Posts Tagged ‘limousine’

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

https://i2.wp.com/www.thequ.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Rihanna_Unapologetic.jpeg

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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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…