Tuesday, October 03, 2000
Kandi - Don't Think I'm Not

I've decided that there's a very individual sort of disappointment surrounding a poor single release from a usually on-form pop star or group that you just don't have with albums. Sure, pop songs are shorter, more frequent and easier to try before you buy, but, particularly if it comes on the heels of some stellar performances, the pain can still be quite sharp.

The thing is that an act who release a number of excellent singles in a row, merely by the rarity of what they are doing (it's generally acknowledged that even quality pop stars can handle at most two or three good singles, and there'll always be the requisite crappy ballad), generate an exciting momentum that simply builds with every release. It's like watching an Olympic ice-skating performance: any one stunt performed on its own is mildly impressive, but the real excitement comes from the need to perform several stunts in succession and not fall over once. The longer we wait for the skater to slip up, the more we hold our breath in fear and anticipation. I dedicated my utter devotion to Destiny's Child earlier this year when they followed up two knock-out punches ("Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Bug A Boo") with the equally impressive "Say My Name" - a feat I would never have expected from any R&B group. I later bought the album and realised that this was not a result of utter perfection so much as a canny choice of singles, but by then it hardly mattered.

Kandi, R&B hitmaker and wife of super-producer She'kspere, may not seem to fit into this equation. She's never released anything by herself before, and while her former group Xscape were very good, she was hardly the primary mover within the group at the time. But the R&B songs she created with her hubby for other artists ("No Scrubs", "Bills, Bills, Bills", "Bugaboo", "There You Go") constitute a more coherent (and impressive) backcatalogue than those of any of the names who grace their sleeves. Sure, "There You Go" towed the line rather than raising the bar for R&B like the others had, but then Pink's album had the brutal "Hell Wit' Ya" to recommend it, and besides, I thought at the time, surely Kandi (and by extension She'kspere) would be saving the real mindblowing stuff for her own album.

Listening to first single "Don't Think I'm Not", the pain is sharp indeed. Who would have thought that She'kspere, who with his convulsive snares stood out so firmly from the rest of the pretenders to Timbaland's throne, would be serve up something which reeked so strongly of Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins' now very stale beatz-u-like formula? Actually, the jittery electro skips that power this remind me mostly of Jam & Lewis' production for Jordan Knight's "Give It To You", only this doesn't have half the fun or inventiveness that infused that excellent track.

In all other ways this reminds me of such Darkchild bland-outs as Toni Braxton's "He Wasn't Man Enough For Me" and the Whitney and George Michael duet "If I Told You That". It's not that these tracks are offensive at all (though for a true Darkchild crime one need look no further than "If You Had My Love" or the Spice Girls comeback single "Holler"), but what sounded so fresh on Whitney's "It's Not Right But It's Okay" and then again on "Say My Name" has now been churned through the mill so often as to be absolutely lifeless. And it was bad enough when it was just Jerkins doing the churning. She'kspere hardly needs to join in.

Kandi's performance is also a let-down. The lyrics, while an extension of her general acidic put-down calling card (here the basic idea is, "don't feel guilty if you're sleeping around, 'cos I am too, and I pull more often to boot"), the little flashes of brilliance (rhyming bills with "automobills", or the classic "so what, you bought a pair of shoes/what, now I guess you think I owe you?") is sadly lacking, and her vocals have none of the invective drama that Beyonce of Destiny's Child or Pink brought to the proceedings.

Meanwhile the telltale stamps of Darkchild-ness on "Don't Think I'm Not" are the verging-on-trite melody and the beats which, though they are indeed "unstable", aren't in any way challenging. On songs like "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Hell Wit' Ya", She'kspere's beats are almost disorienting in their juddering syncopation, a welcome reminder that Timbaland's rhythmic innovations could be extended as well as merely smoothed out for commercial appeal. Let's not forget though that these songs were all still big hits, and true innovation coupled with commercial savvy impresses me far more than innovation alone, which is why I'd originally earmarked Kandi and She'kspere for future greatness in the first place.

From listening at HMV, the one track which really does stand out on Kandi's seemingly quite disappointing Hey Kandi album (which is surprisingly burdened with a glut of sugarcoated ballads, which I'd always assumed the couple had a distaste for) is the title track. It's excellent, like "Bugaboo" at half-speed, crossed with the squawking slo-mo funk of Dr. Dre's production work for Eminem, and is the only thing on the album that dares to stretch our conception of R&B just that little bit further. Kandi's vocals are also gorgeously luscious as she affects a lazy Southern drawl marred only by the interference of de rigeur Cher vocal treatment. Why wasn't this released as a single? Who knows, but even if it comes out next, the magic spell has already burst.


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