Friday, March 20, 2009

Natasha Bedingfield, "Angel"

Song: "Angel"
Artist: Natasha Bedingfield
Album: Pocketful Of Sunshine
Written by: Rodney Jerkins/Rico Love/Lashawn Daniels/Crystal "Crystyle" Johnson
Year: 2008
Key: Bm
Classification: SF1 variant
Lyrical content: a good man is good to find; pretty much just a sideways "Umbrella," really
Where used: verse, chorus

Natasha Bedingfield is a puzzle to me. She has, to my ears, a genuinely interesting voice, with slight cracks running all the way through it that afford her a tremendous vulnerability and openness, and everything about Pocketful Of Sunshine seems designed to obscure exactly that fact. About halfway through listening to the album the first time, I found myself thinking, "I am only halfway through." The songs are mostly factory readymades, and she's ProToolsed to within an inch of her life. It's as though someone said "So, Natasha, you know your whole selling point, the thing that makes you special in a pop arena populated by the Mariahs and Beyoncés and Christinas and Leonas of the world? Yeah, let's fix that." Making her sound robotic sort of misses her appeal entirely.

Then again, what do I know? "Pocketful Of Sunshine" was a huge hit despite suffering the same affliction as Oasis's "Champagne Supernova" and Fastball's "Out Of My Head," where the songwriters essentially said, "One verse! Done!" (Though it should be noted that "Pocketful Of Sunshine" goes one step further, in that it doesn't really have a verse, either.) "Angel" was less ubiquitous, possibly due to being less catchy than a song that's pretty much all chorus. It's not actually a true SFCP, going the same route as Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" in that it switches between a modal approach (ending on A major) and a tonal approach (ending on F#7) on alternate passes. It's a little unsettling, since both chords lead back to the Bm but in very different ways, so there's a constant shift required to make sense of it. But heck, anything that injects some character back into the otherwise gleaming production surrounding Bedingfield is fine by me.

Full song: Natasha Bedingfield, "Angel"
Listen to the SFCP clip for this song

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Madonna, "The Power Of Good-Bye"

Song: "The Power Of Good-Bye"
Artist: Madonna
Album: Ray Of Light
Written by: Madonna/Rick Nowles
Year: 1998
Key: Fm
Classification: SF1
Lyrical content: open your heart, already; dumping as nuclear option
Where used: Verse, chorus

In retrospect, it doesn't look as though Madonna needed a hit quite so badly. Erotica had stiffed a bit (pun unintended but recognized and unedited), but Bedtime Stories kept the train rolling with "Take A Bow" and "Secret," and Evita gave her the cachet of being Oscar-adjacent, even if nobody saw the movie. At the time, though, the general feeling was that Madonna's momentum was dissipating, and fast. Ray Of Light put a decisive end to such talk, once again repositioning Ms. Ciccone at the dead center of mainstream pop and setting her up to stay relevant for the next decade.

While hardly the highlight of Ray Of Light -- that comes down to a battle between "Drowned World (Substitute For Love)" and the title track, gilded cage versus delirious freedom -- "The Power Of Good-Bye" was a fine single from a fine comeback album. A lot of the credit goes to William Orbit, whose command of electronica prevented the song from being little more than an Ace Of Base knockoff. (There are, it should be pointed out, worse things to be.) More than a lot of SFCP songs, "The Power Of Good-Bye" simply sounds interesting, with a constantly shifting landscape that's constantly in motion and squiggly bits that flit past Madonna, who's standing resolutely still. Considering that the song is a last-ditch for attention from someone incapable of slowing down to give her what she needs, her placidity becomes the song's crucial virtue.

Interestingly, there's a demo version of the song out there that's not nearly as SFCP-tastic as the one that eventually made the album. For one thing, it only shows up in the chorus. The verses are completely different, with a chord progression that rises and falls in a minor key but doesn't have the same sort of circular resolution found with the SFCP. Since Ray Of Light was released in March of 1998, a full eight months after Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing (which featured "Building A Mystery" as its leadoff single), I suddenly find myself with the question of why "The Power Of Good-Bye" morphed into the now-familiar version. I'm not sure I'm ready to say that it was a conscious effort on Madonna's part to duplicate McLachlan's (and Joan Osborne's) success. But it does make a guy wonder.

Full song and SFCP clip disabled

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

WBUR "Here And Now" interview

The SFCP was featured on today's episode of "Here And Now" on WBUR and many NPR affiliate stations. You can listen to the show in its entirety here; the interview takes up the last ten minutes or so. That includes the various attempts by host Robin Young and me to sing "One Of Us" over various SCFP songs. Note the use of the word "attempts."

Thanks to Young and producer Emiko Tamagawa for all their help.

Listen to the interview: WBUR "Here And Now" for March 4, 2009