The Single Life
Guest reviewer Ray Davies surveys a sampling of new singles
Alanis Morissete, "Ironic" (Maverick)
She's got a big chin. This sounds like a third single...she shows a lot of confidence to use the dynamics that way. Most new artists are frightened to do that because record companies and producers say "Make everyone stand to attention all the time and let it fade at 2:10 tops." But this is nice. Sometimes you can only do this when you're very confident, young or very stupid. I like the tune - somebody knows what they're doing somewhere. It warrants a conversation piece. The first single was the only new American record I heard last year that I liked more than the British music.
D'Angelo, "Lady" (EMI)
This is just a charm with an interesting arrangement. He's spent weeks with an Apple Mac, making it sound earthy and instant and organic. If I have a problem with any kind of music, it's this. I don't know where it comes from; it sounds very corporate. My roots are in the blues, which got me into playing music, and I find it detached from this - and it should be, it's 1996. Black culture has found its way into the white world, and they are turning it on its head. They might listen to Leadbelly and say, "Who's this Uncle Tom?" It sets up this programmed wallpaper. I'm not saying there's no talent here; if I heard more of it, I'd understand it a bit better.
Pavement "Give it a Day" (Matador)
An indie band, lo-fi sort of music.....There's hope for California if there's more of these kids around. You've got to have a sense of humor if you're in this band. I doubt anyone's manufactured this lot - the production is too untogether for that. Mid-70's Kinks records had an untogether back track mix, with the vocal track barely penetrating. This has got that descending kind of music to it. Take the back track away and you'd be hard-pressed to tell whether it was an English or an American band. I don't think they want a Grammy, and that's alright.
Mike Flowers Pop, "Wonderwall" (London)
I do songwriting courses; we get new writers along, and some established people come to write a few tunes and to talk to other writers. There was one writer there who wrote humorous songs. I said to him, "You ought to create an alter ego for your music, a conceited person with a kiss curl like Bill Haley." Lo and behold, a few months later this happens; it makes me smile. It's like a character I used to have called Mr. Wonderful. It's important that this aspect of popular music, which has been forgotten for many years, is still around. I don't think it'll make it here, unless the guy goes on talk shows. An old manager used to say, "It's a neat package," and that's what it is. The arranger has done a great job on it. I hope that England took it with a smile on their face, but I have a terrible feeling they believed it was for real.
Billie Rae Martin, "Imitation of Love" (Elektra)
Is she an opera singer? She should be in a musical; she's brilliant! I suppose a lot of people are tapping into that Donna Summer sort of thing. I'm saddened that they had to do four mixes. Whereas D'Angelo is creatively sliming his way around the melody, this girl could do with someone putting something in her drink or something, to make her wobble around a bit. If this is aimed at the queers, it's a very straight way of doing it, but maybe that's the irony, as we say. It's not my taste. I'm probably very unhip. It's not the sort of music you'd have a Mexican meal to.
Sting, "Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot" (A&M)
(Hears saxophone) Oh, it's jazz, lest we forget. Is this "Sting plays in a club"? I thought it was him [holds up 2Pac CD]. It goes back to the marketing of the Police, how they got "Roxanne" on black radio. Maybe a lot of people think String looks like that. An amazing ego, but I find all his themes laudable, like "If you love someone, set them free."....I've got to be careful, because he's a neighbor of mine. It's always astounded me how he got so high with his voice early on; he's mellowing out with his voice, singing more within his range, which I like much more. He might do injury to his upper chest. I was waiting for the big chorus that a Sting single has, and it never came.
2Pac, "California Love" (Death Row)
This is him! They pack it in, don't they, layering in every conceivable sound. It's very moogy. I'm interested in how they construct it more than listening to it. A lot of people buy records now for that reason, I think - it's got nothing to do with what the song is doing. There's a whole lot of people working that way, and I can understand it, because so many people love production for the sake of it. But it doesn't belong anywhere but in the studio. Rap is an interesting form for kids who aren't going to read poetry.
Vernaline, "The Hammer Goes Down" (Zero Hour)
Assuming there's no other motivation, they're saying something about their world. The only thing in common between this and when I did something like this was that we both know that there's no future, or that any future will not be better. The sound contained in it amount to a political statement: The lo-fi guitar is indicative of a society in ruins. I'm trying to grab the lyrics, which are obviously important, but I couldn't hear them, and perhaps that's the message. He's saying a lot but you can't hear him.
TimeOut New York, February 21-28, 1996