Saturday, June 12, 2010

A perfect blueprint of all that you require?

If I was South African, I might have more reservations about featuring the singer of today's song. Danny K may have had some major hits in his home country, but well, let's just say he doesn't always fit the persona he's created for himself.

03 Made 2 Love You by poppostergirl

Danny fancies himself an R&B singer, or at least an urban pop singer; his first album was Craig David-like (in style, not necessarily quality) and he generally continued on an unsurprising trajectory through his third solo album in 2006, which in addition to including the requisite ballads tried to position him as a club king as well. He did have a brief, interesting musical diversion in 2005 when he collaborated with kwaito star Mandoza on the great album Same Difference, a fresh mixing of their two styles which I always pull out when summer rolls around.

Like the residents of many countries, South African acts often struggle to compete against imports from the U.S. and the UK. Creating music in the style of those acts often seems to be the best shot at radio play and connecting to young record buyers, but without the budget and resources of those countries' music industries, living up to the quality can be difficult. There are, obviously, acts who pursue entirely different strategies and have quite a lot of success with them--Freshlyground is one of the go-to examples for an "authentic South African sound" that is still pretty pop, while other acts go with an even more folk or other niche-based strategy (amongst many possibilities)--but I always find it interesting to see what the output of acts with a sound similar to those of American and British successes will be like.

Danny K often gets assistance from abroad, and his new album is no exception: he's returned to producer Pete "Boxsta" Martin, who's based in the UK but originally from South Africa. Martin has also worked with some acts you might know: Margaret Berger, Dannii Minogue, Tarkan, Matt Pokora, Christophe Willem, and Monrose, amongst others. The good news is that the two of them seem to be evolving Danny's sound. It's less "here I am acting gangsta in the club," more darker and electronic (though we're still nowhere near indie cred here). The former may have included a handful of good songs, but it never felt like a natural fit for Danny. This new album, Across The Line, feels like the album you make when you want to say that some big personal problem inspired it (sadly, he had to make that kind of album already, back when he was working on his second offering), with said personal trauma presumably being his separation from his wife: musically darker, more lyrics about dealing with the problems of fame (no, wait, don't run away yet!), et cetera, et cetera. Whether that reasoning is genuine, though, doesn't matter as much as the music.

"Made 2 Love U," lined up to be the second single, is fantastic, albeit subtly so. Danny cites Duran Duran as a reference and, though I don't know of an exact equivalent from their back catalogue, I actually wish they'd record something like this. I know mentioning Duran Duran and the following song is going to raise expectations to unreasonable levels and set everyone up to be let down, but in my mind "Made To Love You" as recorded by Duran Duran would be a bit like Pet Shop Boys' "Minimal": lush mid-tempo electronica pop that, though restrained, somehow manages to reach you, get itself stuck inside your head, and carry maybe more emotional resonance than it should.

As soon as I heard "Made 2 Love U," I expected it to be the keeper of the album, the song that made the era worthwhile. Count me as pleasantly surprised, then, to say there are at least two more good songs on Across The Line. "The Borrower" may be the first Danny K ballad I've really liked in years, and I don't think I could tell you why it works so much better for me than previous offerings. The melody, maybe? Yeah, lame explanation.

07 Follow Me by poppostergirl

As if to maintain the cosmic balance of the universe, after a mid-tempo and a ballad, the other song that initially caught my attention was the up-tempo "Follow Me." It continues Danny's move away from the urban side of pop and towards that more electronica pop (I'm reluctant to say electro-pop) sound. It's insistent but not in the way that Darin's "Breathing Your Love Is," nor does it sport as much of a rock influence as some other tracks on the album do. The key here is the "everywhere I go it follows me, follows me" hook that makes up the second half of the chorus and some good modern production. Plus, the middle eight adds some strings to the mix--heaven knows I can't resist some strings in a dance-influenced song, and they're used well, if stereotypically, here to up the sense of pop drama.

"Shades," a great electronic track with prominent female vocals, a quick paced backing track but a smoother, slower chorus, and an avoiding-the-paparazzi theme; "Barricade," a sort of "ballad with a pulse" with rock aspirations; and "Projecta," a harder electronic track which is less edgy than it thinks it is but is still pretty good, are all respectable efforts from Danny K as well. The lead single, "I Get Up Again," finds Danny in raspier voice than usual and isn't quite as strong as I'd like from an album campaign opener, but it's still better than I originally gave it credit for being.

That last sentence actually captures Danny K the music artist for me: he's never quite firing on one hundred percent with his albums, but, given that I tend to view him more with a detached but deep interest than as an artist I'm totally invested in--more with the perspective of a scientist than as the music fan I am--he's become better than I always think he's going to be. Across The Line is no must-own, but several, perhaps half of its tracks are worth adding into the international pop music conversation. My apologies, Danny: no more thinking of you as a some sort of research project, some specimen under observation; you're a singer, and that's how you deserve to be seen.

Across The Line has been out for several weeks, but for some reason isn't available on the sites I usually buy South African music from. It might show up at this link eventually, though.


LYriqueCD said...

wanna affliate? gives us a shout in your chatbox if ya want too

LYriqueCD said...

i mean our chatbox *

Paul said...

i stayed with you throughout your entire right up despite everything screaming "nope, don't like this guy". He (thanks to you!) is winning me over slowly. I'm going to give him some more time rather than write him off completely :)

Poster Girl said...

Paul, that's very kind of you :) but don't stretch it. I know exactly what you mean, even though I can't really pinpoint what it is that throws me off about him. I know I make that promise at the end, but it's still not something that comes naturally, still something I have to work at. I think (and I don't like saying this) he doesn't come across as genuine, and there are a bunch of smaller issues folded up within that statement that I'm probably better off not discussing, since I don't have any actual factual basis for what I'd say. Despite that, "Made 2 Love You" is still, for my money, a great song (this post started off with the line "From the 'someone needs to cover this' files" before I took it out, if that indicates the ambiguity I still wrestle with in regards to him).

Poster Girl said...

I forgot to say it again, Paul, but thank you for reading through anyway! :)

Paul said...

ha! I made it sound like it was an effort to read, i hope you know i didn't mean that at all! I just meant, i listened to his music and wasn't immediately struck :)

Poster Girl said...

I didn't take it that way, don't worry! I meant more that even though the music didn't capture you, you read what I wrote anyway (and stayed open)--thank you for that.