My essay on Janet Jackson’s complete discography is up for reading now on Blogcritics, where it was first published. To celebrate the return of the R&B legend, look back with me across the 10 albums that built Jackson’s legacy from the ground up. Keep in mind, this freelance gig was a one-time deal as I’m still busy with preparation for my book currently. More details on that next month.-QH
Hello readers. I apologize for being away so long, but the year has really taken off for me. I’m sure that many of you are aware that my first independently published book, ‘Record Redux: The Spice Girls’, has been gearing up for its debut in July 2016. As a result of the constant work on this project, I haven’t had the time to devote to my own space.
It’s with much disappointment that I’m announcing a small break for the summer season. Between the book and my day job, I don’t have the time I need to devote to this site. I’ve also slowed down on any and all freelance projects too. In particular, the 20th anniversary marker (next Saturday) for Paula Abdul’s third LP Head Over Heels (1995) had been planned for The QH Blend. For now, it will have to be delayed until after the summer.
I appreciate your support and look forward to returning sometime in late August or early September.-QH
What if Garbage went to Minneapolis and recorded in that funky R&B / rock hybrid style made famous by Prince, The Time and André Cymone ?
Missisipi Jones―comprised of vocalists / instrumentalists Mississippi and J@$―are the answer to that colorful inquiry.
Mississippi Jones represents the kind of artist unafraid to blur the lines between genre, gender, age, race or any other social lines. Yet, they wear their roots on their sleeve proudly. That juxtaposition makes for fascinating listening on their new extended play, Recourse: Elemental 1. The EP is set to precede a series of four EPs with varying sonic themes; the project will stretch throughout the remainder of 2015.
Recourse: Elemental 1 itself snatches up listeners and carries them along a broad journey with only three cuts. Opening with the fizzy “Mr. White,” the duo sets the tone to fussy fun for Recourse: Elemental 1. The remaining tracks “Stone Cold Killer” and “Tre (s)” alternate between fever and restraint. The rocky contrast will sate those looking for a listening experience that is fearless, but frothy.
Recourse: Elemental 1 had its platform dressed with the pair’s first album, Unreleased (2014)―another worthy entry for spinning. The act is poised for broader exposure and if they continue to keep their eye on quality, it’s almost promised that you’ll be hearing more of Mississippi Jones in the future.
Theories of new leadership for the R&B female vanguard at the outset of the 2000’s rumble on today. After Aaliyah’s untimely death, a vacuum opened and many rushed to fill it―Beyoncé ascended quickly.
Though there have always been the zeitgeist figures of any genre, usually it’s those under the surface of said genre that carry its current along. Singers like Mrs. Carter look to those currents for inspiration―often they translate their breakthroughs to a wider audience. The politics of this exchange will invoke ire, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Amerie Rogers was, and is, a strong current in modern R&B’s ocean.
Amerie snuggled in between hip-hop and neo-soul with her first album All I Have (2002). But, a decade ago many questioned if the voice behind that record was just an extension of its producer Rich Harrison. It was a misconception Amerie refuted with her sophomore LP.
The biracial vocalist―Amerie is of Korean and African-American descent―was the requisite “army brat” due to her father’s vocation with the United States government. By the time Amerie was exiting her teens, she had traveled extensively and would secure her higher education (via Georgetown University). However, music, literature, art and fashion remained her passions; she placed herself in a position to meet music heads of industry to pursue her dream.
Neophyte producer Rich Harrison, fresh off assignments for Mary Blige―Mary (1999) and No More Drama (2001)―crossed paths with Amerie. The pairing had instant creative chemistry and Amerie’s debut All I Have (Columbia, 2002) was born. Held aloft by its single “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Pop #23) in the summer of 2002, Amerie made a splash with urban radio and its record buyers.
All I Have was a good starting point for Amerie and work slowly began on its follow-up. In the interim between Amerie’s first and second albums, Harrison ventured out for more production job opportunities. Harrison’s take on “go-go music,” its roots owed to the clubby Washington, D.C. flavored go-go, had found another voice to wield it, Amerie’s Columbia label mate Beyoncé.
“Crazy in Love,” lifted from Beyoncé’s platinum busting Dangerously in Love (2003), made Harrison an overnight R&B knobtwirler hot property of the period. The reappropriated go-go vibe almost became cemented to Beyoncé’s sonic identity, despite Amerie fronting it just a year earlier.
Unmoved, Amerie reenlisted Harrison and set forth to achieve a sophomore strike.
Amerie quietly went about writing 10 of the 11 cuts that comprised her second LP, Touch―international versions boasted “Man Up” (with Nas) and an ambitious Diana Ross cover (“I’m Coming Out”).
This dramatic turn-around was a large leap of progression as Amerie had no writing input on Touch’s preceding record.
Amerie and Harrison steered Touch with additional production / writing from a wealth of mainstream and underground talent: Bink!, Lil’ Jon, The Buchanans, Red Sypda, Dre & Vidal, Cory Rooney, Sean Garrett and Bryce Wilson (formerly of Mantronix and Groove Theory). Touch split its sound across uptempos and downtempos.
The former batch were led by the gorgeous, but percussive “1 Thing”. Utilizing a brainy interpolation of “Oh, Calcutta!” by The Meters, Amerie took back the sound she put on the scene. Yet, “1 Thing’s” melodic femininity held a confidence and control (vocally) that heretofore she had not shown.
Subsequent shakers were meaty (the title song, “Not the Only One,” “Talkin’ ‘Bout”), but they lacked that sweet underpinning which made “1 Thing” addictive. Thankfully, later elevated excursions on her third and fourth records juggled production and performance energy evenly.
The latter category of ballads is where Touch highlighted Amerie’s refined taste in samples: “All I Need” (Jean Carne’s “You Are All I Need”), “Rolling Down My Face” (Roy Ayers’ “Searching”) and “Can We Go” (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Evil). Amerie reinterpreted them all with a refreshing spin. In particular, “Can We Go” (the sole Harrison penned number) was a cascading duet with crooner Carl Thomas that captured Amerie’s sensitive side superbly.
With the stated 11 tracks, excusing an unnecessary “1 Thing” remix with Eve, Touch platformed Amerie’s own personality.
“1 Thing” ushered in the “new Amerie” to critics and record buyers. It was a hit: U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Pop #8, U.K. #4.
“1 Thing” became Amerie’s signature tune and netted a Grammy nomination for “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” in 2006. Additionally, it was one of the inaugural digital singles to be awarded with a platinum certification by the RIAA.
It didn’t hurt that “1 Thing” was the theme to the Will Smith rom-com ‘Hitch’ giving it a larger pop audience. Its parent recording Touch landed on 4/26/15 to favor on the charts: U.S. Billboard 200 #2, U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop #1, U.K. #28.
Critically, Amerie’s maneuver to take hold of her artistic affairs paid off.
Vibe Magazine’s Angie Romero opined:
The brash soul samples, horns and hard club beats on the lead single, “1 Thing,” are an excellent preview of Touch’s sonic flair.
Rolling Stone writer Bill Werde elaborated further:
Currently booming from jeeps in a neighborhood near you, Amerie’s “1 Thing” is an early front-runner for “song-of-the-summer” status. Amerie is all grown up on her second effort. And in this case, growth is good.
The corresponding music video for “1 Thing” also announced a visually alert Amerie. Her love of high fashion and pop culture (notice the nod to the Elvis Presley ‘68 Comeback Special’ concert) were very much present. She wasn’t just a pretty face, her ideas for conception, creation and execution extended from the lyric notepad, to her closet and the director’s chair.
Directed By: Chris Robinson and Amerie
Touch reached gold certification in the United States with 406,000 copies moved as of it last certification in June 2009. It spun off two additional singles during its original lifespan in 2005: “Touch” (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19) and “Talkin’ ‘Bout” (U.S. R&B Bubbling Under #2). The LP garnered Amerie a “Best Contemporary R&B Album” Grammy bid in 2006 along with the aforementioned “1 Thing” nomination.
Amerie should have had an easy ride with Columbia Records because of Touch’s victory. Sadly, trouble had already appeared during the second record’s formative period .
The label wasn’t ready to cooperate with Amerie’s new outlook for her career; the singer later revealed that Columbia had fought her on the decision to move forward with “1 Thing” as the album’s first single. The other selections pulled from Touch received little-to-no push. The exquisite LPs that followed Touch had stalled sales because of major label indifference: Because I Love It (Columbia, 2007) and In Love & War (Island / Def Jam, 2009).
Since abdicating from A&R politics after her fourth record, the singer / songwriter / producer / arranger has been hard at work on her fifth LP, Cymatika. The long player’s title draws from the term cymatics, the scientific study of visible sound and vibrations. Various pieces have been shared by Amerie from the forthcoming effort since 2011; last year’s “What I Want” was the most exciting taster thus far.
Amerie scaled cerebral heights with her third and fourth albums, but it all began with Touch. Amerie’s chrysalis instituted there allowed her to be reborn as one of those mentioned driving currents in modern R&B. Her influence is very present in the women of that genre. Listen closely. Ranking: Semi-classic
[Editor’s Note: Touch is readily in print, digitally and physically. For current information on Amerie, visit her official website.-QH]
Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh, Sporty, yes they’re your lot! They’re the Spice Girls ready to go in their first definitive dissemination of their musical discography! Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. We hope you enjoy the show!
‘Record Redux: The Spice Girls’ is the first of its kind―the ultimate guidebook to the ultimate girl group in popular music. Every single, album and b-side will feature and tell the tale of this British phenom that defined a generation and continues to influence popular music today. After two years worth of work, my first book is finished and ready for the next phase of its journey.
I’m self-publishing this book via Amazon’s CreateSpace medium and will launch it into the marketplace in June 2016. However, I need help raising funds to cover self-publishing costs; if you’d like to learn more about my book and to donate through Kickstarter, click here. I have 30 days to meet my goal.
I hope that you will consider taking a part in music history to assist me in resetting the critical narrative of the Spice Girls.
Thank you in advance.
[Editor’s Note: Kickstarter concept art courtesy of Projekt Ludwig.-QH]
Spiceworld (Virgin, 1997): My desire to grasp “the groove” combined with curiosities for musical epochs gone by when I encountered this album. Further, my appreciation for character in a voice―not just a voice―stemmed from this LP. Spiceworld also proved that producing good music didn’t guarantee fair appreciation from music critics―popular music politics aren’t always just. The Spice Girls were the reason I picked up a pen to write about music and give voice to artists / fans who didn’t have one.
Kylie Minogue (deConstruction, 1994): Kylie Minogue made me relearn everything I thought I knew about pop song structure at the time. The “suites” that were fashioned on the album weren’t laborious, instead they formed their own patterns. In regard to the actual texture of the music and Minogue’s voice, it was the right blend of maturity, evolution and exploration that captured me.
The Wanderer (Geffen, 1980) Donna Summer never fit into the traditional slot that black women were meant to stay in―musically speaking or otherwise. I was enamored with The Wanderer, but it would be years before I would hear its influence on other women (Madonna, Kylie Minogue) that I favored too. I’ve often remarked that this record was the first “dance-pop departure” vehicle that set that standard that dance-pop was not the only mode pop operated in. Summer didn’t just create that model, she stamped it with this album.
Human (Epic, 2008): Personally, this album has been an emotional companion for me since its release; in the context of Brandy’s legacy I think it was her most consistent thematically. Human had Brandy putting her own experiences to a sonic backdrop that was timely (production wise), but still had that “Brandy feel” to it. I am not sure that she’ll ever top this record.
Human Being (Warner Brothers, 1998): What a songwriter, but due to him being someone of color he was marginalized on both ends of the music spectrum. It’s a shame, because Seal’s ability to work within a soul framework without losing pop’s melody stood second-to-none. This album was darker and maybe that’s why it received such a cold shoulder at the time. I’ve always loved its stormy appeal.
Hat Full of Stars (Epic, 1993): Hat Full of Stars crossed folk, R&B, dance and alternative; Lauper’s style on this was very New York and it made the record sound big, especially listening as a teenager in the summer of 2002 when I copped it. Her songwriting was never better, you can really hear it on “Who Let in the Rain,” “Feels Like Christmas” and “Someone Like Me”.
Colour By Numbers (Virgin, 1983): An album that always comes immediately to mind as living up to its hype. I loved how sharp the music on this was, but not so slick that it didn’t leave room for Culture Club’s character. “Black Money,” an ultimate tearjerker, I realized I had to “grow into” with life experience to appreciate.
Shoot From the Hip (Polydor, 2003): I like that even when her first record painted Bextor in a corner creatively, she made another album that pushed back against pop being tagged as, you guessed it, dance-pop. There are some floor fillers here, but they don’t sacrifice the arc of this album pulling from other places for its inspiration.
Am I the Kinda Girl? (Polydor, 1996): I remember the first time I heard this album and I was just blown away. The way the 1990’s alternative tunage interacted with 1960’s pop was gorgeous. That something this refreshing wasn’t more broadly known continues to sadden me.
American Life (Warner Brothers, 2003): A lot of people incorrectly pegged American Life as Madonna trying to admonish others when she was examining herself. Musically it was her third in a four part electronic quartet that concluded with Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005). Granted Confessions was warmer at its surface, but American Life won me over as the last great ballad vehicle for Madonna.
Northern Star (Virgin, 1999): The visceral space Melanie C occupied fascinated me as a teenager. I don’t want to say this was a soundtrack to my angst, but that’s slightly accurate. The longing, the curiosity and how the LP bared its fangs…wow. Its underlying sensitivity spun well on the title piece and “Closer”. They’re just gorgeous recordings.
Playing Possum (Elektra, 1975): Never understood the critical drubbing this got. Even though I enjoyed the two previous Richard Perry produced predecessors, Playing Possum was curvier. Its sex appeal was seductive and comforting;Simon was brainy (and busty) when it came to her wordplay on this set.
From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic, 1998): From the Choirgirl Hotel was my introduction to Tori Amos a decade ago. Having had this as an entry point, it set the bar Amos repeatedly met as I began trekking through her albums. I loved how succinct Choirgirl was, its combination of electronic and classical music enthralled.
The Visitors (Polar, 1981): ABBA really outdid themselves with this album. Pop acts are supposed to stay behind the lines of “inoffensive” and “innocuous,” but ABBA went noir with The Visitors. Man, you have everything from the personal to the voyeuristic on this effort and it’s (still) superbly catchy.
Catch as Catch Can (RAK, 1983): Catch as Catch Can’s charm is somewhat unidentifiable. Just as strong as the two previous RAK era albums that came before it, Catch held glossier grooves and assured vocal performances. It was the ideal cap to that first part of her sound.
Amanda Leigh (Storefront, 2009): I really loved that this was the summation of Moore’s Coverage (2003) and Wild Hope (2007). Amanda Leigh placed its affection directly in the pocket of 70’s pop and a keen ear will hear her many influences―notably the Carpenters. Moore as a singer made this album a real treat as she wore a variety of hats depending on the song being handled.
Food & Liquor (Atlantic, 2006): My first hip-hop record. I have to be honest, it was my hormones that drew me to Lupe Fiasco; once his music hit my ears, I was a fan. His usage of samples and how he built his stories around them was beautiful. I had never heard hip-hop sound mournful and emotional―yet, there was this devil may care approach in how the songs were expressed.
Midnight Lounge (Avitone, 2003): Jody Watley has one of the most progressive bodies of work in R&B. From album-to-album, Watley preserved her persona while refining her sound. When I heard Midnight Lounge, its mix of soul and electronica was effortless; the record was revolutionary for Watley and R&B music.
Neon Nights (London, 2003): Where dance and pop intersected best in the last 15 years; Dannii Minogue’s Neon Nights was the record I danced to when I started (gay) clubbing. Outside of its obvious nostalgia, the LP has held up in the ensuing years―especially when compared to the plastic EDM peddled now.
Parade (Warner Brothers, 1986): Coming off of Around the World in a Day (1985)―Prince at his most pop―the Minneapolis titan managed to rope back in his black base without sacrificing his roving (genre) eye. This album was free, sexy and practical too. He kept churning out some serious master jams, but this LP remains at the summit of Prince’s output.
[Editor’s Note: Please visit your local record store or online retailer for information on availability.-QH]
20 Y.O. (Virgin, 2006): Control (1986) or Damita Jo (2004) easily could have made this list. But 20 Y.O.’s veteran precision was just too strong to ignore. It was a great vocal showcase in Jackson’s discography―it didn’t hurt that the first half of the album was black dance music done to the nines. Despite its silly title, this was adult R&B with a pinch of youthful spirit.
The Boss (Motown, 1979): Dress rehearsal for diana (1980)? I think not. Ross’ second-to-last Motown album had her slip into disco with soul. Jams like “It’s My House” and hushed valentines like “I’m in the World” bore Ross’ interpretive streak like no one’s business.
Alma Caribeña (Epic, 2000): The album that opened me up to non-English music. Recalled certain critics observing that Estefan’s voice supposedly shone better in her native tongue. I enjoyed Estefan in-and-out of English myself. However, there is some truth to their statement as the liveliness present on Alma Caribeña poured from every note played and sung.
Sol-Angel & the Hadley Street Dreams (Geffen, 2008): Who would have thought that Solange could pull this rabbit out of popular music’s hat when she did? Her fix on a vintage / modern vocal attack kept my ears glued to this in the late summer of 2008.
Head Over Heels (Virgin, 1995): The musicianship for this? Grade A, top shelf and every other adjective you can plug in. Even if on you don’t like Abdul’s voice―which was exceptionally versatile on Heads Over Heels―the arrangements on the LP were so intelligent. You had jazz, you had hip-hop, you had funk all wrapped together. You just don’t hear that kind of diversity on pop albums anymore.
X-Static (RCA, 1979): X-Static. The frenzied send-off to Hall & Oates’ patchwork 1970’s era before their 1980’s dominance. That isn’t a knock, Hall & Oates jumped around to every conceivable sound on their initial albums. I adore genre jumping, it’s so pop. Anyway, X-Static was funky and playful―definitely a record for those that like a myriad of music.
Somewhere in My Lifetime (Arista, 1979): God, this woman’s voice. It’s phenomenal. She has many different phases in her discography, but her “bright period” was exceptional on Somewhere in My Lifetime. The right amount of jazz and disco on this offering was a welcome backdrop for a Saturday afternoon.
Everything Must Change (Warner Brothers, 1976): Crawford’s voice possessed kick, but she never fell into gratuitous singing. She complemented the crisp production at play throughout this piece with patience. Everything Must Change made no (sales) ripples, but was a true hidden treasure when I found it.
A Funk Odyssey (Sony, 2001): In light of the “disco revival” that has been raging over the last three years, many forgot that Jamiroquai spearheaded it as far back as 1996. I think they hit their stride with it on A Funk Odyssey. Though their acid jazz had disco at its roots, this was full blown floor killing music.
Off the Wall (Epic, 1979): The greatest black dance album ever? For once I can actually agree with the masses on this score. Michael Jackson kept making great music post-Off the Wall, but the joyousness evinced on this LP wasn’t present in his later output.
The Bliss Album…? (Island, 1993): My Dad played this album a lot in the car when I was kid; it would be years before I realized how ahead of the curve P.M. Dawn was with The Bliss Album…?. Truly a black alternative brainchild, it pains me how this act has been relegated to 1990’s nostalgia. This record, along with their other three LPs, are the best alt-soul spinners you’ll hear.
The Bridge (Arista, 1995): Much stronger and wider in its scope than what Ace of Base hinted at with The Sign (1994). When people ask me what my favorite “follow-up” album of all time is, I answer with The Bridge. The world music textures on this transported me to places unseen, their goal I assume. Though I think they improved even more with Flowers / Cruel Summer (1998) and Da Capo (2002), the magic and mystery of The Bridge lives.
Free Me (Universal, 2004): I knew when this record dropped it was going to change the game―for British pop and the overall Spice Girls legacy. Bunton was not the only Brit to dip into the mod-pop pot, but she wore it well. Beautifully sung and produced, Bunton’s second album reset what a former Spice Girl could do artistically (and commercially).
Filth and Dreams (Mercury, 1999): Mentioning 1960’s pop revivalists, Swing Out Sister arguably stamped that movement. What I liked about Filth & Dreams was its modernity mixed with retro pop appeal. While Swing Out Sister were no strangers to melancholy, they courted a solemn air on this project. Personally, I thought the gravitas was pretty.
Older (DreamWorks, 1996): Though Michael wouldn’t come out for another two years, Older played close to the confessional hilt. Michael adjusted the temporal frequency for Older to add hip-hop textures on “Fastlove” and “Spinning the Wheel,” which suited Michael well like his previous black music forays.
Echoes (RCA, 2011): For my money, Will Young was the real deal when it came to reality show produced talent. The first winner of ‘Pop Idol’ in England, Young took quick creative control of his music. His fifth album caught my attention and I went back to discover his other stuff. But, Young’s understated blend of blue-eyed soul and pop with Echoes made my ears very happy in late 2011.
Notorious (EMI, 1986): Starting with this funky entry, Duran Duran became a group based in the sound of the period―even if it was not what critics or fans wanted. Slimming down to a trio didn’t halve Duran Duran’s abilities, not to my ears. If anything the division gave them clarity to dress up and get down.
Touch (Motown, 1971): The 1970’s were very kind to The Supremes from an artistic stance. As the album format dawned at the start of that decade, The Supremes shifted away from the singles approach and became a “back-to-front” recording act. Touch was was an ideal play for a rainy day or a bright morning.
Heart Station (EMI, 2008): The clean production lines on this album were fantastic, and there was a reason why. The LP had taken and applied everything Utada learned from 2002 through to 2006; that stretch of time contained her bravest music recorded. As a result, Heart Station was aware of its structure, but not impeded by it. Utada’s lyrics and vocals synced up and painted a picture of a woman that was in complete control of her artistic expression.
Hejira (Asylum, 1976): Mitchell’s guitar took on many different shapes on Hejira. I’d never known the guitar to possess that kind of versatility displayed―most of the instrumentation was centered on it during the LP’s run time. It was an album that put the listener on a journey through Mitchell’s aural soundscapes of love and life.
[Editor’s Note: Please visit your local record store or online retailer for information on availability.-QH]