Every two months, I make my fiancée what are quite possibly the most self-centered mixtapes in existence. The quality of the music therein is certainly beyond reproach, but anyone can do that. Unlike most people, however, I take the sequencing seriously. Yes, putting “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” in front of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” probably seems way too overt right now, but I’m pretty sure that back in 2005, it shut the door on any doubts my lady had about my qualifications for boyfriending.
Now, most mixtapes (and, indeed, most creative endeavors) are made with encoded messages aimed at convincing the recipient of his or her superior merits as a sex partner. I’ve been guilty of doing that in the past, but you can’t work at my pace unless you divorce yourself from a song’s literal meaning (when you listen to as much gangsta rap and indie rock as I do, let’s face it, you’re working with a short supply of positive sexual messages). So most of the time, a track merely has to sound like it contains a positive sexual message. Case in point, Hot Chip’s new jam “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love.” Sonically and thematically, the song likely passes muster. (“The town’s been raining far too long for me to find my way to you …”) But if you stop and think for too long, there’s an incredibly weird sentiment encoded in the title (and that’s coming from a record that also contains “Wrestlers”). “We’re looking for a lot of love?” All of you? At once? Have you seen pictures of these guys? Kind of weird, yes?
But it’s not Hot Chip’s fault that the sentiment of a bunch of guys singing about a single girl sounds funny. It just shows how desperately we need R&B groups to remind us of the joys of group sex. It used to be there were nothing but all-male R&B groups promising hot sex on a platter, to the point where even Levert, Sweat & Gill were willing to pool their resources. But where’s the love now? Maybe the paucity is collateral damage to hip-hop’s dwindling market share (and, let’s face it, R&B has basically become hip-hop minus the rapping). Or maybe up-and-comers would rather go in on some solo Chris Brown or Omarion shit. Or, perhaps with the post-9/11 corrective that made our society more conservative as a whole, there’s less tolerance for the implied group sex and tacit homosexual suggestion of a group of four men singing “I’ll Make Love to You.”
You might be leaning back on your chair thinking, “Wait a minute, rock bands have survived without having this problem.” True, but the implication with power trios and quartets is that the lead singer is responsible for following through on the lyrical boasts. (See the entire recorded output of Kiss.) And, sure, some groups, like Taking Back Sunday or Wolf Parade, feature two vocalists, but they view women either as founts of human suffering or not at all. Too, there is the always canny and bipartisan Junior Senior, dividing their purview between gay men and straight women — unless I’m reading “Chicks and Dicks” completely wrong.
And historically, some of the sweetest songs in Motown’s catalog collapse once you crack open the issues of group dynamics. I’m to assume the five Temptations just so happened to be content with five separate women when they sang “My Girl”? If so, why didn’t they change the title to “Our Girls”? Or is the song a precursor to the Snoop-approved “ho who would fuck the whole crew?” And what about a situation where the four members of Silk are promising someone oral sex in “Freak Me”? While it’s easy to be lured into their pleasure den with their ball-b(e)aring smoothness, it’s also a house of mirrors. At whom is this advance being directed? Are they looking to freak you at the same time? Do the other vocalists have to watch? To paraphrase Kanye, there’s four of them and only one of you.
So, I’m set with my mixtapes and their grown-man business, but will someone please think of the children? More specifically, the bar mitzvah set, who covet these gems among their peers but cringe when they’re with their parents and the songs come on the radio. Granted, that’s a rite of passage everyone needs to pass through, which is why Pretty Ricky is currently one of my favorite acts. If you haven’t heard such MTV Jams channel staples like “Grind With Me” or “On the Hotline,” maybe you remember them from crushing indie dreams by beating out the Shins’ Wincing the Night Away for a No. 1 debut last January. I’d suggest theirs is a case of the exception proving the rule; you could go your entire life without realizing that Pretty Ricky is actually a group as opposed to a dude named Ricky, and they pretty much keep it real from the word go. If I’m to believe their YouTube exploits and other interviews, they’re so horny they’d fuck your couch cushions. Call ’em fourth-rate Jodeci rip-offs if you want. I mean, I have. But just hope that they’re not the last of a dying breed. And, really, who would’ve thought breeding would be a problem in this genre?
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