking – it is that good (I like to call it the Italian influence) that even though I exercise restraint in size of portions, I eat more than I otherwise would.  Her food has a certain feeling of safety to it that is comforting and yet vibrant and actively tangible; my father’s food just feels fake and bland in comparison.  That’s just Christmas Day – this year I plan to be talking to Mike (who is a real Scrooge!  I’m certainly not as bad as he is – he actively hates it) and complaining in unison, and quite possibly working on my essay.  Hell, there’s nothing else to do.

Nowadays, my favourite part of Christmas is buying everyone’s presents.  I couldn’t really care less what people get me, as I appreciate anyone thinking about me enough to get me a present, and I don’t tell people what to get me as everything I actively want is invariably too expensive, and I wouldn’t be happy with people (not even my parents) spending that much money on me.  I prefer to buy jewellery and expensive items with my own money, because then it’s my own decision and I’m not bound to being grateful to anyone.  The thing I enjoy about buying people’s presents is the rush and buzz in the shops, the feeling that Christmas is here (maybe it’s left over from my days working in retail – which I am still so glad are over) and most of all, choosing the right gift for somebody so that it will genuinely make them happy and let them know I have not only put thought into what I’ve chosen for them, but that I value them as a friend.  This year I have spent a bit more money than usual and than I intended, but since I have my bursary from university, I can afford it 😉 Hell, if I can afford my Gucci earrings and bracelet (which FINALLY came on Wednesday after a 3-month wait!), I can afford splashing out an extra few £ for my friends.  I take pleasure and pride in that, and I believe that as much as I deserve to be treated, so do they.  We all should allow ourselves to feel good, and allow our friends to shine a little sunshine our way every now and then.

But the meaning of Christmas has changed.  This year at university has been something I’ve enjoyed so much, I plan to go into the library over the holiday just to see Mike and do some work – it fills the time! I can barely stand to be at home anymore unless I have the house to myself, because I feel like I’m in a cage that isn’t allowed to co-exist comfortably in the same room as my parents.  I go to Starbucks most days when I have free time just to work on my essay – it has the double bonus of allowing me to escape the house & have some cigarettes, and I actually seem to get a fair amount of work done there.  (The unfortunate drawback is that I consume a beverage that contains calories – though I always go for skinny, so I guess it’s not too bad.) I like being around people, I like being close to my friends, and the fact that I have this essay to work on means that I have something to focus my energy on.  I don’t know if it’s that my attention span is getting shorter as I grow older, but I cannot stand to simply sit in front of the television and vacate my brain.  I need my laptop near me at the same time as I am watching anything just so that I can talk to friends and surf the internet – my nan jokes that I am constantly multitasking, but it is true!  I don’t know if it’s that I don’t know how to relax, but most of the time I don’t really feel the need to relax, because I’d rather be on the go.  And I guess that that’s at the heart of the problem – at Christmas, there’s just not enough to do that keeps me entertained!  I don’t dislike Christmas, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that the soft-focus memories of my childhood aren’t enough to hold my attention anymore, even if they were still able to be replicated (which they’re beyond not).  I don’t need gifts anymore, and I don’t need to watch a silly film on the TV while eating x, y and z.  That’s not me. Fundamentally, what I want from Christmas more than anything is to spend time with my friends, get out of the house and go somewhere and talk, be silly and have fun.

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about high fashion.

October 1, 2009

Just a quick track-by-track run-through of all the songs on my High Fashion mixtape!  I hope you enjoy it and this fleshes out the stories behind the music for you all 🙂

High Fashion

The photos for this mixtape were actually the last thing to get done! I had a lot of ideas for it, but basically it involved playing dressup and taking lots of fun fun pictures of me pouting in designer accessories and too much lip balm and radiating attitude! Trust me, some of the pictures were horrendous, but I was pleased that I got some decent ones that I chose to use.  In contrast to the Quiet Storm artwork, which incorporates a lot of dark blues, purples and blacks with white type and layered translucent textures (evocative of the intimate, nocturnal atmosphere embodied by the album), the artwork for the mixtape is very bright, very immediate (no gloss or photoshopping!) and very tongue in cheek – I do not dress that ostentatiously in real life!!!  But it was a lot of fun 🙂

Official Boy

This song was recorded a year ago – obviously, it’s a cover of Cassie’s song “Official Girl”… I seem to be the only one who loved that song!  I was obsessed with that song at the time because I could relate – I was semi-dating somebody but didn’t know where I stood. (It turned out to be nowhere.)  So I got the instrumental and decided to rerecord my version – in the process, I learned a lot about creating vocal layers and harmonies and counter-melodies, and I appreciated how densely the original song is constructed.  I also wrote my own rap, which was really fun.  I really liked Cassie’s latest material, as I did a cover of this song and “Touch Me” samples another Cassie song, “Nobody But You”.

Touch Me (see post!)

Hook Boy (Remix)

This song uses the instrumental of Day26’s “Imma Put It On Her”, continuing the love for Bad Boy artists.  I have always been impressed by Diddy’s production skills and most of the Bad Boy tracks that have come out over the last 12 years have had really solid music and production.  It’s a remix of the song “Hook Boy” on Quiet Storm, and so I changed up the melody and some of the lyrics somewhat, but the basic skeleton of the song remains the same, though this remix has a more celebratory, uptempo feel to it, relishing being in the club and being with the one you love.

Get Me Home (Interlude)

I liked the harmonies on this one, but I have an interlude called “Focused” on the album where I did a superior job of a similar type of harmony, so I removed this track from the album and kept it for the mixtape.

Jump Off (Part I) (Snippet)

The original version of a song which is on the album (appropriately called “Jump Off (Part II)”), this is a very straight-up R&B ballad, no frills.  The lyrics have been kept more or less identical between the two songs, but Part II has a much more R&B, nocturnal feel which I fell in love with and which suited the feel of the album as a whole much more.  I might finish this version eventually, because I think it has potential, but I kinda left it by the wayside in favour of Part II, which is one of my favourite tracks on Quiet Storm, and very lyrically honest.

Don’t Look Now (Game Over)

This song was written after I was seeing somebody who just suddenly disappeared with the excuse that “I need space”… BULLSHIT mayne!!!   I decided to channel my irritation positively, and this record was a cutting, dance-type response to that whole situation.  I like the lyrics in it, which pay a nod to “Bad Girl” and “Pretty Boy” by the now sadly defunct Danity Kane, as well as Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”.  My favourite lyric is “dangerous and brokenhearted”, and I briefly considered that as an album title.  I love the ring of it, but ultimately there is something about the song that meant it couldn’t hang with the rest of the tracks that made the album, so ultimately it got relegated to the mixtape!

Pronunciation (Interlude)

This was just a big big laugh… it sets the scene for the next song, “Armani Earrings”, which is a track on Quiet Storm that I just had so much fun writing, as it really epitomises swagger!  The idea came from the “learn Italian” tapes they play in the bathrooms at Frankie & Benny’s restaurants, and working in The Perfume Shop and getting irritated at how many designers names got mangled by customers on a regular basis.  So this interlude is a play on all of those things, as well as a lead-in to the next track.

Armani Earrings

… you’re gonna have to wait for the story behind this one!!!  Just enjoy it for now 🙂

Can’t Play A Playa

Originally I was so excited about this track, with the military gunshot-style intro and the catchy hook… but somewhere along the line, although I tried out a lot of different ideas such as having a rap in the middle of the song instead of at the bridge, and multiple hooks and stuff, I felt it lost the sparkle and drive I was aiming for the song to have, so I didn’t feel it was strong enough to make the album.  I like the song, but I just couldn’t execute it the way I wanted to so I kept it back for the mixtape.

Wild Heart

During my time at Oxford uni, I became friends online with a guy who got into trying to write and produce his own songs.  He sent me this track that he’d written and produced (the production is a slightly different style to anything I’ve done, though the song itself I like), and asked me to resing it.  I went a bit crazy with it, attacking it with different melodies and ad-libs, and when I sent it back he was like “WOW you have CHANGED it!!!” I really liked the way it turned out, but I think he was somewhat taken aback… I never really considered this song for the album, especially as my only input into it was changing some of the melodies, harmonies and structuring, but I like it nonetheless so I thought that there was no harm in putting it on High Fashion.

Role Model

The first element of this song that I had was the bassline, and then I just started adding lyrics to it.  I remember half of it was written in my head on a car journey with my parents, and the minute we got back in the door I rushed upstairs and spent an hour creating the song.  I like the sung chorus element, because it really expressed how I don’t feel that I fit easily into many categories that people try to pigeon-hole me into.  In terms of the music I listen to, my educational background and my sexuality (among other things), I don’t really feel that what is widely portrayed in the cinema really represents me, and I wanted to put across the fact that just because there is a stereotype for these things doesn’t mean that everybody necessarily fits them.  Although it’s not my finest hour rapping (and I like to think that the rhymes on “Armani Earrings” demonstrate how much I’ve improved), the lyrical subject matter is very true and I am positive I am not the only young person who feels misrepresented.  You have to be who you are, for the sake of who you are.

Broke WIthout Remedy

I was listening to Erykah Badu’s most recent album New Amerykah and wanted to do a song which was a bit more unstructured and organic sounding, so I hit up Garageband and started playing with samples. This is the result! I was near the end of my university degree at Oxford, and I was kinda frustrated because I didn’t know where I was going next and I was in a lot of debt and I was just like “what happened? I thought this degree would solve all my problems and it’s just left me with more!”  With my new uni course and being so happy and that being beyond me, the perspective I now have of Oxford is perhaps more balanced and I can appreciate the quality of degree and the good friends that I got from there, but at the time of writing / singing the song, I was feeling quite down.  Towards the end, my voice cracks and I kept it in as evidence of too much cigarettes + emotional despair = raw vocals!

I Want To Know What Love Is (see post!)

High Fashion (Acapella) (Outro)

Another little acapella taster of the “High Fashion” track on my album.  The Intro uses some of the backing music, and the outro uses the first verse and chorus of the song.  Although I’m not 100% happy about ending the album with 2 acapellas in a row, I definitely thought that these last two songs both deserved to be on the mixtape and both fit at the end.

So there you are!  Once again, you can download the mixtape HERE and I really hope you enjoy it! 🙂