Posts Tagged ‘Monica’

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2526: track by track

November 26, 2012

As stated in my previous post, my latest album 2526 is a loose diary of the last 2 years of my life, and focuses on love, and a range of facets of that emotion. I’m now going to take you through each track and tell you a little bit more about them all.

1. My Way / Sincerity

As one might surmise, these were originally two separate songs. “My Way” was a response to the burdens of parental love and pressure from those around you who know you best and suffocate you in their desire for you to achieve the best – at the same time as you love them for wanting the best for you, you can’t help but know that ultimately you’ll end up disappointing them. Try as I might, I could write a bridge for this song, and it was unfinished for ages. “Sincerity” came from wanting to write a song called “Sincerity”, and wanting to use the classic, hard-hitting beat from the remix to “It’s All About The Benjamins”; there seemed to be a real contrast between hard and soft.  But I couldn’t write a bridge for this song either, and it went unfinished for ages as well. One day, it dawned on me to just put the two together – the subject matter of the songs went well together, and while the overall tone of the songs is one of defiance and determination, there is also love and vulnerability. And most importantly, no bitterness.

2. Distance

This is one of my two favourite songs on the album. I was heavily into the song “I Miss You” by Beyoncé (from her masterpiece 4), and the night that I received the instrumental from Citizens of the World, I had been looking forward to Toby coming down to Bristol for the weekend (this was before I had moved to London) – we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I really missed him. Except that same night, he had called me to say that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it (in the end, he did). I was feeling melancholy and yet selfish as well, and the lyrics and melody to this song subsequently came in about 15 minutes. The lyrics so vividly capture the emotions I was feeling, and the vocal delivery is something that is supposed to be downbeat and yet sincere and heartfelt. The production is perfect. I am so grateful to have recorded this song.

3. Delete U

This song was written not long after Quiet Storm was done, and the piano intro is supposed to be reminiscent of Prince / The-Dream. I remember breaking up with one of my previous dalliances and just removing all trace of him from my life. It was intriguing that rather than tangible memories, we store a lot of initial information about friends and relationships digitally and so it’s all about “pressing delete” rather than throwing things in the trash. The use of terms such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” automatically date this song (probably to its detriment, although I personally don’t think it rings as unnaturally as the lyrics about getting off the Macbook and Facebook from Brandy and Monica’s otherwise-very-good “It All Belongs To Me”), but when I’ve dated my entire album through its title, it doesn’t really matter!

4. Important

I am well aware that this song sounds really similar to “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé, but it’s not a bad song to use as a template and I really wanted the piano and drums to be straightforward – the vocals and lyrics are supposed to occupy centre stage in this song. I wanted to talk in an honest way about how it feels when you don’t know what is going on in a relationship, and whether your priorities and feelings really mesh with those of your partner’s. Are you on the same page? I left the song open-ended – we don’t know if the couple in the song stay together or break up, because although I personally tend towards the latter, the whole point is that life and love is not clear cut and the things we think we should do, we don’t always do.  Love is complicated.

5. Unforgettable

This song is a remix of / my spin on Drake’s “Unforgettable” from his first album Thank Me Later, and I loved the melancholy production. The chorus of my track I guess is a bit more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole classic; I wanted to have a rap song on my album, like “Armani Earrings” on Quiet Storm, but less incendiary and more vulnerable. The sample of Aaliyah just made Drake’s song so perfect. Mike has played such a big part in the last 3 years of my life that I didn’t know how to feel about it when he moved out of Bristol. Even though we worked together, it felt like we were drifting apart and I was sad about it. I wrote this song to encapsulate all of my emotions about the relationship with one of my best friends developing and evolving. Ultimately, I ended up moving a lot further away! I have grown up so much over the last 3 years, and I wanted to pay tribute to someone who had a considerable role to play in the man I am today. Friendship is love too, after all.

6. Phoenix Rising

This song evokes love as empowerment. This was the first track from Citizens of the World that I wrote to, and I had Nicole Scherzinger’s Killer Love album on repeat at the time, hence the namecheck in the first line. The production was ethereal, and I wanted a melody that really soared on the wings of the track. It was a challenging vocal to sing – particularly the end note! – but recording this track was really enjoyable because I got to do different and interesting things with my voice.

7. U Gotta Go

This song was much more fun and more upbeat – when I received the instrumental, it sounded so happy and pop! I immediately thought of “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears – but I didn’t want to do something completely featherweight, so I flipped the song to make it a breakup anthem with some sassy lyrics about dumping a car in a lake that I cribbed from Tamia’s “Go” (aside: she is such a ridiculously talented singer!). I also wanted to make a poppy track that had some good vocal riffs in it – so I did that.

8. Sabo

This is my other favourite song on the album, because it is very personal and meaningful. Obviously, it’s addressed to Toby and it’s about him and us. I am so deeply, romantically and truly in love with him. He bought me a ring from Thomas Sabo for our 6-month anniversary, and I still wear it every day – I love it (black and silver are my favourite fashion colours, after all!) and I am so proud of it. I wanted to write a piano ballad the old fashioned way – chords and lyrics on top, no digital production – so that’s me playing the piano (the microphone isn’t great for recording the piano, so that’s why it sounds a bit honky-tonk). I was also in love with Beyonce’s “1+1” so I wanted to have some powerful vocals in the bridge, that really pulled out the soul that I wanted to express. The song turned out exactly how I wanted it to (honky-tonk aside), and I always knew it would be the end song / finale to my album.

Once again, I hope you enjoy the album!

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top 15 albums of 2010.

January 2, 2011

It’s that time again! Last year my list had 20 albums on it; this year, due I think to the generally deteriorating quality of popular / mainstream music, I have chopped the list down to 15 – if I had 20 albums on it, there were inevitably a couple of albums on the list which had but a handful of good tracks. This does not necessarily make a good album – so for the sake of quality over quantity, this year my list is shorter and sweeter.  Enjoy and comment if you like / dislike / agree / disagree!

15. MonicaStill Standing (check my review here!)

Highlights: Still Standing, Stay Or Go, Love All Over Me, Believing In Me

Skip: If You Were My Man

14. Diddy – Dirty MoneyLast Train To Paris

Highlights: Yeah Yeah You Would, Angels, Hello Good Morning, Coming Home

Skip: Someone To Love Me, Shades, Loving You No More

13. The-DreamLove King

Highlights: F.I.L.A., Abyss, February Love, Florida University, Take Care Of Me, All Black Everything

Skip: Make Up Bag, Sex Intelligent (Remix), Yamaha, Veteran

12. Toni Braxton Pulse (check my review here!)

Highlights: Yesterday, Make My Heart, Hands Tied, Lookin’ At Me, Wardrobe, Why Won’t You Love Me

Skip: If I Have To Wait, Hero

11. Teairra MaríPoint Of No Return mixtape

Highlights: Detroit, Body, Girl Power, Coins, My Lovin’, Holla, Over

Skip: Super High

10. Jazmine SullivanLove Me Back

Highlights: Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles), Good Enough, Stuttering, Famous, Luv Back

Skip: Don’t Make Me Wait, Redemption

9. Nicki MinajPink Friday

Highlights: I’m The Best, Roman’s Revenge, Save Me, Check It Out, Your Love, Girls Fall Like Dominoes

Skip: Did It On’Em, Fly, Last Chance

8. Janelle Monáe The ArchAndroid (check my review here!)

Highlights: Dance Or Die, Cold War, Tightrope, Oh Maker, Say You’ll Go, BabopbyeYa

Skip: Mushrooms & Roses, Neon Valley Street, Wondaland

7. ShakiraSale el Sol

Highlights: Loca, Antes De Las Seis, Gordita, Lo Que Más, Islands, Tu Boca

Skip: Sale El Sol, Addicted To You, Mariposas

6. CiaraBasic Instinct

Highlights: Ride, Gimmie Dat, Heavy Rotation, You Can Get It

Skip: nothing!

5. Kanye WestMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Highlights: Dark Fantasy, Power, All Of The Lights, Monster, Runaway

Skip: Gorgeous, So Appalled, Hell Of A Life

4. DrakeThank Me Later

Highlights: Fireworks, Over, Up All Night, Fancy, Shut It Down, Unforgettable, Find Your Love

Skip: Show Me A Good Time, Thank Me Now

3. SadeSoldier Of Love

Highlights: Soldier Of Love, Babyfather, In Another Time, Skin, The Safest Place

Skip: Morning Bird, Bring Me Home

2. M.I.A. /\/\ /\ Y /\

Highlights: Steppin’ Up, XXXO, Lovalot, It Takes A Muscle, Tell Me Why, Illygirl

Skip: Teqkilla, Story To Be Told

1. Christina AguileraBionic (check my review here!)

Highlights: Bionic, Woohoo, Elastic Love, Lift Me Up, You Lost Me, Vanity, Bobblehead

Skip: Prima Donna, My Girls, Birds Of Prey

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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Monica – Still Standing. (album review)

March 21, 2010

Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago.  Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same.  Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end.  Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly  All Eyez On Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard.  Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks.  Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort.  What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next.  “Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

“Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!).  However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston.  “One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest.  Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship.  Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko.  It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics.  Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole.  Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs.  It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.

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i keep it to myself.

November 1, 2009

I remember this song by Monica from her The Boy Is Mine album back in the day.  Although it wasn’t my favourite song from the album, I could resonate a lot with the idea of having a crush on somebody but not ever being able to bring yourself to admit it.  I’ve been in that situation a lot in my life, and guess what! I’m there again.

I’m not going to name any names on here, just in case the wrong person sees it (it’s unlikely, but I don’t want to take any chances).  After B, R, and any other initial you can care to name, I thought that I might have given up falling (or learned NOT to fall) for inappropriate people. When I say inappropriate, they’re either mentally or emotionally unstable, or unavailable for whatever reason – I think that that umbrella covers more or less all the experiences I’ve had in the past couple of years.  Oh, unless they were idiots.  And then I start to wonder, is it me?  Do I unconsciously seek out people with whom it just won’t work?  Is this an act of self-sabotage? Am I some sort of masochist?

Maybe, maybe not.  I mean, the latest thing I’m going through is different.  I’ve formed such a close bond with this person, it’s crazy, and I admire him and look up to him so much.  I wish that I could be like him one day (except he can’t spell “tommorrow” or “definately”. But apart from that.), the way he is with people.  He’s so strong and has a wicked sense of humour, and yet he’s so observant and sincere underneath. Plus, he may be older, but he’s pretty hot. Okay, enough gushing.  So I thought this crush was gonna be a phase, but apparently not – I can’t stop dreaming about him, I can’t stop thinking about him, the only time I feel normal anymore is when we are texting or when we are together.  It’s really bad, and it stomps all over the other people I’ve dated / not dated / been interested in the last couple of years.  It revolutionises everything for me, and reminds me of the once or twice I felt like I was approaching feeling in love when I was a teenager.  And yet, obviously I can’t tell him – not only is he very not single, but I can’t ruin the strong friendship we’ve established.  I’m not willing to do that, and so I keep it to myself.

Occasionally it hurts, but more than anything, our bond and our camaraderie keep me going.  We’ve gotten to a level of flirtation that is a bit weird (considering he is straight and attached) but it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy it, it makes me feel good.  I guess that I feel safe around him – not that I feel vulnerable walking around every day, but I feel that when we’re together, we’re popular and the leaders of our group and sorta untouchable.  I know people’s eyes are on us, and I also know that people think we are inseparable. That’s okay.  I don’t think people (apart from the couple whom I’ve told) know I have a crush on him – we are just real good friends, and as much as I look for him whenever he’s around, I know he does the same for me too.  It’s a 50/50 relationship, and it would be ideal!  Except it can never be.  That’s the only sting in the tail, but although sometimes I do feel a little bit down about it, I wouldn’t trade our friendship and the bond we’ve established in so short a time for the world.  I’m really lucky.

But again, because I don’t wanna risk anything going wrong, I’m not going to say anything.  I come home and feel empty, and my parents have their own problems and their own business.  We sorta exist around each other and orbit each other, with no real problems, but they have no desire to interact with me unless I have done something to inconvenience them, so I keep myself to myself at home.  And it does feel lonely.  My friends are supportive, and I really appreciate that so much, but there’s only so much that they can do – I’m looking to move out somehow and just get a bit more independence.  Free myself from that situation, because although I would end up being on my own, I would somehow feel less lonely because I would be less caged.  I think that even though I might be on my own, that would be my choice and the empowerment I’d get from that would make up for it.  Plus, I tend to get on better with my parents (and they seem to appreciate me more) from a distance.  But until that time comes, I keep my frustration with this whole situation to myself also.  I told Mike that it would be tempting to just move out, change my number and not tell my family where I was going – but it would just result in worrying them too much and they’d probably turn up at university or something looking for me.  I want to minimise the drama – that’s the whole point of having this plan – but until I can put it in motion, secrecy is the way forward.  Perhaps that’s a bit fucked up, but I haven’t got any time for people who can’t keep their mouths shut when it’s the appropriate thing to do.  So I try to have a sense of decorum about love and about life, and keep the right things to myself.

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90s baby.

August 27, 2009

Okay, I confess, I was born in the 1980s.  But apart from a few songs, the majority of what I grew up with was 90s music.  As you know, Mariah Carey is a massive influence on me, and my mother bought her very first single, “Vision Of Love”, on vinyl back in 1990.  Right through “Dreamlover”, “Without You” and “Fantasy” to the  Butterfly and Rainbow albums which closed the 90s, she was an epic atom bomb dropped on my life.  But if you know me, or you’ve read certain previous entries, you already know that and I’m not going to delve into it further here.

As a preteen and young teenager bearing the combined musical influence of my mother and my school friends, I would listen to songs by the Honeyz, En Vogue, Shola Ama, Backstreet Boys, No Doubt, Solid Harmonie, Peter Andre, Blur *shudder*, Aqua *cringe*, Aaliyah, Monica, Brandy and Usher, to name but a very select few.  The magazines I read (Smash Hits, TVHits, Top Of The Pops) were aimed squarely at teenagers who were of a sunny pop disposition, and although I was much more aware of the charts then than I am now, I still felt a little bit like there had to be something more.  Beyond straightforward manufactured pop (however good a product it may be), I started to lean towards more urban music.  I discovered garage (2-step) music, R&B, rap and hip hop.  Ms. Dynamite, Shola Ama (and the remixes), Honeyz and Kele Le Roc represented British R&B to me, while the American singers such as Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Brandy, Usher, Monica, TLC and Jennifer Lopez were an emblem of something smoother, sexier and edgier.  Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope opened my eyes to how well an album could be constructed, seguing effortlessly between different moods, concepts and tempos.  Missy Elliott’s Da Real World smacked me upside the head with a combination of weird bassy dark production and super-explicit lyrics that I wasn’t familiar with.  Jennifer Lopez’s video for “If You Had My Love” left me with the undeniable impression that a star was born, from her ridiculous beautiful looks to her insanely polished and expressive dancing.  Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” ended up on my cd player before it dawned on me just how much of a classic that song was going to be.  TLC’s Fanmail sounded like the future.  Aaliyah’s One In A Million album sounded like effortless sexuality, and sounded like nothing and nobody else.

All the aforementioned artists, albums and songs still hold that exact same resonance for me.  Perhaps it’s just the fact that I was growing up and those singers played an integral part in my adolescence, but music just isn’t the same anymore.  Show me a singer as effortlessly sexy and sophisticated as Aaliyah.  Show me a group as fiercely cool as TLC.  Find me a singer with a voice, body and songwriting skills like Mariah’s.  A rapper as off the wall as Busta Rhymes, as influential as 2pac or Notorious BIG.  I mean no disrespect to all the musicians and artists in the game today, because they have a hard job living up to these stars, who to me represent the golden age of urban music.  Ciara, Beyoncé, The-Dream, Electrik Red, Robin Thicke, Pitbull, Lil’ Wayne, Black Eyed Peas all hold down the front line.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m older, but despite their best efforts, I can’t help reminiscing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because I’ve found music in the last 3-4 years to be somewhat dry, I’ve discovered music from that golden age that passed me by the first time round.  Unbelievably, until 2 years ago, I had never listened to a Jodeci song.  Obviously I’d heard of them and their songs must have played very occasionally on the radio or tv, but I’d never really listened. Now I know where Dru Hill got their ideas from!  R. Kelly and his protégée Sparkle crafted some classic 90s R&B.  SWV and Total were some bad-ass girl groups!  Listening to the Notorious BIG’s albums and Puff Daddy’s older output allows me to see where Diddy, Lil’ Kim and Bad Boy Entertainment stand today and plot the journey and progress in between.  The joy of this has been that it is an entirely personal quest, because nobody else, in my past or present, is into the exact same music as me.  I’ve managed to convert some of my friends to some urban music, but I don’t really know anyone in person who’s into in the same depth.  The people who seem to understand most where I come from musically are on the internet, in forums and on urban music blogs.  Quite often, different posts educate me.

And that’s why I get so frustrated at the state of music today.  For one, every song seems to be a recycle of something else.  Beyoncé’s “Halo” = Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” = Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone” = Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield”.  Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” = Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” = Eva Simons’ “Silly Boy” = Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” + “Umbrella” = a large part of The-Dream’s subsequent output = Electrik Red.  LeToya’s “Not Anymore” = Ciara’s “Never Ever” = Monica’s “Still Standing” = Nicole Scherzinger’s “Happily Never After” = Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” = Rihanna & Ne-Yo’s “Hate That I Love You” = Ne-Yo’s “Because Of You” = Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” = Ne-Yo’s “Mad”.  So damn formulaic.  And as Jay-Z has finally noticed, auto-tune is everywhere.

Another thing: why does music being released right now sound like it is 20 years old?  Aaliyah’s self-titled album sounds like an edgy, modern masterclass nearly 10 years on.  TLC’s Fanmail sounds more futuristic than Keri Hilson’s In A Perfect World…despite the former being released in 1999 and the latter released in 2009.  Whitney Houston’s latest “greatest” “comeback” album I Look To You is an utter mess, because instead of a graceful attempt to keep up with the times as on My Love Is Your Love (a burnished masterpiece) and even Just Whitney (which has held up surprisingly well), she decides to go time-travelling.  The ballads fare well, with “Call You Tonight” a classy modern song, while “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” and “I Look To You” are classic ballads which are strong, even without the power of Whitney’s old voice.  “Salute” is the best song on the album for me, because it is pure timeless R&B.  But the uptempos…. oh no.  “Million Dollar Bill” revisits old-school R&B and falls asleep, “Nothin’ But Love” presses the 90s synth button repeatedly, “Like I Never Left” should be titled “Like I Never Left The 80s”.  The major disaster is “A Song For You”, which was performed sublimely by Herbie Hancock and Christina Aguilera a couple of years ago.  Here, the first half of the song is typically piano led, but Whitney seems to jump through the hoops a little bit.  No matter, it’s not a problem compared to what happens at 1:30.  Hex Hector and Peter Rauhofer must have cried a river when they heard this tepid 90s-dance mess. I listened to this and had to skip to the next track, because Whitney was done a pure disservice with this song.  Words fail me…

Whitney Houston is not the only victim of this dated-modern fad… even on Trey Songz’ fantastic third album Ready, the melodically lovely “Love Lost” boasts a musical backing that sounds like it was created in 1987.  And Monica’s latest leaked song “Betcha She Don’t Love You” sounds like Missy Elliott vomited up an old record and told Monica to sing over it.  (Aaliyah would never have stood for it, I’m sure.) I have no problem with being inspired by the past and appreciating heritage and history.  You can honour the classics in a tasteful way. But when it seems that it’s so difficult for artists to be forward thinking that they recycle old songs and pass them off as ‘new’ or ‘retro-cool’ when in reality they are just lazy, that really pisses me off and makes me rifle through my older CDs, listening to music that is forward thinking, doesn’t sound at all dated, but is timeless.  There’s a big difference between the two that a lot of today’s music industry (both A&R honchos and artists alike) would do very well to learn.

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secrets (my first album.)

August 19, 2009

Tonight I want to share with you the first collection of songs that I completed between August 2006 and March 2007.  I was listening to the songs while wasting time at work, and I realised that before I debut my new material in the coming months, I wanted to take you through a history of my previous songs (don’t worry, there aren’t too many! 😉 )  I entitled my first album Secrets mainly because I was writing a song with the same title that ironically didn’t make it onto the album, but also because this album was the first attempt at my realising my own dream of creating a collection of songs that were “my little secrets”, as it were.  The sound of the album is sorta a combination of R&B meets dance via pop, and I’m glad to say that it is a long way away from the material that I create now (though a couple of the songs on the new album Quiet Storm do hark back to that sound).  The vocal production leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s only towards the end of the album (which were the last songs to be finished) that the songs begin to sound anywhere near polished. Nevertheless, I am so proud of these songs because they represent my first attempt at realising my dream of producing an album and being able to share it with the world, and it allowed me to get to grips with Garageband (the studio program on my mac, which is an application that I am still learning with every song).  And some of them aren’t so bad!  I hope that you enjoy the album, and I’ve provided a track-by-track ‘review’ with my thoughts behind the songs and the songwriting process.

DOWNLOAD SECRETS HERE: megaupload rapidshare zshare

Prophecy (Intro)
I wanted an intro to my album that was ominous and mysterious, so I liked the sitar-esque intrsuments.  The words are from the Book of Revelation, which makes it a direct copy of Madonna’s “The Beast Within”… but what the heck.  I thought it worked as an intro, I liked the idea of it being a “revelation” (because the album is called “Secrets”!), and I thought it led nicely into the pounding alien synths of the next track…

Reach Out
This is the “lead single” of the album, very club ready and the second song that I ever did.  Things I like about this song: the use of strings in an uptempo, the pounding bass and synths, the twinkling piano over the top, and the tongue-twisting chorus which proved to me that I write lyrics which are sometimes too hard to sing: “All my ladies in the club looking fly in your Moschino sexy sophisticated / All my boys ridin dirty flexin muscles flossin twenty” is a little bit more of a tongue-twister than I realised.  Things I should have improved: the chorus is in a slightly different key to the “just reach out just reach out” hook which comes after it!  Although I am certainly a singer before I am a rapper, the rap in the bridge is not my finest hour.  But I played the hell out of this on my ipod, and I was so proud so this song means a lot to me.

Confession (Prelude) / Checkin’
The prelude comes after I had just gotten into Joss Stone’s most recent album, Introducing Joss Stone, which used a lot of old-school instruments such as horns and live drums, so I was flirting with that old-school sound.  And then for “Checkin'”, I liked the contrast between the brassy horns in the prelude and then the cold, spiky electronic backing of the song itself.  In “Checkin'”, I actually combine those horns into the dance-feel of the song, and the beat changes several times throughout the song (particularly in the prechorus change to the chorus) which is something I feel makes the song fresh.  However, the vocal production on it leaves a little to be desired… So there are things I appreciate about the song, but also things that I wish I had polished a little more, once again.

My Man / I’m Coming (Interlude)
Again, this song has subdued vocals, and the somewhat restrained vocal production means that it fades into the beats a little too much.  This is one of the most R&B songs, and the straightforward ballad backing is something I think I did a really great job of.  The lyrics are also straightforward “keep your hands off my man”, but I turned it into a ballad rather than an uptempo, which is what usually goes along with a more fiery message.  The song is confident and was written a lot in the spirit of Monica’s “Sideline Ho” – you might be the one on the side, but I’m the main dude, so don’t even think of coming for me.  I like this one, and I wouldn’t mind doing another song with the same sort of music backing, just stronger vocal production (especially on the whispers, which are barely audible).

Respect Me
This is the first song I ever did!!! This brings back memories, I was sat on the sofa in the lounge, before I was due to go off to Spain, and I just started messing about with what sounded a little crazy on Garageband. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I made my vocals skip, and then I started playing with the different drum kits.  The crazy beat is a product of going “C D E F G A” on one of the kits, nothing more, nothing less!  The siren is stolen from Beyoncé’s “Ring The Alarm”, and I wanted the same kind of fiery approach to the vocals, without the screaming!  The vocals actually came out pretty good, so on some of the songs I did in between this one and the last two songs on the disc, I don’t know why I didn’t put so much effort into the vocal production.  The handclaps in the bridge are my very own handclaps, which is why they sound a bit fuzzy, but other than that, I feel that this song holds up fairly well compared to others on the disc.

Reverse
One of the things that annoys me about Garageband is that you actually can’t reverse any portion of any of the tracks.  Not vocals, not anything (if anyone knows a way to do it, please let me know!).  So instead I slowed my vocals down in the chorus; “strato-stratosphere!” More questionable rapping in the verses, but the vocal run in the first prechorus – “daaaaaaaaaaaaaaanger” – is one of my finest moments! (and yes, it is all me doing that! No special effects!)  The concept of the “tetris beat” is adapted from Gwen Stefani’s “Yummy”, featuring Pharrell.  The straightforward 4-4 beat, combined with the odd space-alien synth and hand-claps (not mine this time) served as a simple club-ish backing.  I also liked the idea of the ” count 1,2,3,4…” which broke the song after the first chorus and gains attention.  This song isn’t bad at all, but excluding the Latin piano in the bridge, I wish I had done more singing on it and less rapping/speaking.

Say Anything
I think I did a great job with this ballad, which I presume must have been inspired by Janet Jackson’s “Take Care” from her underrated 20YO album.  I was listening to this song in the store-room, and this and the final song (the next one) “Yur Boi” are by far the best songs on this cd.  It’s a sexy, slow ballad that goes beyond the physical to really express how I can relish a lover’s company, not only when we’re talking but even when we’re silent.  True communication goes beyond words… but I still ended the song with a poetic spoken-word coda.  The bassline shudders appropriately, and the finger-clicks accentuate the subtlety of the whole song.  I can imagine Aaliyah singing something like this, as well as Janet Jackson.  I look fondly back on this song, which I wrote in Spain along with…

Yur Boi
Originally, this song was meant to share the sound of Brooke Hogan’s “For A Moment” (which is referenced in the very last line of the song), but midway through my stay in Spain, I rediscovered Jaimeson’s garage-R&B album, and I was listening to “Complete” and decided to change the song so that it had more of a drum’n’bass feel, which ended the album on an unexpected note that drew away from both the R&B and dance elements that had come before.  The melody steals a bit from Beenie Man & Mýa’s “Girls Dem Sugar” (the part where she sings “If I could be your girl” is the little snippet I stole, though I rejigged the rhythm and everything so it’s not recognisable until you compare the songs side by side).  I also wanted the lyrics to tell a story that surprised the listener – the first half of the song gives the impression that I’m blissfully happy with my lover, when as the song transitions into its less beat-driven second-half, it transpires that I’m alone and missing that person terribly, wishing that I could live our love over again.  The dénouement was reflected by the musical changes, where the drum’n’bass beat was subdued in favour of an acoustic guitar loop, strings and the piano melody which was pushed to the forefront.  On a couple of songs on Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, I was impressed by the way that Justin transitioned between the principal club-ready mainstream song, and the more emotional, heartfelt coda that segued perfectly into what came before and after.  I’m thinking in particular of “Lovestoned / I Think She Knows” and “What Goes Around… / …Comes Around”.  So I sought to recreate that sort of transition.  I think that the song turned out great, and apart from a couple of production quirks, it sounds quite fresh and legit, even today.  This song and “Say Anything” I think are the two best songs on the album, as they sound slightly more polished and have thus held up better with time in comparison to my newer material.

Once again, I want to thank you for reading, taking all these different journeys with me.  Please download the album (let me know if I need to re-up any of the links), and rest assured there is more (and a lot better!!!) to come. I hope that you enjoy reading the descriptions along to the songs and that they shed light on where and what I get my inspiration from.  I also hope that you’ll listen to my new music and see just how much I have matured and how far I have come, both musically and as a person.  From the bottom of my heart, thankyou 🙂