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Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2001

HIGH NOTES

Nathaniel Merriweather: 'Lovage'


Makeout music is as old as the phonograph (older, if you believe that Bach really wrote the "Goldberg Variations" to help Herr Goldberg get Frau Goldberg in the mood), but Barry White was the first recording artist who made a conscious effort to emphasize only those musical and lyrical elements that would get a date into the sack.

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Chest Rockwell (Prince Paul) opens the new album by Nathaniel Merriweather, his partner in the Handsome Boy Modeling School, with a plug for the record's utilitarian function that name-checks the Big Daddy of Makeout: "Barry White used to work for me. Shoot, even Abba used to work, the way I was doing my thing. But you put this on, and the hos go wild."

"This" is "Lovage -- Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By," which is tongue-in-cheek about sexual conquests the way the Handsome Boy Modeling School's "So How's Your Girl?" was tongue-in-cheek about male bonding. Merriweather (Dan "the Automator" Nakamura) keeps the music relaxed and down-tempo most of the time, using samples from lounge jazz and unfamiliar soundtracks as background pheromone-enhancers.

Predictably, he uncovers more than just sex. With Mike Patton delivering a tortured Tom Jones vocal, the subject of not getting what you wanted (or expected) is taken to melodramatic extremes on "Anger Management." In "To Catch a Thief," vocalist Jennifer Charles develops the hots for a house burglar since she gets off on the idea of a dangerous man ("your love is my relief/my love is your release").

On a more prosaic level, "Herbs, Good Hygiene & Socks" features an unidentified white guy asking dorky questions about venereal diseases and "how to keep from getting a chick pregnant," and then hip-hop godfather Afrika Bambaataa answering with advice on how to make a good impression ("wash your ass every day and brush your breath three times a day").

Mostly "Lovage" is deadpan and wry and impossible to ignore. Since the music is romantic and sensual, you could theoretically make love to your old lady by it, but more likely you and your old lady will just get distracted and start cracking up; which shouldn't be a problem. After all, laughing is like sex, only without the mess. I'm sure Barry would understand.



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