Review: Black Kids’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Him How to Dance With You”

August 28, 2008

Ah, yes, this song’s been floating around for a while now, and former Columbia ethnomusicology student Christian Hoard pegged the band as “one to watch” last November.  But this week “I’m Not Gonna Teach Him How to Dance With You” is the FREE single on Apple’s iTunes (Secret reason I reviewed Jaguar Love’s EP and not the whole album? It was $1.99 in the used bin), and I’m sick and can’t bother with much more than a review of a single.

The obvious touchstone for the Black Kids is the Cure–from the fondness for the vocable “do” to the airy, heavily layered, symphonic synthesizers to the slightly morose lyrics about unhappiness with a girl to the Robert-Smith-esque timbral qualities of Reggie Youngblood’s voice.  We all know this (though apparently the kids reviewing it on iTunes don’t–out of the 500 or so reviews, only about ten seemed to recognize the Cure.  Others listed Arcade Fire, The Hives, The Killers, Gwen Stefani, and Bloc Party as reference points.  Learn your rock history, kids!).

However, I’m irritated with the constant assertion that the Black Kids are another “retro ’80s” band.  The musical style that the band apes dates from the Cure’s height of popularity, which was not in the 1980s but in the early 1990s.  In particular, the Black Kids draw on the sounds of the Cure’s 1992 album, Wish, which contains some of the bands poppiest, as well as most depressing, songs (Anyone else notice that the protagonist of “Friday, I’m in Love” is miserable six days a week?).

The Cure’s musical style is undoubtedly ripe to be imitated: the retro ’80s post-punk movement is past its prime, Bruce Springsteen is currently en vogue, and it’s not surprising to me that the Black Kids are looking to early ’90s Cure these days.  None of this nostalgia is bad in itself, as long as it serves to push music forward while simultaneously looking back.

As for the Black Kids’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Him How to Dance With You” itself: The song’s lyrics are slightly silly, about dancing with a girl (with Reggie Youngblood referring to himself also as having been “a little girl”) he likes and not wanting to give her boyfriend tips.  It’s cute, but hardly substantial.

But the band executes the song with such exuberance, especially through the cheerleader-esque backing vocals from Ali Youngblood and Dawn Watley, that the teen angst of the lyric seems an entirely believable situation.  A guy likes the unattainable girl and tries, like Ducky’s lip sync to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” in Pretty in Pink, to continue dancing with sweet, sweet moves though his heart is breaking and she’s probably going out with a guy named Blaine.

Though synths dominate the sound of the Black Kids, its spunky danceable quality bursts forth in the tight, machine-like pattern in the drums: crisp, clean, not much bleed in the kit, it could easily be isolated in some parts for an old-school breakbeat.  Extended remix, anyone?

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3 Responses to “Review: Black Kids’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Him How to Dance With You””

  1. I’ve always been fond of The Cure, but only during my more maudlin periods. I’m going to go have a listen to this, because, frankly, I can’t resist hearing The Cure influences in a song with “cheerleader-esque background vocals”

    I thought I was the only one fond of putting the “esque” at the end of unexpected descriptors.

    DNW
    Macabre Ink

  2. Matt said

    “Cute, but hardly substantial”–fair enough, I guess.

    I gotta say this, though–this song and album is to me full of damn CLEVER ideas and lyrics. I mean, some songwriters would go their entire LIVES wishing they could come up with ONE idea as sharp as “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You.”

    Same with many of the other tunes on the record (“I’ve Underestimated My Charm Again”). Sure, not earth-shattering, not challenging, not exploring any deep ideas.

    But there’s got to be something to be said for a great clever hooky song that has an idea, delivers it, then gets the hell out of your way.

  3. badcoverversion said

    Ah, but that’s why I followed up in the next paragraph about how it’s excellently executed. And I don’t mean to dismiss clever, hooky songs, either–I love ’em!

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