By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
You can't get everything you want at high bpm's. Every genre has its reasons for slowing down, whether it be for ballads (power and otherwise), slow jams, or one-for-the-ladies. Slow songs document people getting together, or coming apart. Sometimes they take a stab at something Im. Por. Tant. They're everywhere and nowhere, filling up the airwaves and clearing the floor at high school dances, but critics ignore them or slag them: "nice album, shame about the ballads." Not today! Turn the lights down low, and see if these did for you what they did for me.
What Goes Around...Comes Around
Timbaland's reign of chunky drums and omnivorous sonics continues on this well-stuffed song, which was given a faintly ridiculous nine-minute video featuring Scarlett Johansson, a fistfight, and a car wreck. Tim's great trick is the itchy extra detail, the half-hidden little bit of movement working slightly against the flow of the music; in this case, it's a bouzouki (I think) figure that announces itself at the intro, lurks under the strings and the 40-odd overdubs of JT's voice, and pushes to the front whenever the song pulls back to change direction.
This song is ostentatiously slow; it absolutely crawls along. It doesn't sway so much as parade, boom bum pah, boom bum pah, like a slow march down marble stairs. There's friction between the story and the sound; on paper, it's a plea, with the R&B luminary giving herself away, begging a guy (lucky prick!) to take her. But that plea is carried by massive, stately drums and high-gloss keys, with Ciara's voice refracted in so many different ways that it positively surrounds us. It's hard to imagine her bowing to anyone—who could measure up?
Big-money pop goes for clarity, especially slowed down, where the message has to work.
But Blonde Redhead are gnomic at any speed: Their music is all texture and gesture, which they marry to a well-schooled yet unpredictable harmonic sense. "SW" is loveable for its wtf? moment: Out of the chilly haze, a regal horn section suddenly appears, holds the stage for a few bars, and disappears. It's as if George Martin showed up with a little sunshine, failed to cheer us up, and then went on his way, leaving the dour piano and feedbacking guitar groove to take over again.
This is a love song to money, a relationship that is always one-sided: Being rich apparently means having to prove how little the money really means. There's an odd feel to the forward motion here: It's either a slow song with an overactive rhythm track or a fast song with enough half-time elements to seem slower than it is. Maybe it's the hymnlike chords or the few-and-far-between kick drums. Like "Promise," it's packed with words; Fergie's busybody verses function like rhythm tracks in themselves. Killer detail: the snaky "Boys of Summer" guitar line.
The band that uses slowness like the rest of us use our eyes gives us this drum-machine and handclap workout from their austere tone essay on violence, Drums and Guns. "It's just a shame/My hand just kills and kills/There's gotta be an end to that." After that it grinds away into the ether, without an answer. History suggests there isn't one.
Furtado's current ballad single is "All Good Things," co-penned by Chris Martin—and surprise, it's dull. "Showtime" is brilliant; go listen to it instead. There's an amiable 6/8 lope, a sweet-natured and retroid arrangement; it's the kind of song Exposé might have had a hit with when the world was a little younger. The lyrics, imagining love as a showbiz hit, are as effective a come-on as I've heard in a good long while. If someone tried such a wonderful extended metaphor out on me—"Showtime/Our love's coming out/Lights, camera, action, show what we're about, 'cause it's/Showtime/Our love's breaking out/Let's show the world you're my boy, I'm your girl"—it would work. I wouldn't worry about showbiz fickleness and short-term-ism, not one bit.
On a busy lyrics web board, "trina from barbados" asks: "can someone help me out here? the 'ha ha haaaa haaaaa' part is a sample from another really good song that's hella old and i can't think what it's called?" Okay, Trina: It's from Spandau Ballet's deathless "True," the hinge that swung the also-hella-old-by-now P.M. Dawn into the charts once upon a time. "You" isn't all that slow, but it's an honorary love jam all the same because of this honestly parasitic lineage. Weezy's guest verses sound a little bored, like he's tired of playing the standoffish wingman to his perved-out friend. Lloyd himself is less than convincing: "She's fine, too/But I want you." Real charming, dude.
By my lights, an honest-to-god all-out power ballad! Quiet bits! Huge bits! There's even some Bic-raising imitation-Brian May noodling in the homestretch. But check out the retail melancholia: "You're just a sad song with nothing to say/About a lifelong wait for a hospital stay." Let's be honest, that's about as much Morrissey as we'll ever see in our charts. For these reasons, it's interesting to me, but not moving. Whether this is because I have good taste or am too old is basically a religious question, i.e., who knows?