Sunday, November 29, 2009

#32. 'I wanna take the walls down with you'

D'Angelo "Untitled (How Does It Feel)"

There's a big difference between sexual music and sexy music. Sexual music is pertaining to sex while sexy music is all about the feeling it stirs up in you through all the different facets of its presentation. Sexual music is commonplace, but truly sexy music is increasingly hard to come by. Think about the current crop of pop hits for a minute; do any of them actively do something to make you feel sexy in any way? I'm not talking about Lady Gaga making you feel funny like when you'd climb the rope in gym class or how that new Shakira video is prime wank fodder - and if you say either of those without a trace of sarcasm you are truly a sad individual...just to throw that out there - but if a song in and of itself is enough to get you in the mood, without any visual stimulus. Classic soul is sexy music. Prince's 80s output could be exceptionally sexy as well as sexual. Some more rhythmic heavy music can be sexy. And for a brief period in the early 00s before he disappeared from the public eye, no one was making sexier music than D'Angelo.

I know the notions of sexiness as it pertains to "Untitled" are wrapped up in that video, the one shot pan around D'Angelo's impossibly cut physique that caused so many panties to be moistened and so many dudes to feel uncomfortable, inadequate and slightly turned on, but think about the song apart from that for a second. Better yet, acquire a copy of Voodoo and play the full 7 minute version which lets the song's build up achieve new heights that he single edit just can't match. Just listen to the song in any way you can without also being faced with the images and tell me that the song itself is not one of the sexiest things known to man. Every second that the song builds and builds is rife with utter sexiness even before you factor in D'Angelo's almost Prince-like vocals and intensely sexual lyrics, the sort of slow build structure I'm so fond of with the dynamic tension replaced with something more erotic and tangibly hot. Then you add in the vocals and lyrics and it becomes even more so, as if that seemed possible. There are plenty of reasons to wish for D'Angelo to return to the music world, but the fact that we need someone to remind us all what exactly is entailed by 'sexy' music.

Though really, if you're gonna give all the credit for "Untitled"'s sexiness to D'angelo alone you're kinda missing the point. The production, courtesy of Roots drummer ?uestlove, is responsible for a good bit of the sensuality contained therein, mainly because of the slow build he gets going - this is especially well established in the full length version though the single edit here does get the point across quite well - from the opening almost arrhythmic drum intro through to the swells of brass, keyboards, dirty-ass guitar and multi-tracked choirs of D'angelo's voice. The build up is key, because sexiness isn't a stable state in and of itself; there's a rise and fall to it, and the way that "Untitled" builds and fades mimics that sort of procession perfectly. As more and more layers get added to the mix the heat of the song goes up, gets to its breaking point and stays there for the last minute or so before abruptly cutting out before the last repetition of the subtitle can finish. If we're gonna compare this to any number of other slow-builders it seems to be missing the final act, but the lack of a denouement from the exceptional high of that final section works because the release part of the tension/release duo is held on for so long and kept so intense throughout that any sort of ending other than the abrupt cut might feel like too much. It's a crowning touch on what might be one of the best slow building songs of the decade.

Then there's D'Angelo himself, in full Prince falsetto making sweet careful love to the listener over that masterful instrumental. Sure, the lyrics read like a repository of every sexual cliche in the book, but it's in the way he sings them that the magic occurs. You've heard this type of thing a few times before if you're the least bit musically conscious, but I don't think anyone - Prince excepted - has done so much with that thin of a lyrical pool. Then again, vocally the best moments are the wordless exhortations that escape just as the final swell occurs, the - sorry, it's the only ward to describe it - orgasmic release of that torrent of 'YEEEAAAAAAAAH's that end the track. In those moments the imagery is much more vivid than when there's actual images being painted, depicting the sort of raw sexual release that doesn't require words to describe it. Considering that underneath all that there's a chorus of 'how does it feel's that makes it seem like a text-subtext argument - the main vocal going through the throes of passion while the repeated question of how it feels hangs in the air with every wordless exclamation. The fact that the last repetition of that question gets cut short works for the same reason the whole abrupt cut business works: the question isn't needed at that point, it's fucking obvious how it feels, and it feels fan-fucking-tastic.

1 comment:

preTTY Nubian said...

Great to finally see someone analyze such a good damn song with such intense accurancy.
D'Angelo is on repeat everyday in my ears, I love his music in a way ordinary words may never fully describe. His musicianship makes my heart soar.
Untitled(HDIF)is a stellar, supremely divine, sexy song that still sends shivers down my spine and makes me tighten my thighs in response to that first false start. The one that signals to my brain that I'm about to be immensely turned on. It came out when I was thirteen and I remember liking the song but not truly understanding it in my youthful naivete. NOW I DO. And boy was I pleasantly surprised.
My favorite instrument here(besides D'Angelo's voice) is that bass by no other than Raphael Saadiq. I've seen him live and that man can play. The bass on this song meshes so gorgeously with the snare and that wicked guitar to that subtle piano(which I loved during 4:02).
The second verse with its purposely muddled singing and phrasing(a la the Artist and Gaye) made me smile with glee that D'Angelo could get away with saying something truly salacious and make it sound sexy by jumbling his words with his suddenly noticable accent(a la Green). I usually abhor repetitive parts/choruses in songs, especially R&B songs that try to hard to be sexy and are not, but how could you hate it in this song?
You can't, that's the answer. Because the choruses of How Does It Feel? drives the point and the well-deserved climax home with dazzling urgency. And the long edit is well worth the listen and my preferred version. My favorite part is from 2:57 to 3:40, where his voice just sounds so silky, each prolonged note so lush with just the right amount of grit, somehow a perfect passionate mixture. Some are annoyed by his multi-tracked voice but I always loved the technique from him. Why hire session singers when you can turn your own impressive pipes into a multi-man chorus of grunts, moans, and screams of pleasure? And each vocal track always contained him singing each part of the lyric completely different adding a complex, but effortless-for-him air to this song and every other song he's ever done. It put him on a much higher golden musical shelve than everyone else.

I used to be angry at how abrupt the song ended when was younger but when I revisited the video now, I underSTOOD why. It signafied, "I'm done but I focused on your pleasure and I gave it to you good and raw and I left you wanting more, now how does THAT feel baby?"
Damn it felt good to me. I can't lie and say the video didn't enhance the listening experience just a notch, I still get lost in all the lip-licking, liquid brown eyes, impossibly white teeth, shadowy muscled hips, pec jumping, back muscle flexing and sugary brown skin madness to this day. But I could listen to the song alone and still feel addictively lovedrunk without it.
I'll be forever in love with him and his genius mind and all that potential beautiful music he has swirling around in there that hasn't blessed my ears yet. I can't wait. Music, especially modern Soul and R&B, ain't the same without him and with the bar he set, it'll be incredibly hard to top him.

p.s. LMAO@ "...caused so many panties to be moistened and so many dudes to feel uncomfortable, inadequate and slightly turned on..." Truer words have never been spoken about that situation.