Sunday, April 04, 2004

NORAH OR SNORAH? JONES ON JONES
'TUNING OUT: HSU ON N.E.R.D.


In this week's Sasha-Frere Jones appreciation post, we at Pop Life (i.e. me) marvel at his review of Norah Jones in the latest New Yorker. Norah has been roundly savaged by many in the press and I've tended to agree with much of the criticism but Sasha's balanced critique gave me some pause to reconsider what is actually likable about Jones. As usual, Sasha drops nuggets of writing brilliance:

    "records [the music industry] push rarely sell eight million copies. Eight million means there are no red states or blue states. Eight million means everyone voted for you."

    "Critics point out, accurately, that young artists like Jones, who is twenty-five, and Josh Groban and Michael Bublé are selling soothing songs by the seashore to a much older audience. These artists’ faith in melody and acoustic instruments ostensibly provides evidence that not all musicians below the age of thirty are getting tattooed with runic symbols and sending viruses to each other on tiny, inscrutable batphones."

    This point is so on-point that you could nail through concrete with it: "Jones has managed to make music that is universally useful, like a paper clip, but personal enough that listeners think they discovered it for themselves."

    "It may smell like sandalwood and your dad may give it to you for Christmas, but Jones’s music is one big booty call."

One provocative point that Sasha makes is to parallel Norah's emergence with that of Sade in the 1980s. I'm a little resistant to this comparison but mostly because Sade's work has had two decades to be reconsidered, redeemed and celebrated (as Ernest Hardy impressively does from a 2001 review of Lover's Rock in the LA Weekly. In contrast, Norah's runaway (and certainly unpredicted) success in the present makes her ripe for backlash status. It may take some time before the rest of the critical guard is willing to accord her some greater praise but I think Sasha is helping to lay down some of the groundwork for such a later re-evaluation.



Hua Hsu tackles the new N.E.R.D. album, Fly or Die for Slate.com. I think this is one of Hua's first big pieces for Slate and he jumps right in with a well-written critique that manages to praise the strengths of the Neptunes while taking to task the limitations of this new N.E.R.D. LP. Some impressive insights he makes:
    "the Neptunes operate within a structure of weirdly personal, philosophical, and musical dyads. Their trademark sound—Williams' streaking falsetto atop a deep-pocket boom—is rich with the drama of highs colliding against lows."

    "Having written a half-good song for the Counting Crows, the all-powerful Neptunes have proved they can do anything."

    "Slap a rapper (in most cases, almost anyone) over a plinky, spring-wound Neptunes beat, and he suddenly sounds like a million bucks: The Clipse owe their careers to the Neptunes' charity; inconsistent rappers Busta Rhymes, Mystikal, and Noreaga have each benefited from Neptune booster shots; and Britney Spears, who seems allergic to subtlety, will never sound as teasing as she does cooing about servitude over the robotic sleaze of "I'm a Slave 4 U."

I have yet to listen to the album but damn, is it getting ripped a new one throughout the press. What kills me though is some people are starting to smirk that "the Neptunes have fallen off." Whatever. That kind of idle hateration is about as convincing as saying Timbaland fell off just because his album with Magoo (again) was mediocre. I'm convinced that once the Clipse finally drop their sophomore album, all this nonsense about the Neptunes' demise will be quickly squelched.


In totally unrelated news, someone in a neighboring apartment is playing Al Green's I'm Still In Love With You Right Now and while it's coming through the walls muddled and muted it's still simply beautiful. Goddamn I love this album.