Partying for Brighter Days With a Couple of Avant-Garde Pop Geniuses
I wasn’t feeling this record until my homey Julianne Shepherd convinced me that it was genius. Now I think I like it better than she does. Anyway, it’s awe-inspiring and cool and touching and kind of avant-garde in a weird homegrown way, and I can’t recommend it enough. Let this serve as main notice of the same.
The first song is, I guess, the big single of 2004 that will never be. “Be Your Girl” uses a playground “nyah nyah”-style taunt as its main hook, and rather improbably weds a tale of a girl who’s so shy that she can’t meet this great guy to lyrics where said girl admits that she sometimes touches herself when thinking of great guy. I know the world is changing and I’m old and all that, but that isn’t really shyness, okay? It shouldn’t work, but it does, hard, all the way down to the core.
How does this song survive? Two ways. One, because Teedra Moses is a great songwriter and singer; the latter point is driven home with a mallet when all the many multitracked vocals kick in, both doo-wop and gangsta at the same time. She gets the soul-pop thang, which is inevitable, because she’s from New Orleans. Two, because we are hearing the full, unfettered blast of a producer named Paul Poli. This dude is taking all the Philly lessons he can (Vidal Davis’ work with Jill Scott, and Scott Storch’s work with Jaguar Wright, and ?uestlove’s work with everyone all come to mind) and combining it with smoothed-out TLC ATL-ness, and L.A. hot-pop, and Chi-style dusty-grooviness. And there’s some more stuff here too. I’ll mention it in a second.
This team is deceptively derivative, which is to say that songs first sound like other songs, and then you realize that they’re completely their own thing. “Backstroke” could be by Mya, or Ashanti, or someone else the first time you hear it. She hates him, you see, but she loves the way he brings it—ho hum, heard it, know it, made out to it last year. But then you hear it again and really listen to it and realize that this is some kind of symphony. We’ve got a Phil Spector scenario from the start: “Picture me in one of those two-seater things / Top down so thoughts of you are in the breeze / And the wind / And the wind / And the wind / Wind’s in my hair”. That’s poetry, jack, don’t even pretend it ain’t. The production keeps her arguing with herself in many different ways, with many different touches, at many different emotional levels. This is all in the first two minutes. At 2:19, we get a big, emotional, 1970s mini-bridge that turns it epic. But it’s all because there’s something in dude’s backstroke. Wow.
Lemme see. Other great new soul icons here include the title track, which is a plea for Zen enlightenment through drinking and dancing. If you think you’ve heard this before when it was called “1999”, you’re right—but they know it and admit it in the big Linn drum hit every couple of bars. But it’s also a plea for love, and a way of restating the same idea in Tim McGraw’s big current hit about living like you’re dying, and if that can be a hit, so can this. Plus, there’s the great dropout, sounding like the whole studio’s on mute for a few seconds, which reigns. Paul is messing with conventions like NYC protesters.
The same song exists in the form of “No More Tears”, except it’s about dealing with a relationship by getting high with one’s friends, a notion I endorse highly. We also highly approve of “Caught Up”, where she admits to a guy that she wants to be “wifey”, which is just foolish enough that it could be real. And there’s no way you won’t cry hearing “I Think of You (Shirley’s Song)”, where she finally sings the song she was supposed to sing at her mother’s funeral. Only one other artist can do a track like that, and her name is Missy Elliott.
Guest shots: “You’ll Never Find (A Better Woman)”, a Badu-esque “ghetto love affair” of a thug boyfriend’s intransigence, is completely subverted by Jadakiss’ guest rap about how, hey, she used to like it, she never turned down any money, who’s talking about “breaking up”, because he still loves her—and then he subverts himself by admitting that he might be catting around after all! Also we get a guest production/duet deal with Raphael Saddiq, whose career SHOULD NOT BE IN THE CRAPPER when he can still bring pretty, lost-love acou-shtick like “Take Me”.
And now we get to talk about the best guest on the thing: Lil Jon! Yeah! Okay! Actually, he doesn’t say a word on “You Better Tell Her”. He doesn’t need to, because his track is so strong—is this the first understated crunk classic?—and because Moses does it all. Here’s the song’s scenario: our narratrix tells her partner that he needs to deal with the other woman who’s talking about being with him, NOW, before she has to deal with it. She’s not worried about whether or not the rumors about this other chick are true: she doesn’t care, because all their property is in her name anyway. She’s just mad because her rep is getting harshed out. She says “Daddy, I’m 2 cute 2 fight / You better get that bitch told tonight”. Talk about complex simplicity! No way can you convince me that this won’t be seen as an underappreciated classic in ten years you just remember your Uncle Matt told you about it at the time.
I love this so much that it doesn’t matter that it’s three songs too long, and that those three songs are kinda boring ballads. I love it so much that I play it at work, and in the car, and on Sunday mornings making eggs for the children. It’s a permanent part of the soundscape around here. Please don’t sleep on Teedra Moses and Paul Poli. You won’t be able to forgive yourself.
// Notes from the Road
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