JAY-Z – “Change Clothes”

At first, I was like “cool new Jay-Z!”. Soon after, I was like “COOL new Neptunes!” Then I bought the album and I was like “ehh..” Then I was like “woo boy it’s Jay-Z again”. For an ever so brief while I was “oh just SHUT UP and retire” (even though my problem isn’t with Jay & his self-proclaimed unimpeachable stature, but with Pharell & Co.). (There’s no parenthetical aside long enough for me to discuss Jay-Z’s role in all this without coming off as a dismissive & curt asshat.) Now, when I hear this beat kick in, I can’t muster an emotion that ranks above or below Submissive Apathy, given I’ve been beaten over, about, and across the head with it since before the album dropped. Actually, “beaten” is too strong a verb – try “tapped”, or perhaps “brushed”. It began to feel like a slightly damp washcloth gently slapping against my right forearm. HOWEVER.

I caught the video a couple of weeks ago (not for the first time), and maybe it was Naomi Campbell’s hairclip, or Beanie Segal walking the runway like the debonair bastard he is, or that Alicia Keys lookalike sporting the fur, but I realized an epiphany (albeit a lightweight type). You know, like when you’re listening to a Tony Conrad piece from the Early Minimalism box set, and you lie on your bed, and after 30+ minutes of the same violin chord played at the same tempo, you start to hear something different? Yeah, of course you do!

Anyway, I started to notice how the beat did a little sashay or flourish at the end of each measure, a little quick-like BaBaDaBa to mix with the mostly measured pace it holds. There’s also this bit of percussion that obviously sounds like glass garbage can lids getting whacked by orchestra triangles, or maybe it sounds like a bent triangle being struck by hollow glass. Those two little details hit me, and continued to hit me, in full-on THX Dolby Theatre Quadrophenic glory each time the rest of the song was beating – sorry, GENTLY PUSHING – me about.

Unfortunately, this moment passed sometime this evening, as I attempted to coax my PC into playing this track from my copy of the CD. (Here’s a sample of what happened: clickclickclickclick – “I’M HITTING PLAY!!!” – clickclickclickTHUNKclick – “YOU HEAR THAT?!?!” – clickclickWHACKclickclicliclilckciclkclkcick – “COME ON YOU FUCKHALWJREORIU@**!(S(*A(!)(00908A*!”) When I finally got my computer to acquiese, the magic was gone. Without Naomi, and perhaps outside of the pitchshifted auspices of Infinity Broadcasting, those little percussive flourishes I crushed on sunk back into the mix, and I was left with what I had before – a perfectly likable song that exemplifies the Neptunes’ unerring (and tireless) (and perhaps tiresome) consistency.

This isn’t to say the formula is getting stale, but … would it be so bad if the Neptunes just straight up bombed? Or at least tried to? And I mean REALLY tried – like, if they had a lapse in poor taste, or collaborated with some completely atrocious (and, no, Fred Durst doesn’t qualify, you ninnies). There’s a point where being experimental and edge in the same exact way every time over and over turns into lifeless safety dancing. Granted, I’m not sure what that “way” is for the ‘Tunes – some motorik Stereolabbing bunsen burner bubbling way, maybe – but it’s recognizable, it’s omnipresent, and it’s more than a little stifling.

The same could possibly be said of Jay-Z, but he’s playing out the string like Pete Rose or Cal Ripken, lingering a little bit longer than recommended to collect a few more hits, giving the fans one final farewell. The Neptunes haven’t given themselves the luxury of an easy way out, and I imagine they’re not looking for the EXIT signs just yet. All I’m asking for is a little fresh air, and by “fresh”, I mean “new”; I don’t care if it’s rank and foul, as long as it’s different. I don’t need another L.A. Law or Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue or NYPD 2069 or even Hooperman, for the love of crap – I need Cop Rock!