Saturday, October 25, 2003
Maybe I'm a total philistine for really adoring Richard X's "Being Nobody" (the Liberty X one), indeed above and beyond both "Freak Like Me" and "Finest Dreams" (both of which are great obv.). Common line seems to be that "Being Nobody" is the weakest of the trio, less edgy and too professionally seamless. That is of course precisely what I love about it: it's just so sumptuously squelchy, a flotation tank of squiggly sonics that somehow coalesce into a perfect pop song groove. Meanwhile Liberty X's bring just enough of the blackness of the Chaka Khan original, the combination of soulfulness and flair making a good case for them being an example of pop sirens - figures a bit like the house diva in their essential blankness (by contrast Kelis and the Sugababes are much more present within their songs; you can feel their personalities trying to wriggle and worm their way into the song they're covering), their entire purpose being to evoke and summarise an ongoing continuum of pop theatricality rather than to distinguish or individualise themselves. For this reason "Being Nobody" gets filed in my head next to other recent dancepop classics like Shakedown's "At Night" rather than most R&B/pop; the performance is totally discrete and disconnected from anything that Liberty X might do outside this song.

I'm hoping that it's position at the beginning of Richard's album encourages more people to see what a wonderful song "Being Nobody" really is, to embrace its miniaturised epicness, its sonic deliciousness, its stirring anthemia, and most of all the way it articulates so concisely pretty much everything that makes Richard X so compelling. He captures that it one song; I find it harder to narrow it down to one single argument. I guess I could say that most of Richard's best moments very deliberately try to synthesise different ideas of what constitutes 'black' and 'white' pop music, but I'm not sure if that would go far in explaining his other qualities - the immensely busy effervescence of his production work, where rhythmic and melodic intricacy are given equal weight; his maximalist/melodramatic flourishes, much more Future Bible Heroes than International Deejay Heroes; the undercurrent of warmth within his predominantly cool electro sound, those hints of wetness and fleshiness that go a long way to rehumanising modern electropop (there's a certain fatty voluptuous to his best grooves which I just adore).

A lot of these qualities are most easily framed in relation (or reaction) to the prevailing tendencies of nouveau-electro, but in fact I'm not even certain that this is the best model of comparison. If "Being Nobody" has a rival for my affections, it's the quite similar "You Used To" with Javine. When I first heard it I flashed, not to the Thelma Houston orginal, but to 808 State's "Ancodia" from '89, which steals the chorus for its own devices. But that's not all the two tracks share - Richard's springy disco rhythm, squirming quasi-acid bassline and spangly cathedral of synthesisers recall nothing so much as the vision for house music which 808 State alighted upon (briefly) with Ninety - not "progressive" but rather both pop and psychedelic: big choruses and hooks swathed in an excess of starlit melodic effects, in a radical compression of too much pop detail, like a hit of pure sugar that leaves you dizzy. I get the sense that recently The Chemical Bros would love to do this stuff too, but when they do actual pop songs they mistakenly make them indie; Basement Jaxx perfected this approach on "Romeo" but are perhaps too gloriously perverse the rest of the time.

Richard isn't Basement Jaxx, and I think he's best when he leaves aside perversity - the album's collaborations with Deborah-Evans Stickland are my least favourite, closer to the odd parts of Orbital's Snivilisation than anything else I can think of - and focuses squarely on this brand of dance-pop which I suspect is the center of his craft. It's a worthy pursuit: with his preference for R&B vocalists and these glaring similarities to that fleeting moment when acid house threatened to colonise pop completely, Richard is reviving a Lost Eighties quite difficult to that which electroclash immortalises. Rather, he returns to that British interzone of possibility that sprung up and quickly folded on the border between decades, where The KLF, 808 State, Soul II Soul, Black Box, A.R. Kane, New Order, Smith & Mighty and countless others provided co-ordinates for a future-pop, a multicoloured techno-dream of pure sensation.


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