Conventional wisdom says that every young popster or rocker, no matter how devoted, will one day grow into a consumer of smooth jazz. How else to explain Rod Stewart's resurgence as a tuxedo-clad, Bing-style crooner (aside from a mid-seventies deal with Beelzebub himself)? John Smith and Valerie Day, the duo behind '80s group Nu Shooz, are hardly stars of Stewart's caliber, but they did craft one of the finest American pop singles of all time: “I Can't Wait.” Over two decades later they've resurrected the song and themselves in predictable jazz fashion.
Pandora's Box is a new self-released album by Smith & Day's new project, Nu Shooz Orchestra. The album includes “I Can't Wait: 20th Anniversary Edition” and ten more tracks of over-baked coffeehouse pap that smears John Coltrane by association.
Let’s back up a couple of decades to a great song from a band with a silly name. “I Can't Wait” was a single so phenomenal that I have yet to tire of it. In fact, I'm listening to an MP3 of it right now, though it lacks the warm crackle of old 12” vinyl. The track's bassline is addictively slinky and powerful enough to support countless layers of snappy percussion, synths, twinkly guitars, a stealth horn section, and Day's coolly vibrato-free voice. The idea of a jazzy “I Can't Wait” has no appeal—in fact, it's antithetical to what makes the song work so well. Funk-influenced dance pop is propelled by deep grooves, the kind that power “I Can't Wait” and that depth can only be created on a vintage Roland synthesizer. Individual notes will transpose to the stand-up bass, of course, but if I wanted to hear stand-up bass, I'd listen to Jimmy Garrison on A Love Supreme. I wouldn't listen to Nu Shooz, with or without its orchestra.
Therein lies the artist's curse of doing one thing extraordinarily well. Musicians are vulnerable to fans' fickleness. If I want to hear a pop song that sounds like “I Can't Wait,” I can quite easily listen to “I Can't Wait” (and I did, three more times). The name Nu Shooz, however ridiculous, means classic '80s dance pop. The last thing this world needs is mediocrity, no matter what the genre.
Everyone needs to earn a living, so I don't fault Smith or Day for dipping into the seemingly bottomless wallets of our nation's latte-sippers. The harsh reality is that if these tracks were released under a completely different name (Old Sneakers?), this album wouldn't even be reviewed, much less panned for not sounding like one snotty critic wanted it to. But all is not lost! In my research for this review, I discovered that 50 Cent remixed the original “I Can't Wait” into his song “Buzzin',” and it's really good. I hope the residuals afford Smith and Day the chance to tune up the old Roland. The world—and its shoes—are waiting.