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SOFT CELL SINGER HOSPITALIZED… Nearly two weeks ago Soft Cell singer Marc Almond suffered serious head injuries in a life-threatening motorcycle accident in London. Almond, 47, was the passenger on a motorcycle that collided with a car at an intersection. People magazine reports he’s currently recovering in stable condition after surgery at a London hospital. Among other songs he popularized as part of the early ’80s synth-pop pioneering duo Soft Cell, his “Tainted Love” quickly became a gay anthem. The gay Almond was rumored to be preparing a British release this month of a solo cover of Laura Branigan‘s “Self Control.” It was his way of paying tribute to the artist, who died a few months ago…
BRITISH HOUSE MUSIC HONOURED… Because there are not enough awards as it is, “the first-ever global House Music Awards” will be inaugurated in London next Thursday. The official purpose is “to recognize the creators and innovators of house music.” But the unstated purpose seems to be to recognize the creators and innovators of house music popular in the United Kingdom. Nothing wrong with that, since much of the best dance music today comes from just across the pond, and not in its American birthplace. Just don’t expect to get too excited over the slate of nominees. Unless you live in or make frequent trips to England, the most you can say for the majority of the artists nominated is that you’ve seen their names before, maybe heard their work once or twice. But you don’t really remember it. Which is why, if nothing else, attention must be paid to organizers for including online (www.housemusicawards.com) audio samples and biographical information on all nominees. Grammys, please take note.
So, will Tim Deluxe or Kaskade or Junior Jack prevail as Artist of the Year? Or will it be Blaze? Well, your guess, if you have one, must be better than mine. The hazy, partly obscured view from here would say Kaskade, since In The Moment is an all-around better album than runner-up Jack’s Trust It. But I’ve had no access to the latest work from Deluxe or Blaze or the other four nominees, so who knows? And anyway, it’s based on popular vote, not critical concern, so really, there’s no way for those of us over here, who haven’t ventured lately over there, to know.
In arguably the top category, Track of the Year, only three of eight have made much of a dent stateside. True, the others may be on their way to release here, since we’re generally many months behind. But as I see it, it’s the Shapeshifters’ (in the states, they’re known as Shape:UK) to lose. That group’s disco-dipped “Lola’s Theme” is the best of the bunch, and also arguably the most popular, even here, where it’s lodged on top of Billboard‘s Dance Radio Airplay Chart, and firmly planted high on many DJ play charts as well. In case you don’t recognize the infectious tune by name, it’s the full-on gospel house track — which samples Johnny Taylor‘s 1982 R&B hit “What About My Love” – with swirling horns, clashing cymbals and the lead lyric, “I’m a different person, yeah, turned my world around,” sung by the London Community Gospel Choir’s Cookie. Pure dance-pop joy…
UTADA’S ‘JAPANESEY’ INSIDE… After 14 weeks, “Lola’s Theme” is about to fall off Billboard‘s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. Incredibly it peaked at number five. Currently ruling that chart’s roost is Japanese-American Utada with “Devil Inside.” The 21-year-old Utada worked with celebrity producer Timbaland on three tracks — though surprisingly none are standouts — on her American debut, Exodus, released earlier this month. She’s a veritable pop star in Asia, where’s she’s been releasing chart-topping albums since she was 16. The most all-out dance track here, “Devil Inside,” is perfectly pleasant, marred only by its chorus, which splits the song title in half. As such, it isn’t as strong or catchy as it should be. And sadly, none of the remixes — not even The Scumfrog‘s — improves on the original.
It amazes me that Utada has managed to get some mainstream critical attention, given that her first single aimed at pop radio is the laughably bad “Easy Breezy.” Yes, she really does sing “you’re easy breezy, and I’m Japanesey” in the fake-baked chorus. Embarrassing. Musically, the song is ho-hum bubble gum, nothing fancy. All told, Utada is less noteworthy for her lyrics than for her weird (in both the good and bad senses of the term) musical fusion of alt-rock, American pop, dance, funk and Asian-flavored pop…
VOTE NOW FOR PRESIDENT DJ?… At last month’s Billboard Dance Music Summit, German DJ Paul van Dyk talked about his experience this year spinning for Rock the Vote concerts around the country. Through a Q&A panel, he relayed the story of one distressed soldier, just returned from Iraq, who told Van Dyk his music is the only thing that keeps his spirits up until the election. Van Dyk said he just hopes that the U.S. “elects the right person who won’t take us into another Iraq.” Dutch DJ Tiesto, meanwhile, was asked at another Billboard Q&A session if he’d like to be President of the United States. He said yes, as he laughed at the inconceivable idea. Don’t forget to think of him — and laugh — come Tuesday…
KYLIE’S SLOW BLOWÂ… Kylie Minogue never toured with her most recent album, Body Language. Was she just too lazy, or too aloof, or too uninspired by her own music to care? Probably not, but who knows? It’s not like she would admit to those charges if they were true. Maybe she just wanted to save money, by performing at only a couple promotional gigs. The British press lauded her one full-fledged promotional concert — the cost: well over $1 million — as a sensory-loaded success. But would-be Kylie concertgoers don’t have to settle for reviews of it. EMI Records has now released a DVD, Body Language Live, of footage and extras from the one-off event. It’s a strange concert recording, since it’s not something most purchasers can look back on as a de-facto concert souvenir. Also strange, because the concert itself was recorded just prior to the album’s release in Europe (and months before it came to our shores). So save for her past hits — and at the time her new number one hit "Slow" — the audience was unfamiliar with the material.
The crowd doesn’t truly roar until she sings "Can’t Get You Out of My Head," and her many other hits from Fever and earlier albums. She never sings "Loco Motion" though. And speaking of singing, Minogue’s voice is no stronger — she reverts to a breathy coo too often — than any of her contemporaries, from Madonna to Janet Jackson to Thalia. As with these worldwide superstars, Minogue has been accused of lip-synching in concert, and she may do it here on occasion. But it’s clear that she’s actually singing through most of it. As well she should be, since, unlike the others, Minogue doesn’t really burn much energy dancing. Her choreography is often banal, her sense of rhythm seemingly tenuous, and it’s her head — and especially her hair — spun around in provocative glances and sensual nods, that gets the true work out, not her exposed gams. She carries herself with a nearly permanent smile and a perky, happy-to-entertain manner that defies you to dislike her.
Like her last DVD documenting her Fever concert, Body Language Live is a visual treat. In particular, there’s the performance of "Slow," where her boy dancers gyrate together — and with brightly colored florescent tubes – in Cirque de Soleil fashion. Even better, the DVD includes the original "Slow" music video, our pick for the year’s best. The video, by Ballie Walsh, perfectly captures the sexual heat that runs all through the song, without ever getting graphic. Also noteworthy is the video and performance of "Red Blooded Woman," which features one of the better pop song phrases heard in a while: "You’ll never get to heaven if you’re scared of getting high"Â…
SCISSOR SISTERS CUT UP KYLIEÂ… Speaking of Minogue, next month in Europe she’ll release a double cd, Ultimate Kylie. It’s another greatest hits collection from the 36-year-old star, seven years and as many hits since her last. This set will feature all of the 31 hit singles she’s had (pretty much everywhere but here) since she started, at 19, as well as two new songs, including "I Believe In You," co-written by the Scissor Sisters‘ Jake Shears and Babydaddy. Sounds wonderful, right? Well, you might have to pony up for a pricey import, since there’s no word — and a lot of doubt about – whether Capitol Records will release the compilation here. Except for a couple hit singles and Fever, Minogue just hasn’t sold well enough here to suggest there’s a demand for a greatest hits packageÂ…
SIRIUS’ SERIOUS GAY SWAYÂ… While hardcore Howard Stern fans have 16 months to wait to consider signing up for Sirius Satellite Radio — where his show will eventually air — that media company keeps dangling fruit to entice the gay market. No, not Stern, obviously. A near-opposite: Fred Schneider of The B-52s. Earlier this month Schneider began hosting a show, "Party Out of Bounds," on the station, where he DJs for three hours each week, picking material from his extensive personal music collection, said to number more than 60,000 vinyl albums and singles. "Believe me, I know how to throw a good party," Schneider told Billboard. "I’ll spin 12-inch mixes, club favorites and obscure gems, along with classic tracks you don’t get to hear much anymore.” Add that to Sirius’ OutQ 24/7 gay talk and music channel, and you’ve got serious reasons to consider Sirius. Still, the much more established XM Satellite Radio appeals too, since it’s the hometown company — and it now features former NPR Morning Edition host Bob Edwards. Too many choices…
VOTE NOW FOR FAVORITE DJÂ… One is focused on America, the other worldwide, though with a clear European bias. But no matter: Tiesto is likely to claim the top spot in both of the two most prominent annual reader polls ranking dance music DJs. Polls already closed for the influential British DJ Magazine‘s ranking, which Tiesto has topped for two years running. Results will be announced just in time for Halloween. But BPM Magazine‘s search for "America’s Favorite DJ" continues on through to January 2, so there’s plenty of time to pick your favorite three DJs, and then plenty of time to wait for the results. They’re not due until the first of March 2005. Besides Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk, Armin Van Buuren and Paul Oakenfold, we expect the top of the list to include Sasha and DC’s own Deep Dish.
There are over 200 DJs on BPM’s list, and yet. There are barely a dozen DJs on the list known to be gay or at least regular spinners on the gay circuit, including Junior Vasquez, Peter Rauhofer, Frankie Knuckles, Victor Calderone, Irene and — ain’t it cool? — Boy George. That’s right, they missed, among others, DJ Abel Aguilera, he of the wildly popular Alegria parties at Crobar in New York. Instead, several "DJs" make it on here who are known almost solely as recording artists, not DJs, everywhere outside of Europe (remember, their focus is on "America’s Favorite DJ"). Basement Jaxx, we love you, and Fatboy Slim and Groove Armada, you’re pretty cool too. But what are you doing on this list?…
TIESTO, THE DANCE DRUG… Back to the most celebrated DJ of our time, Tiesto. Did you ever consider that this Dutchman, who just over four years ago was little known outside of his quiet hometown near the Belgian border, is really a gateway DJ? He said as much at the Billboard Dance Music Summit, held in New York two weeks ago. Serving on a Q&A panel session, he described to the audience his role as someone who turns people on to dance music — through, essentially, branding of his sound and his image. Did you know his image was stuck to the sides of Coca-Cola cans in Europe recently? And then, of course, there was his role at this year’s Athens Summer Olympic Games, where he was the first DJ ever to spin at an Opening Ceremony. (He also helped compile the set list for the Closing Ceremony.)Â That’s yet another reason why he should have no trouble holding on to the top spot in DJ popularity polls.
Tiesto told the Billboard panel that once he’s got people hooked to his fast-paced, keyboard-happy, colored-glowstick trance sound, they move on to other dance DJs. It’s a reasonable proposition, all the more remarkable because he said it without any hint of the distaste that most DJs, priding themselves on being underground, counterculture and ahead of the times, would. In fact, when asked if he worried about becoming too removed from the dance underground, about being too commercial, he shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and said, "I don’t care." Actually, it seems pretty obvious he does care, that he wants to be a commercially successful, mainstream star, particularly in America. He said, to considerable surprise, that he’s far more interested in seeing dance music merge with hip-hop than with rock. The latter is the approach that’s the new rage in dance music today, from DJs to recording artists, and the fact that he’s not so interested in that approach is surprising, because his last album, the appealing Just Be, incorporated many pop/rock elements, including guitars, into its otherwise straightforward, and affecting, trance sound. It’s also surprising because it seems so calculated, as he admitted to a desire to become the toast of hip-hop-loving America and not just trippy pop-loving Europe.
He said he’d even like to work with a hip-hop star, just as Deep Dish and Felix da Housecat are doing with P. Diddy on his long-delayed dance album. But based on the preview he gave Summit attendees of his next album, comprising songs composed for or inspired by the Olympics, Tiesto’s not moving in that direction just yet. Due Nov. 2, the album, Parade of the Athletes, sounds a bit more intense than Just Be, released just this past summer, but also less melodic and more repetitiveÂ…
VAN DYK’S DIG… Meanwhile, at another panel, Berliner Paul Van Dyk, who also incorporates pop/rock elements into his trance base, took a subtle dig at Tiesto, his main rival for the crown of world’s favorite DJ. The fact that Tiesto and Van Dyk were the only two asked to sit for individual Q&A sessions at the Summit shows their significance. At his session, Van Dyk made it clear he’s not the music populist that Tiesto is. (Though truth be told, their musical sounds to date are very similar, and at least on the surface would appeal to the same crew of danceheads.) He said he didn’t like the attitude of one of his colleagues, who appears to consider himself more of a brand and less of an artist. He could be referring to someone else, but even if so, I still don’t get the sense that Tiesto and Van Dyk are the best of friends…