I love Rihanna. I own a couple of her records, but mostly my exposure is through occasional media hit & runs: changing TV channels at night, flipping dials on the car radio, long elevator rides and shopping mall strolls. A few of her songs have hit me this way, and I find myself on YouTube, looking it up to see if there’s an “official” video. (There always is. I don’t think Rihanna has ever released a song without an official video.)
I think she’s a great singer, in the sense that she embodies every word and really owns it. You can say so-and-so is better and I might agree (Beyoncé), but that ain’t what I’m talking about. She’s beautiful, but that ain’t it either. (I followed her on Instagram for a few weeks, but I could only look at so many pictures of Gucci bathing suits and private jets before I started liking her music less.) I’m not familiar with all her music, so I can’t say whether this is true love or just a crush. But when one of her songs connects with me, she hits it out of the goddamn park. Thus I found myself covering “We Found Love,” which combines elements that usually make any song unlistenable for me (heavy auto-tune, obnoxious siren sound buildups), yet somehow emerges so compelling that I literally can’t turn away once I’ve caught a few bars of it.
I don’t really know anything about her, or about Calvin Harris, the DJ who wrote and produced the track. But when I heard the first line, I knew right away what she was singing about. I was listening to a song about addiction, about despair, about listlessness and abandon. And it was joyful.
Trying to learn the song left me both compelled and baffled by it. The musical arrangement: an endless loop of four chords, structurally indistinguishable between verse and chorus except for where the coda lands, and how she spaced the melody. Easy to play but hard to understand. It sounded like a piece of music waiting for vapid, cliched lines about pouring champagne and riding 20-inch rims. But with one opening line about smoking rock cocaine, she turned it into something else entirely.
Once again I wandered next door and enlisted the help of my old friend Stephen T. Cavit, who scored the strings and played all the drums for good measure. Maria Scherer-Wilson took the lead on the string section, with some fantastic cello playing. I tried to stay somewhat faithful to the original, but in the end I needed a little more to work with so I added a bridge of sorts. This is a little outside the usual Explone wheelhouse, but the guys in the band loved it and we’ll work up an arrangement for the stage that bridges the delta between this recording and our live show.
I like singing from the perspective of characters who are honest with themselves, and that pretty well describes this one. The party ends with a terrible crash, and rather than being resigned to it she’s reveling in it. Love is jumping out of the plane without a chute. I can’t say I agree, but I sure can sympathize.
EXPLONE is a Seattle-based rock band that refuses to acknowledge the irrelevancy of electric guitar in modern music. We won't stop believing. We still love Cheap Trick, Queen, Hüsker Dü, Nada Surf and the Pixies. Conservative Christians can have our Judas Priest records when they pry them from our cold, dead fingers.