tremble clef

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ultra Naté, "Automatic (Paul Jackson Version Excursion Mix)" (2007)

A friend and I once batted around the idea of making a mixed CD, to be called "Robots In Love," that would be filled with a certain kind of track. The template would be Daft Punk's "Something About You": electronic numbers, preferably with vocoders, that are also deeply, quiveringly emotional love songs. To some extent, the imagined title of the compilation doesn't do full justice to the kind of songs I, at least, was picturing. That title is simple, matter-of-fact: there are robots. And they are in love. Duh. But I was also partial to such songs because they often imply, if only in my mind -- one admittedly influenced by numerous sci-fi films, such as Blade Runner, that draw on this trope -- that love actually transforms the robots, makes them human. Paradoxically, the compilation title names something that doesn't exist. Robots in love would cease to be robots.

There's a good case to be made for including "Automatic" on the CD, whether in its original 1984 Pointer Sisters incarnation, or in the form of Ultra Naté's excellent remake. Sure, neither is particularly electro -- the bassline of the Pointers' version is rubbery, not quite reggae but a bit like Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop The Music," while Ultra's cover is a stompy house record, although the dark and dirty Paul Jackson remix has some great stuttering robotic bleeps and beats -- but they are sung by human vocoders: Ruth Pointer, of course, with her rumbly low voice, while Ultra digs into her lower register with great gusto.

Except that the song seems to play with the human/robot distinction in much more complex, not to say incoherent, ways. (I'm not sure I noticed this in 1984, but then again I had the excuse of being wee.) It's really not clear if, in "Automatic," love makes our narrator(s) more or less of a robot. That she is one at some point seems apparent: "I go from sadness, to exhilaration/Like a robot at your command." In this reading, she, a human, becomes an automaton when she's around him. But, wait: it seems that she was always a robot (even though, going by convention, this already makes no sense: if she was a robot, how did she fall in love?). "Your camera looks through me/With its X-ray vision/And all systems run aground/All I can manage to push from my lips/Is a stream of absurdities/Every word I intended to speak/Winds up locked in the circuitry." It would seem to be more the case, then, that she was a functioning robot before she met him; now, he makes her so nervous that she is still a robot, albeit a jittery, malfunctioning one.

And yet: the metaphor the song uses to describe this state of spastic robot-ness is...becoming "automatic." "No way to control it/It's totally automatic/Whenever you're around/I'm walking blindfolded/Completely automatic/All of my systems are down." So: she's an automaton...who is emotional enough to get nervous around a guy and fall in nervous that her circuits shut down and she becomes...automatic? Does love simply double her sense of who she is?

Does. Not. Compute. (And therein lies, in all senses, the song's wonder.)


  • Good that Ultra Nate gets to sing this as she has to harness the diva in her.
    Actually i think i love robots in love songs because i hate divas singing.
    I hate the idea that love has to be portrayed in 1 kind of "emotional" singing style.
    And some of these robots in love songs convey a much stronger love effect i feel

    By Blogger Arnault, at 8:15 PM  

  • How funny you say that -- my friend does too! You two must be separated at birth. But yes: I like my divas, but I too find it annoying when people (as do judges and most viewers of American Idol) assume that "emotion" can only be portrayed through caterwauling, and only with non-electronic instruments. That's why robots in love tracks are, in a sense, doubly subversive, in both the singing and the instrumentation. Ultra Nate is more robot than diva on this track, though, don't you think?

    By Blogger Brittle, at 11:20 PM  

  • Does a human falling in love with a robot count? How about Margaret Berger's Robot Song where she tries to work out how to 'come out' as a droid lover?

    By Blogger Phil, at 6:05 AM  

  • U ask me if eye love u. It's automatic.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 10:44 AM  

  • I secretly think "Robot Song" is Margaret's ode to her vibrator.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 10:57 AM  

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