Posts Tagged ‘Ne-Yo’

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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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lady love. (LeToya album review)

August 22, 2009

On August 25th, LeToya will release her second solo album, Lady Love.  The disc is a ballad-centric compilation that stays true to LeToya’s traditional R&B-ballad signature style as evidenced on her self-titled first album, while displaying growth both musically and (in particular) vocally.  Although the few uptempos on the record (“She Ain’t Got…”, “Take Away Love”, “After Party”, “Love Rollercoaster”) lack the Houston chopped/screwed dirty hip hop flavour of the club songs on her debut, they veer more towards a poppier, guitar-fused sound.  The bonus track “Swagger” is a nod to her previous uptempos, featuring Bun B, Killa Kyleon & ex Slim Thug, and while LeToya isn’t on the song enough for it to warrant being a proper track on the album (thus making sense why it’s relegated to ‘bonus’ status), it is a nice throwback to bangers such as “Gangsta Grillz” and “Tear Da Club Up” that were highlights on her first disc.  Of Lady Love’s upbeat tracks, single “She Ain’t Got…” is the standout, a gutsy declaration to a cheating boyfriend that ain’t nobody better than Toya.  The electric guitar adds extra fuel to her fiery performance, and the hooks of “Swing batter batter batter” + “She ain’t got shit on me” are addictive.  This may be the most poppy LeToya has ever gone, but it’s still got an added punch and bite that most pop tracks lack.

But as stated at the beginning of the review, the album focuses mainly on ballads, and there is a wealth of stellar-quality material here.  From the airy vocals of the title track that opens the album (although I can’t help thinking of this track as an extended intro to the album, so blown away is it by “She Ain’t Got…” that immediately follows) to “Lazy”, which appears to remake Rihanna’s “Rehab” with better lyrics and far better vocals, where LeToya sings that “her heart’s a little lazy” after so much drama with love and relationships (I can relate!).  The vocals on this disc are far improved not only from her debut, but seem to position LeToya as a rising powerhouse (something which is quite surprising, since she never sang lead in Destiny’s Child and the kind of vocal prowess she displays on the album has barely been hinted at before).  One thing is for sure, when Beyoncé stated in the Destiny’s Child interview that “LeToya was more or less tone deaf, she was more of a rapper than anything”, she was fucking lying.  I’m sorry, but if LeToya is a rapper, she is the best-singing rapper to walk this earth (no disrespect to Lauryn Hill).  Listening to the standout “Good To Me”, where LeToya lists her reasonable desires in a partner and pleads that she is tired of being disappointed, the vocals explode throughout the song, with sustained notes and riffs both sounding impressive.

As well as competent belting, LeToya also takes risks with her voice.  On the sensual “I Need A U”, LeToya spends most of the song in an airy whisper, which compliments the slow-as-molasses beat and sexy lyrics to create a perfectly seductive listen.  Nevertheless, the best tracks are those which show that LeToya knows her strengths.  First single “Not Anymore”, while a straightforward radio ballad, is addictive and raises up the listener as LeToya repeats “I don’t want it anymore… I know my worth and you can keep that drama”.  The audience is exhorted to just sing along and feel empowered as LeToya kicks her boyfriend to the kerb, and even the rote production (a collaboration with Bei Maejor & Ne-Yo, that echoes his own style) serves the song well.  And album closer “Don’t Need You” is a laid-back closer with a beatbox element in the production.  It is another sing-along affair, where LeToya discovers that she is better off on her own.  Happiness doesn’t mean that you need another to be with you all the time.

“Over”, “Matter” and “Regret” (a sexy, laid back track that rewrites Kelly Rowland’s “Ghetto” and improves it tenfold, with a melody and hook that is actually memorable) all represent strong ballads that repeat the same theme, of the wronged girlfriend realising that she is the better one.  The fact that nearly all of the songs on this album cover the same theme does get a tiny bit monotonous, although songs like “I Need A U” and “Love Rollercoaster” are a refreshing change in that they are optimistic.  Generally though, this album is the perfect listen for after a breakup, and it’s practically impossible to imagine that LeToya didn’t write this album in response to her failed relationship with Slim Thug.  All that I can say is that, without wishing more relationship drama on LeToya, she clearly creates her best material when she’s unhappy with love… This album is clearly one of the albums of the year, since it doesn’t try to be dance of any other genre to get more radio play… it is solid R&B, with no weak tracks and stellar vocals.  Even if the themes aren’t too varied, it makes the album cohesive and one that you can listen to from beginning to end without skipping.  The ballads have enough variety in the production not to sound alike, and the hooks are memorable and get stuck in your head after only a couple of listens.  In 2009, music has become so disappointingly bland, false and heartless that every good album is a highlight that we really have to cherish.  I recommend that we all cherish LeToya’s Lady Love, because not enough artists nowadays are making music this strong and consistent.  A fantastic sophomore album.