Saturday, 2 May 2009

1984 Chaka Khan: I Feel For You

'I Feel For You' was a cover version of a Prince track which, in the form it originally appeared on his debut album, was a synthesiser heavy pop song typical of his early output which took none of the form, content or production risks of his mid to late eighties work.

Though never a premier league vocalist herself, Khan nevertheless has chops enough to get stuck into material like this, and letting her loose on 'I Feel For You' should be a no brainer in terms of upping the soul quotient that Prince's version lacked. Should be, but it isn't; too many cooks are at work on this and the end result is much less than it could have been.

The heart of the song doesn't present too many problems. Opening with a Melle Mel rap, the same basic rhythm and structure is carried over from the Prince template, only the production is more compressed and crunchy on this, rather like Prince's own sound in his 'Parade' era. Ironically, it has the effect of making Khan's version sound more 'like' Prince than his own version does.

Would they had stopped there then 'I Feel For You' could have become a classic of the decade, but instead of a straightforward cover version that promoted Khan's voice as the star, the end result is a failed experiment of trying to be all things to too many people by covering as many bases as possible.

The recurring rap works well enough, even if it does now date the record as concisely as if it wore deely boppers and leg warmers, but this attempt to build 'I Feel For You' on a hip hop foundation to make it as contemporary as possible is almost immediately sabotaged as soon as Stevie Wonder's soaring R&B harmonica riff starts up.

The schools old and new proceed to grind against each other throughout the song's entire running time like Tectonic plates, and neither of them sit particularly well against the slap funk bass and busy Hi-NRG snyth effects courtesy of The System that are heavy on the cheese and light on substance. Khan's voice too is needlessly processed through a slight echo chamber that gives it a metallic edge and causes it to float curiously above the mix instead of engaging with it at the heart. In terms of soul, it's rather like putting go faster stripes on a Ferrari in that it detracts far more than it adds.

The resultant pick and mix sound is a bit of a mess to be honest, and in what seems to be a recurring theme with a lot of eighties singles, it's not helped by the fact it endlessly recycles all of the above for over five minutes, making the end product more reminiscent of the riot of smudged colour on an artists palette instead of the finished canvas. Rather than sounding truly joyous and celebratory,
'I Feel For You' sounds akin to the forced humour and jollity of a minor celebrity getting a custard pie in the face on Red Nose Day. Spoiled broth indeed.

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