The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Prompted by the Belgian lass, I have been playing a lot of Beenie Man’s work of late – his sublime last album, Art and Life (a record which achieves the rare feat of having Wyclef Jean on it and yet still remain interesting), and a fine Best Of compilation. And my head is still recovering from last week’s astonishing dancehall mix which the Man provided on Radio 1. Louis Walsh, to hell with you, coarse varlet; you understand the profits of pop but nothing of its magic. Beenie Man UNDERSTANDS pop.

When talking with Chris Goldfinger he was at pains to emphasise that his branching out into other contemporary dance forms was not a betrayal of “dancehall,” was indeed integral to its nature (“Reggae never progressed or prospered in America – it was taken over to Europe by Marley and developed there,” he observed). And at this late yet early stage there is no room for studium-crammed “purism.” Embrace pop and you embrace the world. And I now instruct you to embrace Tropical Storm, Beenie’s newest and finest album.

Worry not, his trademark “zagga zag” (well, come on, where did you think the Spice Girls got it from?) is all over this record as ever; the difference between this and the forlorn inclusion of TS Eliot quotations in the margins of Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man is that this is not gratuitous, does not bestow false notions of merit on work which fundamentally does not deserve it; rather it powers the music and uplifts all ears.

“Party Hard,” which isn’t the Andrew WK song (and wouldn’t it be interesting to hear Beenie tackling that?), is a good start, with the standard “Sleng Teng” rhythm/bass interface stretched out into four dimensions. It is immediately furious but in a strangely amiable way.

What follows, the Neptunes-produced “Feel It Boy,” is a pop record of galvanising glory and as a single of the year contender is up there with “Hot in Herre” (perhaps its late summer equivalent?). A warmly embracing yet never predictable keyboard line links with the stealthy rhythm as Beenie pleads with Janet Jackson to take him back. Her chorus vocal is typically somewhere between naïve and dispassionate, but the song does her more good than her own recent work has done (she was first choice singer for Basement Jaxx’s “Get Me Off”). Endless summer? The High Llamas could labour for centuries and never produce anything this light yet powerful.

Next is a near 2-step raging rant “Bad Girl” wherein Beenie fulminates that the Other “lives in a palace while I sleep in the forest” (!). One of course realises that Beenie is basically a buffoon of the first misogynist order, but the sheer good nature of his delivery and music is enough to make you forgive him. Well, perhaps. So powerful and busily furious is this track musically that it overshadows the Irv Gotti-produced “Real Gangsta,” while “Fresh From Yard” finds him trading lines (and wishing he was trading fluids) with a JA-accented Li’l Kim. She evidently takes no shit.

Then “Miss L.A.P.” a number one if ever I heard one, an absolutely irresistible bubblegum singalong anthem (“Hang On Sloopy”? “Angel of the Morning”? “Baby Don’t Cry” by, erm, INXS?) with an enormously overpowering electronic rhythmic undertow. Stoopid but simultaneously laden with genius. Shaggy, go shag yourself.

This phenomenal punctum-packed pop sequence – which inspires a degree of worship comparable to the first four tracks of the Sugababes’ Angels With Dirty Faces - continues with the awesome “Street Life,” another monument from the Stargate team; it starts out as a ballad, again anthemic, and then in its middle eight suddenly and brutally shifts into an industrial rhythm. The impact is overwhelming and reminds me of the terminally dispossessed brilliance of one of the great singles of the ‘90s – Eternal’s parting shot “Don’t You Want Me.”

Where to go from that climax? Only into something completely silly – “Gangsta Life” which, wait for it, has a straight-faced Monty Python “Lumberjack Song”-style chorus of “We squeeze and make cheese/Cats freeze and beg please/We seize the opportunities/For our families/To make cheese.” It is quite absurd and confirms the existence of Beenie Mentalist. It ends with an ‘80s synth riff which in a different context could almost pass for an early Simple Minds backing track. It has to be heard to be believed.

“Pure Pretty Gal” returns to more familiar midtempo territory, the stop-and-start rhythm being pleasingly punctuated by a rogue augmented keyboard chord. “Bossman” sees the Neptunes back on board, the stock flamenco guitar line being brutally undermined by a sliding fuzz bassline and the trademark high synth punctuations, like inverted commas around Beenie’s gangster fantasia (with vocal support by Sean Paul and a demonic mid-song derailment by Lady Saw). “Yagga Yo” teams Beenie with So Solid Crew (or at least Megaman and AC Burrell of SSC). Over their epileptic track Beenie wisely opts for a legato vocal delivery, a sustained half-tempo lament which sounds like Max Romeo waking up in a spaceship.

Two love songs to end: “More We Want” (with Tanto Metro and Devonte) is superb post-Timbaland R&B, very subtly deranged throughout, while the closing “You Babe” is produced and played by Sly and Robbie. It always threatens to turn into the Miracles’ “Love Machine,” but the female vocal counterpart (Calibe) nicely balances Beenie’s (for once) understated presence, and the whole track is oddly relaxed, synth lines floating like clouds, providing an opacity and a cover for this extremely seductive groove. A great summer pop record which really ought to have come out in the summer. It demands that your life be preserved and enhanced. It is a long and warm hug of a record. It’s a direction to which I am becoming more and more attracted.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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Nellyville, let’s be candid, IS Country Grammar 2 – there’s even a track entitled “CG2” which recycles the original song, albeit with a less interesting backing.

Nellyville, let’s be honest, is misogynist piffle. The linking skits concern a man being nagged by his Other to go out and purchase a copy of, erm, Nellyville immediately (TS Eliot had nothing on hip-hop when it comes to intertextuality). He visits four or five record shops and ends up with the one remaining copy – the “clean” version! Naturally the Other is p*ss*d off about this and walks out on him. He loudly wishes that she trips on her Gucci heels and falls downstairs, and cackles as indeed she does.

Nellyville, let’s be sacrosanct, shouldn’t in most people's views be admitted to the Church of Me. No new lyrical avenues are carved out; the template is that which has faithfully served everyone from LL Cool J to Nore. If you have Country Grammar (and some might say if you have the first Arrested Development album you have Country Grammar anyway) (and others will say if you have the first dC Basehead album you have exceeded Country Grammar in every way) you already have this record.

Nellyville, let’s be brutal, gets played much more here than CG ever did. And no edges are reached. Well, nearly none.

Nellyville, let’s admit it, has “Hot in Herre.” Exceptional even by the Neptunes’ own standards – and enough of an exception to make you regret that Nelly didn’t just give the whole album to them to produce – its punctum is in that extra “r.” Why the extrra “r?” The clue is in the first line, the heavy rolling Southern pronunciation of the word “here,” and indeed Nelly himself has admitted that it’s a phonetic representation of how his folks say it. And yet the production is so New York, so post-No New York even – it has Ze Records written all over it, with those staccato yet subtly echoing electric piano chords, the unobtrusive but unstoppable light rhythm, the echoing percussion (Tom Tom Club?) and those lovely poignant In A Silent Way ascending chords. A “Pull Up To The Bumper” for the 2000s, but with Grace Jones’ deliberate freezeout superseded by Nelly’s bumptious warmth.

Nellyville, let me be, has in its finer rhythms the kind of gorging, fat and very sensual rhythms which stimulate me in many ways. That fat squelchy bass synth which grinds assiduously through tracks like “Pimp Juice” and “Splurge” recalls Cameo at their horniest and finest (Cameo’s The Hits Collection really is a must-have; even dumbo codpiece-sporting Larry Blackmon’s asinine wish to “tie you up a while” on “Single Life” is nullified by the highly pervasive slinky rolls of the music. It’s one of the juiciest records you could ever listen to).

My friend RW says that the reason why Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” hit so big is precisely because the rhythmic thrust which accompanies vegetable-starved Chad’s “yeah! yeah!” exhortations is exactly the same as the optimum rhythm required for hip movements during intercourse. It’s the same story with Nellyville, albeit far more aesthetically justifiable – unlike Nickelback, it stimulates you to begin with! One could have done without the token guitaristics on tracks like “The Gank” and “# 1,” and Justin Timberlake disappointingly does very little on “Work It” (I await his upcoming Justified solo album with interest) but the ballad “Dilemma” is delicious. Driven by a vocal harmony sample (the grasping ghost of Marvin Gaye?) which provides a very purposeful punctum, the song alternates between female vocalist’s Kelly Rowlands’ idolising and yearning, and Nelly’s awareness of himself as an idol worthy of yearning. Arrogant? Maybe. Limited lifespan? Definitely. So what? Grasp it before Nelly is nullified by MTV Unplugged, or gets religion (as I learned today that Michael Ivey has!).

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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