Take 6 ‘Feels Good’ and Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah unleashes ‘Fishscale’ in this week's reviews.
‘Feels Good,’ Take 6The dynamic vocal stylings of Take 6 — a trailblazing amalgamation of jazz, gospel, and R&B with an a cappella twist — were what drew people to the group some 25 years ago. But in recent years, that dazzling quality has been diluted by overproduction, unnecessary celebrity collaborations and misguided attempts to mainstream their sound.
On “Feels Good,” the six-man group’s debut on their own label, Take 6 stands firmly on the pure musicianship and artistry of their voices. The multilayered harmonies breathe again with this collection of songs that lift the spirit.
The album features covers culled from gospel’s treasures. Andrae Crouch’s “This is Another Day” sounds like it was written for Take 6 — its speedy lyrical delivery is set to a swinging melody reminiscent of one of Take 6’s earliest hits, “So Much to Say.” Twila Paris’ “Lamb of God” is transformed when the sextet inserts modulations, dramatic interludes, and a quote of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The group’s cover of jazz standard “Just in Time” is classic, and the slick R&B tune “More Than Ever,” reminds us just how Take 6 separated the boy bands from the men.
It’s been four years since their last album, and a lifetime before they chose to stand on their own prowess. Welcome home, Take 6.— Aimee Maude Sims
‘Fishscale,’ Ghostface Killah
For a brief time when Wu-Tang Clan first emerged in the mid-90s, Ghostface Killah spewed urban realist rhymes but obscured his identity behind stocking masks. These days, the MC shows off his goateed mug yet remains the nine-man collective’s most enduring enigma.
For the brilliantly unhinged “Fishscale,” Ghostface’s fifth solo album and first under Jay-Z’s watch as Def Jam’s president, the rapper employs little of his boss’ commercial instincts; the album’s title, slang for pure-grade cocaine, is an apt metaphor for Ghost’s undiluted approach. Besides the bitter breakup song “Back Like That,” featuring R&B newcomer Ne-Yo and “Momma,” a melancholy ode to female endurance, few of the discs 17 tracks have radio-friendly hooks.
Instead indie rap production gurus MF Doom and the late Jay Dilla provide a bulk of the sonics, their tastes leaning toward moody textures, odd soul samples and space-age sound effects. Meanwhile, Ghostface’s frantic flow ranges from cocaine peddling (“Kilo”) and street justice storytelling (“Shakey Dogs”) to responsible parenting (“Whip You With a Strap”) and twisted fantasy (“Underwater”). On the latter track he bizarrely encounters Halle Berry-esque mermaids, a place that might be Atlantis and other visions including “SpongeBob in a Bentley coupe/ banging the Isleys.”
What makes Ghostface’s indulgences so thrilling is not only his frenzied, cryptic delivery but also his dramatic detail, even when rhyming about women. On “Jellyfish” he describes: “When she step out the tub/It’s like an ill flick/ caramel skin ... lit cinnamon candles/ sweet Sade, on relax mode.”
Like 2004’s “The Pretty Toney Album,” “Fishscale” requires repeated listens to hear the lyrical nuances. But the reward is worth the effort: Over the blasting horns of “The Champ,” Ghostface sums up his style: “This is architect music/ Verbal street opera ... got the projects booming.” Here, he couldn’t be any clearer.— Brett Johnson
‘Best of the Boy Bands,’ Various ArtistsThe slate of boy bands that swept through pop in the ’80s and dominated the genre for the latter part of the ’90s firmly belonged to girl world: a realm of bedroom posters, crushes and disposable cash for CD purchases.
The music, captured with cotton-candy perfection on Time Life’s new compilation “Best of the Boy Bands,” was indeed catchy, poppy and R&B driven.
But memorable enough to revisit?
One would think that girls once blinded by ’N Sync’s smooth skin and its vapid “Tearing Up My Heart,” or 98 Degrees’ breathy harmonizing on “Because of You,” have grown up, moved out and moved on, in the same way that ’N Sync’s Justin Timberlake has grown some stubble, matured his sound and moved on.
Culled from roughly 20 years of hit singles, the compilation is a reminder that a “golden formula,” according to the album’s press release, doesn’t necessitate good music.
True, a few gems stand out from the bubble gum pack — Hanson’s ridiculously joyful pop sing-along “MMMBop,” Boyz II Men’s classic slow jam “End of the Road” and Blackstreet’s bootylicious funk ode, “No Diggity.”
And while I do remember falling under the spell of New Kids on the Block’s pouty lips, gel-slicked pompadours and coordinated moves, does the band’s 1990 hit “Step by Step” stand the test of time?
Definitely not.— Solvej Schou