I really love En Vogue's "My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)"
. That looped guitar-funk sample, the house beat, the clicking percussion and horn stabs, that skittish flute, but most especially the performance. The En Vogue girls are so on form here, mixing classicism and modernism perfectly. The lead singer lends a dramatic, Destiny Beyonce-like performance, at once both catty and wounded, but it would be rendered useless and overly melismatic without the wonderfully tense, restrained barbershop harmonies in the background (the rising crescendo on the "Ooooh-BOP!" is particularly brilliant). And then, as if it wasn't already absolutely perfect
, a male voices announces "And now it's time for a breakdown" and the girls start harmonising the bridge a capella. There are few more stunningly unexpected gambits in pop, and when the beat starts chugging underneath again it's as revitalising as any breakdown in an old hardcore tune (eg. The Prodigy's "Outta Space" or Shut Up & Dance's "The Green Man).
En Vogue were never this good again, sadly, although recently Destiny's Child have picked up the baton for this sort of agressive, edgy, harmony-laden R&B. In many ways what made me become captivated by Destiny's Child late last year (which ultimately led to me becoming a pop tart) was noticing how much they sounded like En Vogue on amphetamines, and realising how attractive that proposition sounded. With groups like En Vogue and Destiny's Child, it's easy to criticise how tied down they are to the conventions of R&B, dismissing them as well-crafted - indeed, the best at what they do - but otherwise indistinct and generally unoriginal. However both groups fascinate me despite, or perhaps because of their limitations. Falling in love with pop music to my mind brings with it the conclusion that individuality is not a requirement, or even necessarily an advantage for quality pop stars. For one, we're talking about two groups here, and though both have suffered line-up changes the defining aspect of both is the interplay between the lead singer and the back-up vocalists, a talent that requires efficiancy and co-operation but does not sit well with quirkiness or other overt displays of personality.
At any rate saying that "My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)" and Destiny's Child's best work ("Bills Bills Bills", "Bugaboo") are "generic R&B songs" is like saying that the Titanic was "just a ship" - technically true, but it kinda misses the point, doesn't it?