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Wednesday, May 8, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Tweet: 'Southern Hummingbird'


Tweet's current hit "Oops (Oh My)" is surely the best song about masturbation since Lucinda Williams' "Right In Time," and its funky-feverish simplicity will probably make it the single of the year in the same way that Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" was the single of 2001. In such a sweepstakes, it helps that not only does Missy herself rap a few lines in Tweet's song but that Missy's partner in crime, Timbaland, produced it.

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Or maybe "produced" is no longer the best word to describe whatever it is Tim does. "Oops" is even more minimalist than "Freak": a repeated three-beat percussion line, two spare keyboard samples, and a bass tattoo that's more tactile than aural. Certainly the most ingenious hip-hop producer anywhere (if not the most original record producer in any genre), Timbaland made his rep not by pushing his own agenda but by understanding instinctively those of the people he serves. Tweet (Charlene Keys) sings in an unassuming, non-melismatic style that would only be buried under the more full-bodied sound that has helped other newcomers like Ashanti reach the top of the charts this spring. The sensuality that pushes "Oops" over the edge has less to do with vocal power than with the suggestion that Tweet means to turn herself on and not us. There's a mystery there that's irresistible.

"Southern Hummingbird" contains a lot of songs about self-sufficiency. Loneliness -- and not necessarily the kind that's caused by lack of a sex partner -- is expressed with unromantic directness in "Smoking Cigarettes" and "Drunk." The requisite party-up cut, "Boogie 2Nite," doesn't slap you around, but nevertheless gets a groove going. It's an anticipatory dance song. "Are you ready?" she asks her seemingly reluctant partner, " 'cause I am." Timbaland complements her coy, smiling phrases with nothing more than chicken-scratch guitar that keeps a lid on full-blown nastiness but still cooks with gas.

He adds only an acoustic guitar to "Motel" (rhymes with "go to hell"), Tweet's tale of betrayal, which is expressed in terms of exhaustion rather than rage or disappointment. Similarly, "Heaven" doesn't describe her state-of-mind as she looks in her lover's eyes, but rather the place she occupies after he leaves ("No more waiting for you to say I love you").

It's not surprising, then, that the least satisfying track is one she shares with another singer. Bilal, who is temperamentally and stylistically the opposite of Tweet, grabs "Best Friend" by the throat and wrestles it to the mat. Tweet isn't interested in making that kind of impression, and Timbaland and Missy, to their credit, respect that.



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