Saturday, 4 February 2012

It's been a long time.

I fancy talking about music again.

I always think I'm going to be interested to hear a new Madonna record right up until the very moment I actually hear it. It seemed much more natural for the Madonna of old to collaborate with whoever the young tyros of the moment happened to be, but when she's done it in recent times, as was the case with Timbaland and the Neptunes, it's been several years after everyone else. Not to mention several years later than is necessary in order to comfortably laugh off accusations that you're desperately reaching for some "Trendy Mum" cred-by-association.

The time when Madonna could legitimately claim to be an enabler for fringe/non-mainstream ideas and artists seeking a way into the mainstream - because there was such a time and it wasn't as long ago as you'd think either - seems sadly to have passed, and Give Me All Your Luvin does rather seem to mark that point. Neither MIA nor Nicki Minaj particularly need to hitch their respective wagons to her star in order to dent the popular consciousness. If anything, doing so here slightly diminishes them. They can't possibly say no, of course, but there's no question of them ever being treated as anything more than set decoration - the perception that Madonna's largesse will enable them to reach a potential audience of a billion via Give Me All Your Luvin's official premiere during the Superbowl is what's important here. Also, there seems little point in attempting to conjure up landmark pop-culture "moments" such as those that have marked recent Superbowls with a song as woefully thin as this, and if you're falling back on drug puns for album titles at this stage in your career (MDNA, for Jesus' sake), then you're officially Trying Too Hard.

This is the sort of thing that would sound a whole lot more arch coming from someone with less of a legitimate claim to proper "soul man" credentials than R. Kelly. That said, it's still somewhat true of When A Woman Loves - another of his recent genre exercises and a shameless homage to early Jackie Wilson - that, once you take a break from admiring the obvious craft and care that's gone into it, it's a little difficult not to think of the scene in Coming To America with Prince Akeem wandering through Queens singing To Be Loved while getting pelted with shit from the upper tenement windows. Which isn't to say it's not a good song; it is. But if D'Angelo's decided he'd rather be wandering around Europe doing David Bowie and Soundgarden covers, and with Raphael Saadiq every bit as likely to make a record that sounds like Tony Joe White as David Ruffin nowadays, then there's clearly still some sort of an opening for somebody who fancies themselves as The Throwback Guy.

I like the simplicity of this though. Even with Kells' insanely precise vocal production, it's still kind of direct and uncomplicated. I also like how he seems to have wound his neck in with all that "I'm your sexosaurus" codswallop for a few minutes. Obviously a big part of what has made him so compelling in the past are those moments where he combines immaculately crafted music with the most overtly sexual and often downright crass imagery imaginable. I mean, I really do struggle to picture a world in which some of the wilder shit Kells comes out with actually works, but I guess I'm just not that kind of guy. In the light of recent events, perhaps it's finally occurred to him that it might be a little unwise to cultivate an artistic persona which depicts you in an almost perpetual state of arousal. Or, at least, wiser to suggest that you're capable of taking a breather now and again.

I've heard others make the observation that Share My Love owes something to Barry White, but apart from the odd similarity when it comes to the phrasing, I'm not really hearing it. In most respects, it's a fairly regular Kells four-chorder, nowhere near as ornate or as rhythmically detailed as its likely equivalent in Barry's repertoire; if anything, it's just a step on (no pun intended) from something like 2007's Happy People. It's no less sweet for any of that, though. Its strength lies in just that comparative absence of fussiness that'd make it ideal raw material for an early-to-mid-90s-vintage Masters At Work treatment, complete with banging SP1200 drums and ridiculous Gene Perez triplets all over the place. Somebody needs to make that happen.

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