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Picture Jennifer Love Hewitt making a tribute album to Madonna: It’s not at all like a prayer — it’s like a curse: Anyone who listens to it feels forever damned. Which is exactly how you’re likely to feel after listening to Mad’House’s Absolutely Mad.
The title track is the only cover worth listening to because of its deep-house echoing drum pattern. But then again, the effect is overdone throughout the album, apparently cut-and-pasted from another recent Europop hit.
Bambi Mukendi and Stephane Durand, who comprise Mad’House, show little in the way of creativity. The album’s are restrained, but a computer could churn out similar passionless emulations — far removed from Kelly Osburne’s "Papa Don’t Preach." And save for "Frozen," Mad’House wisely cops out of the more novel challenge of remaking post-Erotica Madonna (how awful to contemplate a Mad’house "Ray of Light").
Madonna consented to this project, even after hearing it. Perhaps she’s gone mad.
Puretone, on the other hand, is worth going mad over, thanks to the presence of Josh Abrahams, who previously conspired with musical wunderkind and fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann, as lead engineer and producer on the director’s sensational Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Abrahams displays his eclectic musical tastes on Stuck in a Groove, artfully mixing Depeche Mode-style dance with Masters at Work-style house with Destiny’s Child-style hip hop with No Doubt-style pop-rock, all in equal measure. The CD opens with the all-systems-go "Thrillseeker," whose moody electronica effects and jazzy riffs inspire movie-making excitement. Soon enough, we come to Puretone’s first released single, "Addicted to Bass," which has been described as a sleeper hit, since it took a while to register attention. It’s one of the best albums of the year.
The original "Addicted to Bass" is little like the popular John Creamer and Stephane K Mix (that’s not included here, but Robbie Rivera’s wonderful Daft Punk-style electro remix is here as a bonus). Creamer and K stripped the drum ‘n’ bass intensity and jazz-funk vocalizations (provided by the effervescent Amiel Daemion) and in the process lost the essential need-a-hit sensation of the lyrics. Daemion sings: "Listening to the radio I feel so out of place, There’s a certain something missing that the treble can’t erase, I know you can tell just by looking at my face, A word about my weakness, I’m totally addicted to bass." Lyrical sophistication, with a focus on freedom, inspiration and uplift, is stamped all over the album, even on musically less-than-stellar tracks like "Headroom" and "Echoes."
The title track is the only other to follow the theme of "Bass." Here, however, it’s a hip-hop sensibility that shines through, especially in the way the words in the title are repeatedly scratched. The lyrics take on a force all their own: "There’s no doubt that I am afflicted, I’m totally obsessed and I will admit it, Oh no, I’m not high, But I’m very much addicted to the music I like." It’s a heady concoction, this mix of sweet acoustic guitar riffs opening each verse and the hard-edged pop that characterizes the whole song. I think I need another hit. Pass the Puretone, man. I need to get back into this groove, after Mad’House and shit.
INXS only briefly lived up to its name in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when it charted a ubiquitous pop culture presence. But the funk-influenced pop band has been missing in action ever since power-piped frontman Michael Hutchence died five years ago. A two-disc greatest hits package was released last year, but Atlantic Records’s Best of INXS, with two "new" tracks, is the closest thing to a comeback we could wish for from the Aussie band. Who would wish for such a thing?
Yeah, me too. I can’t say that I came out at an INXS concert, but the Kick World Tour did open my 15-year-old eyes to a world where men dance and sidle up close to other men, as they coo along with their fawning "girlfriends" over the boys in the band. These many years later, revisiting classics like "I Need You Tonight," "Suicide Blonde" and "Original Sin" makes for a bittersweet memory trip. Ah, bittersweet, just like the sound of INXS’s best work, with its tales of end-of-the-day, one-moment-in-time release and its often melancholic tunes of snappy, jazzy contrasts. Hutchence sang of love lost as the string instruments sighed, saxophone wailed and the drums vented in the gorgeous "Never Tear Us Apart": "I told you/That we could fly/Cause we all have wings/But some of us don’t know why."
The band’s many self-affirming, celebratory lyrics were probably another reason for its appeal to sexually questioning folk, including the group’s first U.S. top ten hit, "What You Need." "Forget about your troubles in life/Don’t you know it’s not easy/When you’ve gotta walk upon that line," Hutchence sang. So he was a bit cryptic in his lyrics. His "Mediate," after all, serves as the synonym-finder for all positive words rhyming with "ate," including simple messages such as: "Love your mate/Don’t suffocate on your own hate/Â…Deviate/Â…Liberate." (Along with the comical "Like pretty Kate has sex ornate.") Sadly, Atlantic Records didn’t include that here, even if it is one of the group’s most memorable songs (and videos). The first new track from this compilation, "Tight," was originally recorded a decade ago but has been updated with a hip-hop flair. That won’t make it a hit. The trance-ish sound added as part of Thick Dick’s remix (included on the Tommy Boy CD Maxi-Single) might do the trick for the dance floor, though.
Speaking of ’80s pop revisited, if you’re not tired of those remixed and remade ’80s tunes that have clogged this year’s club sound systems, then does Vic Latino have the CD for you. The Billy Idol-styled DJ snarls at us from the cover of his Vic Latino Presents 80’s Now! and many of us are snarling right back at him. Who cares for a remake of Boston’s "Amanda" from vocoder-mad, ditsy-sounding Brooklyn Queens? Or Journey’s power-ballad "Separate Ways" remade by whiney-voiced Dee Roberts?
I’m all for new artists covering tracks of the old, but if the end result is a complete, uncreative rehash of the original singer’s style, please leave it with Soft Cell or Madonna or the Eurythmics. Thank god they let Kim Carnes own her "Bette Davis Eyes," and this Trance Mix is one of the few songs here worth repeated play. It recalls DJ Sammy & Yanou featuring Do’s "Heaven." Of course that’s here too, though Latino has credited this to an Eyra Gail. Talk about a low blow to Do. If these sorry songs see the light of the dance floor, you’ll see me wearing earplugs to avoid, well, Corey Hart and his "Sunglasses at Night."