Sunday, January 21, 2007

Itunes Nomad Part III

I've been asked, here and there, why it is that I choose to review songs in this space as opposed to full length albums. Simple really, much to the chagrin of the dying LP traditionalist, the way we experience music is increasingly song by song. This was bound to happen once downloadable MP3's replaced CDs as the preferred vehicle of purchased music. Sorry so-called auteurs, you too are subject to the will and whim of man's most energetic force: the market. What consumer wants to slog through mediocre filler tracks to get to the juicy nuggets? Want us to buy your album? Don't put shitty songs on it. In the meantime, I'll continue to write about music the way I experience it: selectively.

Jay-Z - Lost One

It is with great sadness and much wringing of hands that I report the following: 'Lost One' is the lone great song on Jay-Z's new album. It's almost as if the title of the track were a reference to its fish-out-of-water status among Jigga's soft, lazy comeback effort. Sorry apologists, but facts are facts, Jay fell off. Lest you think I'm a hater, friends of mine know I've long been a defender and indeed a champion of Hov. It is impossible to overstate the enjoyment I've derived, across all these years, out of his debut LP, Reasonable Doubt. Unfortunately, over time Jay has become a victim of what was once his greatest strength: being outrageously self absorbed. We once marveled at his verses, stylized interior monologues commenting superbly on rap's usual suspects: gritty urban life, new money triumphalism, the swift seduction of ho's, etc. Forgive us for being somewhat disappointed upon encountering an album detailing the not-so-universal struggles of being CEO, avoiding the paparazzi, and keeping Beyonce happy. It was cool when Jay first bragged about nailing Miss Knowles. We sang along enthusiastically to his "hottest chick in the game, wearin my chain" boastings, but, really, I don't want to know about her commitment issues, Jay. Really I don't. Name-checking Chris Martin and bemoaning the chasing, flashing cameras of magazine photographers further suggests that Hov is teetering close to the edge of that notorious artistic graveyard: irrelevance. Its not the end of the world. There can come a point, in this era of the ubercelebrity, when a successful artist's life so ceases to resemble the life of the average person that, he simply stops having anything interesting to say to us. We're grateful it took this long.
Anyhow, I said I wouldn't comment on albums and there I go providing a capsule review of Kingdom Come. Let's return to the song. The beat is spare, clear, riding a mournful, looped piano sample up and down. The effect, the inescapable temptation to nod one's head, is immediate. The first verse is a not-so-disguised farewell, bittersweet at that, to Jay's former business partner Dame Dash. Its okay. The second verse is more relationship-analysis drivel about his famous girlfriend. Were it not for the singsongy appeal of the hook, impatience might have gotten the best of us by now, sick beat notwithstanding. That hook, rendered in a voice more indigenous, foreign, than the usual motown-derivative stylings of rap choruses, ends in a swaggering statement of the song's title "You lost one...". At last, in the third and final verse, the Jay-Z of epochs gone by, returns to us. He tells the story of his nephew, who was, it appears, recently killed in a car accident. This is not just one more sophomoric, dead-homies lamentation that every rapper seems obligated to include on his album. Rather this is about the loss of innocence. There are some lyrical, resonant explorations of grief here. I admit to feeling the slow crawl of goosebumps along my neck, when, Jay pauses midverse, and switches tone, his voice creaking with hurt "Time don't go back, it goes forward/ Can't run from the pain, go towards it/ Gonna see you again, I'm sure of it/ Until then, little man, I'm nauseous". Tell 'em Jay. And speaking of lost ones, we'll miss you homie.

Broken Social Scene - 7/4 (Shoreline)

This is a song marvelously unsuited to the itunes breed of track-sampling. The vocals do not start to work their sweet hypnosis until well after the thirty second window afforded by the try-before-you-buy double click. If it weren't for the pleasing, eliptical instrumental, and the suggestive, relaxing title of the song, I might have missed out on it altogether. For when those vocal do eventually kick in, they come courtesy of Leslie Feist, and they come hard. For me, this one peaks early. Its the aggressive questioning of the second verse, supplied in an ethereal moan. The effect is like hearing the soft, clear voice of a female confidant, your best friend, possibly a love you know you'll soon regret leaving, telling you you're dead wrong

"And you're walking away
But where to go to?
And youre walking alone
But how to go through?"

Here she kicks it up a notch, and there's a raw scratch to her voice, the plea becomes more intense, and somehow, more self-consciously beautiful. Only a fool could leave her voice, stranded there above the rushing guitar cacaphony. I listened hard, lovestruck.

"If you wanna get it right
You can own what you choose
But you wanna live a lie
And love what you lose"

Tell you what, somewhere behind those lyrics a story lurks, and on one end of it is a heart, in the long term, wrenched murderously in half. Tell you what else: its not the singer's. Oh yeah and the song is good too.

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