27
May 14

ANOTHER LEVEL – “Freak Me”

Popular43 comments • 2,041 views

#795, 18th July 1998

alevel It’s no “Boom Boom Boom”, but “Freak Me” is the frankest boyband track on Popular so far – a cover of Silk’s 1993 R&B hit, which gives Dane Bowers and company the opportunity to sound (and look) intensely earnest and moody while pitching to go down on you. (For some value of “you”). It goes as far as it can without needing a radio edit – and at the old school pre-Matthew Bannister Radio 1, “Freak Me” might still have picked up a ban. But behind the corny growling about whipped cream, this is a celebratory sex jam with consent and respect at its centre. “Let me lick you up and down, til you say stop… Let me do all the things you want me to do.”

That’s the good side of this single. On the other hand, consider that date: this is a very close copy of a song that’s five years old, and it still sounds as modern as any R&B track a British boyband has given us. R&B was an obvious direction for boybands, but one where the Brits apparently had either no ideas or no conviction in them. British pop has often fallen back on copying American hits, but even in the 50s there wasn’t this much of a time lag. The levels of thought or craft that went into Billie or B*Witched’s hits are nowhere here – probably nobody had a concept beyond taking a proven single and putting four fit lads in front of it.

There’s a double danger in that approach: the band won’t be up to the job, or their hearts won’t be in it. On this evidence, both might be true of Another Level. Listen to Silk’s go at “tonight baby – I’m gonna get freaky with you”. You might say it’s overdone, but there’s a thirst in it which Bowers can’t or won’t match: the song works better when its singers are happy to go over the top. Bobak does better on the verses, but their poker-faced patter was the weak spot of the Silk version in any case. The video cuts repeatedly between our pouting heroes at some grimy warehouse party and shots of pit bulls and coal miners – a weird pick’n’mix of masculinity that manages to make them look even more uncomfortable.

The sad and telling thing is that in the 90s Another Level were the most sustained British attempt at an R&B boyband – backed enough to get a Jay-Z guest verse on a remix of their first single, a sign of the type of audience they were aiming for. To have slipped back into awkward covers territory so quickly shows just how far the business – and maybe the band – were out of their depth when it came to this music.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 27 May 2014 #

    I remember Schoolchum H (sat next to in tutorial group) declaring that Bobak was “lush”, and that she “would”. I think it was the eyebrows? Anyway, she’d not shown any interest in Take That or other boybands up until that point so this important data point is PIVOTAL, at least in terms of H’s hormone levels.

  2. 2
    will on 27 May 2014 #

    Call me naive but at the time I thought ‘tonight baby I want to get freaky with you’ meant an evening spent practicing gurning techniques with a loved one or perhaps watching a strange but funny video together. I was 28 at the time.

  3. 3
    James BC on 27 May 2014 #

    Be Alone No More was much better, with or without Jay-Z. Great up-tempo pop-RnB.

    This is a nailed-on four out of ten, isn’t it.

  4. 4
    mapman132 on 27 May 2014 #

    And so the late 90′s US/UK chart dichotomy becomes clearer…

    As already stated, “Freak Me” was already a hit for Silk in 1993. A US #1 in fact. Because of my lukewarm attitude toward 90′s R&B, it wasn’t the type of a track I’d seek out, but it was ok enough to my ears to not cause me to change the radio dial either. I remember its raunchy attitude making it popular at my university’s “air guitar” competition that year (obviously not much “guitar” here, so it was more miming, but you get the idea…) Anyway, I guess Silk wasn’t able to compete successfully in the long term against the contemporary likes of Boyz II Men et. al, so they and their one major hit had largely receded into the background by 1998. I was briefly reminded of the hit when “Freak Me” hit UK #1 that year. James Masterton’s blog confirmed that yes, it was indeed the same song as Silk’s but at the time I had little interest in investigating further.

    So, flash forward to 2014 and I finally listen to it as part following this forum. And my immediate reaction was – despite not hearing Silk’s version for about 20 years – now I understand why British boy bands weren’t having US success at the time. Not to be mean, but after re-listening to Silk’s version to confirm what I remembered, I have to believe that had Another Level washed up on American shores in 1998, they would’ve ridden a tidal wave of laughter straight back across the Atlantic. That’s the fundamental problem with cover versions: they really lay bare one’s vocal deficiencies when there’s a superior version to which one can be compared. Another Level is at least better than my favorite whipping boys Robson and Jerome, but compared to Silk, their “licking you up and down” just sounds silly, like kids trying to sound “grown up”.

    2/10.

  5. 5
    swanstep on 27 May 2014 #

    The Silk version always sounded to me like a poor knock-off of Janet Jackson’s ‘Come Back To Me’ (at least for the backing track) so the thing that works best for me about Another Level’s version is that its backing track feels a little more distinctive. But Silk’s vocals are a lot better…. so it’s something like a draw between the two versions (or would be if backing-tracks counted as much as vocals in explicit sex-you-up songs!). There are some nice backing vox touches in the Another Level version, and the ‘get freaky’ lines remain fun, but still:
    4

  6. 6
    thefatgit on 27 May 2014 #

    This just makes me cringe. Although the consent issue is covered with “…you want me to”, it still feels creepy. Dane Bowers’ hook is the only notable positive for me here, but with Dane Bowers, there’s an awful lot of tabloid baggage which just renders him beyond parody. Sorry to say the Silk original doesn’t do much for me either. (3)

  7. 7
    wichitalineman on 27 May 2014 #

    This one completely passed me by and, until I read they had a number one after the fact, I’d never have guessed Another Level were popular enough to manage it.

    The Silk version is clearly stronger vocally, and the mushier, reverb-laden production suits the song better too. Another Level’s performance is too juvenile to be close to convincing – they may as well be singing Feck Me.

    But like TFG I find both versions creepy, and where Tom finds “consent and respect” I hear “legal get out clause”.

    One man’s celebratory sex jam is another man’s dog-humping-a-table-leg embarrassment, but Brandy & Monica’s properly sexy The Boy Is Mine was still in the top 10 when Freak Me went to number one, and shows it up horribly.

  8. 8
    Tom on 27 May 2014 #

    #7 I think a celebratory sex jam can also be a dog-humping-a-table-leg embarrassment! And this, er, straddles both (especially in the Another Level version) – but I’m not who it’s aimed at. But I also think there’s a big gap between embarrassing and creepy. I dunno, it’s ultimately not my place to judge which “Freak Me” falls into, and I’m happy to admit I might just be tone deaf to it, but I just don’t hear the overt creepiness here: it’s slow and growly loverman talk in a tradition that goes back at least to Barry White and forward to “Deep” by East 17, another record that falls – I would say – on the right side of the embarrassing/creepy barrier.

  9. 9
    wichitalineman on 27 May 2014 #

    Maybe it was “celebratory” that sounded too positive for me – the lyric is completely one-sided, after all. I’d call it a “priapic sex jam”, and there’s another on its way in a couple of years which I like a lot more because it’s slightly embarrassed by its horniness.

    There are different levels of creepy, too – from Come Outside (overkeen lad) to Inner Circle’s Sweat (what, she’s dead?). And I’d agree that Deep definitely falls on the right side of the line – it sounds more playful than Freak Me. I know at least one person, an occasional (male) Popular commenter, who has major problems with Barry White’s back catalogue. Not me, though.

    All my opinions though, and of course Freak Me wasn’t aimed at me either. Schoolchum H clearly didn’t find it creepy at all.

  10. 10
    iconclast on 27 May 2014 #

    Marginally more pleasant than a nasty bout of gastro-enteritis on a plane all the way back from Mexico, but only just. Truly another level of awfulness. I couldn’t make it past half-way, and even if I could, I doubt I could give it anything more than a ONE.

  11. 11
    thefatgit on 27 May 2014 #

    Me too, I’m projecting a lot of “issues” on to this, but of course Silk/Another Level aren’t singing to me. I’m just witnessing something that stimulates my gag reflex. Funny, Barry White doesn’t, but I’m more open to his own self-parodying “Walrus Of Love” persona.

  12. 12
    Tom on 27 May 2014 #

    #9 Yeah, that makes sense, “celebratory” isn’t the right word – I should probably have moved “earnest” down a few lines, as that gets at it better (they’re not quite priapic either, too po-faced for that).

    And you’re right that it’s the element of playfulness that’s completely missing here. I gave it another play, and with less generous ears than I obviously had yesterday, Another Level’s serious-business delivery captures horribly well the sexuality of the well-meaning teenage boy who’s read a few issues of More magazine and now fancies himself an expert in female pleasure*. Though I still think the framing of the chorus is positive, and ‘creepy’ feels a step too far. I’d probably stick with a 4.

    *It’s an earnestness that transcends genre. At the indie disco when I was 19/20, the DJ would put on Consolidated ft The Yeastie Girls’ “You Suck”, and the floor would fill with boys dancing very seriously indeed.

  13. 13
    mapman132 on 27 May 2014 #

    #9 Glad to see I’m not the only one skeeved out by “Sweat”. I mean, 2013′s B****** L**** was a bit controversal, but “Sweat” was a lot more obvious 20 years earlier, although admittedly a much lesser hit.

    “Freak Me” doesn’t seem creepy to me – it just seems ridiculous when sung by a standard issue mediocre boy band – oh look, here we are getting all sensual…

  14. 14
    hectorthebat on 27 May 2014 #

    Sample watch: The drums are from “The Champ” by The Mohawks, so this song joins an illustrious list including “Eric B is President”, and “Here Come the Hotstepper”

  15. 15
    Mark G on 27 May 2014 #

    #7 onwards: When Kate Lawler and pals on Big Bro (3?) found they liked music-in-common, they went on to discuss various acts (Another Level amongst them) and I’d heard of none of them. I went to whichever internet page helped in those days, and found they had loads of hits. Right then, I realised the charts had got away from me…

    Having said that, the descriptions above mean I recall this one now..

  16. 16
    thefatgit on 27 May 2014 #

    Put a “like” in the middle of this title and it’s a whole different ballgame, but bunny is watching.

  17. 17
    Chelovek na lune on 27 May 2014 #

    I thought, on hearing the “I wanna lick you up and down” bit, looking at the picture of the group: “what, all of you”?

    I also had no idea it was a cover version – just find it cringeworthy, leaning towards sleazy rather than even hypothetically romantic. Devoid of the humour present in “Deep”.

    I think the only song by this group I’ve willingly heard more than once was “From The Heart” – but actually I recall none of the others at all.

    Just say no, kids!

  18. 18
    PurpleKylie on 27 May 2014 #

    At risk of sounding like a massive prude, I’ve always hated this song. I think generally ever since being exposed to that god-awful Colour Me Badd song as a child, I’ve had an irrational hatred for R&B songs with sexually explicit lyrics.

    I think it’s because the slow music in addition to the lyrics makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, because I can listen to sexually explicit lyrics if it’s got faster music or is done in a tongue-in-cheek way. In my own weird way: “Too Drunk To ****” = yes, but “Let’s Get It On” = no.

  19. 19
    Kinitawowi on 28 May 2014 #

    #7: pretty sure there was a rumour around our school that said that the original title WAS “Fuck Me”. I always wondered how getting fucky with you might work.

    Um. Yeah. I want to give this the generic “probably good if you like this sort of thing, but I don’t so I’m giving it 3″ mark, but Dane Bowers is just bad enough on the hook to kick this down a notch.

    2.

  20. 20
    Tom on 28 May 2014 #

    Surely “Funk” was international pop code for “Fuck” around this point? “Funk Dat” by Sagat being my main evidence.

  21. 21
    taDOW on 28 May 2014 #

    damn near did a spittake when i saw that a brit boy band hit #1 w/ a cover of ‘freak me’. silk were keith sweat’s entry in the jodeci/boyzIImen sweepstakes, they had a massive hit and then kinda faded (similar to albeit not as extreme as shai w/ ‘if i ever fall in love’, which also had an amusing what were you thinking late 90s british cover as well iirc). they were from atlanta, beneficiaries of sweat’s move to atlanta, part of the huge move of the r&b industry into atlanta w/ whitney & bobby and, more key, babyface & la reid.

  22. 22
    wichitalineman on 28 May 2014 #

    Re 12: Sorry, I feel like I’ve been nit-picking over a song I don’t really give two hoots about! You’re right, it’s no more “creepy” than Come Outside, really. I’m now trying to imagine Come Outside as earnest, or Freak Me feat. Wendy Richard (who I think was still with us in 1998).

    Re 15, 17: Likewise, I don’t recall any of their hits – so it’s rather shocking to discover they had seven Top 10 singles, which is more than David Cassidy or Donny Osmond managed in their prime. I was clearly out of the loop but, given I’m not alone, which radio stations were playing AL, and did they get less TV coverage than other boy bands? Boyzone and Peter Andre were unavoidable, as were B*witched, Billie and other newbies soon to be bothering us.

  23. 23
    hardtogethits on 28 May 2014 #

    The cover of the cd single made me laugh. I presume there’s some attempt to view all 4 from a reasonably flattering angle, but to me they have been made to look as comically clueless as footballers used to look in spot the ball competitions. That ‘not looking in One Direction’ appearance also conveys, here, the impression that they are about to be admonished by the hotel manager for singing naughty songs in their room – all of them too guilty to make eye contact, so defenceless that they look embarrassed or defiant.

  24. 24
    Cumbrian on 28 May 2014 #

    About the only thing I remember Another Level for is being the band that gave us Dane Bowers – and the only other thing I remembered him for was being involved in Victoria Beckham’s attempt to get to #1 in the pop version of Country House v Roll With It (the difference being, the bunny there is decent, whereas I wasn’t convinced by either of the Britpop songs).

    This is dull. Murmuring in place of seductiveness and heavy handed instead of offering a light caress. Nuance is out of the window, lyrically and vocally. I don’t know whether we can draw any generalities from this – Brit Boybands don’t do R&B well should probably be Another Level don’t do R&B well, at least on this evidence – but it doesn’t help the general impression that, at this point, the US is well ahead of the UK, and probably had been for quite some time (they got En Vogue, we got Eternal, they got Bell Biv Devoe, we get, much later, Another Level). Will we ever catch up? Do we even want to? Shouldn’t the UK be doing its own thing? Popular time will tell, I suppose?

    Aside: is anyone having log in problems here. I doubt anyone misses my contributions here but it’s pretty frustrating trying to log in at the moment – frequently, I’ll log in and it won’t work for some pages but will for others. Very odd.

  25. 25

    As far as we can tell, the log in is actually happening, it just doesn’t register on all pages. So if you log in and then comment — even tho it still says you are not logged in — it seems to work.

    It may be a cacheing problem (whatever that is): and related to the slowness with which posted comments appear. We are in conversation with our service provider. It is maddening.

    [Adding: by "we" I mean tech-savvy ppl who actually know what they're talking about. So not in fact me.]

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