Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

MNEK – Paradise

Another year, another MNEK single and referenced dance classic we like…


Claire Biddles: The oldest trick: Pop music as escapism, (queer) clubbing as escapism, nostalgia as escapism. That San Junipero neon palm tree on the single artwork. A glowing beacon for a (temporary, man-made) sanctuary from the darkness of reality. Of course the paradise of the title is a (queer) club in a parallel world, where familiar songs from childhood twist with dream logic, major keys become minor, lyrics adapt to the dreamer’s own needs: “In paradise we’re free.” The most overdone and overused pop cliché, but MNEK is clever enough to make it deft and elegant, and clever enough to throw us back onto the rain-soaked pavement in the last second.

Thomas Inskeep: 20 years ago this week, Ultra Naté’s true club classic “Free” was in its final week of an 8-week stay in the UK top 10. While it never crossed over in her home country of the US, “Free” is one of her 17 top 10 Dance/Club Play Billboard singles, and hit #1 on said chart. MNEK makes smart use of “Free,” turning its guitar hook into the musical refrain on “Paradise.” He could’ve gone the club stormer route but instead keeps the tempo muted, proceeding to both sing and rap over it, promising to take you — well, you know where. His singing voice is much prettier than his rapping, so fortunately he does much more of the former than the latter, and while this is no “Free,” it’s enough.

Will Adams: The guitar riff in “Free” always seemed strange to me; its forlorn, descending harmony was at odds with the spiritual release Ultra Naté sang about. But it’s an inspired sample for MNEK, as “Paradise” also oscillates between the intense heat of attraction and the inherent sadness behind escapism. Instead of house, MNEK plucks from the best parts of Y2K R&B — razor-sharp skitters and groaning bass — as that riff loops on and on. The ambiguity is a choice, which makes “Paradise” sound all the more realized.

Edward Okulicz: The riff from “Free” always struck me as yearning, unsatisfied even, and so I never believed Ultra Naté when she said I was free — no! I was not! I was trapped in a prison of my own longing and my own desire and such, plus I was always a “Found a Cure” guy. As the backdrop to an invitation to paradise, it works better. Making an uptempo stomper would have been exceedingly obvious; “Paradise” is a good measure slower than the ingredients would suggest, but it means it takes better advantage of its source material, MNEK’s own voice and its lyrics.

Joshua Copperman: Floaty, lightly distorted electro-pop is never a bad thing, especially when it’s done this well. I especially like the final minute of the song, which sounds like a more accessible version of James Blake on 1.25x, and the sampled guitar line throughout. It could have fooled me — what’s really interesting is how the line isn’t necessarily treated like an old sample, but another piece of texture to a song that already has a surplus.

Katherine St Asaph: Like David Turpin’s “The Red Elk,” a promise of escape shot through with palpable dread (and no, not the dread that crept up around 0:50 when a drop seemed to be about to arrive). The outro speaks the subtext, though.

Cassy Gress: I’m torn about whether this is bad because it’s so creepy, or whether it’s good because it’s so creepy. The single art for this is a splash of bright paints in the shape of a palm tree, and it definitely sounds like a hammock swinging gently on a beach in the moonlight. But it takes too long to get started, and the dark reverberation, lonely guitar riff and minor key make this sound more ominous and frightening than anything. If he sat on that hammock and sang this to me, I’d probably ask him if he needed a blanket or mug of hot chocolate or something.

Scott Mildenhall: Pop sage that he is, MNEK has been wise to loop only the bit of “Free” that sounds like Texas. In and of themselves, the parts where Ultra Naté really gets going resemble an assertion of mandatory enjoyment that rings hollow when the time isn’t right; ironically, oppressive. “Paradise”, too, is oppressive, but would suffer from such unsubtlety. The guitar that Naté uses as a pensive prelude to her supposed release offers instead a creeping tension when left to encircle here. Round and round it goes with no resolution, just as none is brought from the twin darknesses of reality and fantasy.

Reader average: [9] (1 vote)

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