Posts Tagged ‘talent’

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words.

March 20, 2013

Without realising it, because it’s something so elemental, my whole life has been intrinsically tied to words. While others may excel in numbers, images, gestures, movement; I’ve always been best with words. My continued studies of modern languages (French and Spanish at university, and now Italian) complement my multi-lingual heritage; as a toddler, I used to babble in fake-Italian down the phone to my great-aunt because I wouldn’t understand what my grandparents’ generation were talking about to one another. It was like a secret code to me, and as I’ve grown older I have been more motivated to crack those codes.

Language is an attempt to codify human existence; it doesn’t always work, but we have great fun trying. Words can be used to communicate and express ourselves (both to create barriers and to break them down); to motivate and inspire; to entertain. On a basic level, this blog is my way of communicating and expressing myself. I write songs and poems to express myself once again, but also to entertain others; furthermore, I am writing my first novel (very early stages) in the hope of creating something that people will enjoy reading. Learning Italian has allowed me a new insight into my family heritage; I love learning and I seem to have a natural talent for languages. There is something about romance languages (particularly Spanish and Italian) that captivates me and holds my attention. I can’t really explain it, but right now for example I am watching Volver on a rare night home alone and I just feel very happy and ‘at home’.

I haven’t written much on this blog lately, because I am now of the feeling that if I don’t have something new or useful or valuable to say, then I’ll wait until I do. There’s enough filler in the world. So I apologise if my updates are sometimes infrequent (as they are lately), because I hope that the quality will prevail over quantity. As a child, we learn to use our words to express our desires; in the schoolyard (and elsewhere, but this is an early example most people can relate to) we then become aware that others may use their words to bully, hurt and provoke. As we become older and our understanding gets (hopefully) more sophisticated, we embellish our reasoning and almost forget that at the end of the day, we should be judicious with how we use our words. I don’t necessarily mean sparing – there are many moments when I am reminded of my mother’s saying that “there is a tongue in your head, so use it!” Words are there to be used. Just not abused. I hope that my forthcoming projects (album, novel, continuation of this blog, learning of Italian) and my lifestyle in general will make the best use of the words I have at my disposal and open my eyes to new things along the way.

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last Christmas.

December 15, 2012

I remember when I started this blog that I would write quite lengthy, detailed posts about my personal life and about all of my feelings and experiences. This blog has been around for over 3 years and during that time my life has transformed in a lot of ways: I did a postgrad, started working in jobs I actually wanted, learned to drive and bought a car, entered a long-term relationship, moved to London and supported myself, moved in with my boyfriend… I made the decision not to talk about my relationship in too much detail because I feel that my private life is just for me and for Toby – but he informs everything I do now and is such a big part of me that every post on here, more or less, is influenced by him or concerns him to some degree.

Although I am certainly more mature and guarded about what I choose to post on the internet, sometimes I miss the honesty and openness with which I used to post. Sometimes, when I have dilemmas in my life, I find myself typing my question into Google in search of some advice. And sometimes I find some decent food for thought, whereas other times there’s just nothing sensible or nothing that quite touches the nature of what I am going through. But on those occasions where I do find something that can help me, through offering a kindred voice or shedding an alternative perspective on a situation, it’s really valuable. And so I have decided that in this post, I am going to be honest and talk about what is on my mind, in the hope that one day someone else might find my post and it might help them to know that they are not alone.

Yesterday I was speaking to my mother on the phone and apropos of nothing, she asked me that when I am in Bristol for Christmas, that I don’t voluntarily reveal the fact that I am gay and in a healthy, happy long-term relationship with my partner. The reason for this is that my uncle and aunt are coming up from Melbourne for the holiday to visit my grandmother. My cousin (my uncle and aunt’s daughter) has been living in Bristol with my grandmother for the past six months, and during this time she has demonstrated that she has grown up a lot from the irksome child and teenager that she was when I had previously met her. And yet the other day, my mother was having a conversation with her and my grandmother, and my cousin asks “how is Alan getting on with his flatmate?” Toby is my boyfriend, my lover, my partner with whom I share a flat – but he is so much more than my “flatmate” that I paused a little bit – because surely this is obvious, and my cousin (whose recent displays of emotional intelligence lead me to believe that she would have caught onto this) must know that Toby is my boyfriend. My mum then told me that my cousin has revealed in the past that my uncle (who has hitherto always been nice to me) “hates certain celebrity chefs because they are gay” apparently. And so, my mother has asked me not to volunteer any information about Toby to “keep the peace on Christmas Day” and to keep my grandmother happy, because otherwise relatives’ reactions “may cause a scene and my grandmother will get upset.”

What the fuck.

I am not at all angry at my mother for wanting a peaceful Christmas – it’s perfectly understandable. My mother’s side of the family is Italian (and therefore Catholic, although I wouldn’t describe them as religious with the exception of my grandmother who goes to church twice a week – but only since my grandfather passed away 5 years ago). But I have introduced Toby to my father (who has made crass comments about gay people in the past but has never been anything but welcoming of Toby and supportive of me in my relationship – I feel that his macho posturing isn’t really indicative of his views, which annoys me somewhat – why does he even need to act a certain way therefore? But I appreciate the fact that he is accepting of me) and everything has been fine – Toby has never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in my parents’ home. My grandmother has met Toby a few times now and they get on ok too – neither is my grandmother stupid; she knows who he is to me, even if she doesn’t say it out loud. But here lies the crux of the problem – everybody knows, but nobody wants to talk about it. Everybody is actually fine with my sexuality, but everybody seems to think that they are the only “enlightened one” and that nobody else approves. So it remains a big open secret. Which to me is partly laughable, but also quite painful because I have absolutely no shame in having found a man that I love with all my heart, and having established a strong and secure relationship with him. Shouldn’t this be something that could be appreciated, if it’s too much to ask for it to be celebrated? Why do I have to keep quiet about the most positive (out of a range of very positive things in my life) part of who I am today?

I have always been the Beyoncé of the family, if you will. (Prepare for me to toot my own horn in the next couple of sentences.) Not only because I’m musically talented, but I am the only person on my mother’s side of the family to go to university, let alone to the University of Oxford and then on to achieve a postgraduate qualification afterwards. I am the only one who has successfully moved out of Bristol. I’m the slimmest and most fashionable out of me and my cousins. I have an interesting job which pays a decent wage (but more about that in another post, as I have an announcement to make!). I am 27 years old and I have done pretty well so far (with some wobbles along the way – but hey, that’s life right?). With all of this hard work (which was for myself, but it didn’t hurt that it pleased others also), it would appear that the fact that I am gay, that I happen to be attracted to men, and that I have now built a life for myself with another man whom I love deeply, resets everything. I will never be good enough, and no matter what I did or what I achieve in the future, I never had a chance at being “good enough” because of my sexuality, which is something I cannot control. I love being gay, I love Toby, I am very happy with my life and with myself (apart from the fact that I ought to quit smoking and that next year I am going to lose weight – but there’s a forthcoming post for that too because my musical goals and my aesthetic aims are going hand in hand in 2013).  And I can’t talk about any of it, because other people may react to it, and it may upset someone else. Well, it upsets me! What about that?

Back to the phone call. So my mother asked this favour of me. I fell silent, and I said that I didn’t know if I could do that – I certainly couldn’t promise anything. I know that she understands, and I know that she didn’t like asking, and I am not angry at her. But I am angry at my family because I am never going to be good enough, and I am not able to relax and completely be myself. I told my mother that I didn’t understand why I should compromise myself. It’s not natural for one to shout their gayness or their homosexual monogamous relationship upon entering a room – this is not my intention. But I am 27 years old, and I am not afraid of them anymore – I have built my own life, and at the end of the day, I don’t live in Bristol and I don’t need the validation of my family. It’s nice if I could feel comfortable with them – but if that’s not going to be a possibility, c’est la vie. I will choose Toby over them, if it has to come to it. I am sad that it might have to come to that – but maybe we can’t have everything. I have a lot, and that’s enough. But I refuse to be intimidated by small-minded, low-aspiring people. I don’t even really know if they are small-minded – this is all just rumour and myth. But after all – I’d better not say anything, just in case.

I want everyone to have a lovely Christmas day. I want Toby to feel welcome when he comes to Bristol, and the fact that he does perplexes me even more in light of this request. I don’t want my grandmother to be upset, and I don’t want anybody to cause a scene. But it’s not my fault if they cause a scene because of their own prejudice, surely? I don’t understand why I have to conceal, compromise and sacrifice my identity in the presence of people whom I see only occasionally, and who are my frickin’ family, so as not to rock a phantom boat. Am I being unreasonable? Because perhaps it’s not such a big thing to ask, for one day. But then, to me, it’s not really about one family day – it’s about me being denied the ability to openly be myself, to celebrate all of the things I have achieved and the precious gift of Toby’s presence in my life. He is wonderful, and I don’t see why I have to downplay this. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops (though sometimes I want to! 🙂 ) because that would be unnatural, but neither am I going to lie about it because that is no more natural either.

This is bringing me to the sad conclusion that, whether or not a scene occurs, I feel like this will be my last Christmas in Bristol with my family, for at least a while. I don’t want to hurt my family by not celebrating with them, but at the same time I am an adult now, with the right to live my own life. (I can’t lie – it will be nice to actually not do a big travelling jaunt for one year.) I’m old enough to make my own decisions and to choose to stand my ground and enjoy my life in my own home. I have proven my worth time and again, and I now have the flat, the job, the relationship – the evidence to show for it. It’s not my fault that my family members may be insecure or jealous, and I don’t see why I should compromise myself to appease any inadequacies they may or may not feel. It’s not my problem. If I cannot be myself on Christmas day, then maybe next year it has finally come to the point where I’ve got to start making my own traditions, and if it means being by myself then hey – I’ll do it. I would never begrudge Toby going to spend time with his family, and maybe I would be able to join them instead. I don’t know – this whole situation has thrown me into a realm of “I don’t know”. What I do know is that I won’t lie, I won’t hide, and I won’t be ashamed. I am strong enough and secure enough to stand alone – I’d rather not have to, but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it. A part of me hopes I’ll be pleasantly surprised this Christmas and all these worries and postulations will count for nothing. I really don’t know what will happen – I am confident that I feel the right way about the situation, but I hope that I will have the grace and the presence of mind to react correctly and in a dignified manner to whatever situation arises.

I’ll let you know.

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2526: track by track

November 26, 2012

As stated in my previous post, my latest album 2526 is a loose diary of the last 2 years of my life, and focuses on love, and a range of facets of that emotion. I’m now going to take you through each track and tell you a little bit more about them all.

1. My Way / Sincerity

As one might surmise, these were originally two separate songs. “My Way” was a response to the burdens of parental love and pressure from those around you who know you best and suffocate you in their desire for you to achieve the best – at the same time as you love them for wanting the best for you, you can’t help but know that ultimately you’ll end up disappointing them. Try as I might, I could write a bridge for this song, and it was unfinished for ages. “Sincerity” came from wanting to write a song called “Sincerity”, and wanting to use the classic, hard-hitting beat from the remix to “It’s All About The Benjamins”; there seemed to be a real contrast between hard and soft.  But I couldn’t write a bridge for this song either, and it went unfinished for ages as well. One day, it dawned on me to just put the two together – the subject matter of the songs went well together, and while the overall tone of the songs is one of defiance and determination, there is also love and vulnerability. And most importantly, no bitterness.

2. Distance

This is one of my two favourite songs on the album. I was heavily into the song “I Miss You” by Beyoncé (from her masterpiece 4), and the night that I received the instrumental from Citizens of the World, I had been looking forward to Toby coming down to Bristol for the weekend (this was before I had moved to London) – we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I really missed him. Except that same night, he had called me to say that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it (in the end, he did). I was feeling melancholy and yet selfish as well, and the lyrics and melody to this song subsequently came in about 15 minutes. The lyrics so vividly capture the emotions I was feeling, and the vocal delivery is something that is supposed to be downbeat and yet sincere and heartfelt. The production is perfect. I am so grateful to have recorded this song.

3. Delete U

This song was written not long after Quiet Storm was done, and the piano intro is supposed to be reminiscent of Prince / The-Dream. I remember breaking up with one of my previous dalliances and just removing all trace of him from my life. It was intriguing that rather than tangible memories, we store a lot of initial information about friends and relationships digitally and so it’s all about “pressing delete” rather than throwing things in the trash. The use of terms such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” automatically date this song (probably to its detriment, although I personally don’t think it rings as unnaturally as the lyrics about getting off the Macbook and Facebook from Brandy and Monica’s otherwise-very-good “It All Belongs To Me”), but when I’ve dated my entire album through its title, it doesn’t really matter!

4. Important

I am well aware that this song sounds really similar to “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé, but it’s not a bad song to use as a template and I really wanted the piano and drums to be straightforward – the vocals and lyrics are supposed to occupy centre stage in this song. I wanted to talk in an honest way about how it feels when you don’t know what is going on in a relationship, and whether your priorities and feelings really mesh with those of your partner’s. Are you on the same page? I left the song open-ended – we don’t know if the couple in the song stay together or break up, because although I personally tend towards the latter, the whole point is that life and love is not clear cut and the things we think we should do, we don’t always do.  Love is complicated.

5. Unforgettable

This song is a remix of / my spin on Drake’s “Unforgettable” from his first album Thank Me Later, and I loved the melancholy production. The chorus of my track I guess is a bit more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole classic; I wanted to have a rap song on my album, like “Armani Earrings” on Quiet Storm, but less incendiary and more vulnerable. The sample of Aaliyah just made Drake’s song so perfect. Mike has played such a big part in the last 3 years of my life that I didn’t know how to feel about it when he moved out of Bristol. Even though we worked together, it felt like we were drifting apart and I was sad about it. I wrote this song to encapsulate all of my emotions about the relationship with one of my best friends developing and evolving. Ultimately, I ended up moving a lot further away! I have grown up so much over the last 3 years, and I wanted to pay tribute to someone who had a considerable role to play in the man I am today. Friendship is love too, after all.

6. Phoenix Rising

This song evokes love as empowerment. This was the first track from Citizens of the World that I wrote to, and I had Nicole Scherzinger’s Killer Love album on repeat at the time, hence the namecheck in the first line. The production was ethereal, and I wanted a melody that really soared on the wings of the track. It was a challenging vocal to sing – particularly the end note! – but recording this track was really enjoyable because I got to do different and interesting things with my voice.

7. U Gotta Go

This song was much more fun and more upbeat – when I received the instrumental, it sounded so happy and pop! I immediately thought of “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears – but I didn’t want to do something completely featherweight, so I flipped the song to make it a breakup anthem with some sassy lyrics about dumping a car in a lake that I cribbed from Tamia’s “Go” (aside: she is such a ridiculously talented singer!). I also wanted to make a poppy track that had some good vocal riffs in it – so I did that.

8. Sabo

This is my other favourite song on the album, because it is very personal and meaningful. Obviously, it’s addressed to Toby and it’s about him and us. I am so deeply, romantically and truly in love with him. He bought me a ring from Thomas Sabo for our 6-month anniversary, and I still wear it every day – I love it (black and silver are my favourite fashion colours, after all!) and I am so proud of it. I wanted to write a piano ballad the old fashioned way – chords and lyrics on top, no digital production – so that’s me playing the piano (the microphone isn’t great for recording the piano, so that’s why it sounds a bit honky-tonk). I was also in love with Beyonce’s “1+1” so I wanted to have some powerful vocals in the bridge, that really pulled out the soul that I wanted to express. The song turned out exactly how I wanted it to (honky-tonk aside), and I always knew it would be the end song / finale to my album.

Once again, I hope you enjoy the album!

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Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (album review.)

April 6, 2012

It’s time to accept that the Nicki Minaj that we heard on her mixtape (and best album to date) Beam Me Up Scotty is gone. The Nicki Minaj that we heard stealing the show on Kanye West’s “Monster” is a distant memory. Now, the Nicki Minaj who pleasantly surprised us with her bubblegum rap confection “Super Bass” is asserting herself throughout Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Nicki Minaj may not have concretely realised her Roman Zolanski alter-ego (who shows up at the start of the album, but his fangs have been sanded down after his explosive showing on “Roman’s Revenge”), but throughout her career we have seen her evolve and shift through persona after persona. The hard female rapper we heard on Playtime Is Over gave way to the exciting cyberspace femme fatale with the ridiculous flow and heart of gold on Beam Me Up Scotty, who tarted herself up with colourful outfits, wigs and softened edges for Pink Friday. Although her rap credentials have become less indisputable, mainstream success has opened Minaj to a new audience: pop. Teenagers, little girls dancing and rapping along to her songs on youtube, people across the world now want to hear what Nicki Minaj has to say. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finds Minaj trying to please everyone whom she has courted throughout her career. Does she succeed?

Well, the album is certainly diverse and there is something for everybody. After the insane and yet exciting “Roman Holiday”, the album is stacked with urban tracks designed to prove that Nicki is still in touch with her musical roots. “Come On A Cone” is a fascinating listen, and the genuinely unexpected “dick in your face” interlude about two thirds of the way through the song is a refreshing thrill – but Minaj can no longer get through an entire rap song without resorting to her trademark ridiculous vocal tics. This is a gimmick that initially served to set Minaj apart from other female rappers, but now it sounds like a party piece that is trotted out to fulfil the listener’s expectations. The song succeeds, but it could have been more. The tracks which follow are chock full of features, which is nothing unusual for a rap album, but here they serve to mute Nicki’s own impact on the material. “Beez In The Trap” is catchy but incredibly basic while “HOV Lane” is single-entendre bragging that may pay tribute to Jay-Z and to Minaj’s potential to be a supernova rather than just a star, but compared to the more insightful work Minaj has done on the past (for example on Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Can Anybody Hear Me” or Pink Friday‘s “Moment 4 Life”) it rings a little hollow. “Stupid Hoe” is an ill-advised tirade against Lil’ Kim that is so ridiculously silly that the bite in Minaj’s lyrics is muzzled by the repetitive hook and uninteresting beat. The buzz single for this project, “Roman In Moscow”, was so much more than all of the rap tracks that actually made it onto the album because the production was exciting and the flow and rhymes were unbridled and interesting. It showed that the ‘old Nicki’ is still alive, but there is no longer a place for her among any of Minaj’s current, more successful incarnations, which is a shame. As oddly structured and jarring as they may be, “Roman Holiday”, “Come On A Cone” and “Roman Reloaded” are the most successful songs in the first half of the album because although they are not amazing, they grab the listener’s ear and don’t let go.

After some tepid R&B slow jams which are so rote that they barely deserve mentioning, let alone a place on this album (“Right Thru Me” and “Your Love” from Pink Friday were miles better than these), we get to ‘pop Nicki’. This abrupt about-face in the album really should have been split into two discs on the physical version, but it’s not the disaster that other reviews have reported. “Starships” is at once derivative of LMFAO’s and Rihanna’s latest smashes, and yet also entirely the mutant spawn of “Super Bass” (without which ‘pop Nicki’ would never have come to triumph over ‘old Nicki’ or ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Harajuku Barbie’ etc.), but my god is it fun. This song absolutely deserved to be a single and to be successful – I feel conflicted because Nicki Minaj shouldn’t have had to so deliberately manufacture such a hit, but its hit status is undeniable. “Pound The Alarm” goes one better and is an absolute gem that Britney Spears probably wishes she had recorded. “Whip It”, “Automatic” and “Beautiful Sinner” repeat this formula ad infinitum (or ad the next 15 minutes), and although the songs are great fun, they expose Minaj’s crossover aims as so calculated that a little bit of this fun is taken out of them.

The album winds down with some mid-tempo, more thoughtful songs such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever”. Strong hooks and mainstream production make these songs perfectly enjoyable, and although the lyrics show more insight from Minaj than the preceding half hour or so, they’re still calculated. “Fire Burns” and “Gun Shot” close the album (before the jarring “Stupid Hoe”) and they are the most genuine tracks of the second half. “Fire Burns” is this album’s “Save Me” (one of the highlights from Pink Friday), and the regret and sadness in Minaj’s delivery rings true. “Gun Shot” features Beenie Man and brings a little Caribbean flavour that Minaj hasn’t explored since Pink Friday‘s bonus tracks, or Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Keys Under Palm Trees” or title track (her shout-out to Trinidad at the beginning of “Beautiful Sinner” certainly doesn’t count). While so many of the second half’s tracks are deliberately and irresistibly exhilarating to a head-spinning extent, “Gun Shot” is a less manufactured but, if anything, more uplifting ray of sunshine.

Do I like this album? Absolutely. Do I feel that it squanders Minaj’s potential? Yes, and no. This has been a hard review to write, because there’s so much here to deal with. The mainstream-aimed songs are good, but many of them are so deliberately manufactured to be hits that the genuine feeling is often ironed out. The rap songs are acceptable to good (barring the mediocre slow-jam section in the middle), but the featured artists rarely measure up to Minaj’s own potential, while simultaneously limiting her own space to shine. The weird songs are absolutely interesting, but Minaj doesn’t need to rely on inconsistent alter-egos and silly voices to be compelling. Beam Me Up Scotty proved this, and I find it sad that Minaj isn’t encouraged to exhibit her rap skills and singing in a more genuine way. “Roman In Moscow” and “Fire Burns” are remnants of the Minaj we have previously experienced. And while I genuinely am happy for the existence of songs like “Starships” and “Pound The Alarm”, their aggressively insane exuberance is something that Minaj may risk exhausting herself trying to outdo on Pink Friday: Roman’s Resurrection (or whatever comes next).

I believe that Minaj genuinely enjoys catering to a range of audiences, but as Beam Me Up Scotty and even Pink Friday demonstrated amply, she can do this in a more integrated and less scattershot way. Everyone was wowed by Minaj’s feature on “Monster”, but there’s nothing approaching that venom or spark here; her album-closing declaration that “I am the female Weezy” is reductive. Minaj is not a female Lil Wayne, female Jay-Z, new Lil’ Kim or resurrected Lauryn Hill. Nor is she Roman Zolanski, a cockney grandmother, a Harajuku Barbie or anything else – she is more than the ‘mere’ summation of these characters or costumes. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a genuine talent who is producing good music but coming dangerously close to losing the edge that set her apart so definitively in the first place. I fear that the more mainstream success that Minaj garners (and it will likely be deserved), the less heartfelt and genuine her music will become. There’s a difference between creating art that is deliberate in its purpose and achieves its goals, and art that is so focus-group tested and aiming to please that the quality is filtered down to a semblance of what it originally could have been. And while we can respect and admire an artist’s potential, we can’t praise them for what they have the talent to create if they don’t actually create it, or realise their potential consistently. And so Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a blast to listen to, but it also warns that unless Minaj takes stock and finds away to hone all of her personalities, she may ultimately spread herself too thinly and become nothing to anyone, rather than something to everyone.

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Beyoncé – 4 (album review)

June 11, 2011

So it’s been a really, really long time since I wrote an album review. I was going to do one for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, but then didn’t. (The album is really good and well put-together, btw.) I was going to do one for Nadia Oh’s Colours (which is a ridiculously fun, exhilarating listen perfect for the summer) and I still might. But this album tops them all. I am a Beyoncé fan, but even I didn’t expect her to come out with this. Perhaps it’s fitting because of the stage in my life where I’m at – but she’s in love, I’m in love, she wants to talk about love on a deeper and more soulful level and I can be more receptive of that now and really get to grips with the music, the vocals and the lyrics.

Sonically, the album is very cohesive (a mature, soulful and slower-paced set) – “Run The World (Girls)” aside. Part of me feels like it is tacked on the end, another part of me feels like the song is an exhilarating climax to a mainly slow-burning set. It’s a killer single which heavily samples Major Lazer’s “Pon Di Floor” and makes you want to dance, but in comparison to the rest of the material, it feels a bit… basic? It certainly feels more modern than everything else on the album, but that means it sounds less timeless… the fact that Beyoncé has already made several songs celebrating “Independent Women”, “Survivors” and “Single Ladies” makes it feel like “Girls” running the world is almost a downgrade? I love the song but it should stand alone, and I would have preferred the album to end with the ballad “I Was Here”, which is straightforward Ryan Tedder production and Diane Warren lyrics – Beyoncé’s performance saves the song with solemn vocals that add weight to the sentiment of leaving your mark on the world once you’re gone. In the hands of a lesser talent, the song would sound trite, but Beyoncé gives it life.

But there are much better tracks – namely, the rest of them. Opener “1+1” is stripped-back soul with a soaring guitar climax, and Beyoncé’s commands of “Make love to me” sound at once desperate and assertive in the best way. What’s striking is that Beyoncé has made an album that sounds like the work of a legend – she evokes Stevie Wonder (the joyous “Love On Top” with its audacious multiple key changes that have you wondering “how high is she going to go?!”), the Isley Brothers (“Rather Die Young”, with its sun-drenched soul that declares Beyoncé’s utter dependance on her lover), Prince (“1+1”), Michael Jackson (“End Of Time” with its commanding vocals over a bombastic bassline and brass section, and an irresistible melody) and Sade. But more about that later…

Beyoncé sounds like Beyoncé on but two songs: “Best Thing I Never Had” evokes her monster hit “Irreplaceable”, with the same theme of being better off without a foolish boyfriend. Symbolyc One employs a beautiful flowing piano melody in place of “Irreplaceable”‘s acoustic guitars, but Beyoncé is clearly a grown woman now. Her vocals sound almost too soulful, too nuanced for the music, and it takes a few listens for all of the pieces of the song to come together. In contrast, “Countdown” is an album highlight, which evokes the swagger of “Upgrade U” and repeats the theme of #winning with her lover by her side. The use of Boyz II Men’s “Uhh Ahh” in order to create the titular countdown is cleverly done, and Beyoncé rides the brassy, bouncy Caribbean-lite beat with effortless flair.

Other album highlights include “I Care”, which may have basic lyrics (the chorus: “I care / I know you don’t care too much / but I still care”) but are once again transformed with Beyonce’s masterful vocal, which plumbs despair and soul to make the song truly transcendent. You can feel her pain, you can feel her desperation, you can feel her frustration, and that is the talent of a true artist. When Beyoncé’s voice intertwines with a soaring guitar solo after the song’s bridge, the listener is shown just how powerful a singer she is – not just technically, but emotively too. “Party” is an early 90s R&B throwback that evokes early TLC in its chunky-yet-chilled production, and En Vogue in its multi-tracked harmonies. The best song of all is “I Miss You”, which is produced by upcoming talent Frank Ocean and evokes Sade’s best. The lyrics are simple yet evocative (and I personally relate to this as my boyfriend and I are currently working through a long-distance relationship – but if you read the blog, you already know about that, and this song is more about missing someone you’ve broken up with – I just prefer to appropriate the lyrics for my own emotions!), and Beyoncé’s vocal is restrained and yet so deep and real. When she sings “No matter who you love / it is so simple, I feel it / it’s everything”, a lump is brought to your throat and you can’t help but be transported to a place of loneliness, of longing and of love.

This is why 4 is Beyoncé’s best album, superceding B’day’s tiger-hungry anthems and I Am… Sasha Fierce’s finest moments. Beyoncé is an artist. She has made an album which she has so clearly poured her heart and soul into – listening to the vocals, there is something here that wasn’t there before. A soulfulness, a longing, a power that comes out through the gritty texture of her voice and the soaring riffs that transcend lyrics and production. There’s a majesty and a bravery in singing such raw songs about love, about death, and about life over productions that are mainly understated and subtle in a way that Beyoncé hasn’t really done before (“Disappear” from I Am… Sasha Fierce might have clued us in, however!). This album is made to be listened to from start to finish, and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a try.

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why young money has won me over.

January 17, 2011

OK, so as I am unwell and off work, I might as well try and do something productive. I haven’t done a music review on this blog for ages – and while this isn’t a traditional album review, I thought that I would write a music-related article.

I was reading on Toya’s World Drake’s recent comments on how Aaliyah inspired him as a singer to make his songs relatable across genders and across situations. This connects to one of the best songs on his album, “Unforgettable”, which samples her. Unfairly, I ignored Drake for an unfeasibly long time, and it was only hearing his songs covered by Teairra Marí on her Point Of No Return mixtape that made me decide to give him a chance. I am so glad that I did – rather than just another overhyped rapper who featured on every R&B and Hip Hop single of the moment over the last year and a half, his album betrayed a talent for rhyming and exposing vulnerability and honesty over beats that combined some of the raw soundscapes from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak with horn-led Swizz Beatz productions. I was thoroughly impressed by Drake’s honesty about fame, and his lyrics which alternated between self-hype and self-deprecation. While Kanye West’s stellar new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy equally shows him exposing the insecurities behind his ego on songs such as “Runaway” and “Blame Game”, the difference is that Drake has been upfront about his insecurities from the get-go. This is something I feel is admirable for a male artist in any genre – traditionally, female artists are emotional and find strength in their vulnerability, while male artists are sex-hungry, predatory and invulnerable to emotion just as they portray themselves as being invulnerable to everything, bullets included (a quick flip through rap history should indicate that this is certainly not the case – 50 Cent aside). So Drake utterly won my respect for being frank and honest, while also creating a really good album that still had some swagger songs, but was not afraid to step away from that and both rhyme and sing with equal sincerity.

Nicki Minaj’s mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty was utterly thrilling, but again betrayed something more than your average hyper-sexual female rapper. Her idiosyncratic delivery, and her willingness to be vulnerable and honest about her music industry difficulties (on “Can Anybody Hear Me” she proclaimed “Def Jam said I’m no Lauryn Hill / Can’t rap and sing on the same CD / the public won’t get it, they got ADD”). By extension, we can understand that Minaj has a clear vision of who she wants to be as an artist, but is being somewhat held back from that and steered in a slightly different direction.  It’s no accident that “Save Me” is one of the best songs on Pink Friday, and it is the only song which Minaj sings from start to finish. Image-wise, Nicki Minaj is clearly hailing after Lil’ Kim, and to a lesser extent Lisa Left-Eye Lopes. Pink Friday at first was a disappointment to me because it was much more pop than I was expecting, and there weren’t many of her hard, crazy verses that characterise her best features, such as on Kanye West’s “Monster”. Nevertheless, the album has impressed me because it does mix in various sounds, various characters, and is not overtly sexed nor trying too hard to be one of the guys, or prove its gangster credentials – these are elements that have characterised a lot of female rap and it is brave of Minaj to forsake all of these and try to be herself, even if she is not allowed to be so fully. So again, although Nicki Minaj is hardly original and I have a suspicion that her true artistry will be revealed in years to come, her output and dedication to her craft is still promising and beyond what is expected of most new acts.

I wonder if, when putting together his Young Money troupe, Lil Wayne was aware of just how talented his acts are. I am tempted to say yes, as madness and artistic talent can often go hand in hand. Young Money’s album itself comprised catchy, if disposable, chart fodder which nevertheless promoted a collective ethos above highlighting individual talents. This is all well and good, but apart from Wayne, Minaj and Drake, how many of the others can you name? Sure, Shanell is memorable for being the other female in the group, and has contributed solidly to Nicki Minaj’s songs “Handstand” and “Cupid’s Got A Gun”, exhibiting a controlled and evocative vocal on the latter. She also wears that interesting jewellery across her face.  Tyga stands out by dint of his recent collaborations with Chris Brown on “Deuces” and other songs. But neither of these artists (nor any of the rest) have yet been allowed to stand on their own two feet. I mean, between Wayne’s own mixtapes and those of Drake and Minaj, along with their official studio albums, singles, collaborations and features, they already saturate the media. It is likely that if all were given the same treatment simultaneously, the public would scream for respite.  But I wonder, since Young Money clearly comprises talented members who, importantly, have their own vision and are not afraid to express it, just how many more talented members we haven’t yet been exposed to. This intrigues me and suggests that the collective is filled with promise.

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believing in me.

August 10, 2010

Yesterday I performed three songs at the BAYS (Bristol Active Youth Group) 2010 summer party: “Russian Roulette” by Rihanna, “No One” by Alicia Keys and “You Lost Me” by Christina Aguilera. I was privileged that Ness invited me to perform, and it also gave me the opportunity to prove several things to myself.

  1. I hadn’t performed in front of an audience for a few years, and I wanted to know that I still had what it takes to entertain people and that my voice was still enjoyable for people to listen to.
  2. That I was capable of singing 3 relatively vocally-intense songs in succession, in front of an audience without messing up or without my voice failing me. Basically, that I could do justice to the material I had chosen.
  3. That I could still competently sing these songs despite the fact that I am now a smoker.
  4. That, despite my absence from performing, I could perform through the nerves.

I am happy to report that I proved all of these things to myself and I did a great job: everyone seemed to enjoy my performances and was very complimentary about my voice; one girl even said she wanted to marry me! (I think Toby would have something to say about that!) So that was lovely: I also enjoyed watching Ness dance to Lady GaGa, and there was an MC beatboxing who was fantastically talented… some of what I saw would put celebrity musicians to shame. It was touching to see young talent on display in my community, and moreover, a group of young people coming together to do something positive for their community.

Then, today I have just come back from my driving lesson. Despite the fact that it’s taking a lot longer to reach my driving test than I originally anticipated, I finally got roundabouts 100% sorted out (my last problem area) and now I feel that I will be capable of doing everything I need to in my driving test. Plus, my driving instructor was less of a fool this time than he was last week. So I am feeling good: this is the way I like to start a week, with a sense of positive accomplishment two days in a row.  I hope this continues, especially considering that the time has finally come to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday. I have to keep up my sense of self-belief, because this is how I can keep transforming and improving my life. 🙂