Thing is, despite my defence of Chingy, I'm unlikely to buy his album unless I find it super-cheap. That's partly because I have received all three singles for review purposes, but also because, well, Chingy really feels like a singles artist. And I don't mean that he only makes a handful of good tracks, but rather that his tracks probably only work as
singles, individual songs which have been given a little prominence and contextual distinction by being released individually.
My friends Simon and Guy (who long-term readers may remember as the custodians of this blog while I languished in hospital) have (had?) this conviction that a song being made a single was cause to re-examine its worth and get excited about it, even if you were already familiar with said song by listening to the album from which it came. At the time I thought this approach was too prepared to be guided by marketing and release schedules - surely, even on pop albums, a song's qualities as a hypothetical
single are usually evident prior to their actual individual release? But I'm coming around to this way of thinking.
If I'd actually bought Jackpot
when it was released, there's a good chance that I would have enjoyed "Right Thurr" and found the rest a bit of a blur. Something like "One Call Away", which is gentle and above all kinda humble
, might have seemed especially neglible, a paltry and half-hearted attempt to diversify into the thug-luv market from a rapper whose range seemed markedly limited. As a single, graced with radio play and an attendant video, "One Call Away" takes on a certain prominence. I can't help but hear it as more than just the inevitable third-single quasi-ballad release; it appears, rather, as a moment of narrativistic significance in my understanding of Chingy through time
(ha ha does that
It's one of the curious aspects of pop consumption that the focus on singles (cf. non-pop's privileging of albums) allows for a much more piecemeal construction of a performer's identity. Whereas with the non-pop artists the release of an album roughly every two years allows for a monolithic and unified presentation of identity with a relatively long use-by date, with pop the staggered consumption of, say, four songs over the course of 12 months invites a certain level of indeterminabiltiy. You might feel that you "know" a performer from their first song alone, only to be thrown off course, and forced to revise your assessment, when subsequent releases offer a totally different picture (of course on the other side of pop are those genres where the importance of the album is radically
reduced - hip hop for one, but especially dancehall and many "grass roots" dance scenes, wherein artists are only ever as good as their last few tracks on the radio or dancefloor).
Grinches will say, "Oh yes, but there isn't any real
space for diversity or variation within the pop world." It's true that certain juxtapositions - dance tracks and ballads, say - are in some areas practically mandatory for market purposes, but nonetheless I feel that such dictates can never finally determine the specific nature of the songs released. The singles released from Christina's Stripped
may follow an unsurprising pattern of R&B-anthemic ballad-rock track-R&B-weepie ballad, but only someone with cloth ears would argue that the specific results are largely indistinguishable (in fact I'd go so far as to say that Christina's frenzied costume-changing is perhaps her most winning attribute). Whether it's Christina or Britney or whoeever, experiencing each contrasting release one by one can be more satisfying than consuming the album as a whole because, without the glut of worthy mid-tempo tracks holding things together, each individual facet of the performer's ouvre demands to be considered as identical to the persona of the performer him or herself, no matter how extreme or unusual it might be.
And even when each release is
largely predictable, there are usually scintillas of individual nuance that make the puzzle assembly satisfying. I can't think of a more cliched run of singles than the first three off Blue's debut album, but that didn't prevent me from feeling (however wrongheadedly!) that they charted a charming narrative arc regarding the tussle between desire and masculinity. Crucially though, had I heard these first in the context of an album, they would never have impressed me like they did, and most likely would have struck me as the officiated and policed acts of niche marketing that sceptics will insist they are. In fact if anything the whole experience was retrospective - I didn't think that much of "All Rise" or
"Too Close" until "If You Come Back" reached back in time retrospectively justified them for me.
"One Call Away" has a similar effect on me - having only heard "Right Thurr" and "Holidae In", my understanding of Chingy had ossified into an expectation that all of his songs would call to mind images of thirteen year olds in strip clubs; "One Call Away" doesn't break that perception, but it expands it into something altogether more pleasant, and while I wouldn't want to go out with the guy personally, I'm glad he's found somebody to love.