Now Hear This! #11 Sept/Oct 2018
Definition of Innuendo
1a : an oblique allusion : hint, insinuation especially : a veiled or equivocal reflection on character or reputation
b : the use of such allusions resorting to innuendo
2 : a parenthetical explanation introduced into the text of a legal document
(Courtesy of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)
I’m running late in releasing this article (should’ve been out two weeks ago), but to be honest, there was so little going on in terms of interesting music (to me) to listen to, that it took me until the last couple of weeks or so to compile enough material to write about. I’m hopeful for the Fall release season, as there are signs that it’s picking up- so much so that I may do a special issue later this month. But now that there is enough to talk about, let’s get to it…
There may be some that think I’m out of my league reviewing some of the stuff I do – too old or out of touch, or I just don’t understand what it’s like today. In terms of hip-hop, a lot has changed, not much for the better. It is MY generation that invented the genre, so if anything, I can offer a historical perspective on it (same with most other popular music), as well as comment on its’ current state. One of the things that hasn’t changed that much in popular music is subject matter. Whether it is matters of the heart, sex, or love, they are subjects about which most songs are crafted. The difference is the way in which it is expressed today. Now, I won’t try to convince you that the underlying messages of the songs aren’t similar, but there is a difference between Chuck Berry singing about “My Ding-a-Ling” and Tank singing about “When We…” Whereas the former used a double entendre about a bell, the latter left NOTHING to the imagination. I know I made an example of this song in an article earlier this year, it is still one of the most vivid examples of what I’m talking about. Now I’m far from a prude – I’m the guy who didn’t bat an eye in the late 70’s when, as a 15 year old, my all-time favorite band The Stranglers wrote a little ditty about a pedophile called “Bring On the Nubiles” with the lyric “I kiss your zones erogenous / There’s plenty to explore / I’ve got to lick your little puss / And nail it to the floor… let me let me f**k ya f**k ya / let me let me f**k ya f**k ya / let me let me lick your lucky smiles…” Part of their thing was the shock value of what they were saying, but it wasn’t the sum total of what they were about; today, we’re inundated with stream of consciousness-style lyrical content, and it seems to be not only commonplace, but almost expected, in order to give your song some street cred.
What I want to know is, when did everything get so crude and vulgar? I know that as modern society has gotten freer, communication has become more open, and as such, people commonly express themselves with what has been known as vulgar, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate language. Songwriting is considered an art; is it a lost art? I don’t think so; I do, however, think people are more gratuitous with usage of this kind of language. Especially in hip-hop, where metaphorical imagery is its’ hallmark, everything seems to be dumbed down to its’ lowest common denominator.
Now I’m only going to say this ONE time, just for the benefit of those who aren’t sure what I’m referring to in terms of the ‘P ‘n D’ in the topic’s title. Quite simply, why is everything about pussy and dick these days? Again, not saying that music that came before didn’t focus on that, but it was usually done using double entendres and innuendo – whatever happened to innuendo? I hear songs where all it’s about is P ‘n D… I hear songs that are actually about something else, and then a featured rapper comes in and sings about something totally unrelated to the subject of the song they’re featured on, and it usually involves P ‘n D (one of several reasons I don’t particularly like ‘features’). Every Friday, I attempt to navigate through the New Music Friday playlist on Spotify… but I usually can’t make it through, because there is so much P ‘n D crap in the song lyrics; is there anything else going on in a Millennial’s life besides that? My alter-ego, T.jamar, has written a couple of yet to be published books about relationships. And in lending my experience to this topic, there are two concepts that can be used as fodder for lyrical content to help songwriting return to some level of decency, and away from constant and obscene references to P ‘n D:
1.) Men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love. The word ‘money’ could be used as a substitute for ‘love’ here, as well, and that’s also a hot topic. One song said of women “you got to use what you got to get what you want“… Gwen Guthrie once sang “ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent / you got ta have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me“, and Destiny’s Child was famous for “can you pay my bills / can you pay my telephone bill / can you pay my automobill / then maybe baby we can chill?”…. Men have used similar imagery – Tom Browne had an early 80’s dance classic singing about “thighs high, to the sky… I wanna grip your hips and move…” And as stupid as it sounded at the time, the 90’s term “knockin’ the boots” is actually very clever imagery. Men have been known to beg for it, saying just about ANYthing they think a woman would want to hear, and offering everything they can to get it. Whereas these are earnest, genuine attempts to engage P ‘n D, today we talk about the act itself as if there’s no journey to get to that point -it’s goes straight to what she does in bed, what she likes, how long he is, his stoke game, etc – it’s just all about f**king. Can we get back to the ride to the mountaintop, the journey to get to the place of engaging P ‘n D – is there no mating period, no getting to know you, no dates – is Netflix and chill the norm?
2.) Men want to be needed, and women need to be wanted. If we’re going to reduce the game of love down to primal instincts, let’s go alllll the way back down, to the roots. I’ve been known to say that NO woman is ‘out of my league’, and I believe that. Why do I say that? Because at the core of a woman is a base instinct that needs attention, needs to be held, told and shown she is loved and cherished. I believe that at the end of the day, a woman, regardless of accomplishments, mindset, etc. needs someone to hold her at night and tell her everything is gonna be OK, and tell her he (or she) loves her. That is a base instinct, she is wired to be that way. On the flip side, a (real) man wants to know that his woman needs him- it feeds into the base instinct of provider and protector – he wants to know that you need him. If a woman plays too strong of a role, one that steps into a man’s domain, he will feel emasculated, as if she doesn’t need him. And that will drive a (real) man crazy – ask me how I know. What we hear in popular music is lust and desire; even the songs about a need point to P ‘n D – what about songs that speak to our basic needs when it comes to love? When can we get back to that?
My featured image is a treble clef on its’ side, meant to symbolize how music is being killed (knocked on its’ back); it needs to be ‘turned up’.
R E V I E W S
Lenny Kravitz “Raise Vibration”
Here’s the thing: if there is ANYthing you realize about Lenny, it’s that his message has always been about LOVE. From the very first album, which was titled Let Love Rule– that summed him up when he released it in 1989, and it’s still the same with this, his 11th album, nearly 30 years later. He is the quintessential throwback to hippies, an artist that unabashedly wears his influences on his chest, and promotes them with an energy that belies his 54 years. He is that increasingly rare artist that is multi-dimensional, still playing most of the instruments on his albums. His music has managed to transcend social climates, and now, the message is more important than ever before; so it bothered me to read some listener reviews that were critical of both the messenger and the message. I mean, what kind of human monster can’t get with a message that promotes love of mankind?
One of the criticisms I read was “it’s not rock ‘n roll enough”. It is indeed the funkiest album he’s ever done, but he set a precedent for being funky back on Mama Said with “What Goes Around Comes Around” where he channeled his inner Curtis Mayfield. The lead single “Low” and “Majesty of Love” are both quite funky, even features some horns; “Who Really Are the Monsters” is Minneapolis-style funk like one of the main influences he cites for this album (that being the late, Purple one, of course) and a commentary on the mindset of our current governmental officials; “It’s Enough” finds him channeling What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye on a song about police brutality and corruption. There IS some rock ‘n roll here: the title track, which features tribal chanting at the end, the opener “We Can Get It All Together“, and the arhythmic “Gold Dust” ; they are not among his best, so I can understand that if you come to Lenny for “Are You Gonna Go My Way?“, you will be disappointed here. Otherwise, we have the country-ish ballad “Johnny Cash“, and some nice MOR pop tracks uncharacteristic of Lenny (“Ride“, “I’ll Always Be Inside Your Soul“).
The other main criticism I read was the usual opposition to any lyrical opinion by the artist of a social or political nature that doesn’t align with the listener’s views- you know, “just stick to making music”, “no-one wants to hear your opinion”, or “another piece of leftist political drivel” blah-blah-blah. The track “Here to Love” is like the Lenny mantra, but it comes across to some as preachy – again, what monster cannot receive this message? Overall, the album is pretty good… not his best- he’ll never top Let Love Rule and Mama Said, in my opinion, but it is a nice change to hear him expand his musical palette, and get his funky and mellow grooves on… Here’s the video for “Low“, the track that features background vocals from none other than the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson….
Amos Lee “My New Moon”
My path may have crossed with this accomplished Philly native – he’s an alumnus of the University of South Carolina, and for a while, worked part time at my favorite local house of music, Papa Jazz Records. He’s also been known to pop into the store and give an impromptu acoustic performance when he’s in town; you can check the store’s Facebook page for a clip of the performance. My New Moon is his seventh album, and is a deeply personal affair for him, more so than other releases- he writes in his liner notes that it is “an altar of sorts to those who have shared their sorrows with me”.
This was my first full exposure to this singer-songwriter, whose style is rooted in a folky but soulful style- I picked up traces of Dylan and John Prine, as well as Terry Callier and early Bill Withers; he has also been called a male version of Norah Jones- some may call that an insult, but I consider that to be a compliment. This is his first album for the Dualtone label, known more for Americana, after several albums for the renowned Jazz label Blue Note. You’ll hear traces of Blues in “Don’t Give A Damn Anymore“, a Gospel influence in “Hang On, Hang On“, a song of perseverance; a Country leaning features on “Crooked“, a song with oblique political overtones about what he considers regressive government. His soulful style comes out in the inspirational “Little Light” and “All You Got Is a Song“, a song detailing his emotions around the passing of his grandmother- that topic also informs the closing track “Don’t Fade Away“. The first single from the album, the opening track “No More Darkness, No More Light” is about as upbeat as it gets, with a tumbling beat with a bit of an African feel, and disarmingly somber lyrics, as he seeks a renewal of his spirit in the wake of the Parkland incident… “And a trail we choose to follow / It’s as cursed as it is blessed / Is there mercy that we all must face / Before the dead can raise? / Darkness, no more darkness / The broken days have beat the dead of night / Darkness, no more darkness / No more darkness, no more light…” There is hope on display in “Whiskey On Ice“, which details a parents’ journey with losing a child to cancer- he detail in his liner notes about how they found solace in Lee’s music, and that provided the transformational moment for him about his world view, which was becoming something he didn’t want for himself.
The album tackles some heavy topics, but it’s done with a such a cohesiveness and fluidity through the stylistic changes, that it doesn’t wear you out. Lee has a wonderfully expressive voice that can ease the pain, and the musical backdrop has little nuances that make it just as interesting… enjoy the video for “No More Darkness, No More Light…
Blood Orange “Negro Swan”
The black swan is recognized as a majestic, beautiful, and rare bird; it is also marginalized by some, like some other things that are black, as ugly, unappealing, and abnormal. The fourth album from multi-faceted 32 year old British singer-songwriter Devonte Hynes aka Blood Orange tackles a pretty heavy topic- Black depression and the struggle to get through everyday life as a Black and/or Queer person. Hynes, who describes himself ambiguously as neither straight nor gay, is a lot like Lenny Kravitz, in that he serves as composer, producer, and player of many of the instruments on the album -he does supplement himself with guest musicians, vocalists, and samples, both found and created -he’s especially fond of the siren, which is sounded throughout the album.
Musically, the style is largely alt-soul, alt-hip hop or chillwave- what I consider MOR 70’s pop or 80’s influenced melancholia- similar to my guy Toro y Moi. The album careens wildly between a collage of ideas (or a clash, if you find it not to your liking) over 16 tracks clocking in around 50 minutes. Songs will abruptly change course- you can be rolling along on a nice groove, when the song reverses course, and morphs into an plaintive, acoustic vamp- sometimes it returns back to what it was, sometimes it doesn’t. This schizophrenic, almost bi-polar musical tendency, I believe, is completely intentional and meant to display the wildly changing moods of those that suffer with the depression. The album is narrated by transgender social activist Janet Mock, whose spoken word interludes about family, among other things, are interjected between several tracks. The first single “Charcoal Baby” features Hynes softly singing over a nice, mellow grove featuring an out of tune guitar -sounds kind of like a badly pressed vinyl record- also a tactic used by Curtis Mayfield, who always turned his guitar sharp. It serves as the focal track of the set, containing the lyric “No one wants to be the odd one out at times / No one wants to be the negro swan / Can you break sometimes?” The set opener “Orlando” is loosely based on the nightclub tragedy…. “first kiss is the floor” describes a young unloved man as he gets shot… the second single “Jewelry” is perhaps the most disjointed track on the album, as it changes course twice. “Chewing Gum” asks the question “tell me what you want from me” as there is forever dissatisfaction from the world in whatever or whoever they are- this track features A$AP Rocky, who hijacks the song to rap about… guess what? P ‘n D… “Holy Will” follows this up – an adaptation of the Clark Sisters gospel song “Center of Thy Will“, sung by several different vocalists. There are plenty of guests that flow through this album, including Puff Daddy, Steve Lacy, and Georgia Anne Muldrow.
If you need your music to be a little challenging, this would be an album for you to consider. Frankly, I consider it a change from the same ole, same ole- and that’s a good thing… Here’s the video for “Charcoal Baby“…
Bob Moses “Battle Lines”
The second album from this Vancouver, BC via Brooklyn duo throws a bit of a curveball from its’ predecessor. The group name is not a combination of theirs – neither is named Bob, Moses, or Bob Moses – they are Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance- the name is a tribute to a prominent New York architect named Robert Moses. Their first album Days Gone By was one of my Best of 2015 releases, and featured the shuffling dance track “Tearing Me Up“, which was nominated for two Grammys, winning one, for best remixed recording, non-classical. The sound of that album was a mellow, deep House, with hushed, almost background vocals; it was, for the most part, rooted in trance and rave culture, with long stretched out tracks and an eye for late night/early morning dancefloors.
This time around, they decided to diversify the sound a bit; the bpm ethos is largely tossed aside in favor of more concise song structures in the four to five minute range, with a bit of an Indie Rock thing, as they try and fuse some guitar into the sound. Tempos on the whole are slower, and lyrics more mysterious now than before. They now sound something like Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode meets Coldplay. The album opener and first single “Heaven Only Knows” is a semi-industrial EDM banger and the best track here, in my opinion; the tracks “Back Down“, “Listen to Me“, and “Enough to Believe” are the other tracks that harken back to the best of the first album, with their cool Deep House beats. “Don’t Hold Back” attempts to be this album’s “Tearing Me Up“, with its’ shuffling beat, while elsewhere they try to strike what sounds like a tenuous balance of electronics and rock.
Playing it safe seems to be the operative here, as Bob Moses’ attempt at growth seems to have taken them in the wrong direction. It’s by no means a bad album, although you can probably discern from this review that I prefer their first album; when I talk about growth, be it personal, musical, or botanical, I keep the fact that all growth isn’t good, since weeds also grow. I would’ve rather they’d taken a chance on furthering their sonic footprint more into the EDM realm than taking steps towards becoming just another rock band… Here’s an audio clip of “Heaven Only Knows“…
Macy Gray “Ruby”
As she was preparing to release her debut On How Life Is in 1999, Macy Gray embarked on a promotional tour to get her name out there; I was introduced to her through a track released on a CD included with a monthly music magazine. When she came to Chicago, I not only had the pleasure of catching her free concert at the Double Door Theater, but had the chance to rub elbows and hang out alongside her and her crew at the restaurant next door to the theater. That debut album produced her signature song “I Try“, for which she won a Grammy.
I have to admit, after about her second album, she kinda fell off my (and most others) radar; nearly 20 years since the debut, the 51 year old Canton, OH native born Natalie McIntyre has returned with her 10th album, and I think this one could put her back on the map. Over the album’s 12 tracks, she gives us a good bit of variety, from the melodramatic pop balladry that made her famous (“When It Ends”, “But He Loves Me“), to straightahead pop (“Cold World“, “Over You“, “Jealousy“), some ragtime-styled jazz (“Tell Me“) and its’ playfully naughty companion, the collaboration with Meghan Trainor “Sugar Daddy“- this track is notable for its’ video, which features Macy as a stripper who finds her niche – it’s based on the movie Lady Sings the Blues and features Evan Ross, the son of Diana Ross, who of course played the lead role in the movie, as the Billy Dee Williams character, with the famous line “You want my arm to fall off?”. The album begins with an anthem of hope with “Buddha“, which features Gary Clark Jr. on guitar, and closes with the reggae-influenced “Witness“. Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is the dance stomper “White Man“, which is said to be directed at our President… but could be directed at anyone for whom the shoe fits, and features the lyric “Hey white man I am not my grandmother / I’m from the city Canton Ohio / I’m just a lady but I think like a man / You hating me and I don’t understand / You’re judging me, you wanna send me to hell / God is my father and I got my ban / You come for me, let me make it clear / I’ll whip your woooooo…” Although the track ultimately speaks of unification of the races, it’s a track that could cause some controversy, especially from anyone to whom it probably pertains; at six feet tall in stocking feet, Macy is an imposing figure, so you may not wanna bet against her in a fight.
This album marks a return to form for Macy; she has enjoyed more success recently as an actress than with her music, but (at least for me), she is back on my musical radar. Check out the nice video for “White Man“…
Jungle “For Ever“
This is the sophomore album from British collective anchored by the duo of Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson. My initial impression of them was based on their expanded touring lineup, which consists of seven members; I thought they were a Millennial version of the Fifth Dimension. They’ve been quite the sensation in their homeland the past four years, and quietly, have made some inroads here in the States, as their music has been featured in television scenes, and commercials from Target, Toyota and Uber, among others.
Musically, they’re 70’s-influenced funky pop and dance, featuring mid to uptempo grooves with punchy bass, keyboard flourishes, and an unmistakable vocal style utilizing a unison, high falsetto/low baritone style that is mostly devoid of harmony. They fit somewhere between Daft Punk and Disclosure, and their videos are also part of the entire aesthetic that is Jungle- highly choreographed dancing and beautiful scenery that gives you the impression that life is all good. Alas, while their 2014 self-titled debut was mostly sunny, life experiences have betrayed that outlook somewhat, providing an undercurrent of dark cynicism that takes over the second half of this new album. “Happy Man” features the lyric “Buy yourself a dream / How’s it looking? / Buy yourself a car / And a house to live in / Get yourself a girl / Someone different / Buy yourself a dream / And it won’t mean nothing…” Many of these tracks were informed by their experiences while living in California and being in relationships that ultimately fell apart. Their upbeat tracks are the ones that work best- “Beat 54 (All Good Now)”, “Heavy, California”, “Smile“, and “Casio“, as well as the midtempo “Cherry“. Much of the rest is more somber and brooding- the single “House in L.A” is a dramatic dirge- that style begins to betray their one-dimensional vocal delivery- it may actually wear on you over the course of the whole album if digested all at once.
When Jungle is good, they’re great; I think they work best as a singles band, however- as long as the beat goes on, it’s all good. I don’t mind them diversifying the tone of the tracks (that’s a good thing), but they may wish to also change it up a little vocally, for the quieter, more pensive tracks expose that frail falsetto voice. On the whole, though, I rather like it… here’s the video for “Happy Man“…