I know there’s so many other things I should be writing about this week. There’s a new Strokes record out (hint: it didn’t change my life), Lil Wayne just did a song with Limp Bizkit and there’s a lot of fantastic local stuff that I’ve been wrapping my ears around. But sometimes, a blogger just has to be honest, and if I’m being honest, this is the only song I’ve had on repeat since I heard it a little over a fortnight ago. Yes, it’s a bootleg, and according to its producer, Lightspeed Champion/Blood Orange/Solange faithful and seemingly insatiable music maker Dev Hynes, it was done for a bit of a laugh. you know, like that time he and Florence Welch recorded an entire album of Green Day covers via Macbook. The difference here is that this track, which uses the swirling, ominous synths of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools’ as a base, sounds like a million dollars. Despite all the new and exciting things that are trying to tempt us right now (look! a new Daft Punk album!), it turns out that matching ’90s urban power-pop with contemporary conscious rap is literally all you need to make the biggest underground hit in the world. Again.
Some context, then. MKS is short for ‘Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan’ the three founding members of British pop phenomenon Sugababes, who you may remember (among other things) for that sophisticated earworm called ‘Overload.’ For many Australians, this and a handful of other tracks was the first and last we heard of this excellent girl group, who seemed to disappear into a cloud of smoke like fellow R&B/big beat-inspired poppettes Mis-Teeq and All Saints in the new millennium. If you lived in Britain, meanwhile, Sugababes never actually went away. All they did, in fact, was fight; with each other, with the courts and with their various record labels. Turns out that despite key members of the group (i.e these three) all leaving one by one, the replacements did just as good a job of making tabloid headlines, so they’ve never really been granted the obsolescence their peers were afforded. MKS exists because the three pretenders to the throne will not give up The Sugababes name, but evidently the desire to hear the originals is still there. Emeli Sande has signed on to write for them, as has Professor Green and the aforementioned Hynes. They just signed a million dollar deal with Polydor, a figure usually reserved for rappers like, um, Kendrick Lamar.
And so they’re back in the studio, and unlike when rock stars mess about at the end of a long day, they decided to completely flip ‘Swimming Pools’, perhaps the most pervasive and misunderstood rap tune of the last 12 months and turn it into a dark, completely realised slice of modern R&B. It’s like these three were born to harmonise, and their individual voices are absolutely stunning, Mutya’s particularly, as she takes the verses with her smoky jazz mezzo-soprano that swoops so low it may well be pure dark chocolate by the time it hits the microphone. It’s inventive, too; all triplet figures and slides that flow into that massive hi-hat drop before the chorus. With the three-part girl group loosening up, they hit back at those brass synth punches as hard as they fall, opening up the sonic palette of the accompaniment far beyond what Kendrick or Dr Dre would have ever imagined. And they get to pull out all the stops that you can only get away with when you’re a platinum selling diva, like crazy ad-libs over repeats, bridges that are even better than their predecessors, and arcing counter-melodies that just prove how far one idea can be extended if you have the right personnel. Sure, it’s prime time for revivals, but that’s not what MKS are doing. Even on a song that isn’t their own, they’re making it their own, and scratching out their past to make way for a new future.
I, for one, am freaking excited.
Blood Orange ft. MKS – ‘Lay Down In Swimming Pools’