Sy Smith - Conflict (2008)

Sy Smith
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Sy Smith grabs her listener's attention on "Conflict (This is Your Brain on Drugs)," the opening track of Conflict, her latest record. And while she lets up (a little) the rest of the way, she never lets the listener go entirely, as they listen to this entertaining and thought-provoking album. Folks old enough to remember those 1980s anti-drug TV commercials probably got a laugh out of the subtitle of the opening track. The song's hook conjures of images of a pair of hands cracking open an egg and watching the yolk and whites drop into a frying pan. The voice over announcer compares an uncracked egg to a person's brain. Then, as the egg is cracked and fries in the skillet, he intones "this is your brain on drugs," pauses for dramatic effect and then adds, "Any questions?" The commercial's message is clear - use drugs and you'll end up messin' up your mind - apparently oblivious to the fact that "messin' with yo' mind" is point of using drugs.
Sy Smith grabs her listener's attention on "Conflict (This is Your Brain on Drugs)," the opening track of Conflict, her latest record. And while she lets up (a little) the rest of the way, she never lets the listener go entirely, as they listen to this entertaining and thought-provoking album. Folks old enough to remember those 1980s anti-drug TV commercials probably got a laugh out of the subtitle of the opening track. The song's hook conjures of images of a pair of hands cracking open an egg and watching the yolk and whites drop into a frying pan. The voice over announcer compares an uncracked egg to a person's brain. Then, as the egg is cracked and fries in the skillet, he intones "this is your brain on drugs," pauses for dramatic effect and then adds, "Any questions?" The commercial's message is clear - use drugs and you'll end up messin' up your mind - apparently oblivious to the fact that "messin' with yo' mind" is point of using drugs.

The fact that crack was the drug the nation was fighting in those halcyon days of "just say no," and we've since joined the battle against ecstasy and meth while fighting the never ending war against marijuana, powder cocaine and heroin tells you everything need to know about the effectiveness of the government's anti-drug messages. Part of the problem seems to be that the nation is of two minds when it comes to drugs. The money that the government spends on ads to convince our youth not to use narcotics is easily exceeded by the billions "big pharma" spends trying to convince us that there's a pill for every problem. In a song dripping with irony and more than a little sarcasm, Smith zeros in on that contradiction - or what she calls a conflict. The song is propelled by a driving techno-influenced beat and complements Smith's lyrics that hold up two subjects or objects that appear to be opposites. "This is crazy/This is sane, Can they be one in the same?/This is legal/It's a crime/This is gonna do hard time/This is funny/This is sad/This is making me feel bad." This is what songwriting is supposed to achieve - employing a totally funky beat to issue a thoroughly provocative message.

It would be tough to make an album filled with songs that maintain that level of quality and intensity while staying true to the groove, but Smith comes awfully close. There is no filler on Conflict. In fact, Smith uses the rest of the album to display the type of diversity in tempo and topics that soul fans expect from those who operate at the top of the game. Smith gives her listeners a chance to catch their collective breaths on the next few tracks: "Fly Away With Me," is a mid-tempo love song in which Smith coos about a different kind of high - the kind of trip people go on when they fall in love. The funky "The Things I Do," finds Smith trying to figure out the ins and outs of a relationship before deciding to just flow with it.

By the sixth song, Smith figures it's time to speed up the tempo and flip the script. And she does both effectively with the joyfully deceitful tune, "Spies." The song begins with Smith walking up on two acquaintances having a conversation in which Smith is the topic of discussion. "Spies" gives voice to that secret desire to be that fly on the wall so we can hear what our friends, family and co-workers are saying about us. "Spies" is a throwback song that showcases what was the great about those 1980s funky dance tunes - right down to the synthesized hand claps. And the lyrics are funny, clever and subversively provocative. "Don't you ever want a different point of view?/When something crazy happens, don't you want a clue/As to why your friends are flipping out on you/They're flipping sides like a politician, oooh."

And that's how it proceeds for the balance of Conflict. Smith gets sassy on the song "Ain't Nobody's Bizness," which serves as both a musical statement of philosophy and declaration of independence. The song "Reach Down In Your Soul," is a metaphor for the frustration women often feel as they try to divine the intentions of the men in their lives. That song ends with the memorable line "I'm searching for the man/Like Dubya hunting Taliban," which could mean that she's looking real hard or that's she's given up and moved on to other "pressing" matters. "B-Side Love Affair," sings about her desire to find a lover who is different than the copycat types that keep getting airplay. The song "Star" is an excellent choice for the final track. The song features a slow, almost psychedelic melody that contrasts nicely with lyrics that have Smith singing her search to find someone who can be her one and only. "Hearts make useless souvenirs/And I no longer wish to collect them." That's good songwriting. Highly recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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