Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Ma belle

Okay, all I really know about Michelle Branch is that song she did with Carlos Santana last year, "The Game of Love." I haven't bothered to check out her own stuff, and may never. But I simply adore "The Game of Love," even though it violates some of the tenets of songwriting I hold most firmly: its hook is a clich�, for example, and its lyrics mix metaphors wildly in shifting back and forth between tropes of baseball and candy stores. The song also has the world's simplest chord progression (that would be 2-1-2-1-2-1 for all you Nashville chart playas).

So why my love for this song? One part, probably the main part, is Branch's soaring voice, and another part is Santana's signature guitar riffing throughout, and another part is the production of Gregg Alexander of the New Radicals, whose hit single "You Get What You Give" sounds a lot like "The Game of Love." "You Get What You Give" is very good but sounds a bit antiseptic, a bit like a genre exercise, and it doesn't click for me the way "Game of Love" does.

And "The Game of Love" also successfully recreates the grooviness and high spirits of the Rob Thomas-Santana collaboration a couple years back, "Smooth"--which to me is, in many ways, a perfect pop song. I may like "The Game of Love" even better--it's sunny where "Smooth" is sneering, and sunny works better for me these days.

Again, I know little about Michelle Branch besides this song, and I find Rob Thomas' work with Matchbox 20 ho-hum at best. And while Santana, judging from his career, very likely is a genius, I haven't bothered to delve much into the two star-studded Santana albums that yielded these singles, Shaman (2002) and Supernatural (1999). If it's any indication, though, I don't care much for the other single off Supernatural, "Maria Maria."

So all Santana, Rob Thomas and Michelle Branch did was come up with two effervescent, commercially successful, hugely appealing pop singles in three years. Which is exactly two more than I came up with in that period.

I have a hunch that if you seek out "The Game of Love" on the basis of this recommendation, you may subsequently conclude I'm crazy. The song is, on some basic level, deeply banal. But it puts a big ole grin on my face.

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