Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Despite my caveats about Mary J. Blige's last couple of albums, her biggest competition in the I'm-a-real-diva competition still sounds blank to these ears. "No One," which has been in the Top Two for several weeks, gets by on the public's perception of Alicia Keys as the heiress to a lineage of R&B signifiers of soul. For all her emoting it's a surprisingly empty record. The production is sorta interesting: synth bass interjections beneath her chorus vocal, the acoustic guitar in the coda. I've wondered why she leaves me cold. Maybe it's her conservatism. I never get the sense that she's a loon -- and, no, I don't mean she has to drink and drug like Britney or Blige herself (and, egads, write another survivor narrative). No, just the expectation of assfoolery, like Blige's canny manipulation of self-regard or Beyonce's talent for channelling a young woman's lust (and lust for power) through several layers of Louis Vuitton celebrityhood. By contrast Keys seems to be biting her tongue so hard that she's reduced it to ribbons. In other words, I can understand why the industry conferred classic status on her so soon. My favorite song remains 2005's "Unbreakable," which does a humbler job of situating Keys in the black bourgeois tradition than any of her bigger moments.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Well said. She HAS shown flashes ("You Don't Know My Name," "Karma"), which only makes it all the more frustrating that the overwhelming majority of her stuff is dull as dishwater (I couldn't even make it all the way through the new one). Greg Tate's piece on her in the Voice a couple of months back was pure crazytalk - certainly I can overlook taste if the argument is there, but you've gotta do a whole lot better than that to convince me she's the second coming of Stevie.