Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I never much cared for New Edition’s Jackson 5 period, probably because I’ve never much cared for the Jackson 5’s twee early records. “Candy Girl” is a song by teens for teens (and preteens), and I didn’t even like it then (I was in my second British invasion period: Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Eurythmics were my trinity). As they matured, however, N.E.’s music did the same, reaching its glorious apotheosis on their ’88 album N.E. Heartbreak. This album’s triumph comes down to four elements: Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, and sterling production and songwriting. [Let’s be honest here – Bell, Biv(ins) and Devoe have never been much more in New Edition than glorified backup singers, largely for the good reason that they’re not very good singers. Have you listened to the Poison album lately?]

In Tresvant and Gill, however, N.E. had a pair of singers blessed with creamy tenor voices who could both take the lead. And lead they did. What catches my ear first in their finest moment, the single “You’re Not My Kind of Girl,” however, isn’t the singing, but the production tricks in the song’s intro. Listen with headphones, and hear the channel-jumping “you’re very pretty”s going back and forth, buried in the mix. And then what’s done with the “sorry”s, toyed and toggled into submission, almost cut and scratched, but not quite, with Johnny wailing over it all. The track is purely synthetic, of its moment but never sounding too dated. But “Girl”’s coup de grace is the twist I didn’t notice until very recently: not only is Ralph singing lead, he’s got Johnny backing him up on the verses, adding a deep, gorgeous harmony. Ralph’s voice is on the thin side, but strong and urgent, reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s coo at moments (such as his “giiii-iiirl” which opens the second verse like a waterfall). And did you hear that, buried in the second chorus? It’s a vibraslap! BBD do their standing-on-the-corner-rappin’-with-the-fellas thing for the bridge, and then it’s onto the third chorus, vamping its way out, but not before one last, thrilling “Wooo!” from Johnny, before he and Ralph go over and over “you’re not my, you’re not, you’re not, my kind…” as the song closes on itself. This is state-of-the-heart R&B.

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