03 July 2007

Tambourine: Not Just for Jan Brady Anymore

After canvassing both state and federal statutes, I am surprised--and admittedly relieved--to report that the beat on Eve's new single "Tambourine" is not illegal.

It probably will be soon, though, so we'd better enjoy it while we can. I mean, what choice will law enforcement have but to ban a rhythm that's so likely to cause chaos in the streets? Have you guys heard this thing? I cannot remember the last time a song left me so powerless. When it's on, I have no choice but to dance. And what if it came on while I was driving? Or operating on someone? Disaster.

Here's the back story: A few days ago, I noticed the track was climbing up Billboard's Hot 100, so I went to listen to the iTunes sample. And that thirty-second clip practically melted by brain. I was sitting in my Joe-average desk chair, my t-shirt and cargo shorts weren't particularly bootylicious... you'd think I could've resisted. But before I knew it, my arms were up over my head. My hips were shaking. "Tambourine" owned me.

Obviously, I bought the song. Ever since, I've been leaving messages for friends telling them they have to hear it. I brought my iPod to a party just so my friend Rachel could listen in. As expected, we stopped all conversation for an instant dance party.

To fully explicate the awesomeness of "Tambourine," I'm going to do a close reading. It may take me hours to finish it, though, since I'll have to keep getting up to groove to the very object of my analysis.

Undaunted, though, I present you with my thesis:

Unbel-EVE-able: A Close Reading of Eve's Tambourine

First: If you haven't heard the song, go here. You have to get past about 15 seconds of Eve promoting her new album, but then you're good to go. The song is bowdlerized on her MySpace page, but I'll be discussing the uncensored version.

00:01 -- The first thing we hear, after a few shakes of a (duh) tambourine, is Swizz Beatz, the song's producer, saying "You gotta shake your ass!" The phrase "shake your ass" echoes. Right away, we know this is going to be a serious dance song that nevertheless has a sense of fun.

00:02-00:10 -- We first hear the refrain, which is a man chanting something like "Shake your tambourine. Go on. Get yourself a-whistlin." (Only he says it "a-WHISS-uh-linn.") The cadence of this chorus is unusual because there's almost no pause between any of the phrases. The words flow into each other without stopping, which tells us the impending tempo is going to be insistent.

00:21 -- The beat seriously drops. For twenty seconds, we've had an exciting build-up to this moment. The male voice. The tambourine. A chorus of higher voices chanting "Shake. Your. Tambourine. Shake." (Or something. I can't quite make it out.) All of these components get layered on top of each other to create an increasingly intense sound. You can feel the tingle of expectation... and then... BOOM. A single bass note thuds across the track. Then it's time for the serious drum loop. The track explodes with sound and fury.

00:31-00:42 -- Wait a minute! The major bass notes drop out for a minute! The beat changes! And by 00:41, a swooshing synthesizer has been added. Those synth sounds are... lovely. They're like something out of an 80s ballad. They pop up occasionally throughout the song, and they're a key to its brilliance. This is not a lazy, flat hip-hop joint. This is a track with texture. This is a beat that changes and evolves. Its unpredictability makes it much more exciting.

00:41 -- Eve starts rapping. After the frenetic intro, her laid-back flow is a fascinating counterpoint. Again, it gives the song more tension and makes it more exciting. If Eve were rhyming at hyperspeed, the song would sound like Outkast's "B.O.B.," in which everything is just so insanely fast that your body can barely keep up. Now I love "B.O.B," but it's equally awesome to hear the interplay between a rapper who takes her time and a rhythm track that never stops.

1:28 -- Rapping almost a cappella, Eve hits the lines "Pop them bottles, yeah, drink that up, man. Got you feelin' crazy? Well, that was the plan." This is the perfect sentiment for her voice. No matter the song, Eve always sounds like she's smirking while she raps. Whereas, say, Kanye West or Fabolous or Missy Elliott can rhyme with vulnerable emotion, Eve only sounds believable when she's coolly asserting her awesomeness or instructing us to party. Confessional raps like "As I Grow," from the album Eve-olution, feel woefully stilted.

"Tambourine" highlights her skill as an MC, and nowhere more obviously than on this line. The way she enunciates the words--hitting "pop" like she's firing a bullet, giving every syllable in "that was the plan" the same hard emphasis--gives her the confidence and swagger she needs to sell a song about ruling the clubs.

-- -- --

Those are the core elements of "Tambourine," and they keep building and expanding until the end. And speaking of the ending, it comes really abruptly. We're in full-tilt boogie, and then everything just stops. No beat, no music, no nothing. Just a quick echo of a man shouting, and then we're out. Obviously, Eve and Swizz Beatz have said everything there is to say. Assured of their mastery of the dance floor, they just pick up and go. Their confident exit only further proves their point.

And that point? Well, it's right there in the opening. You do gotta shake your ass, by god. And "Tambourine" is the perfect motivator.



At 4:52 PM, Blogger Laura B said...


[door slams]

--time passes--

[door opens]

"Ok! I've got my tambourine! When do we start whistlin', now?"

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

So, upon getting this song, I had to forward it to a friend who was having a party this weekend. She was compelled to immediately remake her "summerjamz07" mix, and then we all got ourselves a-whistlin' on Friday night!


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