Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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HOT ONE: The Dream – “Falsetto”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 18, 2008

Ooh

If you haven’t been paying attention to the career of Terius “The Dream” Nash, now might not be a bad time to start. Since he started off writing album tracks for artists like Nivea and Brooke Valentine (lol 2005), as well as the ill-fated Britney/Madonna duet “Me Against the Music” (SUPER-LOL 2003), he’s grown to be one of the hottest writers and producers in R&B, scoring hits with Mary J. Blige (last year’s fairly underrated “Just Fine”), J. Holiday (the almost suffocatingly lush “Bed”) and, oh yeah, some minor hit about bad weather by Rihanna. Stepping out in front of the mic, he even had one of the better chart hits of last year, “Shawty is a 10” (or “Shawty is Da Shit,” if you’re less politely inclined)–proving once more that listing a bunch of random girls’ names in a row is a surefire recipe for success.

“Falsetto,” the follow up to “Shawty,” suggests that the best is yet to come. I’m technically a couple months behind on this one, I think–Wikipedia has it listed as a Sept. ’07 release, and I remember seeing the video for the first time on BET’s Top 100 Videos of the Year countdown (it was only #84 or so). But “Shawty” hung around for a long time, and I’m only now really starting to hear “Falsetto” on the radio and on TV and such, and since I think it’s still climbing the charts, I’m counting it as the first HOT ONE of ’08.

It might be a kind of pre-mature judgement on my part, I suppose, since so much of the song’s success relies on the novelty of what could be called a gimmick hook. If you’ve heard the song once, you should know what I’m talking about–the nearly wordless chorus, which imitates The Dream’s girl “talking to him in a falsetto.” Of course, not much talking is done, and the chorus mostly consists of TD moaning “oooh, oooh, baby, ahhh, ahh, ahhh” in the titularly high pitch. In an admittedly young ’08, it’s by far the best hook I’ve heard yet this year–the kind of hook that’s so catchy it instantly makes the verses irrelevant, a deadly sufferer of what I like to call GTTP Syndrome (“Get to That Part!”)

But the hook isn’t the whole deal. Though Nash’s roots and main strengths are to be found as a songwriter, he’s grown tremendously as a producer in his collaborations with Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, the man most responsible for the irresistible beat that propelled “Umbrella” into the pop stratosphere. Here, Stewart crafts a beat for Nash worthy of the trip-hop legend he most likely isn’t actually named after–molasses-slow and thick, nearly as hypnotic as the almost amorally seductive groove to “Bed.” And Stewart clearly knows how to use his frequent partner’s voice as a weapon, layering his vocal tracks over each other as the song progresses, building the song to a brilliant…well, I guess climax is the word here for any number of reasons.

The best part, though? The dirty guitar solo. I didn’t realize how much I missed the presence of dirty guitar in R&B until I watched that Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveShow special on HBO, which seemed to have an old-soul funk dude doing some of the seediest, grimiest guitar shredding I’ve ever heard on almost every song. The dirty guitar solo in “Falsetto” reminds of just how possible it is to coax the sound of fucking out of six strings and an amplifier, invoking no one more than the dirtiest of all them all–the P-man, whose name I’m almost afraid to invoke for fear of jinxing the guy.

In an R&B world all too littered with lukewarm Timbaland wannabes and frustratingly tame post-“Irreplaceable” Stargate productions, it’s more than a little refreshing to hear a song as sort of classically-minded as this one. Here’s hoping The Dream doesn’t end anytime soon.

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