GRAMMY SLAP-UP… The Grammy Awards are supposed to celebrate the year’s most creative music, not just the year’s most popular. But of course the ceremony is little more than another glorified popularity contest: The entertainment industries often seem to live only to congratulate themselves. Our question isn’t to ask why, it’s to buy. And that can be well-nigh impossible, with the industry’s disinterest in offering CD singles, especially among nominees for best dance remix. Did you even know there was such a category? Maybe you’ve seen the fleeting references to it, or to the Best Dance Recording category. No Doubt‘s inclusion in the latter had Newsweek suggesting the group could now be called a "dance band." If "Hella Good" is the marking of a dance band, then let there be more like it to come.
The dance recording award has been somewhat of a laughingstock in its few short years of existence — remember Baha Men’s unconscionable win with "Who Let the Dogs Out?" This year, No Doubt faced first-rate competition from Kylie Minogue, Dirty Vegas, Groove Armada and Daniel Bedingfield, who should have won for "Gotta Get Thru This." Dirty Vegas would like to thank Mitsubishi for letting them drive off with the award for "Days Gone By." Kylie Minogue wasn’t nominated for "Can’t Get You Outta My Head" because her label didn’t put the song in this category, instead choosing "Love at First Sight." Oops.
This year should have been a good year to honor the work of producers, but The Neptunes (Nelly, Justin Timberlake) and Linda Perry (Pink) were omitted from the producer nominees, allowing Norah Jones‘s producer to walk away with the award. And this year’s ceremony anointed Jones over both Bruce Springsteen and Eminem as the most celebrated artist. Jones only garnered mass attention after the nominees were announced, so her sweep came as a surprise. The Grammys like to surprise us, of course, but few previous years’ surprise winners were as deserving as Jones. (Sadly, next year’s Grammys will see a return of both Steely Dan and Santana.) This year’s show also surprised by including performers who demonstrated exceptional musical talent: Jones, Vanessa Carlton, John Mayer, even the Dixie Chicks.
But there continues to be a serious neglect of the dance consumer in the music industry. Reading the nominees for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical, count yourself among a lucky few if you’ve ever heard the remixes before, much less if you’ve heard of them: Roger Sanchez (No Doubt’s "Hella Good"), Felix da Housecat (Rinocerose’s "Lost Love"), Your Friends From San Francisco (Jill Scott’s "He Loves Me"), Maurice Joshua (Beyonce Knowles’s "Work It Out"), Steve "Silk" Hurley (Brandy’s "What About Us"). It’s the rare mix-CD that features Grammy nominees, the rare store (even online) that sells them. Because many, if not most, were never meant for public consumption, and if you can find them, it’s on vinyl. It’s a DJ’s world, we just happen to live in it. We could only find one of the five on CD, and that was the eventual winner. No wonder Sanchez won. (Though from most accounts he deserved it.)
BEST REMIXED ALBUM, NON-CLASSICALÂ… If there were such a Grammy category, Tony Moran‘s Global Groove: House would have won it this year. Instead Moran wasn’t nominated for his great work last year in either of the two dance music categories. Showing no hard feelings whatsoever, Moran has released a new compilation, Maze (Centaur Entertainment), nearly as Grammy-worthy as Global Groove: House. He’s not consistently good — pass over his last Centaur release, Party Groove: Hotlanta — and he mars his latest by loading it with noisy, testosterone-laden tracks as too many other DJs do. But much of Moran’s supply of testosterone here is strangely alluring. Robbie Rivera’s "The Hum Melody" is not deserving of most of its critical buzz, and nor is it hummable. But it works all the same. Oscar G & Ralph Falcon’s "Dark Beat" is surprisingly good, though it’s no longer a surprise once you learn that these two are the boys of Funky Green Dogs. Moran has included, as usual, four of his own productions, including his reworking of "Die Another Day," which he oddly credits to "Bond-Age," not the antiwar crusader named Madonna that it is. (Did he not get her consent?) And Moran is at his peak with the closer "Let It Go." He co-wrote this peaceful, babbling brook of a house tune, on which his very own passionate tenor runs crisp and clear over the smoothened tribal, atmospheric rhythms. I’ve never felt more refreshed. So Tony, we definitely want to check you out at the new nightclub Maze (formerly Salvation) in Miami, but your Washington DJ debut is long overdue. As you write in your liner notes, "I can’t wait to see you…in your city soon." Velvet, are you listening?
Doug Rule can be reached at email@example.com.
LASGO LIVE!Â… "Follow You," a song on Some Things (Robbins) sounds remarkably similar to Sonique’s "Sky" of a few years ago. Lasgo‘s version has none of the power of Sonique’s. Odd, considering that Lasgo last year gave us "Something," which was as powerful as dance songs get. Nothing odd about this: "Something" was the best dance song of last year, all forceful lower-register key synthstabs and dazzling drum pattern to contrast the tremulous lyrics and vocals. Still, I have the suspicion that "Something" was written first, as every song on Some Things seems to strive to reach its high bar. "Alone" and, oddly, the two-minute, fluttering keyboards "Intro" track come closest to clearing the bar, but they all fall back down to bounce on the absorbing, trancey beats that cushion the songs here. Lasgo, from Belgium, creates some of the sweetest, warm-weather dance-pop you’ll find at the moment, as tasty as their native land’s chocolate. The boys, writers and producers Peter Luts and David Vervoort, look to be perfect candidates for the Gay-or-European Web game popular a few years ago. And singer Evi Goffin sends off high-spirit vibes from her reedy pipes and her oft-exposed, pierce belly button.
ONCE MORE, PET DISCOÂ… The point of Disco 3 (Sanctuary Records) seems to be a plea to win back Pet Shop Boys‘ longtime fans after the duo’s recent spate of maudlin albums. Whereas the Boys’ earlier Disco and Disco 2 relied solely on remixes of previously released songs, Disco 3 features five new songs, with the remaining tracks remixes of songs from last year’s acoustic-sleeper Release. Actually only three songs come from Release. The remixes (from Felix da Housecat, Superchumbo, even the Boys themselves) are lively, and the new songs — although recorded at the same time as the tracks on Release — are a surprising jolt of fresh air. Why wasn’t the buoyantly insistent, Barry White-sampling "Positive Role Model" included on Release? Why, also, didn’t they include the hilarious "Try It (I’m in Love With A Married Man)?" The latter is all electro in sound, and of course it is: it was written twenty years ago, before the Boys were out and proud. (Any guesses why it wasn’t released then?) If you felt spurned by the Boys last year, this is the year to forgive them. Â
FOX SHOWS ITS AGEÂ… Why would any sane person willingly humiliate himself by appearing on Fox’s American Idol? I fail to understand, but then, having just turned 30, I’m truly too old anyway. Did you know they only accept candidates between the ages of 16 and 24?Â Of course, that may eventually change if a threatened lawsuit — surprise, surprise — comes to fruition. A 54-year-old Miami professor has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging Fox producers with age discrimination after they wouldn’t let him audition. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that he’s currently mulling over a lawsuit. By the time it comes to that, though, the show will probably have been rejected by the public.
MUSCLES UNDERGROUNDÂ… Damn! DJ Louie DeVito didn’t include any pictures of himself on his N.Y.C. Underground Party 5 (Musicrama). His last installment was one of the strongest-selling compilations of the past year, and no small credit goes to the shot of his massive manliness on the cover. Then as now Nu Yawker DeVito has included his heapin’ treasure chest of the biggest songs in danceland, and this time out he’s pumped it up on two discs. He’s always included intro and outro medleys in his Underground series, but now with two discs, he seems less sure of the idea: there’s no intro on either disc yet an outro on both, including Bad Boy Joe’s "Megamix" at the very end. Why DeVito feels the need for this medley on every compilation is just one of several headscratchers here, from his strange classification of "underground" dance music to his neglect of our superficial interest in his visage. But with so much sinewy muscle to keep us preoccupied ("Wonderland," "Take Me Away," and, especially "It Just Won’t Do"), we DeVito devotees can overlook the fat.
BUM-RUSSIAN THE CHARTSÂ… All that make-out time in t.A.T.u‘s "All The Things She Said" video is helping the two kissing Russian lesbians find surprising success stateside. The duo’s song is at No. 30 on the Feb. 15 Billboard singles chart, and the album 200 Km/H In The Wrong Lane (Interscope) continues its quick ascent, last week cracking the Top 40. It’s not quite the attack t.A.T.u. is leading in Europe, where the lead single debuted at No. 1 in the U.K. – gleefully forcing Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland to No. 2 – and the album is a European chart top ten. Look at ‘em go!
LIFE IN PLASTIC… Maybe you remember the warning label affixed to Aqua‘s 1997 debut album Aquarium (MCA), noting that the Danish quartet’s biggest hit, “Barbie Girl,” was not sanctioned by the doll’s maker, Mattel Inc. Maybe you even remember that that wasn’t enough for Mattel Inc., which sued MCA as soon as it got wind of the song, ensuring it notoriety and sales. You’ve certainly moved on with your life in the ensuing six years, likely not heeding Aqua Barbie’s vapid plea to “kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky.” But Mattel didn’t move on, taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, which has just rejected its appeal. The Supreme Court let stand a federal appeals court ruling that the effervescent song by the still-together-though-rarely-heard-from Danes was parody and social commentary protected as free speech, Billboard reported. Ain’t that, well, fantastic?
WE GONNA ROCK DOWN TO… FC Kahuna‘s Machine Says Yes (Nettwerk America) starts off with sun and warmth — and hilarious inexplicable passages, perfectly evoking ’80s synth-pop’s playfully uncertain mood. What exactly does the song “Fear of Guitars” mean? And what does the lyric “the pool is full if you get thirsty” have to do with this fear? Whatever: Maybe it’s the alcohol talking, but electro — the music recycling champ — sounds like the most creative dance style at the moment. A debilitating hangover from our wicked, electro-induced drunkenness may be imminent. But that’s no reason for last call just now. And there are at least several more rounds to go, as electro or electro-influenced albums and compilations pop up all over the place. FC Kahuna’s album title track not only affirmatively answers, in Magic 8-Ball fashion, your particular question (e.g., Will I dance to this CD?). It also conjures up Atari memories, all jangling and fluttering keystrokes and synthstabs. The title song builds up to be a game of Space Invaders, with the chorus chanting the resigned sentiment of the ’80s teenager: “I’m going to stay with you, there’s nothing else to do.” As much fun as it is, though, FC Kahuna’s primitive computer gaming of yesteryear begins to wear and tear on us. “Growler” is a machine that says no — it sounds like a malfunctioning Pac-Man cartridge, and your system is trying to tell you to ditch it (“Don’t understand it,” the machine serially warns.) And at that point, you haven’t even suffered through the well-named “Bleep Freak.” Tiga’s album-closing remix of the title song may save the machine from crashing on us, but it is a warning that it’s time to replace our antiquated system.
ELECTRO AVENUE… Cosmo Vitelli‘s full-length debut Clean (Astralwerks) will be in stores Tuesday, and there should be a mad rush to grab a copy. Vitelli has thankfully moved on from FC Kahuna’s Atari to create a PlayStation state of mind. Ever play Grand Theft Auto? Vitelli is you as the looting thief, stealing first the name — Cosmo Vitelli comes from a wacky 1970s film — and then Monte Carlos and Fleetwoods for fleeing the cops. Playing on the stereo in any car, you’ll hear a mix of sounds pirated from Beverly Hills Cop, Pretty in Pink, Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell and, of course, Felix da Housecat. Vitelli has even “stolen” vocalist Harrison Crump from Felix (“Pray for a Star,” the magnificent “Runaway Dreamer”). But Frenchie Vitelli (aka Benjamin Boguet) has built a far warmer environment than Felix did: naturellement, it is, eh, more romantique. True, Vitelli is every bit as pretentious as Felix, but that does come with the pilfering electro genre, which aspires to relive the ’80s vibe all over again — well, mostly just the music, thanks — as one giant, high-concept party. “Party Day” perfectly encapsulates that sensibility, and it perfectly sells the album, packed as it is with densely crafted melodies oozing with excesses of vocal emotion (human and machine) and layers upon layers of programmatic instrumentation. The winningly wacky music will make you as happy as what is suggestively about to happen on the cover, with the woman dressed up in pink balloons and too much blue eyeliner. You’ll pop to this pop, too — and ride away in your much too fast, little red corvette.
BOO-HOO… “We are not the enemy. We are not at war…I am shaking my head in wonderment at this million-dollar campaign to deride us.” That’s Washington’s own Jack Valenti, the film industry’s chief lobbyist, bemoaning the start of what can only be called a turf war over public access to entertainment. Billboard reports that technology companies and advocacy groups have formed a new lobbying organization to counter Valenti and the entire entertainment industry’s ill-planned but many-tentacled fight to prevent unauthorized digital downloading of music, movies and books. We say, welcome to Washington, the Alliance for Digital Progress. We clearly are in need of more lobbyists.