Posts Tagged ‘vulnerable’

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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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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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hypersex.

July 27, 2010

I’ve spent the last 4 weekends away from home with my boyfriend Toby: the first weekend in Peterborough, and the latter three in his new flat in London.  I’ve had a terrific time each time, and it’s a marker of how far I’ve come that now when I am at home in Bristol during the week, life feels empty and, well, a bit lifeless.  I’m finally feeling the love I so desperately longed to feel in the first few months, and I am truly lucky to have found him: I now only fear some unforeseen circumstance or twist of fate breaking us apart and taking this amazing man away from me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I just enjoy the times we share together and watch our relationship grow: I have let down my hard-to-get, impenetrable guard and now he sees me as someone who is often vulnerable, sweet and soppy.  During my last two visits, we went to the cinema to watch Eclipse and Inception, and as well as enjoying the films, I cherished the fact that going to the cinema with my boyfriend and cuddling up on the seats, arms linked & heads on each others’ shoulders, was something I thought I’d never get to experience.  It made me feel young, carefree and happy, like the teenager I no longer am but always longed to be.

However, as well as displaying and embracing my softer, romantic side, we also enjoy having sex and often joke that we must be nymphomaniacs.  The sex is the best I’ve ever had, and I am not going to go into specifics because y’all don’t wanna read that and I want to keep that between me and Toby.  But I feel like I finally get to unfurl the wings of my sexuality without embarrassment or shyness.  I have always been a sexual person, and I remember my body being a constant source of fascination as a child (and I mean way before puberty, which I hit early anyway).  As a boy and now a man, I’ve occasionally felt slightly ridiculous for being in touch with myself in a non-macho, non-“I want to fuck everything that moves” way.  I mean, I definitely get horny, but for me my sexuality is less about posturing, racking up notches on a bedpost to prove my virility to others and allay my own insecurities and more about feeling intangibly good in my own skin, exploring what feels / tastes / good and what my body can do to synchronise with my soul and feelings and heighten my experiences as much as possible, and then also sharing that with another person and trying to heighten their experience, someone who knows you and is always uncovering new things about you as you grow together, is a privilege.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of fashion has grown and evolved as well, and my having tattoos is not only an embodiment of my darker, more dangerous side with personal emblems for me, but also an expression of sexuality. I believe that tattoos are very sensual things (I’m not interested in getting them as a fashion statement per se, and I will never be seen with a tattoo that is “on trend” because it’s “on trend”), and having someone firstly pierce your skin with a needle shows an immense display of trust; to leave a symbol or picture or message on you that has meaning is exhilarating; then to display tattoos, to let someone in on their meaning, to allow someone to touch that part of your body, is a thrill that for me is part of sexuality.  For me, I don’t need or want everyone to see my tattoos all the time (partly because for work I need to exercise some common sense and be able to cover them), but they are for me first and then for my friends and finally for my boyfriend (who likes them nearly as much as I do!).  Just as wearing sexy outfits, fitted clothes (both of which are again decidedly un-macho), certain colours and styles is more an embodiment of who I am at that particular moment, on that day, at that stage in my life and of who I am as a person (the different layers) than displaying labels, belonging to a particular social clique or taking part in a contest to display as much of myself as possible.  For me, sexuality and promiscuity are two extremely different things. I’ve come to the point where I am happy enough with my body to wear more or less what I want (apart from all the outfits I can’t afford!!! but I’m getting there slowly 🙂 ), and in contrast to my attention-seeking performance outfits of the past (leather trenchcoat here, ripped jeans with handcuffs there – though those outfits were definitely fun and I’ve very glad I wore them!), I am less about turning heads (although that’s always nice) and more about satisfying my own standards.  Which are usually higher anyway! But I also appreciate that I want to feel that I look sexy in my clothes: some people are not concerned with that stuff, but I am – call it vanity, call it what you want. The difference is that now, what validates my sexiness is primarily how I myself feel, and secondly what my boyfriend and close friends think and say. I’m more comfortable in my skin to be more about pleasing myself and to know that yes, some people’s opinions do matter and I want to please others too.  But I also know that the general public is not important, and that I shouldn’t feel intimidated or afraid to be who I am. My sexuality, sensuality, fashion sense, looks, physicality and being as a whole may occasionally be compromised by external forces – I’m only human – but I know that it shouldn’t be and I’m better at making sure that it isn’t 90% of the time.  I am learning to be comfortable in myself as a sexual being, a sensual being, and it’s thrilling that I can listen to sexually-themed music (the thought process behind this post was set in motion while I was dancing to “Desnúdate” from Christina Aguilera’s Bionic album, which I still utterly adore) and understand more of it – not because of the meanings of the words (which are translucent), but because my life and my maturity is falling in line with those things.  I’m growing, and I am grateful to my friends, to Toby and to life in general for provoking me and allowing me to do so. 🙂

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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Mariah Carey – Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel review.

September 27, 2009

Finally, it’s here (unless, like me you live in the UK in which case you are expected to wait until NOVEMBER 16TH!!!!  I will be buying the import collector’s version on Amazon, which drops on Tuesday.) – Mariah Carey’s new album, Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel.  Preceded by the lead single “Obsessed”, which has done very well but not shot to number one (leading certain people to brand it a ‘flop’ all the same), several questions were being asked of this CD: “Is Mariah’s voice really shot?” (No.) “Is it better than Whitney’s album?” (Yes.) “Does the fact that The-Dream and Tricky Stewart produced the whole album make it a bit monotonous?” (No… not really.  A couple of the songs are somewhat repetitive and reminiscent of other The-Dream tracks, but Mariah’s input and The-Dream’s variety are pleasantly surprising.) “Why did Mariah push her CD back? Was she running scared?” (No; she was making a cohesive R&B album and taking the time to make it perfect.)  Listening to the finished product makes this clear – where The Emancipation of Mimi (Mariah’s “comeback” “classic” album, which is possibly her least cohesive effort and contains some fantastic tracks surrounded by the most filler in any of her albums this decade) and E=MC² were literally a collection of songs, Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel takes you on a unified journey the way that Mariah’s best 90s efforts, the seminal Butterfly and Rainbow, and yes, even 2002’s Charmbracelet did.

Mariah’s vocals are stronger now than they were on Charmbracelet, though she often employs her whisper voice in place of full belting.  As it did on Butterfly, this gives the songs an intimate feel which brings out the intricate emotions inherent in her lyrics.  Standout “H.A.T.E.U.”, which means “Having A Typical Emotional Upset”, at first sounds like an angry-woman-scorned missive thematically similar to other songs on the album, but it is emotionally vulnerable as Mariah finds herself in a place where she misses her lover, but doesn’t know what to do with herself other than “change her number” and “move away” in an attempt to get over him and begin to move on.  The emotional limbo echoes in the production, which employs a hard-hitting slow beat and a baby’s cries along with Mariah’s whistle register.  Her high-pitched wails are a massive feature of this album, and are present on many of the songs – according to various tweets, Mariah wanted to explore using her upper range as a texture in homage to Minnie Riperton.  Just as on Rainbow‘s “Bliss”, on tracks such as “H.A.T.E.U.”, “Ribbon” and “Angel (Prelude)”, Mariah’s stratospheric notes come across less as an opportunity to showboat than as a genuine part of the song’s instrumentation and setting the mood.  At the album’s climax, a tasteful cover of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is”, Mariah lets loose with gospel melisma and ecstatic squeaking to emphasise her joy and rapture in finally finding true love and encountering happiness after the ups and downs and broken relationships explored throughout the course of the album.  The only criticism of this song is that it ends far too quickly, robbing the listener of the climax – as soon as the vocal and musical apex is reached, the track is fading out!!! Here’s hoping that a longer edit of the song will surface.  But the point is that Mariah Carey is using all the ranges of her impressive voice for legitimate reasons – to serve the song and its mood, musical instrumentation, lyrical punctuation and emotional expression.  If there is any proof required that Mariah has grown as a singer, this album is it – even if she doesn’t belt as happily as she used to, her voice serves the songs more.

Having said that, Mariah also embraces radio trends on some of the more uptempo numbers.  Lead single “Obsessed” is one of a few tracks to use auto-tune.  Another question: “Why does someone with Mariah Carey’s voice need to use auto-tune?”  This is a somewhat valid question, but I think that Mariah is just trying to stay current and have fun.  Although some of the album’s slower material is more weighty and emotionally deep, songs like “Obsessed”, “Up Out My Face” and “More Than Just Friends” (which contains some fantastic lyrics such as “Secretly I know you wanna hit it like the lotto / And after that we can ketchup like tomato / We can make love in Italy in the grotto / Fresh off the jet at the Met they screamin’ bravo”) are designed to keep the BPMs up, keep things light and moving briskly, and create songs which have sharper lyrics and fun, bouncy melodies.  The marching band “reprise” of “Up Out My Face” is a fantastic, creative interlude that really knocks, and would have been great as an extended song – it harks back to one of Mariah’s performances of “Shake It Off” (perhaps the Thanksgiving Parade performance? I don’t remember… if anyone knows, feel free to comment!).  “Standing O” is another hard-hitting uptempo track that gathers its intensity as Mariah applauds an ex-lover for breaking her heart – “All you did was pound on it”.  The beats accumulate towards the end of the song, as Mariah’s voice gets more insistent and an almost operatic soprano punctuates her despair.  Although it had to grow on me somewhat, I am really enjoying the track.

There are a couple of tracks where I differ from what I understand to be the general consensus, according to other forum and blog comments, as well as video reviews of the album I’ve seen on Youtube.  “Ribbon” has been garnering comments such as being ‘overproduced’ with its distorted hooks forming part of the music, and more of a crunk beat than other tracks, really hitting hard.  From what I understand, people are saying the track is a bit overcooked and Mariah gets lost in it – I disagree! I love the song, its music is dark and percussive, but Mariah’s syrupy vocals and lyrics “Wrapped up, wrapped up, ribbon with a bow on it” sit on top of all that like the icing on a cake.  It’s actually one of my favourite tracks on the album, and although it is a typical The-Dream track that could have easily fit on his Love vs. Money album, I don’t think that it suffers for that – there’s not another track like it on the album, so it stands out.

Whereas my only weak track, which other people seem to love, is “It’s A Wrap”.  Mariah pours wine at the beginning of the track, so I guess we are supposed to relax into it, but the doo-wop beat and sparse piano forces the song to melt away and become unmemorable.  The lyrics are somewhat lackluster compared to the zingers on other songs such as “Up Out My Face” (“If we were two Lego blocks, even the Harvard University Graduating Class of 2010 couldn’t put us back together again” !!!!!!) and “More Than Just Friends”, or to the emotional heft of ballads such as “H.A.T.E.U.”, “The Impossible” and “Angels Cry”.  The only line that “It’s A Wrap” has going for it, IMO, is “It’s going down like a denominator” – and you have to wait for the end of the song to get to that bit.  Just a bit lackluster for me – but other people love it, so you may love it too and we’ll agree to disagree.

Earlier I compared Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel to classic Mariah albums Butterfly and Rainbow.  This becomes apparent during the album’s closing stretch – though on “Candy Bling” and “Inseparable” Mariah offers a relaxed yet absorbing throwback vibe (to former Mariah tracks “Yours” and “We Belong Together”, respectively), and on opening ‘prologue’ “Betcha Gon’ Know” Mariah masterfully weaves an absorbing tale of heartbreak and infidelity just as she wrote spellbinding descriptive lyrics on classic “The Roof” – it’s not until “The Impossible” that we really seem to penetrate into Mariah’s heart.  The sexy R&B feel gives nods to Jodeci and provides a classic texture that once more exemplifies just how much is missing from 2009-typical R&B. Hopefully this is a sign that older R&B values are coming back around – although Mariah popularised the trend of female singers working with rappers, Memoirs does not boast a single collaboration and is all the better for it.  “Angels Cry” is a heartfelt ode to love lost that sounds like classic Mariah, and of course there is the closer “I Want To Know What Love Is”.  These last two tracks really ratchet up the emotional impact of Mariah’s album, where other tracks are lighter and more fun, or restrained slower material – and make sure that it goes out on a high.

Okay, so I am a big Mariah Carey fan, and I am bound to say that I love the album.  For me, it’s a real album that flows (hence the various reprises and little flourishes that help the songs segue together sonically as well as thematically) rather than just a collection of songs.  The lyrics and vocals work together to compliment each song’s mood, content and impact.  And apart from “It’s A Wrap”, I really enjoy every track on the album.  So for me, taking the songs individually, they are winners, but the album as a whole is elevated beyond the sum of its parts to something quite special.  In my opinion, this is why it stands head and shoulders above Whitney Houston’s I Look To You (certainly not an album which has a cohesive feel, and I only like half of the songs anyway) as well as nearly every other album I’ve heard released in 2009.  This is where Mariah Carey is not only a gifted singer and vocalist, but an artist who keeps working at and developing her craft as a writer, producer and someone who envisions how her project should sound from start to finish.  Check the credits: Mariah Carey is Executive Producer, Album Producer, and a producer and writer on every single song (apart from the cover version).  As a singer, a songwriter and an artist, she is what I aspire to be, and Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel is, like Butterfly and Rainbow, an example of her at her very best.

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powerless.

September 12, 2009

“My life can never be anything without you.”

That is what Graham said after Jill’s death last week.  It was in the Evening Post Deaths section.  My mother was saddened and a bit confused.  My father was convinced that someone at the newspaper must have got the wording wrong.  I don’t know.  I mean, my mother knows Graham best out of the three of us (I have only met him once; I don’t believe my father has ever met him at all), but by his own admission he is a very private person and isn’t particularly upfront with his emotions.  So I don’t know if he meant to word himself in that way, if it was a typo, if it was just his expression of sadness and grief that came out a tiny bit wrong.  Perhaps it was a combination of all three, who knows.

But it got me thinking.  I don’t know if I would ever be able to say that about anyone, no matter what. I don’t know if I would want to.  I envision falling in love with somebody and the whole experience complimenting and transforming my life, but not leaving me totally powerless without that person.  I mean, no matter how smitten, no matter how rich or successful or romantic or attractive my partner eventually is, I don’t think that I could ever let myself be totally dependent on someone to the point that if they left me, for whatever reason or however it happened, I could be nothing without them.  I wouldn’t want that.  I was talking to Hannah last night about guys and about someone she’s been chatting to who seems entirely too dependent.  I asked her whether I came across as needy, and she replied no, the exact opposite.

This pleased me, and this was what I had hoped to hear.  But then I asked her whether I came across as so independent to the point of being intimidating.  Her reply stopped short of intimidating, but she said that I do come across as very self-sufficient.  Reading between the lines, this meant that sometimes I didn’t need to be so afraid of appearing vulnerable in front of anyone.  I am grateful that I can have a friend who understands me so much, she knows how to express a sentiment tactfully yet honestly, and I can understand exactly what she means.  This, to me, is much more important than a boyfriend who might come and go.  Obviously I want to have it all, and this includes the boyfriend who hopefully stays.  But whether I need to be a little more soft around the edges, I still have friends who like me just the way I am.  I think that in every relationship there needs to be a certain amount of compromise, but I also believe that it has to stop short of totally compromising yourself for the other person.  Because otherwise, before you know it, your world revolves around them and if they disappear, you’re left at rock bottom.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve never really been in love (apart from with Gucci and with Rafael Verga), but I’m just not willing to put myself in that situation.  I will think about guys and treat my friends and boyfriends well and think about them a lot, but I will never stop caring about myself.  Self-esteem has been (and to an extent, still is) a hard uphill battle for me, and I’m not willing to totally surrender it now, or ever.

It is easy for relationships to consume you.  I was discussing what happened at the Perfume Shop with Nick today, and with a little bit of perspective on it, I guess that it was easier to blame me for things going missing there because I am no longer a part of their world, than to confront their problems that the thief is still there.  I’m an easy target because I can’t defend myself, because I got out of there and they are still in that world.  When I worked there, I was doing 38 hours a week, and they were my circle of friends.  I would visit them on my days off, or at the very least phone to see how things were going.  I put my all in there for 11 months, and I was assistant manager / store manager for 10 of those.  So escaping from that environment was a blessing for me, but it also made me realise just how unhealthy it is when a job becomes more than a job.  I guess that a certain amount of restraint from total consumption, absorption, obsession with your work is a very good thing.  And perhaps it is the same with relationships.  Even if you create a world within that relationship which is just for the two of you, which is sometimes irresistible and timeless, there is a real world which keeps on turning outside of that, and we have to stay connected to that.  I want to give someone all my love.  But all my love is not all of me, and love doesn’t (and shouldn’t) equate to power.  I don’t ever want to be powerless, not for anyone, and not for myself.

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run this town.

September 2, 2009

On a day like today, despite having less than 5 hours’ sleep and nearly 30 pages of spreadsheet to type up onto the computer at work, I was feeling fierce.  I got up earlier than usual so that I could get to work early and make my hours & fit my social breaks in too.  I had my new top on from Zara and I looked pretty nice, if I do say so myself. (There’s nothing like wearing a new purchase for the first time.) As you might know, at times my self-esteem can be a little bit low and I can feel vulnerable and insecure – as much as I would like to pretend to be invincible, I’m only human.  But I also think it’s important to acknowledge and document when I’m feeling up and strong and good.  For every negative, sooner or later there comes a positive.

Looking at another unemployment report on the news, and recognising the jobless state of 1 in 6 UK young people as myself only 6 weeks ago, I felt that if I could find work, these people will do too.  If you really want it, there is hope, even though you might feel hopeless.  Just don’t give up.  Everyone is down sometimes – as much as some vindictive people might want to make you feel low, it doesn’t make you a failure or any less of a human being.  You just have to take a moment, acknowledge your pain or mood, regroup and come back swinging.  After a summer where I left my job at the Perfume Shop in full faith that my new job was going to be better paid and a better standard of work, I had to wait around for 2 months before I even got a start date.  Now that I am working, I am pretty happy with my job – my office is comfortable, the people I’m with are nice, my boss appreciates and respects me, the pay rate is higher than what I was on at the shop and I don’t have to bust a gut, while I am treated with more respect and my brains and skill generally is more appreciated.  I don’t feel like I am fighting against anyone just to get through the day – I feel like I am generally being helpful and other people want to help me too – it’s constructive and not an uphill struggle.  Looking back, although I loved working with perfume and some of my colleagues at the Perfume Shop ended up being good friends to me, I dreaded going to work more often than I should have, and I ended up feeling bullied and harrassed at work by people who wanted to wring every last drop of blood out of me.  I was worth more than that, and it took me too long to realise.  The limbo of being unemployed in between that job and my current work at the hospital only exacerbated that feeling of helplessness and worthlessness, when I had unwittingly pushed myself into that limbo precisely because I thought I was worth more.  It was a hard period, and I felt somewhat embarrassed and stigmatised to be in that situation, because I didn’t want to be judged as somebody who was “on the dole” or “too lazy to be in work”, because that is the farthest thing from who I am or ever will be.  But I didn’t give up and everything is turning out right – I like my job, they like me, and I got funding for my university course starting in 3 weeks (!!!) and I hope that that will lead me in a direction I want to go.  I feel optimistic about my future.

Which is why I don’t understand the attitude of some of my old colleagues who practically blank me when I walk past them in town.  It happened today, and it’s not the first time.  Despite the hugs and best wishes everyone gave me when I left, apart from the times I’ve popped in to visit them, I’ve heard nothing.  What happened to friendship? What happened to all the hard work? What happened to all the favours I did, conversations we had, presents I bought, music I bootlegged for them?  Did it really mean nothing?  I mean, surely a friendship should go two ways, so if they want to speak to me, they can contact me.  I grew tired of making the first move and initiating conversation by popping in to see them.  It makes me question whether their friendship was ever true.  Like I said, some of the people there I’m sure were genuine friends, and we don’t have to talk all the time for that to remain true.  But to be ignored in the street, to be judged and hear gossip about me that not only is untrue, but is damn unfair considering how much I bent over backwards and did so many favours for some of them – it does sting a little bit.  I guess it’s “c’est la vie”, and I have to remember that I am in a better place now.  I made the decision to break free, and I guess that their reaction is part of the whole reason why I was so dragged down while I worked there – perhaps they don’t like that I found somewhere where I feel more valued (and paid)?  Perhaps they decided to villify me once my back was turned because it makes them feel better about the fact that there is nobody to be their workhorse now that I’m gone? I don’t know.  I wish them only the best, and I hope that some of my friends realise that they too are worth too much to be downtrodden and worked to the bone at a young age there, only to never get the prime position because there’s always someone new who swoops in and pushes them back down.

If you’re wondering why there is a fly picture of Rihanna at the top of this post (not that I need a reason 😛 ), check the title – it’s taken from the “Run This Town” video from Jay-Z’s new Blueprint 3 album (which I am really feeling).  The swagger of the song, epitomised just by the title, is something that I was feeling today in my nice clothes with my nice friends and in my nice job.  I’m working hard, I’m moving up after a brief (but long enough thankyou) period of stasis, and I am determined to achieve my goals and “run this town”.  I hit the gym to look fly.  I socialise to enjoy myself.  I make music to achieve my dreams of being a singer (once again, check Touch Me and enjoy it – there’s plenty more where that came from!) and also to push my artistry forward and entertain my friends.  I make money to hit the gym, buy my labels and keep everything easy.  I am close to friends and family while also pushing forward for my own independence.  I want, more than anything, to be a success and to be happy.  Isn’t that what we all want?  So this is more than anything, a motivational post because I’m feeling good and want to share that energy with y’all – I can “run this town”, and so can you.  Never give up!!!