When the Lord was handing out booty, Beyoncé asked for hers to come ready-slapped. It still reverberates to this day. Like that booty, ‘Crazy In Love’ shakes in all the right places, from fearsome horny fanfare to splashy drum fills, an epicentre of deep R&B sass, the perfect first rumble for that coming-of-age solo career. Let’s ignore the Austin Powers single ‘Work It Out’.
Although that was good too.
Junior says: “Everything sounds great and beautiful and I like her name.” She says things with so much more economy. Because everything does sound great – even Jay-Z’s typically leadfooted show – and a just-reined-in-enough B sounds beautiful. Cool name as well.
Best bit: Take-no-prisoners intro. No messing, no fear.
No pop record has featured this much hiccuping since the imperial phase of Michael Jackson. From the ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ intro to the closing melismatic wail, Beyoncé tics and jerks through a female empowerment anthem that’s more obviously confrontational than ‘Independent Women’ and is – to me, at least, whose view COUNTS HERE – all the better for it. We could never be ready for this much jelly. How can you handle it when it slips through your fingers?
Junior says: “It’s good,” which admittedly lacks real consideration, but perhaps makes up for it with honesty. No more on the ball is her question “Are we having pudding?” when I say B’s singing about jelly.
Best bit: The “wooooo”, obviously, as we slide from intro to dirty funk.
It’s a Heart song, isn’t it? All power chords and stark emotion and, er, a phoned-in rap from Jay-Z. He and the Wilson sisters were like this. They’d bring the overwrought, he’d spit the rhymes. Then he ditched Nancy for his girl B and it was all just AOR/hip hop history. Rihanna of course conveys feeling with the natural poise of an office block, but ‘Umbrella’ benefits from her robotic delivery, keeping its secrets, peeling layers off slowly.
Junior says: “Ella-ella-ey-ey-ey” rather a lot. In fact, she says it pretty much every time she’s confronted by an umbrella of any hue, musical or rainworthy. It’s entered the lexicon.
Best bit: The thumping great beat in Rihanna’s first line.
So Junior preferred this challenging little time signature-defiling tune-meshing number. I should introduce her to Pitchfork. She did a rather alarming Beyoncé tush-shaking routine to it, laughed at the word “Dirty”, joined in with the “Oh oh oh-oh oh-woah-oh”s and rounded it all off with a game of musical statues – which is probably what the Projectors were aiming at. It’s pretty clear they weren’t trying to be covered by the X Factor winner.
I don’t know whether DPs are massively ahead of the game, or just have the compositional skills of cheesecake. They’re prodigiously talented, happen upon the odd moment of real beauty and doubtless nark off pop classicists everywhere. Bravo? Bravo.
Nobody told me that you become more susceptible to glossy R&B with age; I’ve had to find out for myself. It was shocking at first, thinking “This Ne-Yo album knocks most modern pop into a cocked hat/Jordin Sparks sounds awesome on ‘No Air’/Everything Beyoncé does is – how do you say it? – The Bomb/Christ, I like more than one Leona Lewis song” etc, but now I wear my bling on my sleeve. Well, I’ve got a 10 quid Casio watch.
Although blessed with a silky, appealing voice, Keri Hilson doesn’t have the charisma to pull off the hits, so she gets in the smartest talent bankrolling can buy. Seem to remember Kanye being a smart talent, anyway. 808s & Heartbreak sounded superb on first listen, then turned out to be a moany nothing; neither was I sold on ‘Supernova’, but if we’re talking charisma, Mr Hudson hasn’t even come within a universe of an ounce of it. Kanye’s rap on ‘Knock You Down’ is a mess – the Michael Jackson gag not in the same league as the same on ‘Slow Jamz’ – so it’s left to Ne-Yo to give the song some class. His disbelief at wanting to spend more time with the missus than his mates – “I used to be commander-in-chief of my pimp ship flying high!” – is enough to carry the track alone, but credit to Hilson for some fine cracked vocals as this soppy song peaks.
“This is a lady singing,” Junior points out, puzzled because she thinks Keri is a boy’s name. Maybe if you’re a rotten Chelsea player. She then confirms that it looks like a lady on the cover, so it’s a relief for Keri even as the boys threaten to subsume her. Not that you can tell Junior anything – when I inform her Ne-Yo’s on the mic, she says “I knew that”, and it’s possible she did, what with the bounder being everywhere these past few years. His touch is magic enough, and Junior demands a repeat play.
And here’s B herself, who made the halfwit’s decision to release a double album in 2008 showing both sides of her personality. One, presumably, is the real Beyoncé – a girl who likes nothing better than to flex her vocal chords on a stack of lachrymose ballads, seemingly bent on reducing our braincells to so much grey sludge – while the other is the much-trumpeted Sasha Fierce. Ol’ Sasha’s a bit more fun than real B, happier to bump and grind her way through some r’n’b floorfillers, waggling those intimidating thighs, but even she has nothing to challenge the dazzling B’Day, Beyoncé’s storming 2006 triumph. All in all, a schizo misfire.
The maudlin, bitter ‘If I Were A Boy’ is of course one of those “real me” ballads, and one of the better ones too. It’s heartfelt country-soul that should really be crooned by the likes of LeAnn Rimes, but Beyoncé makes a decent fist, elevating a fairly ordinary song to something closer to special simply by the power of her lungs and emotional heft. Obviously, we chaps got all miffed at the outrageous suggestion that we never listen to the missus and just want to have a beer with the lads and… ah, ok.
Junior had a gander at the sleeve, keen to know who was claiming to champion her interests. She was quiet, so I fired a few questions: “Do you like it?” met with a modest nod; the more searching “What would you do if you were a boy?” got her thinking. Then the answer: “Run.”
There’s no rush to leave 2008 behind – and besides, until we choose a new year or set up the crazy vinyl-ripping device that’ll allow us to dive into those dog-eared 7”s, we have no new project – so we’ll clear up a few songs that might have made the Top 20 if they’d been good enough or I’d actually heard them in the first place. Kicking off, Beyoncé’s self-styled crazy sister.
It’s a smart enough metaphor: she might look all strong and fortified, protected by drawbridge and moat (and archers in the battlements), but really she’s just made of sand; “don’t blow me away”. Metaphors alone won’t sell a pop song, though, so it’s lucky that Sol’s brought a sweet melody, shuffling beats and some earworm “ooo-ooo-ooo”s along for the ride. Not that they helped – the perfectly formed ‘Sandcastle Disco’ washed away with the tide before it could even crack the top 150.
So Solange’s valiant attempts to distance herself from big sis actually bore fruit – no one gave a stuff about her. It’s a pity, because this track has the pop nous to be an instant hit with Junior, who’s “ooo-ooo-ooo”ing to perfection by the second chorus and bopping like a deely in the car seat. I’m certain she’d like the whole album too, with its mild psychedelic soul and sunny tunes, and perhaps we’ll make an effort to find out. It’s the least we can do for poor Sol-Angel.
Hats in pop. It’s not fashion; these stars are bald as a cue ball. Pete Doherty, Captain Sensible, Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes, Noddy Holder – all 100% cooters. In the comforting warmth of the studio, while penning and producing songs for the likes of Britney Spears, Paula Abdul, Rihanna and Beyoncé (the peerless ‘Irreplaceable’), Ne-Yo can let his chrome dome run free. But get him up on stage, and those spotlights aren’t going to stand for it.
Sorry, the song: the first real heavyweight of the countdown, a shining example of black American music’s bold ambition, ‘Closer’ is an r’n’b tune in pumping dancefloor clothing. It oozes confidence even as Ne-Yo bemoans his powerlessness.
This was one for the iPod on the bus, as Junior sat and listened carefully. I tapped her on the shoulder a minute or so in and asked if she knew what the song was: “Closer,” was the matter-of-fact reply – and I don’t think I’ve ever played it to her before. She announced it was “dancey”, which I suppose would please the lad.