When David revealed on Twitter March 5th that “She’s Not You” was from “a while back”—and therefore wasn’t a candidate for the second album—I felt relieved.
No, no, no… it’s not that I hate the song. I like it: it’s catchy, and in particular the melody and the guitar in the verses create a nice vibe. (Though the chorus is a bit too bland for my liking.) When I first heard it, I felt anxiety about the second pop album… was this the direction it was headed?
We now know that it was a track recorded for David’s first album, but still my day or two of not knowing this made it a useful reference point for thinking about where David’s studio production was at 18 months ago, and what new directions it could and should go in now.
“She’s Not You” resembled much of the first album in its level of quality, and in that it was quite conventional—it dealt with simple young boy-girl love, and fell squarely in that space between R&B and pop that characterized much of the album. This approach made sense at the time—it was perhaps the smartest thing to try first to create commercial success, and after all there was little time for David and the label to define jointly the best approach for the album. But now David and the label have the benefit of time to create an album that paints some bold strokes—bold, first in the sense of having some particularly strong, standout songs, and second, bold in expressing who David is as a person and an artist.
Because, let’s face it: we, his fans, know that David is capable of greatness. Still, we have yet to see a musical composition that summons an emotional gravitas that is commensurate to David’s ability to convey it. I am not asking that the perfect song be on David’s second album. However, it is fair to want and expect that a genuine attempt be made.
That means songs that feature David’s voice. Songs that David can connect with. Songs that can summon some of that earth-shaking emotion we know David is capable of delivering.
This doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the pop route—in fact, if we are to speak of industry formulas, it seems to me that a pop power ballad, putting that stellar voice on a pedestal, would be the best approach. But what can I say? When it comes to what makes a song a hit, I’m not an expert. Still, as amateur fans we know enough to know that some things work for David that should be done.
In terms of arrangement and production, David’s fans are now more aware than before that, when it comes to David, it is often true that less is more. The bare instrumentation of “Contigo” put David’s voice front and center. As listeners, we honed in, not on the melody or the instruments, but on the subtleties of David’s voice. No fancy, expensive studio tricks, no synthesized hooks vying for our attention. Just us, and The Voice—a direct emotional conduit between the listener and the artist.
Another aspect of “Contigo” and of other songs (“Fields of Gold,” “Prayer of the Children,” “Imagine”) is that they were dear to David, on a theme that David could relate to. In my opinion, “Somebody Out There” was a much stronger ballad than either “To Be With You” and “You Can,” which I think comes down to the fact that David co-wrote SOT and could relate directly to what it said. “Falling” is gripping because we know these are David’s words, and that this music comes directly from his heart.
So I hope to see some movement in these directions with the second album. I am not saying that the album should be comprised entirely of soul-wrenching ballads. (Though I actually wouldn’t mind that.) In fact, I am hoping that there is some freedom given to David to express his rich musicality in a variety of musical genres.
In the first album, there was some variation in styles in the official twelve-track version, but they were a bit outside of David’s own inclinations. Unlike songs such as “Desperate” or “Running,” which because of the production were kind of hybrids of other styles, a conventional-pop melody with some stylistic dressing—some of the compositions David himself worked on, from the sassy “Works for Me,” to the club-thumping “Zero Gravity,” to the intimate “Somebody Out There,” jumped fully into the genre, spoke its language, and expressed a clear idea both lyrically and musically. Thus, a unity between words, music, and artist.
The most promising fact about the second album has been David’s extensive involvement in the writing process. This suggests that the folks at Jive/Zomba are trying a different approach and want this album to express David the Individual, whoever that may be. It is thrilling to think of what might be in store.
For now, “She’s Not You” is my new David music fix to sustain me through this long, extended Archudrought. Still, I do this with full knowledge that this isn’t the David that made me fall obsessively in love with him in the first place. Greater things await.
If this song were a person, then it would be the musical equivalent of a rebound—entertaining and pleasant enough for now, but just someone to hold me over while I’m really thinking about someone else.
“He was really nice… but he’s not you, David. I just know you’ll come back to me. I’m burning a candle in the window…”