Monday, February 18, 2008

R&B - still breathing, but signs critical

R&B has probably been the most dominant musical form of the early 21st Century. From Crazy In Love to Maneater, the genre has provided some of the biggest anthems of the last five years - and it became a safe haven for pop acts in a time when pop was a dirty word (we're talking Britney, Justin and Gwen here).

Musically, 21st Century R&B is a world away from the impassioned soul music which inspired it. The beats are robotic - just listen to the clattering hi-hat on Survivor by Destiny's Child - and the instrumentation is doled out with all the generosity of a fat kid asked to share his fistful of wagon wheels.

Not that that's a bad thing. I've always been impressed at how a song like Kelis' Milkshake basically uses the factory settings on a couple of industry-standard synths to turn out a song that sounds groundbreaking and unique.

But over the last year, R&B's biggest luminaries seem to have stopped trying, or simply forgotten how to "be good" (I believe this is the technical term).

Ideas are being recycled, melodies are thin on the ground, and if I hear a vocoder one more time... Well, who knows what I'll do? I might even start listening to Mika.*

A case in point is the new song by Flo Rida. He's massive in the States at the moment - having been number one for weeks and weeks and weeks with his debut single, Low. His next release, Elevator, comes from the assured hands of R&B supremo Timbaland.

It's safe to say it is not his best work.

Timbo, a notorious musical magpie, brazenly nicks the "ella, ella" bit from Rihanna's uberhit Umbrella, and attaches it to a song of practially no merit. Both vocalists sound like their minds are elsewhere. The drum loop is lifted directly from Nelly Furtado's Say It Right and speeded up a bit. The video is full of booty-shaking dancers and blingtastic product shots of belt buckles and rolex watches.

It is either the last nail in R&B's coffin, or a badly signposted parody.

Flo Rida (ft Timbaland) - Elevator

* I am of course being ironic.

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