Posts Tagged ‘slow’

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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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dream / nightmare – smurf exercise class.

February 26, 2010

I just woke up, and although I have work in a bit (I need to be dressed, teeth brushed and on the bus stop in 45 minutes, ideally), I just had to blog this dream, it’s made me feel really strange.  What’s worse is that it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a nightmare, and you will all probably think it is the most hilarious dream out of all of those that I’ve blogged.  Yet it’s left me with a really uneasy feeling… :S

I was the same age as I am now, but it was like we were back at school, and we were all in changing rooms getting changed back into our clothes after what was ostensibly a swimming lesson.   I was keeping myself to myself, but in the same changing room there was a group of 3 or 4 guys from my year group at school, one of whom was R whom I used to have a massive crush on back in the day.  Anyways, it was meant to be his birthday, and he was having some sort of party, and they were talking (the group of guys were all twats, essentially) and discussing how much they were going to drink, what they were going to do, who they were going to try and sleep with etc. I kept my head down and tried to get changed, but for some reason they were looking at me and asking why I was getting dressed so slowly, did I like being naked with them, I had no chance of anything happening, I should hurry up because I was keeping them all waiting.  I was getting changed as quickly as I could, but when I looked up, they were all dressed and suddenly a teacher came in and informed us that if we didn’t hurry up, the last 6 people might not be able to fit on the bus as there was limited space.

After that, I remember some sort of classroom game, but only vaguely.  What happened next was that my school colleagues appeared to vanish, and were swiftly replaced by the people on my careers guidance course at uni.  Our tutor, Mary, came out and split us into our two practice groups (which is how we’re split up for quite a few of the activities on the course) and told us to go outside, where we’d receive details of the task we would have to prepare.  We all crowded outside, a lot of people were chattering excitedly but I was feeling somewhat melancholy after my earlier experience, so I was still quiet.  Outside it was a replica of my patio at home, but a lot larger in order to be able to fit 23 people sitting around the edge.  Mary stood in the middle and told us that one member from each group had to be a Smurf and entertain a group of youngsters while also doing some sort of exercise instruction class.  I was immediately horrified, while several members of the group laughed.  Then Mary announced that she had chosen one person from each of the two groups to perform this task, while everyone else was going to role-play being the children and watch in the audience.  I don’t remember who she chose from the other group, but from my group she chose me.

I was mortified, and I sat still as the group became more excitable.  I wandered around the outside of the patio trying to evade the task, but the group of my friends started heckling me and told me to be a good sport and have a go.  I was so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to dress as a Smurf, and I didn’t want to expose my body. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me. Plus, it was also a ridiculously stupid activity, and would be of no value to the kids, and I don’t know why Mary would have selected people (let alone me) as normally she would let us come to a democratic decision. So this made me feel pretty upset, and as I stood in front of the group of my friends, I had to fight back tears, and I started to dance awkwardly before abruptly stopping and pleading with someone to swap with me.  Mike got up and stood next to me and put his arm round me and told me it was going to be alright, that it was just a bit of fun and not to take things so personally.  I felt a little better for that, but I still really didn’t want to be a Smurf. I asked if someone would please swap with me, but the group was too busy talking and laughing, or watching the other group’s Smurf, to really pay attention.  Finally, my friends started paying attention to me, and I repeated the idea of swapping out of being a Smurf, since I didn’t feel up to it. My friends started going “aww” and “it’s only fun!”, but then I realised that Mike was volunteering to swap with me.  I was not happy about this, because I would have liked to sit and gossip with Mike (as we usually do), but since he was the volunteer essentially saving me from a fate of wearing a nappy and being giant and blue, I let him take over and sat in the corner.  Immediately, Clare put her arm around me and told me not to worry and just to relax and enjoy myself, but I felt somewhat disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the strength to perform a task I had been chosen for.  I looked up and was again horrified by what I saw: Although Mike’s face was normal, he was now stripped to his underwear, grinding while my group were all heckling, laughing, whooping, trying to reach out and touch his body which was ridiculously thin, muscled and tanned to a deep bronze like that of a body builder (but slim) – in reality, I have not seen Mike naked but I am quite confident his body is not like this! I was horrified and as Clare and some of the women in the group started to grope his underwear (which seemingly fell away), I began to cry with embarrassment that I had been chosen for such a task, that I couldn’t do it, that Mike had had to save me and yet was enjoying being naked and playing the clown in front of the group (which I thought was utterly humiliating and sorta disgustingly prurient), and then I woke up.

Very bizarre. 😦

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the one.

January 28, 2010

The most honest and one of the most difficult things that I have come to realise about the whole Mike situation (read back if you don’t know, although this entry will no doubt catch you up more or less anyway) is that he is The One.  Not that I actually believe in the concept of “the One”: I find it extremely improbable that out of the billions of everyone on earth, there is only one single person with whom you are meant to be happy.  I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe in that sort of destiny or pre-determined fate.  I don’t find it logical in the sense of considering issues like gender, sexuality, race, religion, culture, even people of different languages?  I mean, what if my one meant-to-be person happened to be a female homophobic person from a tribe with their own language, living in the middle of the African desert?  I’d be more than a bit screwed, and it’s an unlikely match to start with.  So I don’t believe that there is one soulmate.

So let me clarify: when I say that Mike is “the One”, I mean that in my 24 years of living, he is the most important and closest thing to a soulmate with whom I could imagine spending my life with, that I’ve ever met.  Of course, he’s straight, he’s 11 years older than me, he’s married, he’s a father – so again, it’s not going to happen.  Last week we were discussing our feelings, the situation and so forth, and he said “I truly wish I could reciprocate your feelings.”  That meant a lot to me, and what else could I say but be honest and reply “I wish you could too”? I know that if things were different and he could be with me somehow, we would do it and that would be it, end of story, happily ever after thankyou very much.  But things aren’t different, and I ended the conversation with “In another life, maybe.” and left it at that, and proceeded to talk about other, less serious things (and I later got very drunk, vomited over a bridge near a swan and then stayed at T’s place).  Nevertheless, that discussion will be one of the many things that I never forget about Mike – there are so many even after just 5 months of knowing each other.  And before you say it, I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation either, but my mind is a little more open to that than the “one sole soulmate in the world” concept.

After starting the week with some insecurities over my friendship with the third member of our little love triangle (which were proven unfounded – I overthink things, misinterpret little subtle gestures and take them far too personally), I’ve made a real effort to be the best friend I can be to both Mike and V, and to focus on my burgeoning friendship with T.  Things look good, and although I’m not really comfortable at letting someone get close to me in a more-than-friends way, I’m starting to feel a little more at ease with it.  I’d still like to slow down the pace somewhat, but I enjoy spending time with him and I feel so flattered that he appears to think so much of me.  I’d be a fool to just throw that away, and I’m glad (most of the time) that I haven’t.  He’s a really good guy, so why not see if it leads somewhere?  My feelings for Mike are there and I acknowledge that, but there’s no need for T to know about them because that would just cause needless questions and possible hurt.  I am glad to say that I consider Mike one of my closest, best friends, and everything I’ve been through and we’ve been through has ultimately contributed to that rather than broken it down, which I think is testament to the both of us.

I spent the day with Mike today as we walked his son up and down Bristol docks on the train tracks (he educated me about trains, I taught him about raspberries), got Mike’s first tattoo (it looks fantastic, and watching him get inked up was a tiny bit sexy but mainly really interesting – as well as enthusing to play off his jubilation when he saw it in the mirror and was so happy – just like my reaction!), booked my second tattoo – the revolver – for next week (arrrrgh here we go AGAIN! No doubt I’ll post up the picture just like with the first one 😉 ), spent time with his family, had chilli and smoked lots, and watched Snow White with his son.  I was so privileged that they wanted to spend time with me – not just Mike, but his whole family – and that really means a lot to me.  He is one of my very best friends, and I hope to death that that is something that never changes, because losing him would be a catastrophe.  I feel close to his son, his wife is absolutely lovely, and although sometimes I feel that it might be weird considering the way that I feel about Mike, I adore watching his family interact (especially considering my own family’s ups and downs in terms of emotional push and pull) and feeling as if I am part of them.  Knowing his wife so well, rather than infuriating me in terms of “damn, you got my man first!” (I occasionally feel that, but really very rarely), seems to normalise me and I don’t think of Mike romantically so much when I’m in his family’s presence – it’s just not appropriate and doesn’t enter my head.  He’ll always be a sexy man, he’ll always have a sexual magnetism for me, but in that kind of situation the pull is less.  And considering my possible relationship with T, my close friendship with Mike which I don’t want to jeopardise, and the many ways in which my romantic feelings are inappropriate, whatever minimises my attraction to him is welcome.

So I hope that T and me work well, I hope that Mike and me are best friends for many years to come (as well as tattoo buddies!), I hope that I can always feel comfortable with his family and that they can always feel comfortable with me.  Within one month of 2010, I’ve got one tattoo, one on the way, a possible new boyfriend, and I’m working on passing my driving test – all with strengthening my bond with Mike.  I sense a lot of positive accomplishments to come, and that makes me really happy. 🙂