Posts from 8th April 2002

Apr 02


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Tweet – Southern Hummingbird

I like to talk about album covers, because they’re usually the most succinct statement of artistic or commercial intent in the course of a work. The cover of Tweet’s Southern Hummingbird is no exception. A modernistic abstract font, twerked into further abstraction, a stylized contour of a pop-art logo. All over an orange background, which was the new-R&B color of choice last year from 3LW to Toya and beyond. But this isn’t garish and sharp so much as suffused from behind by some sort of warm light — the source of the light hidden behind the most visually dominant element of the cover, Tweet herself, rendered in perfect black and white. The black and white isn’t some postmodern appropriative nod to classic roots any more than the logo is a bid for modern currency. Somehow, the art rests in a balance of perfect tension — every element a gimmick but no element superfluous.

It should be evident by now that I’m working to develop a metaphor for the album. But to follow through now on that metaphor would be too cheap. Let’s exercise our brains and step back to the whole context of the rap and R&B world right now — my barber told me today that people were sick of Jay-Z and R. Kelly, that Nas would be coming back because he has things to say. The two most exciting MCs of the moment (Mystikal and Ludacris) are rooted in deep funk. The producers of the moment (Neptunes) have a signature trick of sending electronic keyboards into decay, introducing an element of human frailty into their work. And Tweet’s own first single, “Oops (Oh My)” is backed by an electric organ that might well be a vocodered chorus.

And the most striking feature of this turn from techne is in the Nu-Soul crowd whose songs ooze authenticity. India Arie isn’t the girl in your average video and Alicia Keys knows what a woman’s worth and Jill Scott likes long walks in the park. If that doesn’t help distinguish between them, that’s because the ethos is common — a return to the days when women were treated with respect and men were moral. What Jill Scott really wants is A Walk To Remember. A song which claims restorative justice without admitting emotional hurt isn’t about people and their relations, but reinforcement of social strictures; isn’t about living free, but living right. The singer and the message are estranged and the artist is transformed exactly into the dehumanized corporate message delivery device that their most avid critics rail against.

So now I’ve set up the enemy, so it should be evident by now that I’m planning to proclaim Tweet the savior. But that would be too cheap. She’s the latest avatar in the Missy/Timbaland hit-machine and her hit single is a slinky and seductive assertion of self-love and egotism. I bought this album from a display rack in Tower with 10×10 = 100 identical black and white Tweet faces staring from 100 identical jewel cases. Her prior appearance was as a faceless club diva encouraging everyone to party on Timbaland and Magoo’s “All Y’all”. And if she has a strong personality, it sure doesn’t come across in her interviews.

So who is really responsible for this album? Why does the first track after the intro (“My Place”: “I’ve made you wait so patiently/Now’s the time to come share with me/I’ve teased so those days are gone/Come over it’s on”) remind me of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? Screw the theory, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Tweet’s a talented singer, with a warm rich voice that’s stuck in the melismatic territory of high octaves. She can’t do cold or aloof; even her kiss-off songs sound like come-ons. More than anything else she’s got the voice of a woman who’s got to stop kissing you and catch her train, and tells you this as she keeps kissing you. Sometimes the voice of a woman who’s doing more than kissing. The album has three seduction songs, two being-seduced songs, three about being in love, one about regret of lost love, one about not regretting lost love, one about betrayal, one about friendship, and one about self-love. Three Timbaland-produced club bangers (one disco), one disco track not produced by him, one country song, and mainly quiet numbers backed by acoustic instrumentation.

The point is that somewhere in this mess, coming from somewhere or else, there’s a fruitful synthesis of historical and contemporary modes rooted so deep that it’s damn near impossible to extricate the two. “Boogie 2Nite”, produced by Jubu and Nisan, rests on kick-snare in four from 1978 while the guitar knocks out a riff syncopated circa 2001 and the backup singers add gospel flourishes in the background. Two thirds of the way in a computer speaks: “Move your hips side to side.” It says it again, and again, in rhythm. Three tracks later, on “Motel” she’s telling a lover who cheated to go to hell. Occasionally the guitar figure skips a note, reminding us she is actually playing this. What’s an R&B or Soul singer doing with solo acoustic guitar anyway? The lines are more Slick Rick than Ani D: “I’ve voided your excuses you can save your song and dance/And furthermore the proof you dummy was laying in your pants” and suddenly, near the end the backup comes in to recite in unison “Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn” just like the Sugarhill Gang did.

Twenty years later and history’s script is flipped around. One of the most liberating, innocent, downright silly stanzas hip-hop ever produced now rendered vicious. Lou Reed once explained the difference between the original and re-recorded versions of “Satellite of Love” — where he once said “I’ve been told baby/you’ve been bold baby/with Harry Dick and Tom/Monday Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday/with Harry Dick and Tom” he substituted “Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod” because the specificity made it too much. Here the Lewis Carroll specificity of nonsense becomes new and ominous, a litany of hurt. She pulls the same trick six tracks earlier on “Smoking Cigarettes” (“Smoking cigarettes at night/Winston, Salem, Marlboro Lights”) and it tells us everything we need about the song while still not telling us a damn thing about Tweet herself. A tinny 808 squelches and rattles below this track, which is too loosely sculpted to subsist on strings alone but too contemplative to rely on synth-texture.

The nearly last track on the album is the second single, “Call Me” with a Timbaland Indian loop and promising to meet her secret lover “at the break of dawn” where she’ll meet him “with no panties on”. If she sees any contradiction here, she doesn’t let it show. And neither would anyone else in the throes of lust. Which brings us to the last track, “Drunk” where she’s either having drunken sex she’ll regret in the morning or simply passing out or perhaps getting in a drunken car accident. Strange howling sounds intrude and build like a haunting by the ghost of Disco Inferno. Her breathing gets heavy. Fear? Arousal? “I shouldn’t have drank a sip” she concludes, but she doesn’t mean it. Her voice still says “yes”. That’s conclusion enough for the questions here.

Sterling Clover

In the spirit of providing helpful resources

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 309 views

In the spirit of providing helpful resources here’s a spreadsheet I made up. It’s macro-free and works like a world cup wallchart you’ll get in the papers, except it’s not tabloid sized and doesn’t leave newsprint on your fingers.

It calculates the groups for you and sends the appropriate teams forward into the next round. You can play around with various scenarios and work out just how difficult it will be for England to progress. It could be useful for those important office sweepstakes/prediction competitions. It also has the fixtures in chronological order in GMT, which could be helpful.


The Phoenix Bar – Alexandra Palace.

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The Phoenix Bar – Alexandra Palace. As high as you can get in London – in the middle of Alexandra Park sits the faded grandure of the transitter housing Ally Pally. Like the Crystal Palace but made of brick so that when it had its lightning based fire the shell remained. It still remains a beautiful place to go for a walk in the summer, and would benefit from having a really good pub in its Victorian grounds. Instead it makes do with The Phoenix, which we had the misfortune to drink in on Saturday.

The views are there, and a sizable outside seating area for you to get the best of said views. Perhaps if it had been warmer that would have sorted us out, as it was the wind was whipping up and we took shelter on the bright day to the interior. The high ceilinged bar hewn out of a corner of what was left of the shell of the Palace after the fire. And painted for some inexplicable reason peach. If there is one word which describes the interior of the Phoenix it is ersatz. It looks – as Tim put it – as if someone paid for a refit which looked cheap but was expensive. A few sofas in the hot window spots and half hearted tables sucked the atmosphere out of the gaffe – certainly made worse by the central bar being understaffed by people who could not remember a two drink order.

Plus points? They sell Transmitter Real Ale which was very nice – despite it and all other drinks being served in hard plastic glasses. The appeared to not have any glasss glasses at all. The view is nice but with all the pubs getting fake Victorian refits at the moment here is one which could have been restored to its former glory. The palm court out back is equally tacky with its metal picnic tables and really there is a lack of forethought about the whole joint. So much so that after one pint we had to leave to go down the road – but more of that at another date.

DUEL 2002! Round 1 Match 14

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DUEL 2002! Round 1 Match 14

Duel 2002! Round 1 – Match 14

Which Of These Bands Is The Worst?
The Hives

View current results
View message board

Pete B. is on the case:
‘Meet the new music – same as the old music. The Hives are heavily influenced by both the Pixies and The Buzzcocks – influenced it that special way where they rip them off almost wholesale. Now this would not matter if they ripped off the good tracks. But does 2002 really need a Swedish second-rate post-punk band? Let’s check the dictionary after all: Hives: an itchy skin eruption characterized by weals with pale interiors and well-defined red margins; usually the result of an allergic response to insect bites or food or drugs or very poor music

Mind you if a band was going to give you an allergic reaction it might well be REM. It’s been making their lead singer Michael Stipe look ill for years. Surely someone should put this lumbering music warhorse out of its misery. Not least because if they keep touring one of them is going to get done for causing a disturbance on a plane (mid you if I saw Peter Buck on a plane I would twat him). And is ‘non-insane automatism’ just a polite way of saying ‘churns out dull records year after year’? U2 need an equally geriatric band to follow them into the second round: do your duty.’

Friday’s Results — Starsailor 81% : Baxendale 19%

It could go only one way, really — and Baxendale’s 19% should surely be taken as the result of ignorance, not endorsement. But even if they were a household name Starsailor would surely have beaten them (and Baxendale’s continued lack of fame is its own special defeat, considering). Here’s what you said:

‘James Walsh has an astonishingly flat face – I hope this is because someone has hit him very hard in the face with a shovel.’

‘Never heard Baxendale (I bet they sound like Heavenly)…Anyway, to the matter at hand, could anyone possibly challenge Stereophonics? yes! Starsailor! Yawnfest to the Nth degree, kinda like a party without cake.’

‘stop wailing! please!’

‘Har, baxendale don’t stand a chance up against the ODDS ON FAVOURITE.’

‘BaxenTOSSPOTdale!!!! Argrhhhh intense humming of tinny EVIL! KILL KILL KILL!’

‘This might be a bit unfair, since Starsailor is the only one I have heard of. But my conscience is clean, since they make such a wailing screeching racket! It puts cats in heat to shame.’

‘I’ve never heard Baxendale, but they get my vote as obviously shittest for the uber-indieness of their name alone. And it seems that they’re popular with *sinister* types.’

‘Don’t know Baxendale but is there a band which can be worse than Starsailor? Every time I hear them I wish someone would take away the micro from the singer.’

‘I doubt that anyone in the States knows Baxendale, so they (like me) will vote for Starsailor by default. Ooo, I hope we’ll get a Starsailor/Coldplay duel sometime in the future. That’ll be epic.’

‘Er, haven’t heard either (and ain’t going out of my way to do so)=> Starsailor get it on the coin toss. It really is grim up Norf!’