In the everyday struggle between style and substance, the best-hoped-for outcome is a mutually reinforced middle ground. But reaching that middle ground is no easy feat, and not something that the style-driven Queer Eye for the Straight Guy‘s Fab Five should have even attempted. Yet attempt it they did, through their first installment of music meant to “Take your ears from drab to fab! ”
So what’s fab? They’ve rounded up an assortment of pop music artists, few of whom are actually queer. The premise seems to be that straight men need as much help opening their ears to music beyond rock and country as they do selecting worthy fashions — but please, not too gay. But are straight men even the target audience for this disc? Probably not, but that’s not the real problem. The problem is that designer music, unlike designer clothing, is as much about substance as style, whether it’s of a classical, jazz or, yes, even a pop bent.
What’s That Sound sacrifices substance for style to create not a middle ground, but a muddled, middlebrow 47 minutes. Middlebrow from the Fab Five? Yes, indeed. There’s a fair amount of bad musical grooming hiding the substance here, but it’s nothing a little nip-and-tuck couldn’t fix.
Nip tip #1: Could somebody please buy Simone Denny some vowels and consonants? Because the theme song, “All Things (Just Keep Getting Better), ” has been overplayed to death already, it’s sad commentary that the most creative thing they could think to do to create a full song out of it was to stretch it, repeating every predictable line to death. Denny drones on and on and on, coasting along on the sunny melody and her own peppy, positive voice, just as she did years ago with Love Inc.’s uplifting “You’re a Superstar. ” But today we’re stuck in rush-hour traffic, too agitated to hear her stutter-scream “all things, all things, all things ” three more times. Or even once.
Tuck tip #1: The Chemical Brothers do a fine job of remixing Kylie Minogue’s “Slow, ” but the bare-bones original is nothing less than sex on record. It’s almost embarrassing to listen to it in the company of non-amorous others, the modern-day equivalent of Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover. ” The Brothers keep the same sensual mid-tempo groove, but they touch it one too many times, spoiling the sexual energy.
Nip tip #2: Who’s to blame here for Fischerspooner’s hashed-up mash-up of Billy Squier’s “Everybody Wants You? ” Fischerspooner, for the idea in the first place? Or Barry Harris, for creating what sounds like an adolescent experiment ProTools music software? To make it work, Squier’s vocals should have been cut and pasted onto Fischerspooner’s “Emerge ” musical bed, which was a rousing gem of a dance tune in its original form, instead of taking that exalting chorus and slapping it — minus bubbling sonics — onto Squier’s sappy track.
Tuck tip #2: What’s That Sound? starts off strong, with Basement Jaxx, Junior Senior and Jamelia. But just like the hour-long show itself, interest starts waning midway through, in this case when Duran Duran unveils its first new song in more than a decade, the pleasant but plain “Sunrise. ” And then we want to change the channel, as Sting, Prophet Omega and Liz Phair contribute songs as cringe-worthy as when the hapless straight guy shaves too fast and cuts himself or misapplies his gel. Er, sorry, we meant hair product.