Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Pet Shop Boys tweeted "a change for the better" with a link to a New York Times piece about the recent trend in pop music vocals.  The article uses the recent commercial fate Christina Aguilera, described as "one of the foremost practitioners of the overpowering, Category 5 vocal style known as melisma", to suggest that the era over-singing has come to an end.  Melisma is "in its simplest form is a vocal technique in which a series of notes is stretched into one syllable" and the article details that in the past two decades "notes stretched louder, longer and knottier than most pop fans had ever heard" have made singing overtake songwriting as the focal point of pop music.  While I take proclamations on the end of an era with a grain of salt nothing would please me more to see this trend fade away.  Over-singing is among the crimes that Simon Cowell has inflicted upon music as even the terrible contestants feel that they should be inserting multi-octave passages that only distract from the true power within the songs they sing.  The vocalists most of my favorite bands come from DIY punk ethic where you get out there and do the best with you've got.  Is Bernard Sumner the most technically gifted singer?  Of course not, but his singing contains comes from a place that is genuine.  Over-singing is at the other end of the spectrum with as over-the-top histrionics plead for attention overwhelming what real emotion might exist in performance.  What the article misses is what was hidden on Christina Aguilera's deluxe versions of her recent Bionic, namely her songs done with Ladytron.  Particularly on "Birds Of Prey" she delivers an understated performance that works perfectly for the song.  Perhaps her unreleased work with Goldfrapp could have revealed similar dividends since Alison certainly has a powerful voice but she never abuses it keeping her songs in focus.  The article suggests that the "combination of vocal personality, arrangement, hook and songcraft" are what make pop music work.  Let us not forget that.

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