Music

Ashanti: Concrete Rose

Nicholas Taylor

Ashanti

Concrete Rose

Label: The Inc.
US Release Date: 2004-12-14
UK Release Date: 2004-12-13
iTunes affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

It's hard to imagine anyone flipping over the music of Ashanti Douglas, better known simply as Ashanti, a beautiful R&B vocalist from Long Island with a sweet albeit uninspiring voice. Yet in 2002, the music world did just that. Riding a wave of popularity from her guest appearances on smash singles by Ja Rule, Fat Joe, and the Notorious B.I.G., her debut single, "Foolish", was a mainstay in the top 10. At one point, amazingly, her voice graced three singles in the top 10 of the Billboard charts. Looking back at that time, it seems incredible that a singer of such unspectacular talents could inspire such hysteria.

I must admit that I write this review as an unabashed and unapologetic Beyoncé Knowles fan. Not only am I a fan of her voice and her sex appeal, but I am also deeply impressed by the visceral impact of her music. "Crazy in Love", the smash single from her solo debut, Dangerously in Love, simply blasts out of the speakers, carried by an unbelievable horn-section hook as well as a thumping and entrancing bridge of "uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, oh no no" that makes you feel the quiver of a body riveted with sexual anticipation and abandon. It's an amazing pop single by a master of hip-hop and R&B.

I couldn't get "Crazy in Love" out of my mind as I listened to Ashanti's third album, Concrete Rose. After a few spins, I realized that what I was longing for was something that startled me, shook me, made me sit up and take notice. Ashanti's record is a decent, 54-minute collection of mostly mid-tempo tracks by a decent R&B singer. The closest Concrete Rose comes to taking control of the listener is on the dance-club single "Turn It Up", featuring the singer's label-mate, Ja Rule. Bolstered by a hook featuring a tight string section reminiscent of Philadelphia soul over a thumping bass beat, Ashanti's verse phrases are punctured by Ja Rule yells of "Turn it up!" and "Oh! Oh!", reminiscent, quite frankly, of the hip-hop megahit of 2003, Usher's "Yeah!" Nonetheless, this boisterous ode to clubbing and partying certainly makes you move. Is it "Crazy in Love"? Certainly not, but then again, Ashanti is not Beyoncé and Ja Rule is not Jay-Z.

Nonetheless, I would prefer an entire album of tracks that grooved and gripped me, even if they were all somewhat derivative. The lion's share of the album is devoted to tracks like the single "Still Down". The musical bed is light and airy, with a tightly constructed piano and synth hook, bolstered by Ashanti's pithy vocals about the virtues of puppy love. "Still Down", however, sounds remarkably like "Every Lil' Thing", which sounds remarkably like "Take Me Tonight", which sounds like... well, you get the point. Actually, "Take Me Tonight", a duet between Ashanti and the R&B singer Lloyd (following in the footsteps of the many duet singles that propelled her to fame a few years ago), is perhaps the hardest track to swallow. On an album that Ashanti feels to be deep and soulful, she and Lloyd share the following exchange: "(Ashanti) Maybe we could go somewhere tonight / (Lloyd) If you wanna baby we could catch a flight / (Ashanti) Long as I got you babe / Everything is OK." So it's not Bob Dylan, I understand that. But Ashanti's singing style is smooth, professional, and, well, that's about it. A great singer could make "Long as I got you babe / Everything is OK" profound. With Ashanti, to this listener's ears, it sounds exactly like what it is.

In the spoken-word "skit" that opens the album (a phenomenon that rock fans like me will still never understand), Ashanti proclaims her conviction that Concrete Rose is her best album yet, in that it's more deeper, it has got more soul. If this is indeed true, it speaks more to the mediocrity of her prior records than to the excellence of her most last release. So why is this album currently in the top 10? Well, for one thing Ashanti is beautiful. But how far can that get you? After a while, once you've grown tired of her sculpted body and revealing outfits, you're left with an album of so-so hook and vapid lyrics. Is that the worst thing in the world? Certainly not. Worthy of the top ten? Not in my opinion. But kudos to Ashanti. Apparently she's found a niche in the market that she can inhabit, and who am I to judge? I expect Ashanti to ride this wave of popularity as far as it will take her. As a listener, however, I will not be surprised when, upon listening to her fourth album, I am not surprised.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image