Truth comes from funny places. Joy even more so. Late night urban radio
and songs long forgotten in the glow of the dial in the dashboard. From that very rolling or parked perch, slices of dated production emerge in waves and sheets of what was the right-then, sounding like what-was, but still managing to hit a nerve, connect with a timeless emotional reality, be it pain or lust or love.
The shafts of synth -- all satiny smooth and shimmering with a cool remove --percolate as the guitar serpentines its way through the vocal breaks and the beat benches the whole damn thing. At its best, new jack swing or rhythm and blues or just plain black music gets it done, moves you along the conveyor belt of moments - and gives you something solid to grip in your sonic time travel.
Gerald LeVert's "Casanova" is one of those songs. It is a feel good record that turned 1987 inside out, that bounced its way into the smile-inducing pledge of eternal commitment, total appreciation and the implied promise of getting the girl just exactly where she wants to be every single time…
Gerald LeVert -- progeny of soul royalty the O'Jays -- has a voice that is an emotionally conductive instrument. Wincing, ardent, pushed to the brink, but trying to convince a girl that he's the regular Joe who will be more than she could ever hope for, he brings the bravado and the vulnerability of the unknowing teetering on the brink of what might not be to the table hard -- and closes with the raw want of one who can't even contemplate the possibility of denial.
Produced by Reggie Calloway -- known for his Midnight Star, Deele and Shalamar records -- "Casanova" is as wonderful a slice of good clean erotic roll-out as has ever been lobbed. When a boy will come on this straightforward with a beat that sweeps left, then right, when there's this much innocence basting a willingness to "get down on my knees for you, baby," it's the nexus between Prince's naughty-by-nature funk and Motown's brown-eyed soul.
But as strong as the record is, it's actually the song that puts an arrow through the heart. Cupid in a pair of Timbalands and baggy low riders, this is serious business -- with the protagonist going straight for his own jugular. Yes, he pledges the thrills of a lifetime, but he's also quick to tell the truth -- a truth that's about stretching paychecks, nothing going on but the rent, trying to carve out a place in the world, looking for someone to recognize how special they are, to make them feel a little bit better about the day-to-day, 9-to-5 drudgery of real life.
Is the truth an anti-truth? Something so completely devoid of glamour there's nothing appealing. Or is a simple honest man bringing it all to the plate, pledging whatever he's got totally to the object of his desire the sexiest thing of all? Who's to say, except the unseen paramour du jour or pour la vie.
"Casanova" is an exhortation for an invitation, a slow burn for permission from a man who recognizes the clumsiness of the working stiff looking for his place in the sun -- and a girl who probably resides just outside his grasp. But if the match is struck, what flame will endure? burn higher? hotter?
Which is the trick of the tail. Or the definition-defying notion of bring on the heat. For in the mix, the hunger is both libidinous and validation. One tempts the other, the other promises the rest. And in a rare moment of revelation, the crowning realization is this -- utter satisfaction isn't merely about the boot-knocking, but the higher power that is being loved by someone who has knocked one off their feet.
And the device… THE DEVICE! Sheer genius: pitting the boy, the man, the hiphopster, gangbanger, prep or striver next door against the great heartthrobs and romantic foils of our time. Without a flinch or a blink, the song opens with the compare and contrast Blue Book busting confession, "I ain't much on Casanova, me and Romeo ain't never been friends…"
In close form harmony, LeVert's nougat and satin sheets harmonies sweep straight into the next line with an ease that promises a second nature reaction, a reflex response to this full immersion reality he's trying to create for himself "Can't you see how much I really love you/ Gonna sing it to you time and time again…"
There's a churchy style confession delivered in scatty conversational tone. He ain't slick, this boy. Heck, he ain't a boy, he's a man who knows his limitations -- and he can only offer his whole self in exchange for her heart. But his whole includes a vulnerability that smacks of unscarred youth that will admit both want and need…and in the most plain spoken terms, he lays it all out.
"Every time I wanna see you, I can't find the words to tell you so
But I love, I love, I love you baby -- And I just got to let you know
How much I need you, Show you what you mean to me each day baby
So let me hold you, keep you safe and warm
I'll be your sweetheart baby…"
Indeed, the men of LeVert are just getting started pledging their everything to the woman who makes it all too real, all too technicolor, all the throbbing and churning yearning welling up inside. While the come on is about making it forever, getting the papers and wanting her "to be my wife," it hits a little deeper and fleshier:
"I wanna hug and squeeze you, too, I wanna make sweet love to you
Wanna be there when you're feeling low
Never wanna let you go
I'm just a man baby…"
So how does a 15-year old aural valentine end up on the radar? Well, it stems from a discussion in a bar -- where all the most important things end up getting churned in the fading hours of the day -- about the absence of the intersection of sex and real love in contemporary music. Either it's wicked nasty or a so-pure-it-puckers true love that's beyond virginal.
Sure, Britney and Backstreet and N Sync work from the carnal bridge, but their sexuality is an empty promise -- a touchless man's bluff. For while they writhe and grind, it's motion without meaning. Even their ardent passions are more popsicles, hand-holding and two-dimensions -- because there's not been enough life lived to really know the battering that forces this sort of need to go subterranean.
Being that the discussion came down in Nashville, someone cracked that the last time someone in country music got laid, let alone laid in a context that had sweetness or a twinge of meaning, it was "Strawberry Wine," a song about a young girl falling in love and making love for the first time. That song is 7 years old. And if country music once was a randy place to be, it has been sanitized for your protection and left with that little paper strip promising hygenics over the various smiling head covers littering Wal-Marts and Targets coast-to-coast.
In the other genres, the trouble is the hardcore sexuality and utter misogyny that permeates rock and rap and metal. The ultimate skin covered receptacle, much of what is sought is about empty release -- and not the bigger, more fulfilling connections.
And so it was that I argued for LeVert and "Casanova." Not just because of the lushness of a world class trio in harmonic phase -- or the sweetness of Gerald LeVert's muscular honey-dripping voice sweeping down, then quickly pulling up to scrape the rafters. No, the idea someone would humble themselves for love, for sex, for marriage -- and that they're willing to go long on the truth in the bargain… well, aside from promising the longform joyride eternally, that's some pretty strong and torrid stuff.
Granted LeVert knew too well the confectionary aspect of what they do. Those big thick beats that are all rubber and featherbeds and rebounding for the three-pointer -- and the cotton candy melody rushes the blood to the head.
But the case gets made beyond the smooth soul of the hit. Take an obscure rock/pop group called the Ghost Poets and put the song in their hands. They bring in acoustic guitars. Slow down the tempo. Heat up a drum machine. Cascade piano runs across the melody. And they deliver the vocals with a breathiness that suggests being so overwhelmed by the desire they're driven to the point of, well, perhaps confusion.
In their hands, it's almost a sad song, an apology for what can't be delivered. If LeVert were set to bring it all back home and then some, the Ghost Poets offer a cherishment that will eternally elevate the object of desire to a treasure, a pinnacle of appreciation that will never again be recognized. "I may not be," they seem to say, "but no one else will see you as I do, either…"
And yes, like LeVert -- though the lyric is suitably tamed down for a more AOR/AC axis -- they are promising a serious ride through the good groove. Smartly, the Poets have a woman wailing in the background as an aural touchstone. Satisfaction guaranteed is more than implied. These white boys aren't taking any chances.
The commonality of real world hook-ups remains being able to see the sparkle in someone else -- and being able to transcend the mere mortality, the sheer humanity, the everyday humdrum fade-to-gray reality that faces us all. How can I show you how special I am, except by recognizing how special you are? By telling you in the straightest language I've got -- and by coming straight out about just what I wanna do in the name of the greater love.
What's sexier than someone willing to stand naked in the boldest sense? Clothes never really made the man -- or the woman. But that brave soul who will own who they really are, without artifice, without defenses, without excuses, and say "Take me as I am. It's all I've got, but it's your's…," well that is truly the completest commitment.
From there, anything else can be resolved -- or created. Satisfaction guaranteed.
No wonder LeVert called their "Casanova"-containing recording The Big Throwdown.
-- Holly Gleason