As of today, there are 9685 physical items in my music collection, lovingly catalogued on Excel (can you tell I’ve not been in full time employment for a while?) and spread between vinyl, CD and cassette. Using random.org, I’m going to pick an item at random, play it, and write about it (or, more likely, around it). I shan’t be spending vast amounts of time on research; in order for this to work within a feasible time-span, immediacy shall be my watchword. This may become a regular series, or I might get bored. We shall see.
I am about to pick a number for the very first time. Please let it not be a crap one! Lord knows, I’ve got enough of those!
#7861 – Michel’le – No More Lies.
(12-inch single, 1990.) (Discogs tracklisting)
Well… it could have been better, but it could have been so much worse. A tolerable starting point, although listening to four versions of the same song on the 12″ single has stretched its charms a tad too thinly.
I have only the faintest recollection of this track: a Billboard Top 10 hit in 1989, which only got as far as #78 over here, in March 1990. Although I had DJ-ed my last paid gig at the end of 1989, it would still take a couple of years to shake the habit of hoovering up as many new releases as I could afford, every week, at the Selectadisc singles shop on Market Street in Nottingham. There must have been a review, probably in Record Mirror, where I was still methodically panning James Hamilton’s dance column for nuggets. This was another habit which I could have done with breaking.
With three members of NWA on production credits – headed by Dr. Dre, who also guests on the track – it’s a surprise to re-discover that the original gangsta rappers had made such an early detour into commercial vocal R&B/new jack swing. There’s scant connection to their hip hop work, barring a “Funky Drummer” sample that’s foregrounded on the A-side’s “Extended Dance Mix 1”, but there’s a relentless toughness to the track which vaguely chimes with their aesthetic.
Michel’le – pictured on the sleeve with a wristwatch fastened around her ankle, was that ever a thing? – was in a relationship with Dre at the time, and the couple had a son the following year. Hasty research (yeah, I succumbed) suggests that theirs was not always the happiest of unions (to put it mildly), which adds a certain frisson to the song’s subject matter. It begins and ends with Dre on the phone, professing his love, but this is swiftly undermined by the singer’s accusatory tirade. (“I’m not a sucker, chill out, your nose is growing, Pinocchio.”) During the break, there’s a yowling rock guitar solo, which feels over-long on the Dance Mix, and more acceptably contained on the B-side’s “Album Version 1.”
Amusingly, the fourth and final track – the “More Lies Version” – extends the dialogue, as Dre ramps up the mendacious telephonic BS while Michel’le scornfully rebuffs his every parry, like a deleted scene at the end of a DVD. Unlike her singing voice, her speaking voice is weirdly squeaky, almost child-like. Having been bludgeoned by the previous three versions, (confession: I couldn’t make it to the end of the Instrumental), it came as sweet relief to unearth a few fresh ideas.
I never bought much new jack swing. It was the first shift in US R&B that alienated me, and the passing of time hasn’t made me retrospectively fonder. Too harsh, too cold, too much thwack and not enough… well, swing. But at least I dabbled, and gave it a fair shot. I doubt the randomiser will be throwing up any further examples. Bobby Brown, stop looking at me like that.