tremble clef

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Elliott Yamin, "Wait For You" (2007)

That the second runner-up of American Idol 5 snagged Stargate to write and produce his debut single is something of a coup -- seriously: well-played Elliott, well-played -- but it was always going to be the case that he gets a track that Stargate's other clients most likely passed on. (Just ask Katherine "Poor Man's JoJo" McPhee.)

And indeed, "Wait For You" sounds like one of the smooth, lite R&B ballads that Stargate has been knocking out for, in particular, Ne-Yo (or, if Ne-Yo should reject them, Joe). (For some reason, Stargate's work for female acts is more diverse -- aside from their mutual greatness, Beyoncé's "Ireplaceable" isn't much like Paula DeAnda's "Walk Away" -- but the reasons why this is so deserve a separate post. When I actually come up with a theory, that is.) Like "So Sick" and "Because Of You," "Wait For You" is built around a tinkly piano riff that may be hookier and more insistent than the actual chorus, and all these songs also have rhythm tracks that either mimick or actually utilize finger snaps and/or handclaps. Plus, not only does "Wait For You" therefore sound derivative of Ne-Yo singles, but its chorus is pretty much a direct steal of S Club 7's "Never Had A Dream Come True" (co-penned by Cathy Dennis, who may or may not be contacting her lawyer right about now).

And yet, despite these preemptive strikes, I'll be damned if Elliott doesn't totally sell his single. (Can I say "he sells it"? I'm trying hard not to slip into Idol judge-speak. It simultaneously amuses and irks me that while everyone [but especially bloggers] makes fun of Randy's or Paula's incomprehensible critiques, just as many slip into parrotting their fucking vocabulary -- sometimes "ironically" or with self-awareness, but I don't see how that excuses it.)

There is, for one thing, Elliott's voice, which retains all the nuance and passion it did on the show. He doesn't indulge in a lot of bells and whistles, concentrating instead on letting the melody tell him where to place his emphases. The tune of the chorus, for instance, asks Elliott to put almost equal amounts of stress on each word -- "Baby I will. Wait. For. You" -- as if he really, really needs for his lover to hear every syllable of every plea. At the 3:33 mark, Elliott varies the melody just a bit, shifting the emphasis to "baby I will wait for you" (as if resorting to a more direct address of his loved one), and hitting the first five words of "if you think I'm fine it just ain't true" more plaintively (as if her mis-impression hurts him more than anything else).

And it's not like he gets no help: second rate Stargate writing and production work is still very good. So, even though the lyric is clichéd, it still boasts a run-on line -- "Don't tell me I ran out of time/If it takes the rest of my life/Baby I will wait for you," where the middle line appears melodically to belong to the previous sentence, but turns out to semantically initiate the next -- that gets at the painful confusion of the song (and gives the less casual listener some mental work to do). Or listen to the way the piano riff and Elliott's promise to "wait for you" (both essentially cover the same notes) hardly ever begin at the same time, mostly depending on whether Elliott leaves out the "so" at the start of the phrase: either Elliott begins the phrase before the riff comes in ("So BUMP BUMP BUMP"), or the reverse is true ("BUMP baby I will wait for you"), thereby dramatizing the way Elliott's wait has been largely fruitless and the situation is out of sync. And most obviously, the cold finish -- the song ends in the middle of the line, "I'll be waiting..." -- effectively if somewhat unsubtly conveys the sense that Elliott is still waiting, and always will. Having always enjoyed Elliott on Idol, I am admittedly predisposed to like his single, but there's no shame in being won over by a personality in the pop game.

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