Thursday, November 5, 2009
#50. 'Am I supposed to change? Are you supposed to change?'
Aaliyah ft. Timbaland "We Need a Resolution"
It shouldn't come as any surprise that it took until the top 50 of this list for me to get to any Timbaland productions, nor should it be surprising that we'll be seeing the dude pop up a few more times before the end of this ordeal. Basically, if you wanted to define the pop music landscape of the 2000s succinctly the easiest way would be to call it the decade of Tim Mosely. Even though he didn't start actually dominating the charts until 2006 with the double-barreled assault of Timberlake and Furtado Mach 2.0 he'd been among the most reliable producers in R 'n' B since 1997 when he was the driving force behind Missy Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly. Looking at his track record from 2000 onward, not only has he worked with pretty much every major player in the urban music world in some capacity, but focusing only on the singles it's hard to find many outright duds before Shock Value rolled around. After that it's a mixed bag, but until about 2008 if we're being generous hearing that a song was produced by Timbaland was akin to hearing that it would be guaranteed to be one of the best things on the radio for the next few months.
Of course at the beginning of the decade he didn't have that sort of cachet. Sure he'd made his name with a few great singles from Ginuwine, Missy and Aaliyah but he wasn't at the level of instant notoriety that he'd experience a few years down the line. Maybe that's why the first real 'whoa'-inducing single on his production credit list, Aaliyah's "We Need a Resolution," didn't even crack the top 50 in the states; it may have been the initial foray into what would become the trademark Timbaland sound, and it still stands as one of the best in my mind at least, but in the context of both his and Aaliyah's past work it just sounded weird. The eastern tinged strings and jagged beats that he's made to be somewhat of the default for pop music circa now sounded absolutely alien back in 2001 if I remember correctly - I only saw the video once in the early morning hours one weekend but I remember coming out of it thinking a combination of 'that was fucking weird' and 'that was fucking awesome' - and given that Aaliyah's previous hits were much more straightforward it seemed to come even more out of left field. A few months later "Get Ur Freak On" would make this sort of thing a bit more accessible to the common listener, but for my money it didn't do it quite as well as "We Need a Resolution"
It's not just Tim's utterly confounding production that elevated the track though. Aaliyah herself never impressed me too much as a vocalist before this, but her performance here is just stunning. Sure it trades as heavily on her excess of charisma as something like the (over-rated) "Try Again" but underneath all that there's a whole different level of vocal skill than any previous singles had demonstrated. Just check out the chorus' bifurcated vocal lines, the lower, almost raspy main melody contrasted with the airy, drawn out continuations for its first half, both of which are performed exceptionally well and don't trade exclusively on Aaliyah's magnetism to do the heavy lifting. That magnetism is still a big part of the song's success, but it's not the only thing she bring to the table this time, which may have shown her making the sort of leap that has eluded so many teenage singers in the past. It sadly didn't pan out that way given that she was tragically killed in a plane crash before she could follow up on those improvements, but the potential that "We Need a Resolution" showed is a big part of the reason I remember it ahead of any other Aaliyah single.