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Keri Hilson ft. Timbaland - 'Return The Favor'

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Fraser McAlpine | 10:00 UK time, Saturday, 25 April 2009

Keri HilsonI dunno about you, but there's definitely something about any song which gets a short chord switcharound going - four bars, in this case - and then repeats it, which grates on my nerves. It's partly because there's no sense of change, the music starts, loops maddeningly, and then ends, while the poor singer has to try and create tension and resolution, change and progression, out of a small list of melodic possibilities. At least rappers get to switch between speech and singing to break things up.

Actually, another good way of doing this is to have two singers, acting some sort of conversation out to each other. Then they can do little melodic fragments, bash bits and bobs of rhythm against each other, and you're always going to a different place, because you're not relying on one singer's vocal range and their ability to do scales (which does crop up from time to time as a compositional method *stares at certain divas*).

(Here's a video of Keri making the video.)

It can be even better sometimes if one of the vocalists is considerably more skilled at the art of singing that the other. It sets up even more tension, a beauty and the beast dynamic, her flighty, skittish angel-voice against his monolithic demonic strength...I'd be tempted to say irresistible force against immovable object, if that didn't imply Timbaland was a big fat knacker. He's probably got grumpy friends, so let's move on.

Of course, if monotony isn't really your thing, all it takes sometimes is the right chord change in the right place, and a song can transform from repetitious sex-haggle into wondrous sonic heaven. 'Umbrella' by Rihanna had that, even though it was already a fairly astonishing pop song. One of the choruses towards the end was set over slightly different chords to the others, and it made the whole thing change and grow, and become this unstoppable pop juggernaut.

This song does not have such a moment, but Keri and Tim do keep the saucy babble going in quite an entertaining fashion. So it's hard to be too scathing.

And if all this sounds like I can't quite make up my mind whether this is just good or very good, well there's a reason for that. I can't.


Three starsOr possibly

Four starsDownload: Out now
CD Released: April 27th
BBC Music page

(Fraser McAlpine)

PS: Of course, in the future, we won't bother with chord changes at all. It'll just be one long endless trancelike vamp on one chord for, like, 30 minutes or something, while impro-happy singers attempt to wring some fresh melodic juice from the twist-dried sponge which represents Tunes Which You Can Sing Over A Drone.

The hippies have been doing it for years, of course, but they're less into vocal gymnastics. Plus they love a good chant, so it always sounded more like the crossroads between a political rally and the wafty and dreamlike kingdom of Snoozonia than hard, thrusting, urgent and sexy pop music.



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