Tag Archives: Music

‘Even the mysteries/It’s all me’

With deep respect to Dusty in Memphis, my Supremes comp, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Exile in Guyville, these albums I submitted to NPR’s Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women survey. The first album will get enough mentions but if I were being honest myself I couldn’t ignore it. The other four I worry will get no votes. What links these albums across decades is an experience with role playing: accepting with a cold eye the projections of male listeners even when – especially when – these projections fit; discomfort with yielding to the emotions that men expect from women; the arranging of clothes and makeup as creation of self. “Sometimes it’s hard to move, you see/When you’re growing publicly,” Erykah Badu sings on “Me.”

Anyway, it’ll be a combination of these finalists:

1. Pretenders – Pretenders
2. Rosanne Cash – King’s Record Shop
3. Angela Winbush – Sharp
4. Sinead O’ Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
5. Belly – Star
6. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott — Supa Dupa Fly
7. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
8. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
9. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
10. Yoko Ono – Walking on Thin Ice: Compilation

If you lose your faith: the best of Everything But the Girl

“Tracey Thorn has always been one of those singers who sounded dandy on other people’s records, notably Massive Attack’s,” Robert Christgau wrote at the dawn of the 2000s, and he was right. But for a critic who has admitted to preferring livelier and noisier pleasures the implied condescension of the praise is no surprise.

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She’s got herself a universe – ‘Ray of Light’ at twenty

Happy birthday to Ray of Light, Madonna’s shrewd attempt to position herself as an older woman whose newborn conferred Wisdom and Experience. The other day I remarked that the production – mostly by William Orbit but Marius de Vries and longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard get credits too – is the aural equivalent of the sleeve’s aquamarine backdrop. It’s like a soap bought at a high end resort hotel store: delicious, sure, but your body sweats it off in hours. This was said about Ray of Light at the time: her voice, strengthened by coaching, was stiff if not inflexible on otherwise strong material like “Mer Girl” and “Drowned World” (I still giggle over Rob Sheffield’s comment on the latter: “She enunciates the word lovers as if she’s never met any”). Perhaps the ubiquity of those awful Victor Calderone remixes in gay clubs was an attempt at redress. There was a sense in which Music and its return to dance floor insouciance was the Real Comeback; I thought so, despite liking ROL a lot. Now I can barely listen to most of Music‘s non-single filler while ROL boast her most bewitching album tracks after Erotica, as my list below acknowledges.

So, accept the plaudits, girl. Orbit’s dense rhythms, many of which with faint psychedelic tints, complement your vocal melodies; he’s got unexpected instrumental filips too, like the harsh guitar on “Swim” and the piano line on the chorus of “Sky Fits Heaven,” the best of the album’s spiritual plaints. Savor Ray of Light. Appreciate Oprah’s mom dancing to a live performance of the title track.

1. Skin
2. Sky Fits Heaven
3. Swim
4. Candy Perfume Girl
5. The Power of Goodbye
6. Drowned World/Substitute For Love
7. To Have and Not to Hold
8. Ray of Light
9. Nothing Really Matters
10. Frozen
11. Mer Girl
12. Shanti/Ashtangi

‘The sun comes/Like a god into our room’

Longtime readers know my affection for INXS’ singles. Last week I had the chance to write a few hundred words about Kick, reissued in an absurd multi-disc edition but with a phenomenal sound. Here’s the list I drew up last April of their best tracks:

1. Original Sin (Extended remix)
2. Shine Like It Does
3. Don’t Change
4. Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)
5. What You Need
6. Devil Inside
7. Listen Like Thieves
8. Not Enough Time
9. Disappear
10. Bitter Tears
11. The One Thing
12. Suicide Blonde
13. This Time
14. Same Direction
15. Need You Tonight
16. New Sensation
17. Guns in the Sky
18. The Swing
19. Biting Bullets
20. Just Keep Walking

David Cassidy — RIP

The variety show star as teen phenomenon, without the talent to make the leap into pop that reflected contemporary values until I remember that Terry Jacks and The Carpenters reflected the Nixon seventies as surely as CSNY and Alice Cooper. I was too young for The Partridge Family, the only episode of which I remember is when the kids are sprayed by a skunk, but “I Think I Love You” was in the ether, like refrigerator exhaust. Cassidy sung it with the conviction of a Broadway kid playing a greaser. That was all I knew until in 1990 he emerged with a pop metal song called “Lyin’ to Myself,” for which he got songwriting credit, presumably for the apostrophe/contraction; at best it sounds like solo Lou Gramm. This is the Forgotten Eighties — the eighties of Boogie Nights‘ Dirk Diggler recording “You Got the Touch” in a studio that looks like a karaoke bar after 6 p.m. Cassidy’s kind of idolatry soothed; no libido was necessary.

Worst songs ever: “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a  plastic thimble-sized cup.

Cutting Crew – “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in May 1987 (two weeks)

In the late eighties, Virgin Records was flush with dough. While spending money  promoting Bryan Ferry, why not sprinkle dollars on regrettably haired British acts? Cutting Crew fit the bill; like Boys Don’t Cry and, uh, Pet Shop Boys, they sported a meaningless name that looked great in Japanese teen mags. The first single from debut album Broadcast peaked in the UK top five in late 1986 but took several months to climb here, helped by MTV and staggering airplay*. It finally topped the chart for two weeks in May 1987.

From the opening synth fanfare to the inappropriate guitar raunch burping over singer-guitarist Nick Van Eede’s vocals, there isn’t a single promising element in “(I Just) Died in Your Arms.” But I get why it besotted its audience: listen to “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” as a mishmash of the hair metal peaking on the Hot 100 in 1987 and the dying sound of glum British kids stabbing their Emulators. Cutting Crew were Tears For Fears imitating Whitesnake or perhaps Mr. Mister. As if these phenomena weren’t enough to bring heaves, savor the following: “The actual words ‘I just died in your arms tonight’ originally came to Van Eede while he was having sex with his girlfriend,” Van Eede told Fred Bronson, and I just died of gross.

But Cutting Crew hadn’t finished yet. After the fascinatingly titled “One For the Mockingbird” did no business, they managed another top ten and MTV hit with the billowing, “Your Wildest Dreams”-era Moody Blues flatulence of “I’ve Been in Love Before,” an improvement in the sense that a C raises your GPA after a string of F’s. In Chris Heath’s chronicle of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s Asian tour called Pet Shop Boys Literally, Tennant theorizes that “I’ve Been in Love Before” boasts the worst line he’d ever heard in a song: ‘I’ve been in love before/The hardest part is when you’re in it” (he imagined a deep Greek voice following that with INNIT? INNIT?).

* I didn’t use “staggering” out of a weakness for hyperbole. Although I don’t have the numbers, “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” has not gone away; I hear it on terrestrial radio eighties and adult contemporary stations, at CVS, at Starbucks, all week, every week, every year.