Thursday, 7 August 2008

R. KELLY: Touched A Dream

What, really, is deep soul? As Dave Godin invented, knew and used the term, it meant music whose emotions reached out from within the fabric of a song or a record to touch the listener without noticeable mediation, dilution or interference. It represented a rare emotional directness which, even if the song was being acted out melodramatically, by its natural force transcended notions of showbusiness or artifice and punctured – can you tell where I’m going here? – the listener directly. Usually ascribed to the peculiarly intense branch of sixties soul (though considering the tenor of the times, its intensity was perfectly understandable and not at all peculiar) it nonetheless doesn’t – or shouldn’t – recognise any temporal boundaries. It’s about how expression of a particular emotion or emotions in a specific way can reach and hopefully change the listener. The dazed joy of Jaibi’s “You Got Me” is as recognisable in its depth as the mounting dread of Kenny Carter’s “Showdown.”

And it has survived, sometimes in the strangest of pockets; one example from the seventies of which I’ve very recently been reminded is “Lean On Me” – not the Bill Withers song – recorded by Melba Moore in 1976. If you only know Ms Moore from her disco hits (“This Is It,” “Love’s Comin’ At Ya”) then this will come as an especial surprise. For two-thirds of its duration it comes on almost like a standard Vegas floorshow ballad with chintzy orchestration and backing vocals, but the already peculiar intensity of Moore ’s voice keeps you anchored and waiting for the explosion. As the song progresses her reiteration of faith takes on near-operatic tones, but it’s only in the closing third that she explodes, quite unexpectedly, with shrieks, squeals, growls and a near ahuman climactic 30-second sustenato of a dog whistle of a high note. It is like the exact halfway house between Linda Sharrock and Jennifer Holliday, and you are left stunned, floored by her staunchness, her demands for reception of her unquestioning love.

“Touched A Dream” is unmistakably deep soul in its intent and execution, even if one finds it hard to accept from R Kelly; if you can negotiate your way past the hits, the gloopy schmaltz of “I Believe I Can Fly” or the rather odious R&B laddism of “Ignition” – remix or no remix, the spirit of Rod Stewart at his hot-legged worst is never far away from the latter – there are plenty of gems to find in his catalogue, but “Touched A Dream,” which currently only appears on his greatest hits compilation The R In R&B, is exceptional. The rhythm is midtempo and the beats are firm but not overpowering. Waking up, Kelly is evidently still astonished by what he and his Other achieved the night before and he makes his revelations sound like the morning after Barack’s victory (fingers crossed) when everyone has woken up on a brilliant day.

In addition to his ecstasy, Kelly also invokes the spiritual plurality which is a direct inheritance from the legacy of Coltrane; nature seems to open herself up to him totally – the rhetorical tripartite preacher-like intensity of his trio of “Last night”s, the raining down of heaven, the sun, moon and stars coming together, the angel speaking to him (Blakean soul!) – “he said us forever,” visions of a tropical river. He makes rewriting the book of love sound like cleaning up the original scrolls of the Bible.

His view expands; eagles, massive choirs, and ultimately the real transcendence: “Last night, I saw the world living in peace and harmony.” His voice steadily increases in intensity, dazzled over the conversion of his fantasy to a reality, and soon we are in “Can’t Get Next To You”/”Voodoo Chile” territory where Kelly is capable of jumping mountains and touching skies, confirmation/consummation furnished by the divine chord change over the “fly” in “over the sea, baby, we can fly” (well, YES!). By the time he’s seeing “the flowers the trees the birds the bees” – he’s given up pausing for breath by now – he’s launching to take off and that he does over the final furlongs of the song; he soars over the world and breaks free of any known “song” format, practically speaking in tongues – “love making queen,” “love making king,” the invocation of God, reciprocity and “amorocity;” the spiritual babbling brook is unabated and he climaxes with a howl of “That’s why I ain’t gon’ let the Devil steal my joy from me,” a sentiment whose history goes back almost beyond any of us. He whoops with justification and starts the hard work of climbing back down to Earth as the song’s radiant happiness dances into the deepening distance.