Ode to "Weak"

The average resting heart rate of a human falls somewhere between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Triple that and you've got a bad case of sinus tachycardia, which at best means your heart is getting an intense workout, and at worst signals imminent failure. Neither is much fun, but in SWV's "Weak," which stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks during the summer of '93, Cheryl "Coko" Gamble makes arrhythmia seem like a blast.

The exhilaration of "Weak" begins with a wide-eyed celebration of love as a metaphysical phenomenon. Childishly it concentrates on effect rather than cause ("Can't explain why your lovin' makes me weak," goes the last line of the chorus). At just the thought of her beloved, Coko reports blood racing through her veins, wobbly knees, unstable feet, and, as above, a triple-time heartbeat. She tells us much more about herself than her object of affection, but that's just a consequence of falling in love with infatuation.

If the lyrical softness flies in the face of SWV's new-jill, would-be streetwise image, consider the track's rough edges. It has the urgency of a demo. It sounds like it was recorded in a humid, breathtaking grotto and then mastered by a deaf dweller of said cave. It's the product of combined forces of producer Brian Alexander Morgan's synthesized domination and the harmonized-or-unison vocals of Sisters with Voices (a defensive name, if ever there was). Superficially it's a scrappy mess. Its eventually revealed charm is the by-any-means-necessary ethic that makes it as much a force as a pop song.

But its pop status cannot be ignored. The great irony of the radio love song is that it harps on eternal promises and endless love, when it itself is inherently temporary. Canon? What's a canon? Gone are the days when kids slow-danced to old-school hits like Heatwave's "Always & Forever" (as seen in House Party).

If any R&B ballad of the past fifteen years deserves to be put on a pedestal, it's "Weak," a song that stays eternally, endearingly naive and, maybe most important, consumable. The bpm of "Weak" is somewhere in the low sixties, which means it ultimately just feels right.

 
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