Wednesday, April 16, 2003
What I think is immediately noticeable about Mis-Teeq's "Scandalous", and what I consequently love about it, is how clearly it's been designed to register impact. Take a straightforward string-riffing "No More Drama"-style Dre groove but remove the slight crippling hesitancy that Dre loves so much, add some tense, rising horn chords and buzzy bass fills, take some not-necessarily-memorable choruses and at the least make sure that there are three (three!) of them in a row, and then add a perfectly calibrated amount of Alesha's rapping, designed to stand out as a necessary element of the song (cf. "One Night Stand") but not actually interrupt its monolithic flow in any way (cf. the remixes of "B With Me" and "Roll On"). And then, finally, sirens. Of course. There's no way in which "Scandalous" is anything but derivative, but with Mis-Teeq that's hardly the point is it? Or is it? I think I was resigned to Mis-Teeq's essential derivativeness when I first bought Lickin' On Both Sides - the garage numbers aside, there was never much sense that they were doing anything novel; they were just doing it so damned well. Their subsequent development, however, with its emphasis on innovative remixes and lotsa rapping, suggested Mis-Teeq were something more: a pop group in transition; the singing, dancing, chart-topping embodiment of the urban diaspora.

On Eye Candy they play with and deliberately highlight this essential conflict within their nature: product vs innovators. The innovation stuff is very good, often thoroughly great: "Dance Your Cares Away" is more hyperactive garage action, reinvoking that thrilling tightrope between 2-step twist and breakbeat clatter; "All In One Day" cycles through sounds and approaches with a self-conscious awareness of the group's lack of boundaries; "Nitro" employs meta call-&-response and a groove so aggressive most rappers would tread carefully; the Baby Cham-guesting "That's Just Not Me" isn't as good as Foxy Brown's similarly Jamaican-slanted efforts, but its groove's as slinky and exotic as anything dancehall's produced lately, and Alesha's own dread-toasting on "Do Me Like That" is more than passable; the title track not only imagines a point where the group's singing/rapping ratio passes equalisation point, but concocts the most exotic-sounding, danceable groove you'll hear this year, the closest reference point I can think of being the explicitly feminine quasi-garage Zed Bias was playing on tour; closing track "Just For You" is, if anything, too out there.

And yet, and yet: this ambition sounds so deliberate, like Mis-Teeq have yet to internalise this sense of boundless possibility. The territory explored on Lickin' On Both Sides was clearly staked out; here, they hold their new territory tenuously. You can't hear it so much in the experimental songs themselves (all of which brim with confidence), but in how they rub up against the other stuff here: the moist, almost gooey Janet Jackson balladry of "Strawberrez" and "It's Beginning To Feel Like Love", the pleasingly hard-edged but ultimately familiar "How Does It Feel" and "Best Friends"; the classicist hip hop soul of "Can't Get It Back". I like all of these tracks to varying degrees, but they have a slightly uncomfortable feel to them, like Mis-Teeq aren't sure whether they're supposed to push them further or not. In contrast, the two thoroughly derivative tracks here - "Scandalous", and the "What About Us"-rerun "My Song" - feel so absolutely unselfconscious and undeniable, boasting grooves you can't help but ignore and choruses you can't help but smile at. It's clear that Mis-Teeq are both product and innovators; I'd be hard-pressed to say which they're better at though.


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