When MicHELLe sent me the video of the new girl group Electrik Red, I clicked on it because it was within a week of the breakup of Danity Kane. I really needed a new girl group to obsess over. My first reaction was iffy, and without the visual, I would have thought that Kelis had made a comeback. But they were cute, and they were a girl group, so I did a little research. And the fact that The Dream (Rihanna's "Umbrella", Beyoncé's "Single Ladies")had written their whole album (called How to Be a Lady) definitely drew me in.
Electrik Red starts out with a smooth mellow driving-song track called “Muah”. At first, I was checking the credits for a “featuring” because lead singer Naomi Allen, sounds a bit like a soft-spoken man when she coos in her lower register. I don’t quite understand why How to Be a Lady starts out with “I’m the shit with this shit”, but I guess that’s what happens when you mix male chauvinism with female voices. Let’s face it: The Dream is no Babyface (see soundtrack for Waiting to Exhale). Between the words of the hook and the fact that this song is more of a solo song than a group song, I’m gonna blame The Dream for a lackluster start to the album.
“So Good” is one of the singles for the album. It sounds very Prince-inspired. Call me conservative, but a smooth R&B song is no place for this heavy cursing. The Dream’s style is comically apparent in the way Allen sings the word “FUUUUUCK”. I enjoyed the edited version of this song much better.
"Devotion" is a slow jam that starts out with smooth harmonies for The Dream's signature "radio killah" shout out. This might be the first part of the album where the background vocals stood out to me. I was grooving until "I'm the shit," popped up in the 2nd line. In a song about one's devotion! This is a whispery ballad that actually sounds like a group song on the bridge rather than a solo song with background vocals. The fast hi hat at the end of each bar whispers of Aaliyah's "1 in a Million".
"Freaky Freaky" pushes the same synth rhythm as JT's "My Love", but it has a simpler chord progression. Another 1-note wonder in the verses. While this song does nothing for me lyrically, the instrumental is dancible, and I love the high vocals in the hook and the a cappella "you know that I love you, baby".
Well-composed mid-tempo percussion dominates "Bed Rest". I think it’s the first song where they don't curse. It’s fun, but didn't do much for me.
"Friend Lover" sounds straight out of the early 80s, care of Prince (to the detail). I really hope they make some Sheila E. references in the video. Unlike the first single I heard from these ladies, “So Good”, it really shows that the background vocalists are actually important to Electrik Red’s sound (unlike, say, Cherish or later Destiny's Child). It's really a sped-up version of any typical Dream song, which is most obvious in the verse, but the "rules" are brilliantly written and catchy. The chromatic line under the "ah"s after the 3nd hook (after the 2nd verse) serve as subtle bridge and add variation to the song while keeping it's dance momentum.
"P is for Power" brings Electrik Red’s sound into the 21st century. Y'all know what 'P' really stands for, right? The song is a combination of an updated "No Scrubs" and JayZ’s “P***Y” (not unlike a raunchier yet not offensive version of Keri Hilson’s “Get Your Money Up”). This track features other lead singers (yes!). The verses are basically rapped, and there’s no harmony (mostly a chant-along song). But it's hot. I see this being big in the clubs, especially if they do a killer video for it (they recently announced that it will be a single). The hook’s melody could have been kind of revolutionary, but it makes a disappointingly typical resolution to the tonic (i.e. the second note on the second "P") at the end.
“W. F. Y.” starts with plucked strings in the intro, and the echoing electronic hit built up anticipation the first time I listened. The melody is unexpected, and the track is a lot more pop-inspired hip-hop (also very 21st century-sounding). I could almost see Britney or Lady Gaga singing this song. While I’m not a fan of the “n” word in any context, the syllabic placement does work well. And the payoff comes at the beginning of the very short pre-chorus when we find out what W. F. Y. stands for. The bridge does a full-step key change and takes an even more unconventional approach to the melody (in that it never goes back to the tonic or home note). The decision to drag out the end of the bridge to make a chant (with tension constantly building in the background) makes the song that much more shout-in-the-club-drunk-able. I could live without what happens at the end of the track, but overall, it’s a hot song.
“9 to 5” is in 6/8 meter! Love that an “acoustic” instrument (vamping piano) dominates the verses in the instrumental of this song. The percussions feels very Prince-like, but Neptunes-like synth chords blare over the hook. Who is ad libbing in the background?! It may be Allen (the lead singer). I’ve never heard her belt, so it’s hard to tell. It’s refreshing to hear an instrumental that could actually be reproduced live.
“On Point” sounds like a stripped-down old-school Neptunes beat. I expected N.O.R.E. to jump out from behind a bush at any minute. It’s definitely different from anything else on the album, but the track puts it in the category of a sad attempt at Southern Rap. I wasn’t a fan of Kelis’s “Bossy”, but that was leagues ahead of this as far as artistic and entertainment value. It might have done well in the South in ’98 as a regional release (with Project Pat and such). I’m downright disappointed that The Dream let his name be associated with this track.
“Drink in My Cup” is admittedly a better stab at krunk music than the previous track, but the melody doesn’t match the instrumental on the verses. Furthermore, the track bumps to hard for Allen’s cooing vocals. The hook makes much more sense with other girls chanting. The rap is catchy, and its rhythm is perfect, even if the lyrics are slightly lackluster (I like how it comes back at the end of the song). I’m curious to see how this will do in the South.
“Go Shawty” is another smooth R&B song. The production reminds me of that on EnVogue’s Funky Divas or Kanye West’s “New Workout Plan” in that instruments are used intermittently throughout the loop rather than continuously. I’m not a fan of how The Dream dragged the end of the lines on the verses (e.g., writing “you-woo-woo” instead of coming up with a 3-syllable word or phrase). Overall it’s an extremely well produced song. Otherwise? Not particularly remarkable.
“Kill Bill”. Just the title sounds fun! The instrumental is highly electronic with a square rhythm, and the dotted rhythm in the percussion plays a nice counterpoint. The word “pregnant” comes up in the first line. While the first hook follows the same instrumental loop/progression as the verse, the second hook (which comes off a very cool descending chromatic line in a pre-chorus that was absent the first time around) sits on the subdominant (IV or 4th degree) for almost the whole hook. It feels strangely unstable, especially when it’s done for 6 bars, but we finally get grounded with a scale back to the tonic at the end of the hook. If you liked Rihanna’s “Breakin’ Dishes” (you know you all did), you’ll like this.
The album concludes with “So Good Remix”, which basically the same song they opened with. They replace the bridge (which was the only part of the song that varied instrumentally from the main theme) with a verse from Lil Wayne. Both versions are almost the same duration. Part of me says dump the original and make the remix the single. I would have extended it to include the bridge (awesome background vocals) and Lil Wayne (a solid verse and major popularity points).
First off, the iTunes version doesn’t have the album insert. And I seriously doubt that there was absolutely no collaboration (The Dream is credited for writing the whole album, and he and Tricky Stewart produced it) on the album. Mixing engineers to be acknowledged? Thank yous? Although, I can’t say I recognized any sampling, which is so rare in hip-hop-to-pop music now.
The album had to grow on me. The first few tracks were very smooth R&B with heavy cursing. But what I have to wonder is would similar songs have struck me from a male R&B singer? I think they would have (remember Tevin Campbell’s “Always in My Heart” from ’94?) but not to such a great extent. However, in a way (if one ignores The Dream’s role in the equation), they challenge our idea of How to Be a Lady with lines like, “I’m not a stripper, but I dance like that.” I’d say it’s a good enough album overall with a number of fun songs. But do yourself a favor and download the edited tracks.
P is for Power
9 to 5
Drink in My Cup
So Good (edited)
For the record, I went back and downloaded the edited version of “So Good”. Without the edits, I may not have even made it a maybe. It’s a cute song minus the profanity.
Did you catch my review of Ciara's Fantasy Ride? Click here to check it out.