Rihanna – SOS

First Hit #1: May 13, 2006

As I write this, it is midday in a well lit office. In other words, the exact wrong place and time to listen to SOS, which is designed for a poorly lit club after everyone has already imbibed in their recreational pharmaceutical of choice. It’s loud, it’s fast, it’s very heavy on the bass. It’s the soundtrack to sexy dancing and poor decision making, and listening to it in this context it really doesn’t translate to many other situations. It’s just too loud and honestly probably too pointless to make sense during any time before sunset. But in the club environment, it works, because it does sound better once you’ve had a few and it suits the sweaty atmosphere and pulsating lighting of that scenario. Rihanna has made song so specialized that I personally find it difficult to divorce from that intended context. Unless I’m dancing next to someone I don’t want to wake up next to, it’s going to fall a bit flat.

I do like the vaguely nautical bloops that show up on occasion, it gives it something that’s a bit beyond just being a club banger, but it’s not that much more than a club banger.

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One Response to Rihanna – SOS

  1. RBerman says:

    Remix magic! This song was born “Tainted Love” in 1964, as as Motownish B-side written by Ed Cobb and sung by soul singer Gloria Jones (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSehtaY6k1U). In 1981, duo Soft Cell resurrected it into one of the two or three awesomeest New Wave singles (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeJkbqjQvnk), ensuring its immortality in pop culture (here’s a Spike Jonez directed blue jean commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yBuzCVqOkY), surviving American Idols (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMTFrWPD91c) and Marilyn Manson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkKulSH2nNc) alike. As we saw with Sean Paul, the limited resources of island states like Jamaica (his home) and Barbados (Rihanna Fenty’s home) encourage recycling of everything, even music. So now we’re back to the Crazy Town “Butterfly” sampling question. Yes, Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” is a classic work. Does Fenty just remind us of that, or does she offer anything beyond a faithful (retitled) cover?

    My vote is a conditional “Yes.” Fenty chucks the original “Tainted Love” melody but keeps its bassline and sonar pings, adding some disco lasers, bass drum, and a new melody, with infatuated lyrics along the same thematic line as the original, even quoting the “toss and turn” section verbatim. The new melody preserves and intensifies the triplet feel of the original. Trying to imagine both melodies without the backing music, the original melody seems better, but how successful am I really at imagining the melody without the arrangement?

    The conditional part is that I don’t comprehend Fenty’s amazing success, with 20 Top Ten singles and counting just since 2005. Why? Her singing is adequate rather than awesome. Her figure is athletic rather than buxom. Her fashion sense is “generic skimpy” rather than imitable, her public persona is a sexy blank slate, and her choice in men (e.g. Chris Brown) nothing short of disastrous. Can someone explain the secret of her popularity? Is it just that Mariah Carey is “getting old” and somebody had to fill those shoes in the era of club music?

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