Posts Tagged ‘rain’

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

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Unapologetic might be Rihanna’s best album yet. In truth, I’ve been struggling to work out how to start a review of this album without referring to her previous masterpiece Rated R, which was a tour de force that exposed an angry, vulnerable girl trying to figure out the aftermath of love gone wrong. This album came out when I was in the midst of trying to untangle and deal with my own feelings of unrequited love, and resonated with me on such a level. On the other hand, Unapologetic comes out when I am happily in love and settled in my own life. This time, Rihanna’s narrative is quite different to my own – and yet Unapologetic, to its credit, still connects with the listener, drawing them into her fury that this time is more simmering than explosive (on Rated R, all-out rage only begins to subside into a quieter, more vulnerable, bubbling – yet nevertheless powerful – anger at around “Photographs”, two thirds of the way through the record).

Of course, Rihanna’s life has changed considerably since then. An even bigger star now than she was 3 years ago with the ability to only release number 1 singles, now she has a number 1 album to match. Meanwhile, her atomic breakup with Chris Brown (precipitated by his fists) has metamorphosed into media-baiting behaviour, ill-advised collaborations with Brown and the rumoured (likely true, if the photographs and ineloquent tweets and confessions of her ex are to be believed) rekindling of their romance. Unapologetic: why shouldn’t Rihanna forgive her abuser, her first love? Why shouldn’t she work with a hot male R&B star? Why can’t she misbehave, smoke, drink, party night after night like anyone in their early twenties? Despite what naysayers like to purvey, her career certainly hasn’t suffered for it. But the material on the album – none of which was written by Rihanna but all of which has a stamp immediately more personal than the scattergun Loud that hit dizzying heights all too infrequently, and than the ultimately unsatisfying Talk That Talk that petered out halfway after such a promising start – displays a thoughtfulness that suggests that while Rihanna may be “unapologetic”, she’s not unaware of what is going on around her, what is happening to her and certainly of what is being said or claimed about her. Unapologetic continues where Rated R left off: there are certainly hits, but nearly every song carries a depth of meaning that exudes confidence, confusion, sex and honesty.

Opener “Phresh Out The Runway” is swag personified, and is effectively Rihanna making an entrance. While it’s great to start the album, and an excellent song to listen to for an immediate energy boost when you’re half-asleep leaving the house on the way to work, it’s not the meaningful content I’ve discussed above. Neither is the other David Guetta collaboration, “Right Now”, a club diversion that rehashes previous album highlight “Where Have You Been” to pleasant but unremarkable effect. But on lead single “Diamonds”, we get a childlike chant, a sparkling midtempo strut and a powerful vocal that lyrically echoes previous megahit “We Found Love”: where there were “yellow diamonds in the sky”, now we are “shining bright like a diamond in the sky”. Rihanna’s vocals have grown more impressive over the years (whatever she’s smoking, I would like some) and where she may have simply been a vehicle for delivering hit songs even on the consistent Good Girl Gone Bad, now it’s she who transforms a song into a smash. The chorus is powerful yet sincere, and lyrics such as the telling “I choose to be happy” betray a sense of desperation in trying to convince herself that a romantic relationship is truly infallible rather than fleeting (as are the moments portrayed in the accompanying video). It’s a fantastic performance, and a refreshingly downbeat choice for a lead single that nonetheless packs punch.

The next trio of songs could all be described as downbeat yet potent, but each has its own place on the album. “Numb” works atop a sensual Egyptian-sounding ostinato and pounding drums, while Rihanna drawls monotonously that nobody “can’t tell her nothing… I’m impaired / I’m going numb, I’m going numb”. Interestingly, the vulnerability continues as the lyrics imply that for all her power and “double-dares”, Rihanna sees herself as the defective one. “Pour It Up” in contrast is celebratory of women who are in charge (like Rihanna, of course)… and yet the vocals and beats are submerged in aural tar, as if Rihanna is high off the champagne, weed and money referenced in the songs. None of these songs are instant, and yet on repeated listens they reveal themselves as worthwhile and interesting – “balling out” may not be as fun as it’s cracked up to be. “Loveeeeeee Song” is also very chill, working from a traditional R&B template that’s chopped and screwed into something less recognisable. It’s a romantic ballad dressed up as a nonchalant come-on. So far, the theme of Unapologetic is that appearances can be deceiving – Rihanna is flawless, cocky, confident, nonchalant, vulnerable, determined to be happy, numb, impaired, intoxicated, worried about “sounding too desperate”, in need of love and affection… It’s a spiralling morass of emotion dressed up as a percolating limousine ride.

Things become much more straightforward with “Jump” – i.e. SMASH. Dubstep breakdowns done right and made fresh and dynamic; a sample of “Pony” by Ginuwine that could have easily been problematic (as is so often the case when interpolating excellent material) but instead elevates the music; Rihanna is cocksure and forthright. But within a couple of songs, we have an explosive ballad that I saw described by a user on Popjustice as “fire and ice blasting out of the ground”. “What Now” is flawless and one of Rihanna’s best works – a mid-tempo ballad that quickly becomes bombastic, overwrought and emboldened by one of her best vocal performances to date. As drums explode and guitars roar to a climax, lyrics profess that “I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout”. The emotions certainly do come out, so palpably that the cut is utterly absorbing and one of Rihanna’s best. “Stay” directly follows this and is the quietest track on the album, serving as more evidence of Rihanna’s improvements as a vocalist and interpretative singer – she is capable of taking a song and breathe life into it, whatever the subject matter or emotional standpoint. It’s just been confirmed as Unapologetic‘s second single and appears to be a fan favourite, though I wouldn’t go any further than saying the song is fine – I would certainly champion other tracks over this one. But its contrast with the other songs on the album and with Rihanna’s usual output gives it its own place on the album.

“Nobody’s Business”, the duet with Chris Brown, is the perceived “event” of the album, sampling Michael Jackson to boot. But musically it’s a little bit flat – the existence of the duet says more than its sonic attributes. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world… ain’t nobody’s business.” Yet another contradiction in an album full of them, both lyrically and musically. Is Rihanna purposefully spiting all of those who supported her during the fallout of her abuse suffered at Brown’s hands? Is it offensive? Or are they just teasing? It seems very pointed when Rihanna sings “Let’s make out in this Lexus” – as opposed to what happened in a car last time! It’s a trying sentiment that seems difficult to understand – but once again, let’s remember that Rihanna is “unapologetic” so what does it matter? She is going to do what she wants, she’s young and in love, and hopefully she won’t get hurt again in such a way. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” is the album’s centrepiece that, like “The Last Song” from Rated R, captivates the listener with exceptionally personal exposure. Where the previous track aims to provoke without any substance to back it up, here the confessional actually reveals a lot. “I was his Marilyn Monroe / Brown eyes, tuxedo, fast cars / A James Dean on the low.” We are clearly taken back to that fateful night of Rihanna’s being attacked (and interestingly, she hints at Chris Brown’s alleged bisexuality to boot, which may or may not have something to do with the night in question).  The bravado of “Nobody’s Business” is completely gone here, and as the song transitions into “Mother Mary”, Rihanna sounds less sure of her swagger: “I swear I wanna change”. The lyrics touch on the nature of fame, as does worthwhile bonus track “Half Of Me”, and implies that whatever we think we know about Rihanna, us outsiders never get to see the whole picture and so we shouldn’t judge… but Rihanna understands that we inevitably will. As much as “Nobody’s Business” claimed to be happy-go-lucky and ready to dive into love-as-sex, “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” shows much more depth of thought (as in “What Now”) and heart that encourages repeat listens. This is another highlight of Unapologetic.

The closing songs of the album feel like a plane coming into land. “Get It Over With” is sublime, like a song-length interlude that urges the climax to “come on and fucking rain”; anger gives way to fatigue and surrender to whatever will be, good or bad. “No Love Allowed” is, contrastingly, a deceptively sunny reggae song that once again confounds expectations set up by the previous song. But the lyrics are spooky and uncomfortable, as was its precursor in spirit, Loud‘s “Man Down”. In direct opposition to that song’s subject matter, here it’s Rihanna yelling “911 it’s a critical emergency / Better run run run and charge him with the 143.” It’s a neat (perhaps too neat?) inversion of “Man Down” and seems to shed more light on the Chris Brown saga… but as highlighted in “Half Of Me”, how much do we ever know about Rihanna? We’re not privy to the whole story – according to “Mother Mary”, she’s going to “make the best scene they’ve ever seen.” “Lost In Paradise”, last but not least, is a bass-heavy closer that implies the story is not over, because now Rihanna has to find meaning to the paradise she claims to be stranded in if she ever hopes to find her way out.

For an album where Rihanna does not carry a single songwriting credit (though she is an executive producer), Unapologetic sure feels personal. And honest: an album filled with contradictions that are often calculated but nevertheless sound/feel like they have genuine meaning. The journey of the album is consistently riveting and reveals its complexities on repeated listens. There may be few answers to fans’ questions (however many sordid details it provides), but this rings less as Rihanna being deliberately elusive and more as she herself not quite knowing how to proceed. After all, she’s naked on the damn album cover – how much more vulnerable can one be, clothed only in a flimsy gauze of words, slogans and hashtags? In a world where her lover became her abuser and now may become her lover again, and where soundscapes and lyrics distort and contort around and through her voice, the one thing – no, two things – Rihanna clearly knows is how to release hit singles, and how to craft a powerful album.

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Tube update: Finchley Road & Frognal and Hampstead

July 15, 2012

Today, Toby and I had a long lie-in and I finished watching Veronika Decides To Die (excellent, thought-provoking film; Sarah Michelle Gellar is captivating). We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves – we were debating whether to go to Westfield but decided that a Sunday trip would be better as it will hopefully be a little less busy. So after breakfast, I tempted Toby with the idea of going to Hampstead. I go up there for work sometimes, and the leafy, suburban feel is different to the London that we normally inhabit. We got the Overground from West Brompton to Finchley Road & Frognal:

Then, we walked up to see Sigmund Freud’s house on Maresfield Gardens. It’s £6 to go in and have a look, and I’d heard that the museum inside was fairly tiny, so we left that for another time when we were more in the mood, but from the outside the house was very quaint:

We then decided to explore Hampstead High Street, since I had heard that it was a lovely area, but had never been there myself.  On the walk there, the heavens opened and so we took shelter in Caffe Nero, where we had lunch. The rain passed, and we looked around the Oxfam Bookshop and Zara Home. I also saw Hampstead tube station:

We then walked back to West Hampstead to get the 328 back to Earls Court, which was a long journey! In my previous London Underground post on West Hampstead, I had just posted a picture of the Overground station, and as the bus was going past, I managed to snap a quick picture of the underground station across the road, so I thought I would add that one here too:

Oh the glamour! But it was lovely to explore parts of London we don’t see, and that have such a different feel to the Royal Borough and Fulham. I look forward to doing some more before the summer is over!

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Quiet Storm Inspirations II. (download)

August 1, 2010

As promised, here is the “sonic mood board” that inspired my album Quiet Storm (which you can download here).  Where the last “Inspirations” album was comprised of songs that inspired particular facets of songs on Quiet Storm, this one is more indicative of what music I was listening to when I was inspired to create the concept of the album: nocturnal, sexy, emotional, romantic, soft and tough, vulnerable and strong in one go. As you will see from the tracklist before, it’s an R&B compilation through and through; I’d go as far as to say that these are some of the best contemporary R&B songs over the last 15 years (interestingly, quite a few of them are early Missy Elliott / Timbaland productions… I miss those days!).  Of course, the list is not exhaustive and I had to cut down from over 50 songs to the 19 that you see here; anyway, I hope that you will enjoy downloading the album, listening to the songs and perhaps discover some artists or some songs that you didn’t know, or hadn’t heard in ages.  Download link is at the bottom underneath the tracklisting.  Enjoy!!!

1. Aaliyah – We Need A Resolution (f/ Timbaland)
2. Ginuwine – Pony
3. Mariah Carey – The Roof
4. Ryan Leslie – Addiction (f/ Cassie & Fabolous)
5. Kelly Rowland – Flashback
6. Omarion – Ice Box
7. Janet Jackson – Empty
8. Toni Braxton – Rock Me, Roll Me
9. Shola Ama – (I Don’t Know) Interlude
10. LeToya – I Need A U
11. Dru Hill – Beauty
12. Nicole Scherzinger – Whatever You Like (f/ T.I.)
13. Nicole Wray – Make It Hot (f/ Missy Elliott & Mocha)
14. Brandy – Come As You Are
15. Total – Rain
16. Mýa – For The First Time
17. R. Kelly – Feelin’ On Your Booty
18. Rihanna – Question Existing
19. Sugababes – Maya

DOWNLOAD

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i cry real tears.

August 4, 2009

On my way home on the bus after a lovely day spent with Hannah and Nick, I suddenly felt tired and wanted nothing more than to be instantly wrapped up on the sofa.  With the rain flooding down the windows as I gazed out at the grey, overcast cityscape passing me by, I couldn’t help but feel that the weather echoed my inner sentiments.  As if, for all the nice chats and coffees and perfume I enjoyed today, I couldn’t escape my own sorrow, loneliness, fear and ennui – I could only subdue it and try to ignore it.  But with the rain coming down all around me, I could have started crying – not bursting into tears, but silently letting them fall from my eyes.

Why? I have a pretty good life, and I had had a nice day.  But I guess that being on my own, in the middle of a crowded bus (the windows steamed up by our collective body heat) with nobody to talk to and my ipod drowning out everything, surrounded by anonymous faces and anonymous rain, the solitude just got to me.  I’ve fallen for somebody real bad, and it’s crazy because right now, I can’t think of anything better than escaping my life and running away to another country, learning another language and living a completely different life.  Obviously I’m not going to do this, but I can’t help but imagine what it would be like, and how happy I could be if we really did fall in love with one another.  I’m wrapped up in a fantasy and it’s so sweet, it makes reality all the more bitter in comparison.  And I’m wrapped in his cologne (Opium Pour Homme) so that I always feel it on me, and it’s torture because it smells so good and yet he’s not there.  I’ve met the guy once (though we talk most days) and I’ve gone utterly crazy.  Rationale literally out of the window.

I have a ridiculous amount of music on my iPod, and at times like this I can’t help but pick songs that echo my mood, or lyrics that echo my situation.  My current choices range between optimistic and heartrending: Blu Cantrell – “I Can’t Believe“, Mariah Carey – “The Beautiful Ones“, Shontelle – “T-Shirt“, Toni Braxton – “Spanish Guitar” & “I Don’t Want To“, The-Dream, “H.A.T.E. U” are the examples which come to mind.  Of course, tugging at my heartstrings doesn’t make me feel any better or enable me to forget my situation, but instead keeps me moping, though at least I am moping to a good soundtrack!

Anyway, I didn’t cry.  I am not the kind of person who would break down in public (I don’t like looking imperfect, even sweating in public, so tears are out of the question – I do my utmost to keep my façade weakness-free), and I’m not the kind of person who breaks down even in private.  Ever since I was a kid, I was taught to keep my emotions inside so that nobody can see your weaknesses (particularly when my dad would try to upset me with the goal of making me cry, my mother taught me not to give him the satisfaction).  So even during trying times, I try to suppress any extremity of emotion in public, and take deep breaths and clench my fists and just get on with things.  After all, the quicker it’s over, the quicker it’s done.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to cry.  I believe in the cathartic power of tears, and once you’ve cried your eyes and your heart out, there’s nowhere left to go but to start healing yourself and picking yourself back up.  Although they make your eyes puffy and swollen, and seem to bring out dark red freckles around my cheekbones (lucky me), tears do serve a purpose – they let you acknowledge your sadness and express it and move on.  Sometimes, my restraint from expressing my sadness even privately means that it festers, whereas if I could just let myself go and cry, maybe I’d move on a little quicker.  Who knows – that’s just the kind of person I have come to be, it’s probably to late to do anything about it now.

Yet I disagree with the widely-held belief that “boys don’t cry”.  They just don’t let anyone know that they cry.  There are a lot of secrets kept between the sexes that I think stop us from understanding one another and feeling close to one another.  Of course people are going to think that men and women are from different planets; that’s the way we live our lives.  The machismo the boys don’t cry does stem from the fact that crying supposedly signals weakness, and men must never appear weak.  But why is it ok for women to be weak, in that case?  Everybody gets weak sometimes (even though nobody talks about it, we all know it’s true) and in that weakness, the best thing we can do is to seek strength from others.  But (and I am particularly guilty of this), seeking strength and asking for help once again points out our weaknesses to other people and we are too proud / afraid to bare ourselves in this way.  So we cover it up.  But I think that to make it a gender thing (Fergie made things no better with her song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – boys cry, men cry, big girls cry, petite girls cry, grown women cry, transexuals cry.  Everybody cries.) is just stupid – tears are universal.

Babies cry for attention.  Adults rebel against this because when we cry, we don’t want anyone to know – bringing attention to ourselves is the last thing on our minds.  Crying is a secret rebellion against maintaining that all-important appearance of teflon perfection.  I don’t cry (films never get to me – the right music is usually the closest thing to bring me to the brink) very often at all, but sometimes – like today – there is an evocative feeling in my heart, and I don’t know what to do with it.  And though, despite everything, I am not comfortable with letting my tears fall in public, it’s as pure an expression of hurt and longing as you’re gonna get.  And wrapped in this cologne, my longing aches just that little bit sweeter.