Friday, September 16, 2011

I Liked "Waterfalls" The First Time I Heard It, Not The 1,000th.

The Good: Generally good song with a decent social message.
The Bad: Insipid remixes populate this c.d. single!
The Basics: An initially intriguing socially-smart anthem, the TLC song "Waterfalls" is recut multiple times in ways that gut its smartness on the "Waterfalls" single.

Those who know my music reviews know that I am not a fan of the c.d. single as a medium. Poor repetition is the death knell of any medium, be it movies, music or the great american novel. C.D. singles are inherently underwhelming for their use of the medium, never living up to the full potential of the eighty minutes a compact disc allows. Still, some c.d. singles contain gems in the form of rare b-sides and sometimes the inspired remix. Or, the single is just a lousy collection of lame remixes of a song which may not have been great to begin with. In the case of the "Waterfalls" seven-track c.d., the generally decent pop-rap song "Waterfalls" by TLC is presented in only marginally different ways which replay exceptionally poorly, making for a lousy overall value.

As I sit listening to the umpteenth spinning of "Waterfalls," I find myself unsurprised that I've only reviewed one other TLC album, 3D as the multiple versions of "Waterfalls" make me think more and more that the original song just got lucky. After all, in the MTV Generation, music does not necessarily have to sound good, the people selling it just have to be photogenic and if TLC had one commodity, it was definitely that the women of TLC were exceptionally good looking. As the familiar up-down, singsong melody of "Waterfalls" begins again for me, it is hard for me not to acknowledge that the song is not the great anthem I thought it was in my youth.

With seven songs occupying over half an hour of capacity on the disc, the c.d. "single" of "Waterfalls" does not initially seem like that bad of a value. This is until one realizes that all of the tracks are essentially the same song. "Waterfalls" contains a rap written by Lisa ("Left Eye") Lopez, but the main anthem was written by Marqueze Etheridge and the original single's producer, Organized Noize. The women of TLC provide the vocals for the song, but they do not provide any of the instrumental accompaniment, nor are they involved in the production. Considering that the music which accompanies the group is all produced and manufactured at a mixing board (as opposed to created by having a band play with TLC), the fact that they are not involved in production is not actually a surprise. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that with so many remixes on this c.d. single, none of the members of TLC were involved with any of them.

The result is a mostly stagnant c.d. single. The album includes the single edit, which is pretty much what fans heard on the radio on hip-hop or rap stations, the album cut which was only slightly longer as it contains an intro, and two instrumental remixes. There are three other remixes which make the pop-hip-hop anthem into a more overt dance track by turning up the bass, repeating the insipid "Don't go chasing waterfalls" out of context with reverb and adjusting the tempo and percussion. In the remixes, the storytelling nature of the lyrics is de-emphasized by pushing up the keyboard and synth sounds which accompany the vocal performance.

As for the vocal performances, they are identical track to track because the basic concept behind this "single" is that the vocal track is used (altered occasionally with production elements like reverb) and set to different production/musical accompaniment. As a result, the vocals of T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili are as good as they ever were with the three women harmonizing on refrains and T-Boz creating a musical narrator persona that is both smooth and edgy. None of the remixes dare to go in a truly different direction for the song, which in this case would mean doing an acoustic version which highlights the natural voices of the ladies of TLC. When their voices may be clearly heard, as on the "single" and "album" cuts, they have wonderful feminine vocals which are distinctive. In fact, the first few spinnings of this disc, I found myself wishing TLC was still together (the death of Left Eye brought the group to an end) and performing socially-conscious music.

The lyrics are the other thing that keeps this album from the pits of "avoid it." "Waterfalls" is a socially smart song by the lyrics, singing musical storysongs about social problems like drug dealing/killing, HIV and casual sex along with an overarching theme of the destruction of the family unit in the ghettos. One of the first hip-hop/rap songs to address problems like unsafe sex with lyrics like "Little precious has a natural obsession / For temptation but he just cant see / She gives him loving that his body cant handle / But all he can say is 'baby is good to me' / One day he goes and takes a glimpse / In the mirror / But he doesn't recognize his own face / His health is fading and he doesn't know why / 3 letters took him to his final resting place," "Waterfalls" avoided the "head in the sand" approach to HIV that was common in the black community when the song was initially released. One wonders where the hip-hop writers with such a realist view were during the Bush Administration.

The lyrics are good, but some of the mixes emphasize Left-Eye's more banal rap which has a singsong rhyme scheme to it. Mixes like the DARP Remix remove some of the complexity that makes "Waterfalls" an interesting and groundbreaking song.

And, truth be told, none of these remixes are so audacious that fans cannot live without them. Instead, the album is a fairly transparent attempt by TLC (or the record company) to make a few extra bucks off their popular song. This is an unfortunate example of minimal effort being put into a c.d. single and those looking for truly different versions of the TLC song "Waterfalls" will find this to be a disappointment.

For other c.d. singles, please visit my reviews of:
"I Drove All Night" - Celine Dion
"Nowhere To Go" - Melissa Etheridge
"Little Bird" - Annie Lennox


For more music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here for an organized listing!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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