Jazmine Sullivan — “Bust Your Windows”

Released: 9.16.08

Peak: # 31

All two-timing jerks are pretty much the same, but every scorned woman is furious in her own hellish way. OK, usually she just smashes up the guy’s car, or at least ’00s pop would have us think so. But even then, there are variations. Where Carrie Underwood was all suburban cowgirl grit and righteous swagger on “Before He Cheats,” Jazmine Sullivan’s scorched voice on “Bust Your Windows” betrays no evidence of triumph or even catharsis. No one – not the man, not Sullivan herself – has learned a lesson here. 

Sullivan’s first single, “Need U Bad,” with its Missy Elliott-retooled Tapper Zukie hook, claimed her contemporized retro-soul turf, and much of the second-best 2008 album called Fearless lived up to its promise. With Salaam Remi concocting the sort of aural psychodrama with which he’d helped Amy Winehouse make her name, “Bust Your Windows” surpassed it. An introductory string flurry diminishes into a cross-current of smaller whirlwinds, which then build to challenge those background voices that wail like ghosts of Motown past. And the homely snap and handclap beat, redolent of front stoops and playground games, contrasts sharply with the ominous canted orchestrations that tiptoe underneath.

Sullivan’s got a voice that sounds tougher the more she expresses vulnerability—so much so that I had to listen closely to notice that the scars Sullivan fears will never heal are on her heart and not her hands. (I know, like fists can shatter tempered glass, right?) While her burred melismas and fetchingly flattened harmonies recalled a less reedy Lauryn Hill, Sullivan lacked a superstar’s self-regard. She hurt more in the spirit of those turn-of-the-aughts, wracked divas-next-door who trailed in the wake of Mary J.  And the very human scale of her pain was a counterbalance to pop gargantuanism that the late ’00s very much needed.

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