Mixtapes for Hookers

2002. Songs #2 Are On It, But They’re Going Strange
October 6, 2009, 3:09 pm
Filed under: design of a decade, lists, music | Tags: , , ,

[My favorite songs of 2002 list continues with a pair of songs that sound about as different as two songs could possibly sound (but which are still alphabetically next to each other in my CD collection.)]

2. The Breeders, Off You, and Brandy, What About Us?

After a nine-year break between albums, the Breeders returned with the shockingly beautiful Title TK. It’s a record full of slow, sad, great songs, and none is slower or sadder or better than Off You, which was also the album’s first single. It sounds nothing at all like Cannonball, the song the group is best known for, and it should probably surprise no one that Warner Brothers ended up dropping the band after Title TK failed to sell.

On Off You, Kim Deal sounds hungover, and the band’s playing like it’s not sure it should be making any noise.  There’s one electronic noise near the beginning, but then whoever made it gives up.  Meanwhile, Deal’s saying words that don’t totally make sense; her phrasing is really odd. She says “going strange” and “the violence of you” and “fortune me” as though those are things that people say.  When she gets to the chorus it’s even more cryptic.  I have no idea what “the autumn in your scarlet” is, but the slow ache with which she says those few words gives them more emotional resonance than most other songs could ever hope for.

I’m not sure if I’m articuating this well at all, but Off You makes me feel better when I am sad.  It makes me feel calm when I am angry.  It makes me feel emotional when I am unresponsive.  It is, I think, perfect.  If, for whatever reason, someone put a gun to my head and told me to name my favorite song of the decade, there’s a pretty good chance I might pick this one.  Which is sort of nuts, because like I said I don’t even know for sure what the song is about.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Brandy’s equally amazing What About Us?  I’ve always been a casual Brandy fan, but I bought the Full Moon album the day it was released because the single was so mind-blowingly crazy. It’s hard to imagine, now that R&B radio has been more or less overthrown by robots, but What About Us sounded like nothing else I had ever heard when it was released.  It was especially crazy coming from Brandy, the R&B singer turned sitcom star who always seemed so wholesome and well-adjusted.

Producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins had hits before with Brandy (The Boy Is Mine), and also with Destiny’s Child (Say My Name) and Jennifer Lopez (If You Had My Love).  But none of his earlier work signaled how revolutionary What About Us? would be.  The song perfectly balances jerky, robotic blips with actual soulful vocals.  That’s not easy to do.  Newer songs (like Keri Hilson’s Knock You Down, say) don’t quite work because the sonic distance between the singer and the music is too great; it actually sounds like they were recorded on different days in different studips in different cities.  But here Brandy manages to sound like she’s simultaneously sitting up in her room and partying on Neptune.

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