Last night, at a reggae concert, sandwiched between two desperate British expats and a whole lot of too-high, sketchy local dudes, I heard the 2013 Grammy-award winner for best RnB track. Or rather, I heard it transmogrified for an appropriately relaxed Jamaican beach-side audience, replete with bouncing bass line and a typical Rasta character playing keys, eyes half-closed, mind on another level entirely. It wasn’t what I expected but then, Jamaica is turning out to be a pretty unexpected place. Beyond reggae and dancehall reggaeton, the appetite on this island seems to be for anything with a bit of soul to it. On a 1.5 hour drive from the airport, every station the driver seemed to switch between was some sort of Soul FM spin-off. The ‘one love’ sentiment expressed by every Jamaican and his dog might not be genuine with every personality you meet but certainly, it manifests itself in the music they listen to.
‘Adorn’ is not typical Jamaican fare. In many ways, it is more sexually charged than the ‘‘-style standards that make up the bulk of the listening diet in the country. Innuendo and crudeness pulses through the lyrical content of the reggae classics. It remains unclear whether these and other tracks, ‘No Woman, No Cry’, ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘Buffalo Soldier’ et al, are actually enjoyed by the locals as much as they are plugged on repeat for visitors who anticipate they’ve stumbled out of the airport and into Bob Marleyville. In any event, the style of ‘Adorn’ seems to fit smoothly within the broader context of love-making/baby-making/drug-taking that apparently enthralls the country and its radio. The transition between the Marley standards and this, most contemporary of soulful tracks, was almost imperceptible last night. Part of that had to do with reggae’s homogenising capacity but part of it must have had something to do with 27-year-old Los Angeles local Miguel’s ability to fashion a really powerful image. ‘Let my love adorn you’ resonates like ‘one love, one heart’ does. It is simple, strong.
For all its transferability into the reggae genre, ‘Adorn’ is also a rightful winner of the RnB Grammy this year. It is 2013 America far more than it is late 1970s Wailers Jamaica. Coming off ‘Kaleidoscope Dreams’, the feature-favourite artist’s sophomore album released last year, it is a laudable effort for how much it draws out of that one notion of wearing love, making it make you look better. You have to be a fairly accomplished vocalist to pull off scatting and posturing as Miguel does for much of this track. In parts, it seems more vocal trills than substance (the high-pitched ‘wah’s are a particular favourite of mine). The production, all obscured synths, vocal echoes and minimal electronic drums handled by Miguel too, lets that central concept grow, flourish so that it fits the track naturally and never feels stretched to make up the 3’13″. Comparisons to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ punctuate the literature around this song. It’s the clarity of the message in both, and the spectacular way in which they are delivered, that moves me agree with drawing that, rather bold parallel. As the sun sets on the Carribean Sea, Red Stripe beer in hand, I only hope that ‘Adorn’ lasts like Gaye’s work and the oeuvre of this country’s national hero have.
Miguel – Adorn