tremble clef

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Paula DeAnda, "Walk Away (Remember Me)" (2006)

I came across this song last week when I was asked to review it for the Stylus Jukebox, and was pleasantly surprised (especially enjoying, as you will see, one musical aspect of it). I tried to explain this in my blurb, but, even as I wrote those limited few lines, I thought that I would like to expand on them for the blog. When the reviews were published yesterday, I was a little amused to see that I was totally alone in my affection, and so it seems even more worthwhile explaining my case. And hey, it gives me a chance to post the song. Everybody wins. What follows is therefore a less terse version of the Stylus review (I bet you can't wait: long windedness, yay!).

There are a fair number of reasons to be indifferent about, or even to actively dislike, Paula DeAnda's current R&B hit, "Walk Away (Remember Me)." Pretty much all of them have to do with the song's lyric, which is at best clich├ęd, and at worse cringeworthy. The song is told from Paula's point of view, in the wake of a break-up; she sees her ex "with his new girl," and, as a subsequent verse reveals, she herself has a new man. But she's not convinced that either of them are happy. The track therefore details a familiar situation; Robyn's "Be Mine," to pick just one recent superlative example, begins with the same set-up, and treads similar ground.

"Walk Away" does attempt to inject specific detail into the story, but it is here that the cringe factor comes in. "Does she rub your feet when you've had a long day?" Paula wonders about her ex's new beau. "Scratch your scalp when you take out your braids?" These touches are meant to be moving because precise, I suppose, but it just makes me picture Paula as less of a girlfriend, and more of a spa worker. You half-expect the next line to have to do with happy endings. That clunker of a couplet is followed by an even clumsier line, complete with dangling modifier: "Does she know that you like to play PS2, till six in the morning, like I do?" I'd bet that the new girlfriend does indeed know this "intimate secret," having gleaned it from, oh, you know, the fact that she sees him staying up till six to play PS2.

And yet, there is something affecting about this rueful song. Written by Ne-Yo, Christina Milian, and the Norwegian production team Stargate -- who, with this, "Irreplaceable" and "So Sick," have now produced some of the more intriguingly wounded R&B tracks of the year -- the song lifts itself above the mean with the musical structure of its chorus. That chorus features three kinds of singing. When it begins, Paula vocalizes the lines in a strikingly staccato way: "I. Can't. Ex. Plain. This. Feel. Ling. I. Think. About. It. Every. Day. And. Even. Though. We've. Moved. On..." In the background, a synthesizer follows these short lyrical bursts, hitting each note precisely and almost abruptly (that dop-dop-dop backing reminds me of Stars' "Going, Going, Gone," which in turn has always evoked, for me, Saint Etienne's "Marble Lions"). But as those first three lines end, they compel Paula into using a more dragged-out phrasing: "...It. Gets. So. Hard. To. Walk awaaaay, a-a-ay. Walk awaaaay, a-a-ay." In the course of this line, the phrase that provides the song with its subtitle also undergoes an almost imperceptible shift in meaning. Though it begins as part of a description ("It gets so hard to walk away"), when repeated, it becomes more of an injunction, as if Paula has to command herself to "walk away!" Meanwhile, Paula's doubletracked vocals begin a different part of the chorus, and these new lines she sings in rapidfire fashion, as if each is one long word: "Imgonnarememberyou/Yougonnarememberme/ Icantforgetit/Howweusedtobe..." Here, her words tumble over each other, as if, in the flush of emotion, she is unable to (analogy alert!) keep them apart.

The chorus therefore oscillates between several emotional states, all of each are primarily signaled by Paula's phrasing -- or, if we are feeling less generous towards this seventeen year old singer, by the phrasing the songwriters build into the track. The staccato phrases are the moments that see Paula choked up, perhaps, and then they open up into a series of self-injunctions that represent her attempts to steel herself in resolution. But the efforts don't work; it's as if the emotional damn bursts, and the true promise or hope -- to remember each other -- spills out. "Walk Away" therefore perfectly captures the conflict Paula feels about whether she should -- whether she can -- leave it all behind. The fact that it does this as much through phrasing, as it does with its actual words, makes it quite a remarkable number.

(There are several versions of "Walk Away." Unfortunately, the official single release has The Dey providing a rap in the middle eight, and they also do the "I'm going remember you" lines in the chorus. Which ruins things, since this splits the ambivalence I argued for over several people. So I'm going to pretend that the version I've provided, on which The Dey are thankfully nowhere to be seen, is the proper one.)

4 Comments:

  • So M. H. Lo, eh?

    Are those your real initials?

    By Blogger daavid, at 11:44 AM  

  • My real first name is "Chris," but someone told me that "Chris Lo" might cause confusion.

    (I may be kidding. Those are indeed my real initials.)

    By Blogger Brittle, at 5:11 PM  

  • (slaps hand to forehead)

    Why, for Judy's sake, have you not changed your name?

    By Anonymous esque, at 9:11 PM  

  • There is an old story about how some friends of Neil's and Chris's always call the latter "All Time Lowe." I've therefore always wanted to have, in my apartment, Lavrene and Shirley style, a manufactured sign that said "All Time Lo." Maybe some day I WILL.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 10:48 PM  

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