Friday, March 25, 2011

Alex Gaudino feat. Kelly Rowland - "What A Feeling" (Single Review)

A few months ago I expounded upon the pop music gold that can result when a veteran top-shelf singer and a veteran top-shelf producer join forces, as I said Pink and Max Martin had done on the new single "Raise Your Glass," which went on to hit number one on the Hot 100 - and the review remains Vertigo Shtick's most visited post to date. Other such divine collaborations come to mind, like Madonna and William Orbit dramatically redefining not just Madonna's musical direction but that of pop music itself with Ray of Light; the continuing strength of old production partners Missy Elliott and Timbaland; and, it increasingly appears, the initially worrisome but surprisingly explosive teaming of Britney Spears with Max Martin and Dr. Luke just as their ubiquity risked becoming a liability.

The only thing that compares to the power and expertise that make Premier League collaborations like Pink and Martin so major is the electric rush that results when a pair of hot newcomers spark lightning. Lady Gaga and RedOne are the most recent and supreme example, just as Elliott and Timbaland, Beyoncé & Rich Harrison ("Crazy in Love"), and Max Martin & Britney Spears were in their brilliant, game-changing early days. Even without single-handedly changing the course of music, this is the magic that made Kimberly Cole's massively underappreciated debut album Bad Girls Club a surprise gem, crafted Cee Lo Green's The Lady Killer into a bonafide critical smash, and now has brought about Alex Gaudino and Kelly Rowland's intoxicating new dance track, "What A Feeling."

Gaudino, an Italian DJ, had his first big European hit with the mashup "Destination Calabria," and his song "I'm In Love (I Wanna Do It)" topped the Dance Airplay chart late last year. Rowland has had sputtering, minor successes as a solo act since her days in the blockbuster girl group Destiny's Child, In the last year her occasional, entirely unexpected dabblings into dance music have been far more exciting than her chart performance might suggest, and while every indication from the numerous official and leaked tracks that have surfaced is that something brilliant could be afoot, her long-awaited next album remains as yet unannounced nor given a title or release date (about that...while we're young, please?).

Rowland first dipped her toe into the dance pool on "When Love Takes Over," a single off David Guetta's big album One Love that despite the shortcomings in her performance (I find it ultimately too shouty to bear, and it is a poor representation of Rowland's considerable vocal skills, which I'd even say rival Beyoncé's) it was a hit, in part because Rowland's out-of-character genre switch was such an intriguing surprise in itself. She later justified her unlikely dance cred with the sharper, more polished "Commander," another Guetta production but this time credited to Rowland as the primary artist. The single's awkward music video, however, exemplified the lingering issue of a singer who had mastered the technique but still was not yet fully at home in the genre.

On "What a Feeling," Kelly Rowland, Dance Artist finally clicks. It's a performance with the studious technicality she'd exhibited on "Commander" but also the feeling and emotional connection she hadn't. As a result, everything that made "Commander' cold and assertive makes "What A Feeling" invigorating and exhilarating. The difference is hard to explain but easy to hear: there's a certain connection with the song, the style, and the genre itself that hasn't been there in Rowland's earlier dance tracks. It's not the change that's noticeable, it's that for the first time you don't notice any signs of any fish out of water in the vicinity.

Unlike Rihanna's recent collaboration with Guetta, though, the high points of "What A Feeling" represent equal contributions of singer and producer. For every great Rowland moment - the way she nails the ascending scale of "looove" that leads into each chorus, the great lyric "it's like my favorite star I used to stare at every night came down from the sky," and the "ooh" in fifth-step harmony that follows - Gaudino scores points of his own: the perfect way he brings in the beat halfway through each verse, the bridge that manages to build the momentum even as it provides the requisite moment of rest before the big finish, and a chorus that lives up to the production strength in the verses (this is something RedOne has never quite managed with Gaga and others: his verses are often killer, but his choruses, usually overstuffed messes as if in a misguided attempt to outdo the verses with untidy noise, never hit as they should).

The dance music scene is not populated by celebrity star producers or DJs like pop and hip-hop (Guetta, Benny Benassi and other bigger names tend to be crossover successes rather than genre giants), which is why dance enjoys much the same underground freedom as indie music, despite being more sonically related to pop. Gaudino may well choose to remain in the more insular and anonymous dance scene, where individual glory and chart hits have less importance than collaborative experimentation. The crossover delight of "What A Feeling" suggests that should he desire instead to pursue the Guetta path, he is certainly equipped with sufficient talent to pull it off as well.

As for Kelly Rowland, the naggling frustration and uncertainty with her album efforts might perhaps be assuaged by the increasingly valid possibility that we might have in Rowland the next Robyn or Nicki Minaj, so adept as guest artists that their mere presence on a tune all but guarantees greatness. After all, if anyone understands and appreciates the true artistry and importance of the supporting role, it's Kelly Rowland.

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