Posts Tagged ‘messages’

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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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translation.

July 20, 2009

As you may or may not know, a year ago I graduated from Oxford University with a BA Hons degree in French and Spanish.  I’m still waiting for that to deliver the promised kick-start to my professional career while I flounder between perfume shops, hospitals and careers guidance diplomas, but one of the more interesting aspects of that degree was the idea of translation.  It relies on two not-so-basic conceits – that you understand what the words mean in the passage you are translating, and that you understand what the author of the passage is trying to say.  These two ideas have to be grasped before you even attempt to replicate what you’re translating in your chosen language, and these two ideas are much more disparate than they may first appear.  Let me break it down for you, because I have a point to make 😉

You can see the word “tree”, for example, and it conjures a certain image in your head.  That image represents what “tree” means to you.  The Spanish word for “tree” is “árbol”.  So you can put “árbol” down.  That’s done… but by doing that, you’re having faith in the fact that the image you see when you think of “tree” / “árbol” is the same as what the author’s conception is.  If for example, the author has a completely different idea in his head, then your translation may be distancing yourself from his/her original intentions.  And that’s just one word; what happens when you have sentences, paragraphs?  Translation takes a lot of confidence and a lot of people-studying and effort to grasp what people mean when they speak; all the nuances behind their choices of vocabulary, their syntax.  At the heart of it: can we really trust that people mean what we think they mean when they say what they say?

I started thinking about this after Saturday night, meeting with Karina and Davina at Las Iguanas for some caipirinhas and tapas (which was delicious).  Karina was talking about a lil’ dispute she was having with her boyfriend (who lives at a distance), because she had a hospital scan (I won’t go into the details on here because it’s not really my place) and was somewhat nervous.  When, after listing his (admittedly inferior) stresses in retaliation to her current stuff, he finally asked “Do you want me to come down and visit you?”, she said “No, don’t be silly, you need to save your money.” (He’s moving)  And he took that at face value, and didn’t come down to see her.  Hence Karina’s somewhat irritated diatribe against him on Saturday night. Now, I know from my knowledge of women’s minds that they often don’t mean what they say, and they can in fact often mean the opposite of what they say.  By saying “don’t visit me”, Karina was sending a message saying “I don’t want you to spend your money, but at the same time I really wish you could come here and support me because I need you right now, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you that because in addition to the fear of this scan, I don’t want to succumb to the humiliation of appearing weak to you and admitting that I want you here with me.”  Me and Davina understood this straight away, but evidently her boyfriend did not.  But who is in the wrong?  I mean, he was only listening to Karina’s words and following them.  Should he have known better?  After all, if he’d said “No” to her in the same situation, Karina said she would have scraped together whatever she could have and gone to visit him regardless (I don’t doubt that this is true).  But then, Matt might have meant “No.” He’s a guy, guys tend to be more straightforward, perhaps more two-dimensional at times.  And Karina would have gotten it wrong.  It’s almost a no-win situation if you can’t navigate the nuances of people’s thoughts behind the words they say… which is difficult when their words tell a slightly different story.  We all have to play translators at times.

I give you another example.  After seeing Davina and Karina, I went to the club to meet B and his friends for the first time (which was exciting).  The night seemed to be an unqualified success: I had a great time at a club I previously had written off, thanks to he and his friends embracing me wholeheartedly.  He and I were quite touchy-feely, we spent the whole evening talking, dancing a little bit, joking with his friends and other people we ran into (he seemed to know practically everyone).  When we got out of the club at 4am, my bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so we wandered around trying to contact another friend of his who seemed to have gone astray, eventually waiting at the bus stop, chatting / hugging / flirting.  Nothing too untoward, a brief kiss on the lips when my bus finally arrived.  So there was nothing wrong with that, right? It was flirtatious without going too far, a fun night without us exchanging wedding vows, a light-hearted night of clubbing with friends and with someone who might become more.  After my last relationship getting far too intense far too quickly (despite my lack of feelings), this should be exactly what I wanted.

Of course, I was still worried that maybe he had gone off me.  Because he didn’t jump on top of me, rip my clothes off and make love to me on the floor of the nightclub, I didn’t know if he still liked me.  I am aware that this is more than faintly ridiculous, don’t worry – and if this had happened, I would be worried in contrast that all he thought of me was that I was an easy slut.  So I was trying to read entirely too much into his actions.  Let alone the fact that mine mirrored his in any case… isn’t it easier when the other person makes the first move?  When they seem to know exactly what to say?  Which I clearly do not.  We texted briefly on Sunday:

Me: “Hey hope u got home ok this morning! I had a fun time last nite, thanx to u and ur friends for entertaining me! How ru doing today, up to much?x”

Translation: “Hi, I hope you somehow didn’t think I was an idiot last night and behaving too drunken / flirty / not flirty enough.  I think I might like you, you need to tell me that you might like me too and that you want to see me again. And preferably at a different venue with just the two of us.

His reply: “Hi  yeah good to meet u 🙂 I’m ok just been chillin all day with music and cats lol x”

My interpretation of this: “Hello, yes you were nice enough but I don’t know if I want to see you again, I have not been thinking of you too much today and I was quite drunk last night so pay it no mind.

The exchange of text messages went on a bit longer but I cut it short soon after because I wanted to maintain an air of nonchalance, as in “I’m not that easy, you don’t have me wrapped around your finger, I have other things to do!  I will talk to you when you happen to cross my mind again, maybe in a day or two, because my life is perfectly fulfilling tra la la.”  The messages and nuances hidden behind words can just as easily apply to silences/ goodbyes, and we need to interpret and translate pauses and immediate replies accordingly.  Today, when I was half-expecting him not to text me (I had resolved not to initiate conversation – air of nonchalance, nonchalance!), I was on msn and suddenly he starts talking to me (he was set to ‘invisible’ so I didn’t even know he was there) and we have a great conversation.  We flirt and joke a tiny bit and he says “ok lover” at one point.  My current interpretation: everything is in a spirit of fun, but we are still flirting with each other and there’s some affection there so this just might work well so DON’T BE A FREAK AND OVERANALYSE THINGS!!! And although I feel relieved, and I feel like I have learned sometimes that it is better to say what you mean, and other times it’s better not to say anything at all, it is obviously far too late for the restraint from over-analysis!  So I’m cooling down and determined to enjoy this flirting stage, whether it evolves or not… because after all, this is exactly what I said I wanted… and I don’t remember any hidden notion behind that when I said it!