Free as a Bass
? IT IS NO SHOCKER to learn that ’N Sync-er Lance Bass is gay. It is a revelation on par with the recent scientific discovery, announced in June, that coffee helps to protect your liver from alcohol damage. It’s something you kinda knew intuitively all along. (Obviously, coffee is an essential part of any sensible hangover-management plan.) And yet there is a small degree of satisfaction in hearing the truth spoken out loud on the news. It happens so rarely these days. In a way, though, Lance Bass “came out” last year when he opened his home to a gossip-magazine photographer and revealed his obsession with Christmastime home decor. (The gooberous layers of tinsel and dolls and grinches and shiny balls were fit for a theme suite at the Madonna Inn. Tremendous stuff.)
You go on with your bad Christmasy astronauty self, Lance Bass!
? SO I’M HAVING TROUBLE warming up to In My Mind, the solo debut by Pharrell, the more famous half of the producing wizards the Neptunes. The album’s been out for a week or so, and I have given it a sincere effort, as I feel a real debt to the cat. Pop radio (and my life) would have been less sweet and delightful over the past five years without the Neptunes’ ingenious and fresh-as-fuck approach to rhythm, melody, lyrics and all-around pop hookery.
Hard to believe, but apart from the yummy falsetto-harmony-soufflé single, “Angel” — which has been out for a long time — I can’t find many hooks here. This from the guy who gave us “Frontin’?” (with Jay-Z), Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and Kelis’ “Milkshake”! Then again, maybe that’s not so hard to believe: Some songwriter/producers — see also: Linda Perry — require a muse of some sort to bring out their deepest talents. And to make them fierce. That’s what’s missing here: Fierceness. It’s almost as if Pharrell, who is probably a studio rat at heart, isn’t quite comfortable with becoming a pop icon. He seems a bit shy here. Guest rapper Kanye West, who’s not known for his flow, actually sounds battle-ready and bold as love in their duet on “Number One”; Pharrell shrinks in his presence.
The Neptunes’ best work for other artists seems based on a very realistic faith in Murphy’s Law. If Kelis or Britney had been lobotomized, they still would have kicked ass with these songs; or if they’d been abducted by aliens, the songs could have been huge hits by other singers. The Neptunes’ work is really about the hooks, not the artist. That’s what you might call composer’s insurance. Fortunately Kelis was around to prove that when the right performer records the right song, the result is magic. But I’m wondering if that’s part of the problem here. Maybe Pharrell didn’t feel the same need to front-load his shit with rock-solid hooks. Or maybe he was too busy working on his delivery to work on his arrangements as much as usual. Maybe he’s just not a great multi-tasker.
The innuendo’s there, though — and he’s doing that funny old trick of singing lyrics that only sound dirty but couldn’t technically be censored — e.g., “I’m a master baby wit’ your bra” (on “Take It Off”) sounds like, well . . . I know it’s weird, but it sounds like he’s doing something rather indiscreet with a lady’s undergarment.
? FINALLY, SPEAKING OF MUSES: The band Muse’s new song, “Invincible,” off the bombastic-tastic new Black Holes & Revelations is a song that tries so hard to be memorable, you’ve gotta give it credit. This song — by a band mostly known for being a more fun Radiohead ripoff than Coldplay — is truly a “My Way” for the new era (and the New World Order?). Beginning slowly, with a military drumbeat and potentially neo-fascisto lyrics (very Queen), the song gradually builds to a semi-triumphal tribute to the great triumphal rock-triumph anthems we all know and love — “We Are the Champions,” “Rock & Roll Suicide,” maybe even an E.L.O. epic like “Big Wheels.” “Follow through/Make your dreams come true/Don’t give up the fight/You will be alright/’Cause there’s no one like you in the universe . . .” The lyrics are so over-the-top, like the arrangements and everything else about this song (“Your soul is unbreakable!”), they charm in spite of themselves. And o! The guitar freakout at the end! Bach and hair metal and neo-prog and Frank Sinatra all at the same time! Radiohead light! Gonna be all right! Get out your Zippo and hold up the light!
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