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.