Monday, February 21, 2011

98 The Hard Way, Part 1: One Hit Wonders (January - March)

The lure of one hit wonders is a hard one to resist. They're a definite mark of their era, showcasing exactly what was popular for a short period of time, and more often than not the songs lumped in under that umbrella are diverse enough to make for an interesting journey. So what better place to start this massive project off than by revisiting 1998 at it's most flash in the pan and disposable? This is the first of four posts dissection the year's one hit wonders. Enjoy.

Nu Flavor “Heaven” (#27, Jan. 31st)

We're off to an auspicious start to this section of the project. I'd love to say that this is as bad as it gets, but I know that it isn't. However I sincerely doubt that it gets any more boring, any more insipid or any more likely to put me to sleep despite having recently had an energy drink. I don't even have a snarky way in to tear this one apart, it's just the most incredibly boring thing I've sat through in a while. All it amounts to is 4 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. [3]

Alana Davis “32 Flavors” (#37, Jan. 31st)

I like to think that Alana Davis had no real ulterior motive to covering this. I like to think that she simply liked the song and parlayed that affection for it into a faithful yet not redundant cover version that snuck someone as fiercely independent and iconoclastic as Ani DiFranco into the top 40. I also like to think that it was half as a response to the Spice Girls' version of feminism, but that's neither here nor there. What it boils down to is that this is a damn good song, wither in DiFranco's folkier original version or Davis' mildly urbanized and studio polished version. It doesn't need to be any more than that. Still though, Ani DiFranco got a second hand top 40 hit. That sentence just looks weird. [7]

Uncle Sam “I Don't Ever Want to See You Again” (#6, Feb. 7th)

Some artists are just destined to be one hit wonders. It could be for any number of reason, from gimmickry to the zeitgeist of the given time period to sheer luck in the case of niche artists, but there's a lot of room in this category for artists who put everything and then some into one song. It's almost as surefire a method of cementing your place in musical history as redefining the boundaries of a genre: expend untold amounts of energy and earnestness into one song, delivered as though it was the most important thing ever, and you're bound to get a hit. After that though you're fucked. Thus we have relics like this where absolutely every overly grandiose accoutrement is thrown into an already overwrought song about how much it sucks to find out that your girlfriend has been fucking your best friend and no other song by Uncle Sam registers even a token blip on the cultural radar. I'd say it's a shame but outside of the balls-out intensity there's nothing here that shows him to have a recognizable personality behind the pomp and pomp and pomp. At least he's invested in his material, but that seems to be his downfall too. [4]

Ol' Skool “Am I Dreaming” (#31, Feb. 14th)

It's amazing that this was a one hit wonder. It's so incredibly faceless and bland that I'd have assumed these dudes would have been chart mainstays in the year that fucking Next had multiple hit singles. So in lieu of dissecting the myriad of ways that this song is the musical equivalent of store-bought white bread – OK, just briefly: when singing a song about the love of your life and how unbelievable it is that you find yourself in this position it's best to invest a little thing called passion into your delivery – let's look at the hilariously overwrought video.

OK so, girl and boy have decent relationship, but girl has a dark secret...she's a stripper.

(I'll wait for you all to clutch your pearls and retrieve your monocles)

As per the dictates of cliched storytelling, boy and his friends happen to go to the same strip club that girl works at if only to make boy's discovery that girl takes he clothes off for money sting that much more. Where this shit gets really off is that

a) The song is about the special love that Disney princesses wish for. Not exactly the best vehicle for a short film about the dangers of being both in a relationship and stripping.

b) Boy seems to be having a great time with his cronies watching other girls at the club. Now I understand that it's not uncommon for men to enjoy this sort of recreation as a side dish to their relationship, that's not where my disbelief can no longer be suspended. The fact that boy's friends are as distraught as he is though? Let's just say that if I were one of the boys there he'd be getting a lot of shit from me (I'm a horrible person).

c) Girl apologizes. Thank you, “Am I Dreaming” video, for showing me that the girl who was stripping as a job – not hooking, which the story seems to think it's tantamount to given how much fretting there is over her occupation – is in the wrong in this situation. I realize that looking to a music video for a decent discourse on this sort of thing is laughable, but so is the conclusion here. There's no discussion about it, she says 'I'm sorry' and everything is hunky-fucking-dory again. That's just bad story telling. It's also the only thing worth talking about here, which says a lot about just how little of a song we're dealing with. [2]

Billie Myers “Kiss the Rain” (#15, Feb. 21st)

Occasionally I misremember songs from my youth. It's usually something minor, a slightly different tempo, or maybe I mentally excise sections that don't have that much bearing on the song in question, but occasionally my conception of song varies greatly from the song that I hear when I revisit for things like this. How does this pertain to “Kiss the Rain,” you ask? Well all these years I remembered it as a moderately flippant kiss off, not the standard 'I miss you too, schmoopy' song that I was faced with coming back to it 13 years later. Really I think it's just that the song's most memorable section – the build up into the final chorus – was the part that came to mind when I saw this title, and there Myers sounds legitimately frustrated if you hear it in isolation. So naturally I imagined that sort of energy imbuing the whole song...but what I got was some half decent secretary pop that only works up any sort of purposeful momentum in that one section. Shame really, because a whole track with that kind of drive plus Myers' smoky vocals would have won me over anew. This just kinda sits there listlessly for 75% of its running time, almost daring you to have a strong opinion of it. [6]

Queen Pen “All My Love” (#28, Feb. 21st)

Here's where I lament the idea that a scene-stealer in guest form needs to follow that distinction up with a full-fledged solo career. Lil' Penny was the best part of Blackstreet's “No Diggity,” and that's not exactly a small compliment given my ridiculous amount of affection for that song, but instead of leaving it be at that of course she had to go the route of the traditional female R 'n' B singer. Seriously, I've heard “All My Love” a few times in the past week, probably heard it at least twice that often when it was actually popular, and I still think it's a fucking Faith Evans song. It's bereft of personality – though not to the insulting degree - and honestly sullies the reputation of one of my favorite guest verses of all time. Nicki Minaj, take note. [5]

Ben Folds Five “Brick” (#19, Feb. 28th)

This one I have issues with. I'm not going to claim that it's a bad song by any stretch, but it seems to be two separate songs that are very good on their own but when put together the way that they are here does the finished product no favors. One one side you've got a lovely, melancholy set of verses about a young couple dealing with an abortion and its fallout. On the other you've got an equally great chorus that keeps the mood going and gives the song the sort of melodic hook that probably got it the distinction of being Folds' biggest success. Then you look at it on a lyrical level. I make no secret of my hatred of Folds at his most smug. I think that “One Angry Dwarf” is insufferable enough that my copy of Whatever and Ever Amen starts at “Fair” and only contains 11 tracks. In that light when you go from what is actually a very nuanced and intimate look at how one event can fundamentally alter a budding relationship to the intimation that the girl is dragging the boy down it creates the sort of tonal whiplash that few songs can recover from. This one only manages because, well, it got a song about the most controversial of topics into the top twenty without sermonizing for or against it. That's not exactly common. And like I said, neither of the two parts are bad in and of themselves, it's just their interaction that does this one in. [7]

K. P. & Envyi “Swing My Way” (#6, March 14th)

It's nice to finally have a song that I just unabashedly like to talk about here. This is proto-Nina Sky shit here, effortlessly sexy in a way that puts so many like minded acts to shame and just plain catchy. I think what really works for me here is that it tricks me into thinking it's a standard R 'n' B jam with those opening vocal runs, then the beat drops in and it goes in a totally different, much more energetic direction. Then every time the chorus comes back the beat downshifts a bit, not enough to alter the momentum but enough to keep things interesting. It really is just a great song...which makes the remix – which if I'm not mistaken was the more popular version – that much more disappointing. I'll link 'em both here so you can see for yourself, but the remix falls into every trap that the original avoids, basically taking what was an energetic, danceable club cut about the thrill of the hunt and remaking it as a basic R 'n' B track about finally getting the guy they wanted. It's a shame when this sort of thing happens, but it doesn't change how great the song was before they fucked with it. [9] for the original, [6] for the remix.

Tomorrow: The power of Steely Dan, Celtic Moods, Cruel Intentions and R. Kelly. But really, WHO WANTS TO KNOW? WHO WANTS TO KNOW?

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