Thursday, 21 May 2015

Amerie - Touch (2005)

I have maintained for some time that some of the most intense music ever recorded is to be found on R&B albums of one stripe or another. All Saints' debut, for one example, grits its teeth and thinks about pain at least as hard as anything you'll hear on a Swans record, although of course, having been made by miniature girls who consume lollipops and giggle rather than by Ernest Hemingway, songs such as War of Nerves and Alone tend to be overlooked on this score, specifically due to the absence of grimacing men reading Nietzsche whilst breaking detuned guitars in half with just their teeth. Another fine example would be Amerie's 1 Thing, a demonstration should it be needed, that for the last decade, all the genuinely weird stuff has been happening in R&B - not simply because any of it necessarily outweirds Nurse With Wound, but because it outweirds Nurse With Wound to a beat, sells millions, and sells millions to an audience who wouldn't ordinarily give a shit about recordings of a man dropping paper-clips into a bucket. 1 Thing, in case you're unfamiliar with Amerie, is a drum kit dropped down a fire escape whilst someone kicks a guitar, and the biggest pop record you've ever heard. It's kind of like Rollins Band at their most forehead-vein poppingly intense without sharing any actual ingredients with Disconnect, Liar, Low Self Opinion, Shame, or any of Henry's other face-punching classics.

The only problem with a song as great as 1 Thing is sadly that it tends to make everything else you might have slapped on the album sound weak by comparison. Against all odds, Touch is mainly decent, courageously deviating from any formula evinced by the hit single whilst generally keeping it minimal and inventive without too much fuss. Musically most of it's a groove, restrained in all the right places with sometimes just a slight shift in the established bass coming in half way through to really throw everything into contrast; and there's plenty of non-musical elements sampled into melodic shapes; but all the hard work is somewhat undone when a remix of 1 Thing turns up near the close of the album to reduce the rest to filler material.

Well, not quite filler material, but much of the album has the feel of something serving as background to a lifestyle, something heard in the club, on the phone, or bulking out an episode of Empire. I've a feeling this may be an unfortunate consequence of success, namely that Amerie is - or maybe was - a high profile artist in one of the few genres which is - or maybe was - still shifting units; and music as a mass commodity has become something occupying roughly the same cultural bandwidth as ringtones and console games, imposing certain limitations on albums such as what we have here. It's difficult to quite pinpoint what the problem could be, why 1 Thing should sound so much more vital than the rest. Amerie has a pretty good voice, strong and clear without any of the bland technique-over-substance warbling of yer Maria Careys, but she only really seems to let rip on the aforementioned hit single. I've a feeling it may be the otherwise entirely serviceable production rather than her voice which is to blame. They should have got Steve Albini in, but never mind.

Also, there are a couple of horribly loungey tracks, as there always will be on any R&B album featuring a presentable looking lady on the cover; and there's the obligatory song about having it off produced by Lil Jon and sounding very much like every other track he ever produced. Maybe it's just my age, although I don't have any trouble with the subject matter of the rest of the album, very little of which seems directly tailored towards fat, white men in their fifties. Amerie explaining how I'm very much mistaken in my belief of her being a good girl whilst pouting, one finger to her lips and doing that ooh you'll have to punish me now face only brings out my inner Hank Hill these days, inspiring thoughts of mowing the lawn and whether it is yet warm enough to seed with bermuda grass. When she suggests what it is I really want is for him to do to me what he wants to I feel embarrassed on behalf of everyone involved. I mean what if what he wants to do is a cleveland steamer? Yuck!

Still, given the raw power of 1 Thing, it's hard to care about the album failing to pull quite the same trick another thirteen or fourteen times. There are maybe three tracks it could probably have lost, but I'm still not complaining.

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