Posts Tagged ‘menace’

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Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.

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quiet storm track walkthrough (part i).

October 27, 2009

Hi there everyone! Thanks for the love you’ve shown my new album Quiet Storm.  I really appreciate it, from the bottom of my heart. ♥ If you have yet to download it, then you can get it here… –

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

This is gonna be the first instalment of a track-by-track rundown, so you can learn a little bit about each of the songs!  I’ll cover the first ‘arc’ of the album today, which are tracks 1-6! 🙂

1. Open

This is the album intro!  I wanted the title to have two meanings, one which was obviously the album intro being the ‘opening’ of the story / journey, but also for it to encourage listeners to enter the album with an open mind, open attitude and open heart.  The idea of “open your body / open your mind” was to combine the physical and mental, as some of the album songs are very much about physical sentiments such as sex, money and fashion; others are more to do with thoughts, emotions and relationships and our feelings and beliefs surrounding those situations.  It was also meant to have a somewhat mysterious feel, which is why my voice stutters and distorts at various parts. “I’m coming in” is your sign to get ready!…

2. All Night Long

…as I ask at the beginning of this song, “Are you ready?” The journey is beginning!  I wanted the album’s opening track (i.e. this is the first song proper) to be a slow, sexy song for two reasons: I thought it would be striking to open the album with a slower song, as all too often the temptation is to go in boom! bang! bang! with your uptempo.  I wanted the album to rise and fall in a more genuine way, and not to be front-loaded with club numbers.  I think that interspersing the album with uptempos, midtempos and slower songs throughout makes it more genuine and ultimately more engaging and cohesive.  This song was inspired by two songs: “Discipline” by Janet Jackson – but I hadn’t actually heard the song at this point! I’d read that there was an S&M theme, that it was a dark, slow song and I was inspired by those thoughts to make a song that I thought sounded like the essence of ‘discipline’ (hence its namecheck in the lyrics – “I exhibit discipline”); and “Mary Jane” by Mary J. Blige, from her seminal My Life album.  The hook of the song is a resung version of that song’s hook (which I’m aware is not the original use of that hook anyway, but it’s the version I’m most familiar with), but I slowed down the tempo and tried to do something a little bit different with it.  I also was tempted by the idea of putting this song first as it’s the most explicit, sexual song on the album – it’s the perfect start to the night-time, as Quiet Storm was largely inspired by the nocturnal, both in its soundscape and artwork.  And by getting the sex out of the way, we can focus on deeper things!  This actually being one of the very first songs I completed for the album, I don’t 100% remember how the beat breakdown came about now, but I love it and I felt that it was a really striking way to end the song… The breakdown is picked up by one of the songs at the album’s close, which also makes the album come full circle.

3. If I

Another one of the first songs I wrote for the album, this is probably the most dance-based song on the record, and it has a very nocturnal, dark feel again, as emphasised by the harmonies at the beginning which are nearly-but-not-quite off-key! It gives the song a mysterious introduction, which combined with the dance beat, makes it sound almost menacing.  The subject matter explores the fact that we all go to such lengths to please other people, and what would happen if we were just who we naturally are, rather than striving to meet others’ expectations?  At the end of the day, I’m just a young guy who wants to have fun and be happy and enjoy life!  Isn’t that what everyone wants?  Why should I put myself out for you?  What would happen if I did to you the things you do to me?  How would you feel about that?  That’s the main thematic of the song, and it’s one of the songs main uptempos.  The repetitive hook is actually quite en vogue now, but at the time of writing it, I really thought I was onto something and I felt that it was a little bit fun and kooky (as well as quite hot)!  But I generally liked the combination of the pulsing beats and the quite revealing lyrics: we all feel like a prisoner of other people’s “unrealistic expectations” and pressures at times, and although by living up to them we keep the peace and excel, to what extent do we sacrifice ourselves?  We all need to cut loose sometimes.

4. Hook Boy

I love this song!  It was a song I wrote lyrics to quite early on, but I just could not get right for ages!!!!! Ultimately, it was one of the last songs I completed for the album, as it was in work-in-progress stage for possibly a year!  This song is about swag, and also about songwriting prowess – I am still learning and honing my craft when it comes to singing, writing and producing, and I appreciate that on Garageband there’s only so much I can do. But at least I have total control of my music, and I’m pretty pleased with what I produce at this stage.  I can say, hand on heart, that this album is something I am very proud of!  And to be in charge of all these aspects of my music is very important to me, as it pisses me off to see certain stars who’ve made it big without much talent to speak of.  So I’m bigging myself up on this song, and although you could read it in terms of sexual prowess or swagger, to me, it’s really about being the best singer and songwriter I can be, and trying to offer something fresh.  Being a “hook boy” refers to being able to write a decent, catchy hook!  But as the coda of the song says (where the beat changes and becomes a little more complex – another end-of-song development I love!), sometimes people take your ability for granted, and at the same time as we may be skilled and have swag and talent, we have to make sure that people don’t take us for a ride without appreciating who we are and what we do.  We need to be proud and confident in ourselves, and it’s nice for others to recognise that, but we also need to make sure that people don’t take advantage of us.  So there’s an extra layer in there.

5. Focused (Interlude)

This interlude is thrilling to me because I finally got some harmonies exactly how I wanted them – there are about six layers of vocals in this!  It’s short and sweet, and essentially segues between the three beat-driven songs we’ve had so far (slow, deep sexual beat; mysterious, menacing dance beat; midtempo, stuttering beat) and the next song which will be the album’s first proper ballad.  “I’m too focused on the beat, gotta focus on the melody!”

6. Secret

This song is one where I wanted my voice to stand out, and that’s why it starts off acapella – I wanted it to be a stark contrast to the songs which came before, and to really be melody- and vocal-focused.  A good melody can make or break a song, and I wanted the heartfelt nature of this song, the album’s first romantic track, to really come through in the melody.  I also wanted a song which was vocally-driven, as I want to reinforce that I am a singer and confident vocalist first and foremost.  I was inspired by Delta Goodrem’s “Believe Again” – although that song has a more electronic, dance undertone than this track, I loved how the beats and effects built up through the song, so that was something I sought to replicate here.  After the second verse, the beat chips in, and it’s sorta off-kilter (not a straightforward 2/4 or 4/4).  It drops out again completely for the bridge, leaving my voice to carry the song to its finale.  I wanted to emphasise the vocals and the vocal melody line as the spine of the song, especially as the lyrics are so romantic and heartfelt.  It’s quite possibly the most purely optimistic song on the record – it’s a very positively romantic song not coloured by heartache, and brings the first arc of the album to a satisfying close, while seguing into the next songs…

… which I’ll cover in part 2!  Enjoy and keep it locked, and download Quiet Storm if you haven’t already! 🙂 Thankyou xxx

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)