Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Destiny’s Child – Nuclear

15 years on, this group out of Houston is still stuck playing local sports events. Will this be the single to finally push them into superstardom?…


Brad Shoup: In 1995, the Flaming Lips wrote “When You Smile,” a charming guitar-pop song that considers love’s subatomic origin. In 2012, Solange Knowles wrote “Losing You,” a throwback pop song pitched halfway between banger and bedroom hymn. So you can imagine how excited I am. The news of a DC reunion single augured an orbit-halting ballad, or an uptempo event consumable by a Super Bowl-sized audience. But they split the difference! Pharrell plays Hal Richman, beaming our heroes into the major leagues of house-inflected, early-’90s pop, trusting them to take the pennant on the merits. The simultaneous GQ profile of Beyoncé may steel you, as it did me, to receive the work of a benevolent technocrat, letting her coattails back out for old time’s sake. Wonderfully, Bey’s but a part of the whole, exactly as capable as her old mates at communicating contentment, wisdom, generosity. All the lyrical talk of chemistry and superpowers makes me think of the three, and it’s probably intended to. But jumping to the text reveals one of the most confident marriage songs I’ve ever heard. “There’s nowhere left to run,” they sing. “Why run? Why run? Why would you run?” Is that not how a bond should be?

Iain Mew: See, Little Mix, this is how you do pseudo-science. Take it so far into the realms of nonsense, and sing it so softly and sweetly, that the words just become so many more pleasantly floating things.

Anthony Easton: When a song is added to a greatest hits collection by a re-united band, it’s usually both dated and superfluous. Maybe it’s because Beyoncé has a rep to uphold, or because she recognizes that this is another kind of publicity for her new album, but this sounds on point, in fashion, newish and smart. That’s the first surprise. The second surprise, considering the history of Destiny’s Child, is that this could have been a Diana Ross elbowing out Florence Ballard situation and it’s not — all of the voices work as one. Extra point for the delightfully charming pseudo-science.

Alfred Soto: Of course the lyric should read “When three become one at the quantum level.” Maybe Beyoncé should bite her lip and ask Solange to join her: those vocals, harmonizing at a quantum level, thin and melancholy, drifting over those synth and percussion tracks, sound inspired by “Losing You.” A low key comeback then, a diminishing of spirits after Beyonce’s 4, but radio will soon cause the necessary chain reaction.

Al Shipley: While her little sis is putting people onto Brandy’s back catalog, Beyoncé is repackaging her group’s old non-hits to remind the world of #deepDCalbumcuts. The token new track is both not up the trio’s blockbuster standard and better than it has a right to be, especially given that Pharrell, despite stumbling into relevance on some of 2012’s most beloved albums, has had about as many hits as Michelle Williams in recent years. Years ago, Pharrell botched a Twista single by attempting to pay homage to Baltimore club music with his own clumsy unquantized drums — here he just takes the “Think” break for a smooth ride and catches an Odell’s vibe without trying too hard. 

Patrick St. Michel: Reeled-in vocals, a well-known drum break, lyrics about the joys of monogamy… this isn’t what I expected from a Destiny’s Child reunion, although it makes more sense when you remember it’s being packaged with a “greatest love hits” compilation. Yet the smoothness of “Nuclear” has won me over, the group avoiding any showboating (Beyoncé has to save something for the Super Bowl) in favor of an unassuming track that’s a pleasant joy.

Doug Robertson: The pop handbook states very clearly (Rule 114, clause iv if you want to look it up) that if you’re going to make a comeback then you need to announce your re-entry to the scene with a supersonic blast of a song that not only reminds people why they loved you in the first place but makes them drop to the floor and thank a deity that they may or may not believe in that you’ve finally returned, even more so if you’ve chosen to make that comeback with a song called “Nuclear.” What you shouldn’t do is present us with a pretty bland and forgettable song that would just about work as the fourth single from an album but here serves mainly to remind people just how good Beyoncé’s solo work is and question exactly what is in this reunion for her. No wonder people normally regret going for the nuclear option.

Will Adams: Reunited and it feels so blah.

Jer Fairall: Evoking Bedtime Stories-era Madonna in its clipped electronic shuffle, and the hushed polish of either an early Toni Braxton or a late Anita Baker in the smoothness of the vocals, the girls appear to be locating the focal point of their nostalgia nearly a decade before their own heyday. It is nothing like what we expect or want from a Destiny’s Child reunion, in other words, though as compilation filler, it’s pleasant enough.

Kat Stevens: Would probably fit quite well on tape 2 of Now! 25 between Joey Lawrence’s “Nothin’ My Love Can’t Fix” and Efua’s “Somewhere”.

Ian Mathers: Surely I wasn’t the only one who expected something more overtly dramatic or explosive from a song called “Nuclear,” but in some ways this is even better; those voices blending together, almost on the quantum level the song calls for, in utterly bewitching fashion. Between the soft, sighing quality of much of the song and the break, this almost sounds more like, say, Vistoso Bosses than some of Destiny’s Child’s past huge, world-conquering singles. But I think “Nuclear” would still be incredibly impressive even if it wasn’t the first/only new material from the group in eight years; if anything, it suggests that they’re still in their imperial phase, if they choose to be.

Pete Baran: Like much of Destiny’s Child’s later career, “Nuclear” is perfectly tooled for its job. It’s a new bonus track in a collection, so it needs to be good enough to get people to buy it, but not so good that we all throw away our respective Beyoncé and Kelly albums and demand a reformation now. It knows that it should not be a Beyoncé plus Destiny’s Child track (like many of the the later DC tracks), and it also knows how to showcase each of the singer’s distinctive voices. It is exactly what they wanted it to be, and I think they wanted it to be a [6].

Sabina Tang: I’ve never been tempted to describe R&B with stereotypical images of silk sheets and bubbly, but “Nuclear” — with its echoing, ever-shifting harmonies and skittering garage beat — is the very synaesthetic evocation of a champagne cocktail. It would have passed inspection as a 12″ B-side from 1998, albeit (as a shuffle through my vinyl shelf confirms) not one of Destiny’s Child’s. And while “Say My Name” came close in construction, its mood was very different. “Nuclear” features no nervous synth stabs, no drama, just quantum-level bliss — VSOP, don’t hold the bitters. And having it on repeat is easier on the liver than downing the bottle.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: As I listen to DC-3’s “Nuclear,” I pore over a conversation between Pharrell Williams and Buzz Aldrin in the former’s coffee-table book Places and Spaces I’’ve Been. The two talk about space exploration, Frank Drake’s interplanetary equations and Z particles. Williams appears child-like in his enthusiasm. At one point, a question concerning the respect allotted for space exploration turns into a charming peace-is-the-answer ramble: “Even beyond finding other beings, just seeing the vastness of what exists, how could you fight [another human]? …and over what? And why would you not want to help someone else?” This informs the lyrical content of “Nuclear” where ex-lovers are represented as gases, matter, light and energy in their pure romantic power. It also shows a need to live and let live, that fighting and separation amounts to little in the big picture: “Why run? Why would you run?” asks Beyoncé on the chorus. Why would you not want to help someone else? “Nuclear” is yet another intriguing entry into the Pharrell collection of dreamer-like idiosyncrasies, but it’s not really much more than a pleasant Destiny’s Child rarity. An extra [1] for hearing Michelle’s voice again, a voice I never realised I missed until this very moment. Hey, Michelle!

Reader average: [6.41] (17 votes)

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6 Responses to “Destiny’s Child – Nuclear”

  1. And there we go again with the Jukebox’s odd tendency to overpraise wispy song-nothings!

  2. Well, I never.

  3. I was really tempted to make the entire blurb a cocktail recipe, but I figured I should do some music writing and stuff.

  4. I was going to give this a 7, but I literally fell asleep in the process. Which sounds like a knock on the song, but is really a knock on me.

  5. “And there we go again with the Jukebox’s odd tendency to overpraise wispy song-nothings!”

    I don’t quite get this. Surely not every record needs to aim for the bleachers (or beyond). Sometimes a song sets its sights on a specific mood or vibe, and hits the mark. That can be as rewarding as something more outwardly “complex” or ambitious.

    It is surprising and pleasing that the vaunted “reunion” single should be so modest, so much about textures (harmonic, rhythmic) rather than vocal or other drama. Obviously you can read this as commenting on the DC reunion, but it takes a little burrowing into the song to do so, and it doesn’t really need that sort of extra-textual (!) reading for this to mean–it works very well as a love song, pop-science metaphors and all. It’s hard for me to imagine a reunion song more satisfying than this.

  6. (I’m using “mean” as a verb in case that sentence doesn’t scan)