Sunday, July 8, 2012

*Listen to This!* Erica Gibson - "I Don't Want You Back" (Single Review)

One of the nice things about pop music is that it's really easy to recognize when someone's gotten it right. There are folks out there who have mastered the form and can crank out hits ad nauseum - we know who they are. But every so often, a newcomer stumbles onto the formula out of nowhere - witness Josh Ramsay and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," or Rock Mafia and Selena Gomez and the Scene's "Love You Like a Love Song." When this happens, and these songs become hits, radio folks always claim that all it takes is a fantastic song and they'll play it - no Bieber tweets/relationships or Disney boost required. I'm going to call your bluff, pop radio, because I've found a perfect pop single, truly from nowhere: "I Don't Want You Back," by the thoroughly unknown singer Erica Gibson. Let's hear it!

"I Don't Want You Back" doesn't just follow the ideal structural formula of a pop smash, although it does do that. Lots of songs can be perfect pop on paper - it is a formula, after all - but it takes a delivery and execution to provide the less tangible elements required of a great pop single to become a smash. First, it's got to have the right messenger, one with personality (but not too much), likability and an accessible universal quality to the voice so that everyone can sing along. Check: Gibson has the warmth and earnestness in her vocal to appeal to younger listeners, and clear intelligence and self-awareness (but not too much) to appeal to older or more
cynical ears.

Next, it should sound familiar, but not so much that you can say "oh, that sounds like 'Last Friday Night (TGIF),'" to use one totally random example. Check: "I Don't Want You Back" immediately sounds like a song you've heard for years, except you haven't (I remember having that feeling about Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This"), and while it cleverly waves hello to Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" and countless other hits throughout the late 90s and 2000s, it's timeless enough to have come from any year previous but still not sound out of date in 2012.

Finally, it helps if the single inspires a certain giddy thrill, perhaps so much so that you feel a little embarrassed or even slightly perturbed at being so effectively manipulated. Check and double check: I was walking through a shady area of North Hollywood listening to this on my headphones and I began to fear for my life. It's the pop song equivalent of the movie scene in which a couple twirls around in a field in slow motion after a long-awaited rendezvous, the kind where the next shot is them lying on their backs in the grass looking up at the stars (or in bed, smoking cigarettes). "I Don't Want You Back" made me understand why Tom Cruise jumped all over Oprah's couch.

So there you have it. Erica Gibson and co-writer and producer Scott Stallone have created a perfect pop hit. If I were ever to use the banned term "flawless" to describe anything on this blog, it would possibly be this, but I won't because it's banned and besides I just cheated and used it anyway. Take a listen to "I Don't Want You Back" and let me know if I'm crazy or if this is the undiscovered pop gem of the summer. At the very least you'll get a few pleasant minutes out of it, on me. You're welcome.

Erica Gibson on Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud
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