Every new disc I come across is like a blind date. I never know what to expect. Sometimes I'm taken by surprise and become excited by the chase -- and sometimes I just want to run like hell. Music is the other woman, a mistress that takes on many forms.
My date with Something Underground's debut platter, Slides, did not start off well. The waka-wika-waka of a wah-inflected Les Paul and the cutesy vocals of "Sick and Tired" had me ready to flee. There are a number of things I loathe -- I mean absolutely fucking abhor -- but nothing makes me grind my teeth into powdery nubs as much as blue-eyed soul/funk done poorly. A handful of acts have done it well -- Van Morrison, Paul Weller, Hall and Oates, Dag -- and some artists have even eclipsed the originators: Jeff Buckley, for instance, had more soul than most of the Motown roster save for Smokey, Stevie and Marvin. But for every Buckley, there's been a dozen Spin Doctors and Geggy Tahs more than willing to bastardize the essence of soul.
Chris Tucker put it best in Friday: I showed up expecting Janet Jackson, and my date looked more like Freddy Jackson.
I was searching for the door when something miraculous happened. The song stopped, and the band, apparently realizing it was overdressed, took off its glitzy, pretentious outfit and changed into a worn pair of sweats. And then, like old friends, for the better part of the next fifty minutes, I listened and smoked cigarettes as Slides spoke to me.
She opened up immediately on "Far Away," saying things like "Now I've got a problem/ You've got a plan/Let's you and me why don't we leave/And just start again" as a simple acoustic track played in the background. Each phrase was delivered with inflections just above a whisper; it was captivating. In "Lunchbox," she showed me some of the memories she keeps, including thoughts of old lovers and regret: "I saw the signs/I let it go/I made a mess/And now I know."
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There was a pause in the conversation -- the fretless bass lines pouring out of "Prelude" -- that felt completely natural. And then, without provocation, she sat down at the piano and, to a beautiful melody, revealed "Nice Guys Get Screwed." Crooning, she warned me: "I should know by now things are not what they seem.../Time has taught me in order to play the game you must be willing to lower yourself."
The date went downhill from there. On "Victim Mentality," she showed an alarming propensity for co-dependency; "Lied Again" clued me to the fact that she had some serious issues. Sensing I was getting tired of her rap, she tried to lighten things up with whimsical word puzzles in "Drugz," but I'd lost interest. I was out of smokes; it was time to go.
As I closed the door, I was certain I wouldn't be seeking out Something Underground again. Slides simply comes with too much baggage, especially when there are so many more potential dates out there. If the band stops living in the past and finds its own identity, I'm sure some other music fan will fall in love. But right now, it's painfully obvious that she's nothing special.