07 December 2007

it's poppin'

okay, liveblogging as i listen to jordin sparks' self-titled first album for the first time. and browse wikipedia musing on the tangled connections in the pop universe. 'cuz, why not.

first track/first single "tattoo" - written/produced by stargate, the same norwegian team behind "so sick" and "irreplaceable" and "hate that i love you" (and three more songs from good girl gone bad) and it sounds exactly like those songs, which makes me realize how much they sound like each other. (stargate also did mis-teeq's "scandalous" which sounds most different from these of anything i recognize in their discography.) it's not bad - the title metaphor (he's written on her heart like a tattoo) sort of continues the trend somebody pointed out of everyday objects (lip gloss, open-toed shoes, vans i guess) taking prominence lately over namechecking big brand names.

doesn't feel like it should be the first song on the album - it's probably not good enough for one (though, i haven't heard the rest of it yet), but it has that kinda epic vibe that comes on too strong off the bat. irreplaceable (from which the drum groove is lifted verbatim, with added open hat or two) was track 9 on b-day (b'day, get the punxuation right) until the bollixed deluxedition when it was moved to track two (after new track beautiful liar, which is also by stargate. think they're hot right now or something?

scanning the writing credits, every song except for maybe three has at least one writer with a conspicuously scandinavian name.

track two - "one step at a time" - really love the footsteps sound for the beat - surprised that hasn't been done more often. especially before the rest of the beat kicks in, but i like how it's still audible throughout. lovely lilting harp riff very reminiscent of ryan leslie's production for cassie. (i guess i'm thinking of "just 1 night" in particular.)

ok, good, production credits here. (should discogs and wiki merge?) (they're my top two resources for amg bio research.) so the producers/writers are jonas jeberg, who also has credits on vanessa hudgens' V (under the name Jay Jay) and mitch hansen, aka cutfather, who hasn't done much since the new jack era, apparently, when he used to work with soulshock (aka carsten schack), the dane best known as half of the duo behind, well, all kinds of things, including more recently-ish, leave (get out) and some jamelia stuff. [eta: and skye's "kiss a girl"] and also robbie nevil, an american who's apparently been around forever (had a song on the cocktail soundtrack) but doesn't seem to have much connection to current stuff. jeberg and hansen also worked together on a track for kylie's X (working their way from the end of the alphabet i guess?)

"no air," duet with chris brown, about whom i have managed to remember nothing so far, though i guess he's supposed to be important somehow. his name sure sucks. producers/writers are eric "bluetooth" griggs, who has no other credits that i can find, but does have a good name, and the underdogs (whoa, harvey mason's son!) who have been around and worked with lots of r&b names, and pink, britney, and kat mcphee in case they don't count.) ok whatever. not norwegians.

"freeze" is by stargate again. not too impressed.

"shy boy" on the other hand, is neat-o, with snaky synths snaking all over the place (sometimes into midi-ringtone arpeggiator territory, but that's cool) and bleeps and vocals and whatnot. and a minimal (hyphy-ish, i guess) boom-bap and processed vocals. it's by bloodshy and avant.
produced by them; written by them (aka christian karlsson and pontus winberg, whose name sounds like pompous windbag) and the bassist (?) j honback, and klas åhlund of teddybears.

bloodshy and avant are half of the reason i decided to write this in the first place. they are responsible, of course for ("toxic" as well as) four of the key tracks on blackout, the album that's been fascinating me more than most these days. (åhlund also has a co-credit on "piece of me," which means another coup for the robyn/teddybears camp, although i haven't yet been able to notice robyn's b. vox on that song.) according to their very interesting wiki article, B&A wrote more songs intended for blackout that were rejected and subsequently given to sparks (three songs including "shy boy") and to jennifer lopez (the title track of her new album brave)
and to kylie (two of them appear on X - a-ha, another connexion - the very ones tom ewing complained about in pitchfork as sounding like nu-britney. er, also the one he said sounded like ol'-daft punk.)

yeah, bloodshy & avant (what names, right?) have a knack for smashing productions that almost totally obscure the artist "fronting" the track in the process. "toxic" never really sounded like britney to me one whit, i can barely even recall what she sounds like on it. actually of this recent crop j-lo may fare the best - she sounds reasonably like herself on "brave," which makes sense since she possibly has the strongest (in character, not quality) voice of the four. also there's enough harmony in the song that it doesn't feel as frosty as many of the others.

of the jordin tracks - actually of all ten in this crop - "see my side" stands out as the most sweetly touching - music-box harp lines, simple melody, gently pleading "see my side and i'll see yours better." the chorus has funny big boom-bap beats that don't quite fit but don't quite disrupt it either. "young and in love" is more in line with the other tunes - it frankly sounds like a blackout reject. need to hear it more to know if there's anything worthwhile in it; doubtful.

i've jumped ahead and gotten off my album-sequence reportage schedule. which is okay, because i never really cared about the album in the first place. the other half of the reason i'm writing this, in case you were curious, is that two of the tracks were co-written by espen lind, a one-time tourmate of one-time norwegian idol finalist alejandro fuentes (chilean-born, unlike josé gonzález who's only argentinian by parentage), who i don't care about really but i was gonna write a bio on him for amg. but i didn't because i wrote this instead. oh yeah - lind co-wrote "irreplaceable" too (and a ne-yo song, and an elliott yamin song), and stargate produced one of these two songs; the other one was produced by 'espionage' which i'm guessing is lind's producer-hat moniker.

okay, just for the sake of completeness: two of the other tracks, "next to you" and "permanent monday" were produced by one emanuel kirakou (what kind of name is that?) who did two songs i don't remember for kat mcphee and one ("love me for me") for ashleey tisdale, and were co-written with an l. robbins who's connected to people whose names are vaguely familiar (melissa o'neill, anastacia.) and the last song is by a friend of hers, which might be worth paying attention to, but i don't have time now.

i guess the thing to get to, eventually, is the question of what all of this does to the identities of pop artists and pop albums. it's no shocker and no news that albums are (often) cobbled together from the work of multiple songwriters, producers, etc. and hence often don't have a lot of personality - that's where the weakness of a sparks or a mcphee comes through; not having enough force of personality to make a record cohere when there's nothing otherwise coherent about it. i guess having a good executive producer or whatever has to be important, but you never hear anything about that.

but when the individual producers and writings have such strong styles - and especially when those styles are as dramatic iconoclastic as bloodshy & avant's recent work - that you recognize them as they crop up again in lesser and lesser variations across the albums of second- and third-tier artists, we end up with a handful of interchangeable albums that are familiarly, systematically piecemeal.

"toxic" sounded fairly out of place on in the zone; the producers of blackout were savvy enough to run with b+a for much of the album, so that the style ("sliced up" vocals, among other things) is now, already and probably inevitably, shorthanded as "nu britney," since we heard it there first and best and most. and, better, they aligned those tracks with the sympathetic style of danja + co (who do essentially the r&b take on the same basic premise), and a few other producers who seem to be on board with the general concept. i don't know how it came about, exactly, but clearly there was a concerted effort to put together something stylistically cohesive and fresh-sounding. the fact that the style they came up with for it is also has this curious and unsettling effect of distorting the singer (to the extent that she becomes enmeshed within the production rather than riding on top of it) is either convenient or consciously confundatory or both. it's tremendously provocative either way, and blackout is almost certainly the most innovative pop albums of the year, as well as one of the most enjoyable.

jordin sparks on the other hand, frequently sounds fantastic...but leaves me with next to nothing. scandinavians are magic, as is well known. but even magic can only do so much.

1 comment:

Dave said...

For a sec I thought that "L. Robbins" might be Lindsay Robins, except they spell their names differently.

Our series of messages about b+a now make much more sense that you are not calling them b+s!