BANKS – Waiting Game
‘I’m about to have an emotional breakdown if you don’t love me, but I’m ok really’ is one of my favourite pop sub-genres. It has provided us with some of the most magnificent of singles; from I Will Always Love You (take your pick between Dolly Parton’s bitter sweet original or Whitney Houston’s power-ballad cover version), to Say It Right by Nelly Furtado and Dancing On My Own by Robyn. At their best they have the power to really make you feel – and don’t we all just love to listen to songs heartbroken and sobbing hysterically from time-to-time?
Alt-R&B has embraced this sub-genre completely, but the acts normally chucked into the category don’t really bear a huge resemblance to one another. A convenient way to try to classify the unclassifiable I guess, but it can tend to obscure the fact that beating at the heart of some of these artists is real pop nous. FKA Twigs has probably received the most press coverage, but in many respects a more deserving focus of our attention should be Californian native Jillian Rose Banks (shortened and stylised – as is the wont these days – as BANKS).
Now, if pop was judged solely on the magnificence of your pout, BANKS would already be a global superstar – a femme fatale who could kill you with her left cheekbone. What lies under her hair on the right side still remains thrillingly unknown. A singer-songwriter at heart, she is often aided and abetted by producer SOHN (capitalisation really is the pop stylisation de rigueur at the moment), her sound is electro pop, but an intense and sultry kind. Throbbing low-end bass-lines, oceans of swirling synth reverb, depth charge base notes and sonar pulses. It’s an all consuming mix of R&B, dub and pop, aided by her smooth un-showy vocals. Sounding like Ellie Goulding, Lana Del Rey and Lorde AT THE SAME TIME, she is a fascinating pop proposition.
BANKS is also very much the exemplar of modern pop marketing. A sensation on music blogs, she was initially presented as a mysterious figure, all dark hair, dark clothes and industrial strength eye shadow (think Madonna’s persona in the Frozen video, but with less henna). Her record company, realising mystery is hard to pull off these days, seemed to quickly change tack and released a glut of online singles and videos before her Goddess album was released in 2014. It kind of diluted their individual impact whilst raising her overall profile. But one single did get a full, old-fashioned release, the astonishingly intense Waiting Game.
From an initial multi-tracked, other-worldly gospel chant, her vocals – breathless and full of desire – are set against a piano backdrop, before an ominous pulsating rhythm takes over. The song gradually builds its atmosphere, the melody rising and falling, as BANKS struggles to understand the relationship she finds herself in.
BANKS has the ability to convey a huge range of emotion in relatively few words, and her dissection of a relationship that is probably doomed to fail is brilliantly conveyed. Just listen to how she says “sexy” in the first verse – I love the raspiness and intonation of her voice – and that tender, frail and full of vibrato chorus of “don’t tell me listen to your song because it isn’t the same / I don’t wanna say your love is a waiting game” makes me all shivery.
Whether the song refers to a relationship with another singer (there have been murmurings it’s about fellow alt-R&B’er The Weeknd), or whether the reference to the ‘stage’ is simply a metaphor for any relationship where the two parties have lives which keep them apart, is brilliantly never made clear – but the overall effect is of an intensity that is unlikely to culminate in a happy ending.
I’ve yet to find anyone who isn’t blown away by this song, and there is no doubt it should have been a massive hit, but the UK public only bought it in enough quantities for it to make a blink and you’ll miss it entry at number 99 in the charts. Whether in the digital age chart positions actually matter anymore is up for debate, but what can’t be denied is that we need some dark pop to balance the light, and as such, BANKS deserves to be a huge star.
Entered chart: 18/01/2014
Chart peak: 99
Weeks on chart: 1
Who could sing this today and have a hit? If Lorde released this it would be a worldwide number one.