Posts Tagged ‘specialness’

h1

Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.

Advertisements
h1

quiet storm track walkthrough (part ii).

October 31, 2009

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

Without further ado, let’s go on with the show!  Here’s part i of the walkthrough, covering tracks 1-6 of the album, if you need to read.  Once again, please enjoy and you can download my album at the link above / at the bottom of the page if you haven’t already! 🙂

7. Touch Me

This was the first single off the album, and it samples “Nobody But You” by Cassie and The-Dream.  I added some more drums and extra instruments (like the piano line) to give it a little extra kick.  Sonically and lyrically, it’s a little bit lighter than the songs which have come prior, because I didn’t want the album to be too heavy all the way through.  Life isn’t like that, and we all need to have some fun and not be so serious sometimes.  The theme of this one is about liking somebody  and having a crush on them, and just being flirtatious and wanting to have a good time with them – letting whatever happens, happen!  After a comment from my friend Emma who heard the song today, it’s interesting that none of the songs on the album have any relation to anything that’s happened in the last couple of months (I finished writing and recording the album at the beginning of September), because this song lyrically is more than a little appropriate right now. 😉 It’s also an unofficial part 2 to one of the very first songs I did, called “Reach Out”.

8. High Fashion

With “Touch Me”, this portion of the album is the ‘uptempo / club ready’ section, the part of the night when you just want to dance, have a good time and feel fierce.  I was inspired a lot by working at the Perfume Shop and being surrounded by a lot of luxury or designer brands like Prada, Gucci, Dior, and how tempting and intoxicating that whole world is.  For me, designer is increasingly a natural fit, though I try not to be snobby with it – I want my jewellery and accessories to feel special to me, not a normality.  But I like the authenticity of real designer, real luxury items – “I’m a real boy / I like real things”.  Originally, I envisioned the song being a midtempo like “Hook Boy”, but the lyrics have a bit of swag and confidence and I fell in love with a Garageband sample which was very poppy and uptempo – this is the poppiest song on the record, in my opinion.  I also enjoyed shouting out my half-Italian heritage, because my favourite designers are almost all Italian (Christian Dior is the exception) houses.  In short, the song’s message is that fashion is more than just what you wear, it’s a part of who you are and inherent in your attitude, outlook and all sorts of things.  And I honestly believe that.

9. Theory (Interlude)

This one’s a spoken interlude just explaining why I enjoy wearing designer items, and what things like that mean to me.  I do feel special with the right necklace on, I won’t deny it.  But I also think that looking put together is both a savvy self-promotion, and a convenient barricade between the outside world and the vulnerability I keep inside.  This interlude just explains that.

10. Armani Earrings

Can you say “SWAG”?!? I love this song, the lyrics were so much fun to write (and I challenged myself to include lots of polysyllabic words, because I’m a literate boy!), and this is my rap song!  Rapping is something I’m seeking to improve at, and I liked my flow on this song a lot.  I wanted to honour my Armani studs (my signature look), which have paid for themselves in compliments alone! Originally, the whole thing was rapped, but I’m a singer and not a rapper, so I made the bridge and final chorus more melodic, which ended up adding to the force of the song, rather than detracting away from it.  I love the bassline, which was inspired by a HOT track I saw on youtube, by Tila Tequila called “I Fucked The DJ” – it goes hard!!  I also shout out one of my favourite CDs back from when I was a teenager, which was Tatyana Ali’s Kiss The Sky.  Originally, “Armani Earrings” was supposed to be slightly slower, with a more gangsta beat, but once I heard that song, I knew that I wanted that kind of sound to make my song really club-ready – it took a little while to get it right, but I love this song now.  Although I don’t really believe that my boyfriend is more expendable than my bracelet, it’s fun to sing!  And it depends on the boyfriend 😉

11. Quiet Storm

There’s a reason why this song is the title track of the album, and why it’s slap bang in the middle – for me, this is the centrepiece of the whole record.  Production-wise, I’m so proud of it – the stuttering beat and the mysterious piano really embodies a night-time jam. I was inspired on this track by Danity Kane’s “Right Now”, Jennifer Lopez’s Hex Hector remix of “Waiting For Tonight”, and Lil’ Wayne’s “Got Money” – that’s the “tick tick boom” lyric explained for you!  The guitar solo in the middle (and the heavy breathing shots) emphasises sensuality and sexuality, and the song is just about being in this perfect moment surrounded by a pounding bass in the middle of the club, just seeing somebody and being irresistibly attracted to them to the point where everything melts away.  So it’s very sexy, very captivating, very seductive, but also very mysterious and nocturnal.  It’s about love and attraction being a force of nature that is literally more powerful than music – and if you know me, you’ll know just how powerfully I feel music.  I wanted a song that I could dance to in a club, that I could chill to and feel the lyrics, that I could wind to on my patio at night.  And this song ticks all those boxes for me, so I wanted this song to be the album’s signature track and indicative of all that I wanted to achieve with this project.

Part iii coming soon! Hold tight 😉

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

h1

killing time.

September 16, 2009

So it’s 9:38 according to the clock in the corner of my laptop, and I’m writing this post from work (WordPress is blocked by the NHS so I’m writing it now and will post it up this evening when I get home… by which time the future tense will be present) because I am conscious that as I’m staying with my grandmother so that on her return from Italy, she’s not immediately in an empty house, I wouldn’t be able to blog.  I started work at 8:30, and less than an hour later, I’m already bored and without very much (read: nothing) to do.  I have tweeted from my phone (Twitter is also blocked at work! Damn those pesky IT people) and texted Hannah; I am listening to Brandy (Never Say Never) on my iPod with Mariah Carey (Rainbow) queued up; I am going to gaze at my Gucci bracelet and possibly email a picture of it to my parents in Barcelona, because they taunted me over the phone by telling me how many designer boutiques they had been past.  No need to rub it in!

So writing this blog post in advance is tantamount to me killing time, which seems to be a lot of what I do at work these days!  (As I type, one of my colleagues is demonstrating his juggling skills, so it’s obviously not just me. 😉 ) It’s certainly a step up from my previous job, where there was always a sense of urgency for rarely a legitimate reason, but it dawns on me that often, what we do in life is kill time.  Reading American Psycho on the bus, Patrick Bateman describes how he spent the majority of his summer “in a stupor, sitting either in my office or in new restaurants, in my apartment watching videotapes or in the backs of cabs, in nightclubs that just opened or in movie theatres or in new restaurants.”  Basically, we distract ourselves by doing things which seem “special” to fill up the time, except we spend so much time socialising or going places to socialise or entertaining ourselves, it’s depressing when I start to think how little we actually accomplish that matters.  What am I trying to do with my life?  Well, I work to save up money so that I can buy jewellery – as much as looking good is important to me, and as much as making yourself feel special is something that cannot be underrated, it hardly matters in the scheme of making an impact on the world.  I save up money so that I can have driving lessons to get a car so I can travel.  Okay, that’s important in terms of job skills and life skills.  I am starting university on Monday to gain a qualification in Careers Guidance, so that I can help younger people realise what their options are, both educational and vocational, in order to get to where they want to be.  That does count as making an impact.  In the meanwhile, the only other important thing I do that could potentially touch and enrich people’s lives is my music, writing and producing and singing songs, practising piano and guitar so that I can accompany myself, and lately completing my album booklet and taking pictures of myself and photoshopping moody dark/neon scapes to complement the whole mood of the album.  I guess that I am trying to enrich my life at the same time as trying to touch other people’s lives and make a difference, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But it’s how much time we kill in between doing those things.  I mean, nobody, not even Beyoncé, can work 24/7, and we all need some down time and some “us time” and we all have the right to enjoy our lives and have some fun.  Not everything is so serious, and as I’m growing older I’m learning to realise that more and take things a little easier when it’s okay to do so.  In between laundry and checking on my nan’s house and turning on the fridge and watering the plants yesterday, I watched a few dvds and ate Dominos pizza. But the amount of time we waste is just insane, because we don’t even realise that we’re doing it.  And yet, talking to Ebony on Monday, I was talking about the unspoken pressure put on us by older generations that although I am 23 and she is 24, we should have managed university and got a steady job and be on the way to buy a house and drive and be looking to get married in the near future.  The world is a different place now, and the economy means that jobs and money and affordable decent places to live aren’t as easy to come by as they once were.  I consider myself lucky to have finally escaped retail and got a position in an office where I feel comfortable, am better paid and often do a lot less 😉 I also get to use my brain a lot more, and I feel more valued because of that.  But there is a tension between it being okay to kill time, and then a sense of urgency that before we know it, we will be 30 and single and still living at home and a failure at life.  Please!  I have no intention of letting that happen, and although sometimes life happens beyond your control and deals you a bad hand, I’m determined to make a bid for independence and career success very soon.  I am making moves towards that with my new university course and increase in money, which will hopefully get me a driving licence and a qualification with real job prospects come the end of the next academic year.  But it’s hard to keep a sense of urgency in perspective when it’s also so easy just to kill time and do things which seem unavoidable but are semi-unnecessary.  I don’t know where to find that balance or how to achieve it, but at least I know it needs to be done.