Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans
Elektra (2010)

Uffie is a genre-defying musician who straddles the lines of hip-hop, electro and pop. Most importantly, she doesn't have talent, and she admits this to her listeners up front (“I can't even sing, you know?”) – yet she isn't a comedy act. Instead, she wants to be respected by sheer force of personality and page views. And weirdly enough, she's been able to reach across the aisle to gain the admiration of both scenesters and hipsters, thanks in no small part to her killer Justice collab. In retrospect I realized that Justice can make anyone sound like cool incarnate. There have been comparisons of Uffie to Warhol, which would make sense, except that behind her surface shimmer there aren't subversive underpinnings, but selfish motivations. Genre-defying? Yes. Good? No.

As she's not exactly an “artist,” Uffie is about fleshing out a character, and sketching out a narrative to go with it. This would be fine, but it's very hard to like or care about the Uffie that's being shown to us. On “Pop the Glock,” the underwater auto-tune and rotund bass kicks entice at first, but the lyrics break the spell right fast. But they're supposed to be idiotic, I guess? “Time to get low / do the tootsie roll / That's how we do / Do it hot / And if you understood / would you / Stop hatin' and playin' hard / I got a loaded bodyguard.” And now imagine that she's half rapping, half singing these lyrics in a pseudo-British, French-inflected trainwreck of an accent. Is this someone whose narcissitic, demi-musical rantings you'd want to listen to for fifty minutes?

“Art of Uff,” the second song, has Uffie on the defensive already, trying to deflect criticisms about her self-obsessed sometimes-rhymes in a spoken-word intro: “I know, I know. You're so tired to hear about what I do, about what I smoke, what I drink, about what I cook for my husband [really?], all the travels I do, all the shit I got for free?” And then she falls back on her MySpace cred, which is never a good sign: “Me and my stupid flow, me and my MySpace with only three tracks a year, and they still talk about me? Damn.” Touché? Next the beat kicks in, a creepy lurching groove punctuated by choral stabs and plinking keyboards evoking a cartoon ghost-house. Her croaking delivery and silly lyrics push the silly vibe just far enough, and the conceit works well. Why couldn't she harness this persona so effectively elsewhere?

Continuing the hot-streak, “ADD SUV” is a cute dance-ready collaboration between Uffie and Pharrell Williams which overcomes its Top 40 production veneer through spunk and at least one clever line: “Minute to minute I feel like I'm in / The movie Memento but I don't have a pen.” And from precisely that moment the album goes to shit. “Give it Away” is an awkward breakup song which talks about subjects like “responsibility” without fooling anyone. “MCs Can Kiss” is a diss track, but since Uffie admittedly has no skills, she can only really rip on herself by definition (“I'm an entertainer, not a lyricist.”) And more MySpace boasting! (“I got nine million plays and twelve hundred friends.”) This is the moment where Uffie dares you to buy into her gimmick or not – can't you accept that she's just a party girl who found an honest way to get rich quick?

This is the kernel of what makes Uffie interesting in the first place: no skills, but no pretenses either. We're meant to accept her as she is, a girl that's all but ordinary except for her bravado and fame. What ruins this premise is: she'd be nothing without the star producers who build killer beats around her lyrics. I found that a lot of the songs on this album sounded great, especially without Uffie herself. The nauseous warbling vocals and tacky lyrics of “First Love” turned me off, but the track's backbone is sexy, a slow grind with deep bass and a careful DJ's hand which turns loops into throbbing syncopations and interjects record scratches for startling emphases. You get to hear the beat without Uffie for a full minute, and it's the best part of the album. Sadly, the reality of this album is an assault of bratty lyrics and brain-dead melodies.

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