Posts Tagged ‘quest’

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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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the characterisation of cake.

August 1, 2009

While I was writing my previous blog entry, I was talking to one of my best friends Nana about cake.  We are both trying to get fit and not fat, and cake gets in the way.  Lately, my mother has been bringing home iced madeira cake, with little layers of cream and raspberry jam in the middle, and it’s absolutely delicious and irresistible, and plays havoc with my spreadsheet where I plot the nights that I do snack after dinner against the nights that I don’t (I have improved a lot in the last 5 months! I currently stand at not snacking 68% of nights, and my aim for August is to get to 75%).  This is the conversation (Nana is “Back in London”, I am “chase – lycanthropy” – but then, you didn’t need me to tell you that if you’ve been reading 😉 ) :

11:59:32 Back in London :-): ohhh yes

11:59:48 Back in London :-): ahh cake 😀

11:59:52 chase – lycanthropy: hah

11:59:58 chase – lycanthropy: cake is my friend and my enemy

12:00:15 Back in London :-): yes

12:00:23 Back in London :-): i have a love hate relationship with cake too

12:00:45 Back in London :-): he has me wrapped around his finger…

12:00:50 Back in London :-): makes me want him more when i know i shouldn’t

12:01:31 chase – lycanthropy: haha you think of cake as a man

12:01:34 chase – lycanthropy: i think of cake as a woman

12:01:39 chase – lycanthropy: but yes i know what you mean

12:01:47 chase – lycanthropy: iced madeira cake is especially tempting

12:01:52 chase – lycanthropy: also toffee cheesecake

12:01:58 chase – lycanthropy: (which is what my nan serves)

12:02:33 Back in London :-): omg

12:02:37 Back in London :-): maybe i should just come to bristol today

12:02:38 Back in London :-): lol

12:06:55 chase – lycanthropy: :p

12:07:05 chase – lycanthropy: i am going to write a blog about this conversation we have had about cake, you know

12:07:06 chase – lycanthropy: i can see it now

12:08:02 Back in London :-): hahaha

12:08:11 Back in London :-): i look forward to it 😉

12:08:13 chase – lycanthropy: 😀

The thing I find most interesting is that Nana thought of cake as a “male” thing, whereas I envisioned cake as more of a female temptress, weaving her web around me and drawing me in closer.  It’s funny how people’s minds work and differ.  I am used to the idea, after years and years of language study, of the idea of nouns being masculine or feminine; interestingly, “gâteau” is masculine in the French, and “pastel” in the Spanish is also masculine.  But “tarte” (French) and “tarta” (Spanish) are both feminine.  So unless we’re being really specific about what kind of cake we’re eating (whether it is a big cheesecake, or a slab of marble sponge), either gender could go.  I guess another reason why I think of cake as feminine is because until you’ve eaten 3 slices and it’s sitting in your stomach (something I genuinely don’t do very often, I promise), cake is a dainty, light creature, with pretty pastel colours of icing and soft, sweet flavours.  In other words, to me, cake isn’t exactly grr butch.  But obviously now I’m gender stereotyping, and I like people to think that I am sweet and seductive (at least some of the time, when my façade isn’t being icy cold).
I watched Transamerica and it’s funny how that film links in. I’m not going to do an in-depth review of it or anything, you can get those elsewhere.  But Felicity Huffman and Kevin Zegers both expertly played flawed yet beautiful characters who shone in the midst of an occasionally hokey script.  And we all have a quest to work out who we are, because society demands to put us in a box of its own conventions – he, she, gay, straight, etc.  We can’t just be because then nobody knows where they stand and how to “understand” us (the joke being that they’d rather not spend the time trying).  And I think, in a practical, day-to-day way, I can understand that.  If we spent time trying to suss out every single person who came our way and honestly made the effort to see who they really are, we’d never get anything done.  Labels never tell the whole story, but I can appreciate that they exist for a reason.  But when the label is wrong, then the misunderstood person has a lot of ground to catch up, all the while feeling like an outsider just waiting for someone to see the beauty of who they are, beyond what they are, regardless of sexuality or gender.  At least cake doesn’t have that problem – whether we think of it as a he or she, at least we are in no doubt as to how marvellous it both looks and tastes!
(ps. Nana, I hope you don’t mind me posting the snippet of our conversation up here – nothing private was said so I hope it is fine! Let me know 🙂 )