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Last week, I gave away a lot of my time and attention to Madonna. (Oops! I’ve done it again, with this column.) But then you, or someone you know, did too. She may not watch TV, or listen to the radio, as she says on American Life (Maverick/Warner Bros.), and maybe she doesn’t read any entertainment media, but she sure knows how to work them all. For many, particularly those of a straight male persuasion, every new Madonna vehicle works them into a foaming-at-the-mouth state as they ruthlessly savage her entire reason for existence. Perhaps she shouldn’t have served them up that soy latte. But among gay groupies, rarely is a critical word heard, with endlessly fawning reviews the norm. Friends of Madonna are as hopelessly devoted to their deity as Reaganites are to theirs. Soon enough there may even be a Reagan-styled movement to encourage every gay institution to somehow celebrate Madonna either through a name change or a plaque. Soon to appear at a gay bar near you: a toilet dedicated to the “Drowned World Tour.”
But before you Madonnarama llamas lob cigarette lighters disguised as grenades my way, before you turn on me as if I, a transplanted Midwesterner, had said, Dixie Chick-style, “I’m ashamed our number one diva is from the Midwest,” let me preempt you. Madonna’s latest release is a refreshingly decent output, a more consistent album than her Mirwais vs. William Orbit Music (Maverick/Warner Bros.), if not ultimately better.
I almost feel like chirping “fuck it,” as Madonna does in her album-only version of “American Life,” and give up. This is designed to be a dance-music column, but apparently there’s little to dance to in Madonna’s American life these days — though the retro electro vibe on the album makes you move even when it’s in folksy ballad form. Madonna is bitter at the state of the world, politically and culturally, and disturbed by her role in it. “I’m So Stupid” she ignobly titles one track.
Her strongest moments on the album, though, are when she rises above matters of the material world and goes metaphysical. “Nothing Fails” plays out as “Like a Prayer” revisited (in restrained, mature fashion). In nearly every way, she’s outdone herself here. The lyrics wax poetic about unending love: “You could take all this, take it away/I’d still have it all,” she sings. “‘Cause I’ve climbed the tree of life/And that is why, [I’m] no longer scared if I fall.” The music gradually swells to a full-on gospel choir climax in which the choir chants the slyly sacrilegious line, “I’m not religious, but it makes me wanna pray.”
Her parting song, “Easy Ride,” rises nicely from the ashes of the lush violins, dramatic flourishes and abrupt ending of the breathtakingly fierce “Die Another Day.” Madonna yearns in “Easy Ride” for the meaning of life, but she’s contented with what she’s already learned — that life is one giant circle. She hasn’t learned from all her mistakes, though. American Life adds up to be the modern-day Madonna equivalent of earlier Madonna’s noisy, bumbling, but not totally irredeemable Erotica (Maverick/Warner Bros.). There’s no “Ray of Light” to anchor this album and make it soar; no “What It Feels Like for A Girl” to lyrically provoke us with musical sweet-nothings; no “Music” to make us come together in glee. Instead, we get an abrasively whiny-pitched Madonna appreciating her parents on “Mother and Father,” complete with an even more unfortunate rap than that of the title track, featuring imbecilic gems like “My father had to go to work, I used to think he was a jerk.” Did she write that, or did her seven-year-old daughter?
And what’s with the inner artwork? I like the stark, Che Guevara look on the cover, but could she think of nothing more creative than to use her body to spell out the album title, as if it were an A-Teens album? She should have taken images from her original, angstful “American Life” video, especially since she canceled it. (Hopefully you’ll see it soon, since that video is on par with the music video queen’s best ever, just as its United Nations, flag-waving replacement is one of her worst.) The erstwhile Material Girl has effectively shirked that moniker for good by now. But sometimes she gets too close for comfort to becoming immaterial.
Madonna’s American Life CD Maxi-Single (Maverick/Warner Bros.) came out Tuesday, full of respectable remixes of this respectable yet a bit boring song. Missy Elliott does nimble work, adding her own comments to her remix — she sighs, appropriately, “Oh Madonna!” after Madonna raps, “I’d like to express my extreme point of view.” And Felix da Housecat does even better here than he did on “Die Another Day.” His is the only version to make Madonna’s rap sound almost natural, since he slows down her flow to match the pace of the beat. If only Rauhofer had done the same, or at least hadn’t tacked the rap to the very end of his otherwise dazzling “American Anthem Part 1” remix. I’m crying, that’s how hard I’m laughing. Do you think I’m satisfied?
Doug Rule can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pet Shop Boys
IN DA CLUB BABYLON… Finally, we can tell you all about the Queer as Folk Babylon Tour. (I just know you were waiting with bated breath.) The tour, which has expanded from an original 12 cities to 15, will be helmed by DJ Peter Rauhofer at some stops, while Tracy Young will work others, including right here in her native D.C. The tour stops at Velvet Nation on Saturday, May 17. Gay clubbers’ best straight girlfriend Kristine W. will powerbelt her hits at select events, but sadly, not here. Ed Bailey, Velvet’s promotional director, informs that Miami’s risquÃ© performance duo RKM will provide Babylon-style entertainment, and the club will be all decked out with go-go boy cages and other flourishes direct from the show. Billboard reported that Showtime is seeing to it that the tour meets "the same high quality and standards of the series." Well, it had better — or else I’ll be tuning into HBO from now on.
COME GO WITH ME… Music is a crucial element of QAF, and if you happen to catch the show this Sunday, you’ll hear the latest straight girl trying to recruit us into her fold: "Let Me Be The One," Gioia Bruno screams. We’ve heard her before as the sultry vocalist with the strongest pipes in the phenomenally successful ’80s dance-pop girl group ExposÃ©. The benign tumor on her vocal chords that essentially ended ExposÃ© is now gone, and Junior Vasquez has remixed her latest solo track, "From The Inside," which will debut on the show at Babylon (of course). It’s a typically joyous peak-anthem house song, so expect to hear Gioia (pronounced joy-ah) and her insides at a Babylon near you, too.
QUEER AS NERVOUS NELLIES… Don’t you just wanna scream in despair about how much space Queer as Folk is getting here? Well, this is the last of it, I swear. After Queer as Nervous (Nervous Records), you’ll scream and swear in despair, too. It’s not a bad compilation of dance hits; it’s certainly no worse than the periodic official Queer as Folk compilations, another of which will appear from Tommy Boy Records next month. It plays like an episode of the show, with full earnestness, mediocre acting, melodramatic plot points and predictable resolutions. Okay, so you can hardly describe a record like that, but suggesting that this is a "record" and not the slopped together buffet of diva anthems that it is would be your first mistake. The other would be paying for it. If I’m going to pay fifteen bucks or more on music, I’d hope for something more than a disposable collection of songs — many of them songs from eons ago, to boot ("U Turn Me," "Dive In The Pool") — that no thought went into. Like the album’s coverboy, it seems the Nervous people responsible for this spent too much time focusing on the brawn, not the brain.
A WINDY CITY TIT FOR TAT…Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson may be gone as Billy Flynn, but Broadway’s Chicago continues to razzle-dazzle with big-name pop performers. No, Queen Latifah won’t be joining the cast, but in her stead as Matron "Mama" Morton is Angie Stone. The neo-soul crooner cum dancefloor belter (via last year’s "Wish I Didn’t Miss You") made her Broadway debut in the role this past Monday.
WAKING UP FROM A NIGHTMARE… What did I ever do to deserve Aphex Twin‘s 26 Mixes for Cash (Warp)? The second in the double CD set is the noisiest dance disc I’ve heard, e-v-e-r. Oh, all right, yes, that’s a tad exaggerated. But it is downright unlistenable. The first CD is quite pleasing, in a mostly laid-back chill-out movie soundtrack kinda way, and there are moments when the music makes you sit up and take notice, for good — a truly inspired mash-up of a moody Philip Glass score meets David Bowie’s "Hero" a capella, for instance. But the second CD is all for bad. Mescalinum United‘s "We Have Arrived" opens to the sound of an air pump adding needed pressure to your low bike tires, but then as more sounds come in you realize this isn’t a bike shop. It’s an industrial machinery repair shop, the likes of which you’ve probably never known before, nor wanted to hear — there’s the banging metal, the pounding drills, the…oh, I don’t remember. But my eardrums sure remember — they’re still recovering from the pain.
Doug Rule can be reached at email@example.com
TEST DRIVE THE 2003 LeDION… By now you’re already as familiar as you wanna be with the 2003 Chrysler LeDion, formerly known as Celine Dion. The singer has apparently sold her soul to Chrysler, whose logo and slogan, "Drive & Love," is prominently displayed in the jewel case of her latest CD, One Heart (Epic Records). One song even sideswipes a competitor with the lyric, "The old Chevy’s dead, they tried to fix it in vain." So just how smooth of a ride is this 2003 LeDion? She breezes her way right through "I Drove All Night," never once taking off the "uh-huh, yeah" cruise control to reveal the vulnerability of Cyndi Lauper’s version and Roy Orbison’s original. LeDion performs to expectation over the bumps and potholes of hip-hop-style beats on "Love Is All We Need," but on several occasions the check engine light flashes as LeDion encounters an Alanis Morissette-sized rut of "uh-huh, yeah" irony. (No rain on your wedding day here of course, just something about pain instead of love). I could go on and on, near, far, wherever you are, but if you’ve never wanted a Chrysler before now, this LeDion isn’t going to change your mind. It’ll just cause you much ironical pain. Uh-huh, yeah.Â
HIGH ON SOMETHING…"What you see is real. I am really that high," LeDion told Reuters. She was talking about the flying-to-the-rafters act of her new show in Las Vegas. She certainly wasn’t being euphemistic, since there are no drugs and precious few other vices to speak of in her view of Vegas. She described the city as "full of churches and families," a perfect spot for her fans to visit her. Uh-huh, yeah.
CHER-ING THE BOUNTY… Before we all see what Madonna‘s so-called American Life looks like on April 22, Cher has just shown us on NBC what her so-called farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye concert tour looks like. She’s still touring a year into her Living Proof Farewell Tour, and she’ll keep going through the remainder of 2003. Whereas LeDion has at least given the world new material to augment her Vegas show, the "Half-Breed" Cherilyn LaPierre only regales us with her golden oldies on The Very Best of Cher (Warner Bros.). Just four years ago Geffen Records played a trick on us, unloading its own compilation — If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher’s Greatest Hits — capitalizing on her runaway success with Believe. Cher, who was in charge of putting together this latest compilation, clearly knows her target audience better than David Geffen: In addition to all her staple songs, she’s included Rodney Jerkins’s main mix of "A Different Kind of Love Song" (not a good remix, but a dance remix nonetheless) and Junior Vasquez’s high-caliber edit of her "One by One," which was a hit nowhere else but danceland (it didn’t even break Billboard’s Top 100 Pop Chart). Actually, Geffen didn’t get much of anything right with Cher, and the fact that she had nothing to do with Turn Back Time makes me feel like a dupe for having bought it. Avoid my mistake if you too want a collection of Cher hits, as well as an insightful if flowery recap of her career from MTV News veteran Kurt Loder. Warner Bros. has your number.
ELECTRO ‘EMERGE’NCYÂ… The New York duo known as Fischerspooner has been entertaining underground electro-heads with its core songs for a couple years now, waiting for the revival of ’80s synth-pop to catch on in dance circles. Now that it has, the group couldn’t have affected a more bored pose with the release of its full-length debut, #1 (Capitol Records). Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, who met in art school in Chicago, helped nurture the electro genre in Manhattan through over-the-top stage and DJ performances, so great things are to be expected of their first D.C. performance this Sunday at the 9:30 Club. Of course Village Voice declared last year the duo "sucks," with amateurish costumes and dance routines like a "high school cheerleading squad’s interpretation of a Janet Jackson video," so maybe great things shouldn’t be expected. But whatever you do, don’t bother with the duo’s #1, which sounds as tired and bitter as LeDion sounds sappy and earnest. No wonder the album flopped unexpectedly last year when it was released in the electro-mad U.K. Only "Emerge" emerges as a hit. Well, "Invisible" comes close, and the hidden "Megacolon" demands attention for its naughty, naughty lyrics. (A sample: "We met each other in the ladies room/She said: ‘Holy shit,’ I said: ‘Yes that is it’/Now Megacolon is a big, big hit.") "Emerge" offers an effective musical definition of its title, growing gradually from singular computer blips to full-force human emoting, from jangly chords to full-on trance ecstasy. If only this truly No. 1-worthy song symbolized Fischerspooner’s album. Instead it’s symbolized more by the nonsense and noise of "*#!@Â¥Ã§." That’s "Fucker" in wingdings.