“Shadow Boxing”, like “Cassanova Brown” (number 4 on the countdown) is off the Robbery album; but where “Cassanova…” is headache and heartache, “Shadow Boxing” is full of hope and love (with a bit of infatuation and sexiness). Teena sings of waking from a night with her lover. She sounds happy; she sounds in love.
But it’s not the subject that makes this song number 1 on my list. What truly sets “Shadow Boxing” apart from every other Teen Marie recording is that this song perfectly showcases all of Teena Marie’s talents. It is, quite simply, a faultless, flawless marriage of lyrics, instrumentation, and vocals.
Take the first verse:
Loving, fresh as the morning dew
Sunrise talks just to you
Nocturnal night one last adieu
I’m coming, I’m going
I’m swimming, I’m flowing
I’m right here beside you babe
Passion was not the answer
Was not the question
Yet it was all of this and more
In today’s world of ‘wham/bam/I put it in/she liked it/etc’, it’s nice when you can have lyrics that leave something to the imagination.
And then there’s her wordplay in the chorus: who would ever use ‘shadow boxing in the dark’ as an allegory for sex? Genius.
Not to be outdone, her music writing is just as strong as her lyrics. We get lush strings through the first two verses then she slowly builds to musical and lyrical climax… begging to break it down.
And when she breaks it down, she breaks it all the way down.
I’ve never heard a rock guitar solo in the middle of a ballad – but it fits perfectly. You can’t hear that and NOT want to dance (or at least, play air guitar).
She then takes us back to the slow stuff, giving us a Dreamgirls-esque transition to her final vocals. The backing saxophone is barely noticeable, and perfectly pairs as she alternates between throaty vocals in both English and Portuguese. It’s not “Cassanova Brown”-emotionally-devastating-blow-you-away singing… but it doesn’t need to be. She’s not trying to wow us, she’s trying to seduce us. It works.
Then, to top off the perfect song, she exits with an homage to Steve Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” (listen to his intro).
Whew, I love Teena Marie’s music..