Posts Tagged ‘media’

h1

Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

https://i1.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.

Advertisements
h1

bare necessities.

September 15, 2012

Now that Toby has returned from Aberdeen and payday is imminent, my thoughts are turning to the new flat we are going to acquire in the coming weeks. We are considering a range of locations, including Earls Court, Fulham, Kensington, Putney, Hammersmith, Barons Court and Chiswick, and a lot depends on the transport links and whether we can afford one or two bedrooms (two bedrooms would be nice so that we could have friends and family over to stay, but it’s not a necessity and we’d have to be willing to sacrifice a more central location). So I’m expecting us to have a flurry of viewings over the next few weeks in order to find a suitable place! I’ve therefore been thinking about what are the essential things I need in a home, and my experience of life both in Earls Court and Fulham has taught me some valuable lessons. To wit:

  • washing machine

Since moving into Toby’s flat in Fulham, the presence of a washing machine feels like a glorious luxury. When our clothes are dirty, I can just go upstairs and put them in the washing machine; I no longer have to keep them in a River Island bag (or two) which I cart down the road for a fifteen-minute walk or five-minute bus ride each weekend. I will never live somewhere which does not have a washing machine ever again. And if I can wangle a tumble drier too, even better.

  • wardrobe

However, in contrast, living in this new flat has meant that I’ve had to be creative about storing my clothes. In Earls Court, I had two little wardrobes, which was absolutely perfect – one for casual clothes and one for my work outfits. Here, I have a drawer and a half, and I have hijacked half of a clothes rail that frequently lists from side to side and occasionally dismantles itself. I detest folding my clothes and keeping them in a drawer, because they always end up creased and it takes me five minutes to find the garment I am looking for. I much prefer to have all of my clothes hung up and ready for selection, without fear that my choice will be rumpled. So I need a good amount of hanging space.

  • mirrors

I also miss that my flat in Earls Court was liberally furnished with large mirrors. One full length mirror and one square mirror in the living / bedroom, a small mirror above the sink in the bathroom, and mirrored bathroom cabinet doors. To be honest, even I (with my vanity) found it a little superfluous, but I certainly appreciated it. In Fulham, the only mirrors of a decent size are in the bathrooms. Nothing in the living room, nothing anywhere else; I have imported my tiny circular desk mirror into our bedroom so that I can moisturise and attempt to do my hair in the morning before work, but it’s not really sufficient – I have to keep going down the corridor in order to see myself and make sure I am presentable before I leave the house. It’s not ideal – I need mirrors!

  • proximity to a large supermarket

One of the few areas where Toby and I diverge is our preferred supermarket. Toby loves Waitrose (which I generally despise), while I am cheap and cheerful and frequent Tesco. But even the Tesco Expresses and Metros of the world are not really enough for me to get everything I want. I like basic orange juice in large cartons, coconut water, and small cartons of orange juice. I find it utterly mystifying that I cannot find these items for a decent price in anything other than a large-sized supermarket – but apparently this is the case, and so I need to be within walking distance of one of these.

  • coat tree

This returns to the issue with the wardrobes, and with the unreliable clothing rack that I am now using. We hang our coats, hoodies and jackets on either end of the rack to balance its weight, but this isn’t really ideal – and it makes the whole thing ultimately heavier anyway. Back when I lived in Bristol with my parents, we had a wooden coat tree which would periodically topple over from the weight of the coats on it. My mother once exhorted me to get rid of some of my coats – this escalated into a debate where my parents and I made three piles of each of our coats. Embarrassingly, my pile was larger than both of my parents’ combined. Hence, even after purging some of my outerwear, I do like a nice coat or four and thus need a coat tree to keep them all on.

  • piano

Today Toby and I went to Westfield to meet up with his parents who’d come down to London to spend a lunchtime with us. At one point, I was in the Village and there was a very talented pianist playing, whom I stopped to listen to. The beauty of the music came close to bringing tears to my eyes. I miss my piano, and while this isn’t strictly a necessity right now (it will be when we buy a place), I would love to have space for a piano in my new flat so that I can play and compose music.

  • a large kitchen worksurface

I realise that at this point, my cookery project (which lasted an impressive 7 months out of 12) has come to an end / gone on hiatus (depending on whether I end up restarting it or not). I guess I did well enough; although I did think that sheer stubbornness would carry me through to December. I detested cooking; I detested choosing a recipe, hunting down the ingredients, and then all of the preparation and stirring and waiting and checking and tasting, only for the finished product to last about 10 minutes on the plate before I’d finished eating it. All of that effort, and for what? I’d much rather have a necklace. But Toby’s kitchen has got a larger work surface (and a hob that’s at arm level rather than eye level, which is pleasant), which makes the occasional moment when I do decide to make food a lot more tolerable. So I need a reasonably spacious kitchen.

  • library

During my time in the Royal Borough, I joined the library. Libraries are such a good resource; not only do they provide access to the internet for the elderly and run a range of semi-interesting events, but they have a wealth of media and books that you can borrow, read and then give back. You can enrich yourself (academically and personally) without spending a fortune or permanently cluttering your house. They also have a small but useful section of foreign language books which I have started utilising to keep my Italian vocabulary alive between terms (I start again at the end of the month, yay!). I really appreciate the library and I want to live near one.

I am unsure whether I will be able to have all of these things in the forthcoming flat, but as many as possible would be wonderful, and some of them are indeed necessities. But in the years to come and the homes I come to make my own, I hope to have all of these things!

h1

hidden memories.

January 22, 2012

Lately I have been in situations which have triggered me to remember things that were long buried in my childhood and adolescence. These are things that I had basically forgotten about, and aren’t really important but they make me pause and think “did I really do those things? I was evidently such a different person back then!”

Toby recently bought a book about fonts called Just My Type, and he has really been enjoying it (I might be borrowing it from him afterwards, though I have two books queued up to finish first!) and we have been noticing the uses of Century Gothic (our favourite), Helvetica and so on in the public domain and media. We were in Starbucks in Richmond yesterday and Toby observed the use of various fonts on the menu boards, napkins and articles on the walls – it was a little bit random and I think that it is probably down to different things being created at different times. I subsequently remembered that in Year 7, I had an IT lesson where we actually created our own font and we had to engineer the spaces around the letters so that words didn’t look too spaced apart etc. It was interesting, but not really anything in itself to write about. The thing that interested me is that I was 12 years old when this had happened, and yet it felt buried in my past and when remembering it, it was dim and cloudy like I was remembering the life of another person.

I suppose this is proof for the fact that at 12 years old, although we feel like young adults and don’t want to be referred to as ‘children’, we still have a lot of growing up to do and by the time we are fully-formed adults, we have changed a lot. Recently I was working on some lyrics for some new songs, and I remembered that when I was a teenager (12-14 years old), I spent quite a lot of time on the internet writing poems and sharing my poetry on forums. Now, these poems were probably frequently bad, but it didn’t matter – at the time when I was still only allowed on dial-up internet for half an hour each night (remember the days?!), it was the most important way for me to express my innermost thoughts and creativity, and read others’ as well. As I shared things that I had written, I made friends and ended up being invited to another forum where I would contribute regularly, and I also remember most of these people being quite Christian and I believe from the southern USA. At a time when I was still questioning my own beliefs as well as discovering my own sexuality, there were certain things I could talk about and others that I couldn’t, and from a place where I had been granted freedom of expression without judgement, I found myself (even at 15 years old) being careful about what I could and couldn’t say for fear of backlash from people I didn’t know that well and yet knew intimately. I didn’t stay on the forums for much longer after that (although I wrote poetry infrequently and headed up the St Anne’s Creative Writing Society with my friend Daria in my second year of university) because I could tell that I was headed on a different path to the other people on the forum, who were all adults and knew themselves already. I didn’t leave on bad terms, and I think that the forum fizzled out naturally shortly afterwards, but to think that for a substantial period of my teenage years this was one of my main hobbies, and yet now I barely remember it and it feels like I am looking at my adolescence backwards through a telescope. How far I have come is a very good thing, but it’s something that I can only really appreciate when I compare it to where I started from.

h1

why young money has won me over.

January 17, 2011

OK, so as I am unwell and off work, I might as well try and do something productive. I haven’t done a music review on this blog for ages – and while this isn’t a traditional album review, I thought that I would write a music-related article.

I was reading on Toya’s World Drake’s recent comments on how Aaliyah inspired him as a singer to make his songs relatable across genders and across situations. This connects to one of the best songs on his album, “Unforgettable”, which samples her. Unfairly, I ignored Drake for an unfeasibly long time, and it was only hearing his songs covered by Teairra Marí on her Point Of No Return mixtape that made me decide to give him a chance. I am so glad that I did – rather than just another overhyped rapper who featured on every R&B and Hip Hop single of the moment over the last year and a half, his album betrayed a talent for rhyming and exposing vulnerability and honesty over beats that combined some of the raw soundscapes from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak with horn-led Swizz Beatz productions. I was thoroughly impressed by Drake’s honesty about fame, and his lyrics which alternated between self-hype and self-deprecation. While Kanye West’s stellar new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy equally shows him exposing the insecurities behind his ego on songs such as “Runaway” and “Blame Game”, the difference is that Drake has been upfront about his insecurities from the get-go. This is something I feel is admirable for a male artist in any genre – traditionally, female artists are emotional and find strength in their vulnerability, while male artists are sex-hungry, predatory and invulnerable to emotion just as they portray themselves as being invulnerable to everything, bullets included (a quick flip through rap history should indicate that this is certainly not the case – 50 Cent aside). So Drake utterly won my respect for being frank and honest, while also creating a really good album that still had some swagger songs, but was not afraid to step away from that and both rhyme and sing with equal sincerity.

Nicki Minaj’s mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty was utterly thrilling, but again betrayed something more than your average hyper-sexual female rapper. Her idiosyncratic delivery, and her willingness to be vulnerable and honest about her music industry difficulties (on “Can Anybody Hear Me” she proclaimed “Def Jam said I’m no Lauryn Hill / Can’t rap and sing on the same CD / the public won’t get it, they got ADD”). By extension, we can understand that Minaj has a clear vision of who she wants to be as an artist, but is being somewhat held back from that and steered in a slightly different direction.  It’s no accident that “Save Me” is one of the best songs on Pink Friday, and it is the only song which Minaj sings from start to finish. Image-wise, Nicki Minaj is clearly hailing after Lil’ Kim, and to a lesser extent Lisa Left-Eye Lopes. Pink Friday at first was a disappointment to me because it was much more pop than I was expecting, and there weren’t many of her hard, crazy verses that characterise her best features, such as on Kanye West’s “Monster”. Nevertheless, the album has impressed me because it does mix in various sounds, various characters, and is not overtly sexed nor trying too hard to be one of the guys, or prove its gangster credentials – these are elements that have characterised a lot of female rap and it is brave of Minaj to forsake all of these and try to be herself, even if she is not allowed to be so fully. So again, although Nicki Minaj is hardly original and I have a suspicion that her true artistry will be revealed in years to come, her output and dedication to her craft is still promising and beyond what is expected of most new acts.

I wonder if, when putting together his Young Money troupe, Lil Wayne was aware of just how talented his acts are. I am tempted to say yes, as madness and artistic talent can often go hand in hand. Young Money’s album itself comprised catchy, if disposable, chart fodder which nevertheless promoted a collective ethos above highlighting individual talents. This is all well and good, but apart from Wayne, Minaj and Drake, how many of the others can you name? Sure, Shanell is memorable for being the other female in the group, and has contributed solidly to Nicki Minaj’s songs “Handstand” and “Cupid’s Got A Gun”, exhibiting a controlled and evocative vocal on the latter. She also wears that interesting jewellery across her face.  Tyga stands out by dint of his recent collaborations with Chris Brown on “Deuces” and other songs. But neither of these artists (nor any of the rest) have yet been allowed to stand on their own two feet. I mean, between Wayne’s own mixtapes and those of Drake and Minaj, along with their official studio albums, singles, collaborations and features, they already saturate the media. It is likely that if all were given the same treatment simultaneously, the public would scream for respite.  But I wonder, since Young Money clearly comprises talented members who, importantly, have their own vision and are not afraid to express it, just how many more talented members we haven’t yet been exposed to. This intrigues me and suggests that the collective is filled with promise.

h1

paralysis.

July 12, 2010

This weekend was lovely for me.  I went to London to see Toby’s new place and also to spend some time with Nana, one of my closest friends from my time at Oxford.  I was due to be in London the following weekend (now this coming weekend) anyway as me and Toby are going to the Surrey University Grad Ball, but Nana texted me asking whether I was free and she needed to talk.  As it’s more than about time I went down to London (she’s come to visit me in Bristol a few times but between university, family and various other commitments I had never made it down), I decided to take a trip on the very cheap Megabus and spend a couple of days.  We had a really nice time eating, chilling, shopping (though I was restrained with spending money – my driving test is looming so it’s time to prioritise) and it was just great to catch up.  But anyway, that’s not what I’m writing about.

On the Friday night after we’d been for cocktails (Toby & Nana got on superbly, and they were able to talk about science while I smiled and vacated my brain and just looked pretty), Toby and I got the tube back to his.  We got off at Earls Court, and due to him not usually getting off at that station and it being vaguely confusing in the night-time, he ended up walking me slightly the wrong way.  We went down one road in particular, and in the entranceway to the first house on the road there was a man slumped, ostensibly asleep.  It was about 10:45 in the evening, he had a backpack still on his back, and he was strewn across the entrance to the house with one arm covering his face.  His clothes looked vaguely dirty (probably from the ground) but other than that I couldn’t tell much of his appearance, from my vantage point of being stood up.  In other words, it just looked like he’d had too much to drink and passed out.

Toby and I stopped, and Toby wondered if the guy was alright.  At this point, I urged Toby to just keep walking, as he was probably just drunk and would be fine. As the words came out of my mouth, I started to question myself: Why was I so eager to just carry on? What if something bad had happened to the guy? What if he needed someone to call the emergency services? And most of all, what was I so afraid of? I can’t deny that I felt a strong intuition to just keep walking and not get involved in something that was probably not a problem and certainly not my business. The media report and project so many stories about people who’ve wound up injured, hurt or worse by getting involved in other people’s tribulations when they were only trying to help.  But what if that man were me? What if I needed somebody to call for help on my behalf, and they just kept on walking?

The dilemma swirled in my mind even as I convinced Toby that we should just leave the guy and keep on walking. As luck would have it, Toby was using the GPS on his mobile and discovered we needed to walk back down the same road and take a different turning to get to his place, so we were due to end up passing the unconscious man again. To assuage my conscience, I said that if the guy looked like he was really in trouble, if we could see blood or signs of something dangerous (we had already noted that the guy didn’t appear to be bleeding, and seemed to be breathing ok), we would call the police. As we approached the entrance to the house again, we passed many other pedestrians on their way home / wherever, and none of them seemed to be the slightest bit concerned about the guy. At this point, I wondered whether I was just naïve: I’m from a decent-sized city but it’s not London, and things are different there. Perhaps it was even more commonplace than in Bristol, and perhaps they had judged it more dangerous to get involved than to keep walking.  Maybe they hadn’t even noticed. But the combination of other people’s lack of concern, the fact that a lot of the houses had lights on so it wasn’t as if the guy would be in danger nor did any of the occupants seem to be particularly bothered by his presence, and the fact that when we did pass him again, he didn’t seem to be in any distress or be injured (in other words, he did genuinely appear to be passed out asleep) meant that we didn’t call 999 but just went on our way.

I hope that he was alright in the end. I just can’t help but wonder if I did the right thing: obviously putting my own safety (and Toby’s) first is important. But at the same time, how much danger could a barely conscious man who was probably stinking drunk pose to us? Why did I feel an instinctual sense of alarm, and was I right to trust that instinct? I believe myself to be the kind of person who would help a person in need, but in this instance should I have done more? Or am I just being naïve and thinking about a commonplace incident far too much? Am I right in thinking that if nobody living on the road nor the other pedestrians walking past seemed to be alarmed, I didn’t need to be either? Is that just being realistic, or is it a dangerous blind eye to turn? I wonder what this says about me as a person, about us as an urban society, that we’re afraid of making a social blunder that could cost us our own personal safety, even when the situation probably is less dangerous than we fear and the person might need our help? Is the media to blame for hyping such incidents to the point that we are too afraid to help others for fear of the consequences that a misguided retaliation might mean for ourselves? I suppose the most telling thing is that if I could do it again, I would probably do exactly the same and play it safe for me and Toby. I just wonder if it was the right thing to do.

h1

Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.

h1

something’s missing.

May 1, 2010

I like this song:

(Brandy – “A Capella (Something’s Missing)”)

The last 8 months have represented the happiest period in my life that I can remember.  I’ve grown so much as a person, I have made some terrific friends, I have started the longest relationship of my life to date, I have lost weight, I have tattoos (it’s my most recent tattoo‘s one-month anniversary today!) and I have finally started learning to drive again. It’s like I was in a chrysalis up until this point, and now I’m finally starting to spread my wings.

However, I can slowly but surely feel that happiness starting to fade a bit.  Perhaps it’s growing pains, because in December I had a tough couple of weeks – maybe I just need to ride it out.  I still have all the things I named above, so I can’t really complain too much.  But my growing discontent I think is largely due to the fact that I’ve not had instant success when applying for jobs.  I haven’t had an interview out of the six jobs I’ve applied to so far.  I won’t give up – I am committed to this new careers guidance career, I want to make a difference in other people’s lives, to young people.  And I want to carve out my own life, get a car, get a job, get a place to live.  I can’t do any of those things without the finances that come from a well-paying job.  So I really need this, and although I’ve had my applications checked and approved my tutors, and my CV was given a glowing review by the UWE Careers Service, I guess it won’t come that easy.

So here’s the part where I start to connect my life at the moment with the song above.  Listen to the words, and things will make more sense. I was complaining to Mike about the fact that I have yet to secure an interview for any jobs, and he said to me “Well, I am sure there’s nothing wrong with your applications and it’s probably bad luck, nothing personal, but I don’t know if we have the skills for some of the jobs you applied for”.  In other words, try not to worry, but don’t apply for such weird stuff.  But I thought that I had a good shot at being capable of the jobs I went for, and the fact I was able to fill out the application without really questioning it means that I didn’t really think that the jobs I applied for were that leftfield.

Then I bumped into Henna (from the Perfume Shop) and her friends in the uni café, and after chatting for a while, one of them turns to me and says “So you did languages at Oxford, why on earth aren’t you becoming a teacher?” I explained that even after my teaching assistantship in Spain, and enjoying teaching more than I expected to, I’d never gravitated towards teaching and it wasn’t ever on my radar. Even though I’m now working towards becoming a careers guidance practitioner and working with young people, it feels quite different to me because I’m instrumental in helping a young person shape their entire life and future, rather than wholly responsible for one component of that.  I just feel that this fits me better, but perhaps I’m missing a trick?  Then I start to think that perhaps I am just running away from the one true vocation I’ve always wanted: music.  Ever since I was a child, I wanted to sing, dance, perform, record and entertain.  I’m good at it; I’ve won prizes for it.  People loved what I did at high school, sixth form and university, and since then I’ve grown as a musician, performer and person.  Why aren’t I following my heart?  Although I release my music online and I have very positive responses, will that ever truly be enough?  By keeping total control, am I sacrificing my dream of making it big?  Is being spurned by employers left right and centre a subtle hint that I can’t really avoid my destiny?

I keep wondering if I’m missing something.  I’ve had other reasons to lately wonder what the hell is wrong with my brain (read my previous post for some of that), and I don’t consider myself so eccentric or out of the ordinary to have made it to age 24 that I haven’t realised.  But sometimes, I look at the way things are and just think, what is going on? Am I on another planet? I do often think I’m an alien, from another galaxy: in Kingswood, I seem to dress like nobody else, have desires for things that just pass everyone else by.  In my family, I have different aims, different values.  I seem to have been only partly informed by my upbringing, and a lot by the media, and my parents say that I am 10% of them, and 90% of something mysterious and random.  Where do I get it from, who am I, and when I find out, where do I go from there? I am glad I am my own person and I wouldn’t change that for anything, but sometimes it gets a bit lonely out here.