Saturday, December 5, 2009
#27. 'Gave you the wheel but you can't drive me'
Destiny's Child "Lose My Breath"
I tried to not make this a common practice in making this list, but the version of "Lose My Breath" that caused me to put it almost inside the top 25 singles of the decade is a version that only exists in my head. We all do this to some extent, we hear a song and think to ourselves 'That was good, but it would be better if...' and proceed to play backseat producer, toying with the fabric of the song to make it suit our own likes and dislikes. So in this case, every time I hear "Lose My Breath I mentally fade it out after Michelle Williams' verse. Think about it, every member of the trio still has their moment in the spotlight, all that's lost is a couple of extraneous repetitions of the chorus and Darkchild's obligatory shout out to himself, and 'you are dismissed' is the perfect way to end a song so dismissive of the male subject's sexual prowess. The song is still great without that modification, easily the best thing any of the three girls have done this decade - though really only Beyonce came close (and no I'm not forgetting about Kelly Rowland's turn in that Halloween movie) - and probably the high point for R 'n' B girl groups as a whole in the 00s, but trimmed of that last minute or so it's power is that much greater.
It's also another great example of a producer doing more with less. In this case Darkchild just took a marching band's drumline and added some timely orchestral stabs and left it at that, and the results are absolutely fantastic. It does help that the nature of the drum loop is much more complex than what you usually heard on the radio back in 2004, with what sounds like dozens of marching drums battering out that kinetic rhythm track with all the usual trappings of that sort of set up - the hyper-precise snare-rolls, the booming bass drms, the hugeness of the sound. Using that as the buiding block for the whole track was a stroke of genius, and not obscuring it with too many other bells and whistles was an even more sound decision. I'd never given Darkchild much credit before, his productions credits were all fairly decent but not much more than that, but "Lose My Breath" alone makes it seem like he could have been a bit more of a force in the 00s musical landscape as it got more and more producer centric if he had more stuff like this up his sleeve.
As much as the production is to thank for my initial attraction to the song, and probably about 90% of the reason it's up this high on the list, I can't exactly find much fault in the vocal and lyrical contributions either. Put simply, this song is fucking mean. It's the equivalent of three girls spending an entire second grade recess emotionally abusing a boy who fell off the monkey bars, except fastforwarded to 20 years later at a club where the boy's not exactly in the same league as the girls in terms of prowess. Furthermore it's the result of blatant misinformation, starting with a simple question of equaling the girls in question only to then have the song's title thrown in your face as a challenge that you can't possibly meet. One one hand this is Destiny's Child in their usual element as far as belittling men in their songs - really, their singles discography reads like the manifesto of the She-Woman-Man-Haters Club - but it just seems so much more unnecessarily cruel here. At least in the past they gave themselves a reason to be mad at the other sex, here it's pretty much unmitigated by anything other than not rising to the occasion in some way. But despite that note of cruelty it's the fiercest performance they've ever given as a group.
The three verses are the usual pattern of Beyonce doing her Beyonce thing, Kelly trying to match her and Michelle doing something different because she's the Zeppo of the group, but the way they interact with the beat in those sections makes it feel somewhat reinvigorated. It's also where they get their best jabs in at their unprepared victim. Oddly enough it's Rowland who does the best job here - though once again, Williams' 'you are dismissed' is probably the best single line of the song - especially the slightly coy undertone to lines like 'didn't mama teach you to give affection' (had a whole idea there about tapping into Oedipal fears and calling him a mama's boy at the same time but honestly the line speaks for itself) and given that for once her Beyonce mimicry actually works in her favor instead of just highlighting all her shortcomings. Once again, it's probably the rigid construct provided by the beat that elevates the performance as much as anything, plus the fact that he verses aren't exactly a vocal showcase for anyone so much as an excuse to further emasculate their plaything, but it can't really be denied that in this particular instance it's as close to equal as the three have ever sounded.
Once again though, editing it down to nice, concise 2:50 that ends shortly after the 'you are dismissed' is the best thing you could do to this song. Even if it's only in my head so far that the song's actually like this it makes for the best almost 3 minutes of the Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle show that ever came out this decade. I can't exactly begrudge them for running it past the necessary section though since at least the beat is solid enough to anchor the extraneous section, but if they'd just left it be it could have been as glorious for everyone as I've forced it to be for me.