Love and Sex: A Threesome
"Smooth groove poetry set to smooth groove R&B" or "soul-hip-hop-tinged feel music" … these are a couple of ways to describe Jill Scott’s sensational new work. Whatever Scott may lack in total vocal control, her maturity, her poetry jumps straight into your face addressing a full range of love and emotion themes: from the platonic to the incidental to the passionate to the forlornful. Each sentiment connects to an appropriate musical production ranging from the sultry classy sounds of mainstream adult soul music, to jazzy inflections over hip hop grooves, to inspirational beats supporting lyrical themes that at times address issues of black feminism, unrequited love and the multidimensional emotions of life’s complications. While the music is always supportive if not dominant, it is Scott’s poise at connecting lyrical literalness with a strong musical emotional element that gives this outstanding work its strength. You’ll never find a mushy sentiment or a confused musical phrase on this recording. It is rock solid throughout.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Scott made her first splash with the musical group, The Roots. That ensemble offered a modern extension of some great soul music stylists such as Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and Anita Baker. And Scott rightfully carries on this music legacy. Her work is directed toward those who understand complex emotions. By addressing these the recording takes on a classic quality and will stand the test of time.
One of the finest songs on this remarkable recording is "Do You Remember." The tune is slow. The production is replete with clear background vocals and strong support from a precise rhythmic line. Scott handles the emotional intensity of the lyrics in the great tradition of sweet R&B singers. Her strength at addressing this tune’s mature subject matter draws the listeners into her mature point of view. This technique makes for a very listenable, enjoyable and sophisticated work, which Scott carries throughout this recording. It is well worth purchasing.
While Scott’s work reviews the complexity of relationship and feelings, Janet Jackson’s latest work reduces everything down to the raw physical: sex is hot and immediate, no lingering, no pondering; let’s do it now and fast. Certainly this sentiment isn’t particularly new in music; in fact, with a dynamic musical accompaniment and production a la Prince’s early works, a recording aimed at these impulses can be downright magnificent. But not in Jackson’s "All For You." Her raunchiness is distracting so as to border on the burlesque. Besides being forced to listen to Jackson’s in-studio banter in the opening cut, right in the middle of her sex moan showpiece "Love Scene" Jackson complains to the producer about the song ending too soon. This stepping outside the box is at best a distraction, at worst enough to make you throw this tripe off the player.
Besides annoyances after annoyances, there isn’t much musically new in Jackson’s material and certainly not the production; Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have done all this before and better in Jackson’s early works such as Control. At the heart of my disgust with this work is that Jackson tries to seem both cute and sexually indiscriminant or "easy" (what in women only, unfairly, is called "slutty"—just try to think of an equivalent term for men). Cute works with coy and sexy (an image she successfully pulled off on Rhythm Nation) but not with "easy". The result is an unconvincing mediocre product. Although this recording is at the top of the charts, the best I can say for it is that it is only for the true Jackson fan. To hear this sort of thing done right on the other hand …
Missy Misdemeanor Elliot
"Dog In Heat," "Lick Shots," "Get Ur Freak On," "X-Tasy." With these titles it is clear that Missy Elliot is much more in your face than Janet Jackson could ever be. And upon listening, it becomes clear that producer Timbaland knows just how to wrap Missy’s strong voice with the "beats" of rap. The result is a recording that is on one hand is catchy and danceable, on the other lyrically provocative and vocally convincing to attract a wide audience ... if it can get air play.
The strength of this recording lies in its musical diversity. Opening with a slow R&B ballad, it quickly powers into the hot rap funk of "Dog In Heat." "Lick Shots" is sprinkled with electronica. "Get Ur Freak On" is a straight-ahead bhangra south Asian masterpiece. "Scream a.k.a. Itchin’" has all the beats one wants to hear. It also clearly showcases Missy Elliot’s vocal and stylistic range.
The appeal of this work lies in many areas: the music and production is strong and convincing, touching many musical arenas thus many different aesthetics. Missy Elliot can sing. And she speaks the truth, that is, where Jackson uses sex as an allure, Elliot uses it as a weapon, something to wield, something that is real not coyly toyed with. All these elements make a lasting and excellent impression.
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