Sep 09

RICHGIRL – “He Ain’t With Me Now (Tho)”

FT9 comments • 561 views

I was playing this record quite a lot while I put the final edits on my “Decade In Pop” piece for Pitchfork: now I wish I’d mentioned it. It’s producer Rich Harrison’s pet girlband project, and for once that patronising double-edge on the word “pet” seems sadly appropriate: none of the (meagre) hype I’ve seen around Richgirl even mentions the performers, and on this single the production’s firmly the star. The song builds on blurs of keyboard and strings with a droning, advancing quality – production like an army on the march. This supertense churn catches an ambiguity in the track – are the singers just letting their hair down, or is betrayal in the air? The brooding effect is rather spoiled by Harrison’s jumping in to say “wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle” but he can’t ruin a striking track.

It’s the kind of record, in fact, that’s wholly in the adventurous spirit of early-decade chart-R&B; the sort of track critics used to fete. Some still do – I heard about this from Alex Macpherson, probably the most reliable guide I know to the sonics and attitude of modern R&B – but mostly experiments like this go unnoticed. Why? After all, if you’d told me back then about a track that made me think in places of Charlemagne Palestine working with Beyonce I’d have almost fainted.

Partly it’s that awkward origin and setup – the whole vanity project air that makes the gender politics of production-led R&B just that little bit too obvious. Partly though it’s that a lot of people just stopped paying attention: after all, if a 2009 single reminds me so strongly of 2002 that’s a pretty good case against it being “innovative”, right? But this I think points up one of the real weaknesses in the idea of lauding early-00s R&B (and hip-hop, and pop) in these terms. The experiments, left-turns, unusual sources, crazy tricks, minimalism, maximalism and whatever else of those records weren’t meant to be taken simply as “innovations”: they were meant to be taken as hooks.


  1. 1
    Lex on 16 Sep 2009 #

    I love the way Richgirl pull the rug from under your feet in this song – the entire first half of the first verse is devoted to telling us about how much they love their man and how amazing he is. Single of 2009 is still a fairly wide open race, but this is definitely one of the front runners. Should’ve been huge, dammit! Though at least, unlike Electrik Red, this has actually been released in the UK, albeit slipped on to itunes without telling anyone.

  2. 2
    admin on 16 Sep 2009 #

    Tom, i don’t know what’s going on — both of your articles have since been edited out of the series you made :-(

  3. 3
    Martin Skidmore on 16 Sep 2009 #

    Like Lex, I gave it 10 on the Singles Jukebox (http://www.thesinglesjukebox.com/?p=949), and I stand by my statement there that it’s a single of the year contender. It scored 7.17 overall, leaving it outside the year’s top ten.

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 16 Sep 2009 #

    This floored me when I first heard (and saw) it (via the rolling R&B thread on ILM). I like that it feels very much a continuation of a certain Harrison trend, if not a progression – nothing wrong with giving some more of a great thing even if it’s a few years on from the likes of Crazy In Love and 1 Thing. It’s ‘weirder’ and more aggressive than either of those and on that basis I wouldn’t expect it to as well even if it had existed earlier this decade. Definitely one of my favourite pop songs this year (so likely to make it into my personal 00s top 100).

  5. 5
    Tom on 16 Sep 2009 #

    #2 admin – and the “intro” piece too. Really annoying. I’m going to make a page for it and do it the OLD FASHIONED WAY dammit.

  6. 6
    admin on 17 Sep 2009 #

    i noticed you got them all back in the series. BUT only this and the klaxons piece are still in there. so what subsequently happened to the other articles that would have caused this?

    i’ll check on the series plugin wp board…

  7. 7
    admin on 17 Sep 2009 #

    well that answers that! when you add a comment the post stops being in the series.

    series plugin 2.1.1
    This is a recommended upgrade to fix a major bug listed below.
    * fixed a bug that occured when comments were added to a post that was part of a series. When a comment was made the post would lose all series information.

    I have done the upgrade and will re-add the articles…

  8. 8
    admin on 17 Sep 2009 #

    yep, series looks fixed…

  9. 9
    Tim F on 17 Sep 2009 #

    I love this song so much, but it reminds me of En Vogue more than anything else: specifically, like “Never Gonna Get It” and “Free Your Mind” playing AT THE SAME TIME.

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