I write about culture from a pro-Black perspective

JLS – ‘Shy of the Cool’

Sometimes a single lyric can make a song work for me. 

"She’s just a few degrees shy of the cool" is such a beautiful turn of phrase. Those 9 words more efficiently and evocatively convey the song’s meaning than the verses, which are terribly overwritten.

And yet the song works because the arrangement* puts space around that lyric so you really feel what it's communicating. The song lets you sit with that image of this girl in your head long enough to recognize her – and emphathize.

And also the song builds in a way that never obscures the sheer power of those 9 words. It begins to come alive on the second verse once the instrumentation kicks in. And then after the bridge, the song creates a nice sense of urgency – care about this girl! –  by, wisely, giving Oritsé, the group's strongest vocalist**,  the opportunity to let loose with some beautiful vocalizing, letting JB do some nice falsetto work with those 9 words, and then, stacking Marvin's final vamp and the backgrounds.

It's actually quite breathtaking.



*This song is apparently a re-recorded, re-arranged version of an original song the guys wrote years ago when they were called UFO. The song was sort of a fan favorite and I guess that's why it was re-recorded for their latest album, Jukebox. Cool video of them practicing a rough version in 2008.

**JLS is still somewhat stubbornly faceless as a group. And this song doesn't totally change that, but it is another example of how effective the group can be with good material that producers shape by arranging the vocals in a way that really makes great use of each vocalist. They really need this kind of thing more consistently.

Posted on November 17th, 2011 - Filed under Music
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The Limits of Bombast: Reviewing Beyoncé’s ‘4’

Beyoncé’s new album fascinates me because rather than deepen, complicate, and expand her sound as it is intended to, it really acts as a textbook example of the limits of bombast.

Since B’Day she has decided, for whatever reason, that every song no matter what the genre, theme, or tempo deserves to get the same vocal treatment – loud with occassional growls that are intended to convey conviction but really just scream effort*. But it didn’t really matter much before because she was singing songs that didn’t have any real meat to them anyway.

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Posted on August 3rd, 2011 - Filed under Music
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Britney Spears’ Lame Reinvention

After watching Britney Spears’ latest videos:


Can we agree that she’s not as interesting a video persona when she’s ripping off Madonna as when she was trying really hard to be recreate every. little. thing. great about Janet Jackson’s video persona:


I mean, right?

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Posted on April 13th, 2011 - Filed under Music
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Here We Go Again

Can’t front like the man isn’t gorgeous. Photo Credit: Norma Jean Roy for Details Magazine.

Can’t front like the man isn’t gorgeous.
Photo Credit: Norma Jean Roy for Details Magazine.

Joe Jonas never seemed like a poseur, so why are his handlers modeling his inevitable solo stardom off of the King of 21st Century Poseurdom, Justin Timberlake?

But will Joe Jonas be believable as a real rock star? Can the fans ever forget that they loved him in fourth grade?

“I look at Joe’s scenario as kind of like when Justin Timberlake broke out of ‘N Sync,” says Rob Knox, a producer working on Joe’s solo project who previously teamed up with Rihanna and Jamie Foxx. “Justin was 21 when he came out as a solo artist. Joe is coming to producers who know how to create that edgier pop feeling. We’re not doing any boy-band songs.”

What they are doing, Joe says, is an eclectic mixture of “electro indie pop rock.” “It’s Joe’s album, it’s not just something put together for him,” says Danja, another veteran producer on the project, whose past work includes Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds. “He’s collaborating with the writing. He’s very different from what you’d expect. All I can say is he’s an adult man. He has a rock-star edge about him.”

The entire Details piece reads exactly the way all the articles about Justin Timberlake before he released Justified read – Joe really likes girls! Joe drinks! Joe is kinda sorta embarrassed by the Jonas Brothers! Joe is a rock star trapped in teen idol purgatory!

Blah blah blah snooze.

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Posted on March 18th, 2011 - Filed under Music
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Wanna See a Superstar Lose His Identity?

Just watch Usher’s latest video for “More”:

For more than a decade, Usher was the standard bearer. His five album run of nearly flawless albums is practically peerless.

But then came Raymond vs. Raymond, a nakedly commercial and depressingly desperate album with almost no redeeming qualities at all. And Usher, like Michael Jackson before him, has taken up the mantle of aging artist pathetically hanging onto pop relevance instead of continuing to be the great artist he has always been.

Everything about this video is sad, starting and ending with a grown ass man with a trendy gay teen haircut.

“OMG” and “More” are the kinds of songs that a lot of people around the world like, but they are not Usher songs. They exist to top the charts and then be forgotten in a year. Anyone can perform these songs. A vocalist of Usher’s prodigious gifts? Wasted.

At this point in his career, Usher should be so aware of his public identity and his artistry that nothing could shake it. It is a sad, sad thing to watch an artist of Usher’s abilities get shook by life after 30 and the rise of an artist as inconsequential and musically threadbare as Chris Brown. They can’t take your title, you relinquish it.

Posted on March 8th, 2011 - Filed under Music
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