Another four minutes

After more weeks of watching Timbaland, Timberlake and Madonna in the single Four Minutes, I've come to appreciate it a bit more and reckon I might have been a bit harsh in my earlier assessment.

This reevaluation is in part because my son has been telling me how much he likes it and I like hearing him discuss Madonna in the same terms he uses for discussing superheroes because, let's face it, Madonna is a modern superhero and she's still raising the bar for women after more than two decades. So the idea of her saving the world is starting to make sense and I've started to enjoy this cartoon aspect of the chorus.

I also liked hearing my partner imitate the way Timberlake says 'Madonna'. I know elsewhere in the song his vocals are treated like a turntable but he has this natural ability to sound like one too. The fast/slow/fast cadence he employs when saying Ma-dohh-na is a good example of drawing inspiration from beatboxing I reckon.

The other thing is that I've got an interpretation of the film clip to share.

There's this bit in the clip early on where you see a painting hanging on a wall and if you look it's like a boyish young man in a pair of rubber shorts, which would fit with all the fetishistic imagery Madonna uses in her clips.

When you pause on one of the few frames in which it appears you can see it's a painting that seems to show a young black man emerging from a peeling layer of lighter coloured flesh and the shorts are the pinker shade of another layer of flesh.

I like the idea that this could illustrate how there are no human races, only one race with varying shades of tan. In the context of this clip, however, I think it illustrates the idea that Timbaland is bringing a primal and black (in the African American sense) groove to the track and Madonna, who has basically been described as a strap-on by Aphex Twin, is caught up in the sheer pervasiveness of the Timbaland sound. It acknowledges the huge influence he's had on popular music.

This idea makes sense of the blackness that's pursuing Madonna and Timberlake throughout the clip, cutting through the extras over the course of four minutes and catching our two heroes right at the end. The blackness is the unavoidably funky Timbaland beat that the man himself introduces in a black setting at the beginning.

(And, I should acknowledge, the thing that really spelt out how black the Timbaland sound is was the film clip for his tune with Flo Rida, Elevator. It seems there's only one white face in the film clip, the boyish looking DJ. No doubt that's deliberate. A bit like the recent Soulja Boy clip for Donk, which I guess is about arses, where there's only one white face among the young black folk and he's an older looking bloke. It's like an inversion of all those politically correct sitcoms, ads, university prospecti and even girl groups like the Spice Girls where there's one black face among an otherwise white group.)

I'd guess that Madonna has only got four minutes to make the most of Timbaland's oversaturated sound because, let's face it, American R&B and commercial hip hop are really struggling at the moment. I reckon you can see the trend is moving from the 'boom-tee-boom' sound the Timbaland typified toward something more like four on the floor doof of European dance music. In part this is a natural progression for the super compressed beats that started the mastering wars because it is the most effective way for music to move a speaker, as the push of a bass drum gets to use the suck of sidechained compression on the pull of the upbeat. The other thing is it makes it easy for DJs to mix, for bootleggers to mash-up and for the divide between raves and clubs to be overcome. It also fits with the way R&B have adopted autotune used heavily to sound like a vocoder. Just listen to tracks like Chris Brown's Forever or Ne-yo's Closer for examples of both the doof beat and the robot trend in vocals.

However, I still reckon tracks like Four Minutes would sound better if performed on real instruments. Like if the synth brass were replaced with an actual brass marching band. If Madonna had jumped on the Daptones sound like Amy Winehouse did then she'd really be in the cheerleader position for saving the world IMO.