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DURAN DURAN HOPES FOR TOMORROW… You are aware that Duran Duran is back in action, aren’t you? In a twisted way, the band is actually hoping you are not. "I don’t think any of us are satisfied with how that record has done and that’s really why we’re planning on staying on the road for most of this year,” bassist John Taylor told Billboard.com, referring to a newly-announced second round of touring America in support of last fall’s Astronaut. Baltimore’s Pier 6 Pavilion on July 27 is the closest the band will get to Washington this time out. Astronaut barely cracked the top twenty of the main Billboard album chart, and has sold a paltry quarter of a million copies stateside. That comes despite some relatively heavy press attention and two dance hits. Their second single, "What Happens Tomorrow," is climbing to the top of a couple Billboard charts, so there may yet be an untapped, unaware market for Duran Duran’s return, and not just an uninterested one….
TRIBAL FROM AFRICA… With two new compilations, two esteemed European DJs aim to make you more musically aware of the proverbial continent where it all began. But only one seems to have a chance at succeeding, and it’s not Gilles Peterson. The noted BBC radio DJ’s two-disc Gilles Peterson in Africa is not really concerned with providing tracks for Western dance clubs, or even contemporary world music haunts. The modern-day mixes of disc two have nearly all been previously released. And the thirty- and forty-year-old tracks from African legends on disc one sadly have only limited appeal to novices, or those who are not already Africanists.
On the other hand, Africanism III, the work of French house producer and DJ Bob Sinclar, is nothing if not new. This third in a popular series from Sinclar-affiliated Yellow Productions is only the first to see a U.S. release, thanks to a partnership with dance music label Tommy Boy, which also plans to release several albums from the artists featured here. Africanism III is club-centric and radio-friendly, and its pleasing, lithesome first single, "Summer Moon," featuring Nigerian-born Ben Onono on lead vocal, should get a workout this summer wherever cutting-edge dance music is played. Further, the compilation could — and should — work to spice up the already piquant tribal house style. Tribal house, as we’ve come to know it, is principally drawn from Latin and Middle Eastern musical styles. Sub-Saharan Africa is missing out on the party.
But sub-Saharan Africa is only represented on roughly half of the 16 tracks on Africanism III. The other half is given over to Caribbean or Caribbean/American music styles — and France. Besides Sinclar, there are two handfuls of French artists featured in his Africanism All Stars, a Paris-based collective of some two dozen musicians who occasionally work together, but never as one large group. It’s an international affair, in other words. The set’s lack of African music purity as a criticism of the featured music — what is "African music purity," anyway — but there is white, Western influence at work here. Other than that, I can think of no possible criticism that could be lodged against this compilation. It dazzles with unfaltering, fascinating rhythms and a resolutely sunny party nature, and the repeated presence of perky steel drums set exactly the right mood….
D:FUSE’S LIBERAL BEATS… DJ and dance artist D:Fuse appeared at benefits for Moveon.org and other liberal organizations just prior to the 2004 election. "There is no greater threat facing this nation than the reelection of George W. Bush,” D:Fuse said at the time. It was also a time when D:Fuse released his debut artist album, Begin. Since then the straight, Austin-based D:Fuse, a long-time XM Radio DJ, has said essentially nothing about his progressive concerns — except when in reference to the same-named style of dance music he mostly purveys. Maybe that’ll change on his tour stop this Friday, May 27, at Five (1214B 18th St. NW). He will have, after all, a live PA hooked up so that he could speak out on the issues. But at least he promises to sing and to play live percussion along to recorded tracks. He’ll also no doubt play selections from his slightly overrated debut, which only showed real sparks of passion as it ended. "Living the Dream" features beguiling vocals from Jes, who makes a show of jumping around to meet the simpering beat. And the last track not only moves to a slowed-down New Order vibe, with acoustic guitar accompaniment and D:Fuse on drums. "Letter to a Friend" also finds inspiration in its sweet lyrics, addressed to a long-distance friend. D:Fuse sings to the friend he’s about to see again, "And I don’t know if you know this/…but I look up to you." Sung like a true liberal….
GAUTHREAUX’S AMBITION… Joe Gauthreaux intends his new compilation Party Groove: Cherry Volume 2 to stand the test of time. "Five or 10 years from now, I’d like anyone listening to this CD to be as moved by it then as they would be today," he writes in the liner notes to the Centaur Records set honoring Washington’s Cherry circuit party (the first volume was released by Centaur four years ago). It’s hard to forecast 10 years from now, but Gauthreaux just may succeed in his long-term ambition. His accomplished compilation manages to reflect the high-energy sound heard at Cherry, whether you just went last weekend or to the first one nine years ago. The more dance music changes, the more disco remains its foundation and abiding groove.
Gauthreaux’s set moves from a wildly percussive (and too long) opening track into a sweet stretch of happy house, the direct descendant of disco. It loses steam for a while after that, with ominous and monotonous barely there tracks and too many spoken vocals. Gauthreaux also could have scaled back the screaming-diva tracks, and he would have made Cherry more instantly satisfying if he had thrown in more true songs like the superb Warren Clark remix of "Drama" by DJ Rhythm presents Soul Theory. Or Kings of Tomorrow‘s "Thru," a sweet, soulful house tune, featuring a sensitive male vocal, that perfectly caps off the CD, making any negative thoughts you had during the past hour fade away….
ABEL’S CONFIDENCE… Abel Aguilera perfectly capped this year’s Cherry party by ending his nearly six-hour Closing Night set with Diana Ross‘s disco great "The Boss." He spun an extended remix of the song that kept the full blissful disco vibe intact. If you weren’t smiling as it played, you weren’t really there. It was the kind of grand gesture that only a confident DJ today would make — after all, no one goes to Nation on a non-retro night expecting to hear disco. Abel is nothing if not confident, a fact that shines through on his compilations, including his contribution to the new Queer as Folk: Club Babylon two-disc set from Tommy Boy Records. Abel continuously mixed the second disc here, while Chris Cox handled the first. Unlike last year’s Alegria two-disc set, which Abel claims was a personal reflection of his tribal-house sound, the Queer as Folk set only reflects that cable series. "There’s not really much selection that I could do,” he says, “because it’s based around the show.” But he did get to make some track selections, as well as choose the sequence — enough freedom, obviously, to ensure his tribal sound is in full effect. He packs a stellar one-two opening punch with back-to-back remixes from Offer Nissim: first the shimmering "Home" by Suzanne Palmer, then the emotionally intense "The Wonder Of It All" by Kristine W. It’s beyond my comprehension why he follows these with the maddeningly obnoxious "I Need You" by Friburn and Ick — sorry, Friburn and Urik. But that’s the only weak spot on Abel’s set….
COX’S BOREDOM… Chris Cox also has only one real weak spot on disc one of Queer as Folk: Club Babylon. But his inclusion of "Dive in the Pool" by Barry Harris featuring Pepper Mashay encapsulates the problem Cox faced here. While Abel was tasked with assembling a set featuring tracks from the upcoming final season of the show, Cox got stuck with those songs already featured in the last four seasons. Cox has mostly great songs to work with, but you can tell he wasn’t very inspired by the project. He makes little effort to seamlessly mix most of the tracks, offering precious few segues. So, for example, Book of Love‘s "Boy" just ends when the beats come in to the bare Oscar G remix of Ultra Nate‘s "Free." To paraphrase Nate, Cox wasn’t free to do what he wanted to do, so he only did what he had to do….
BELMARES’ HAPPINESS… Another year, another Queer as Folk tour. Except this year’s Ancient Babylon Tour will likely be the last edition, what with the show beginning its final season next Sunday, May 22. The tour stops next Saturday, May 21, at Velvet Nation. Abel is the headlining DJ on the 18-city tour, but Roland Belmares will be the focus of D.C.’s stop. A past Cherry DJ, Belmares has proven himself to be a satisfying spinner, whether live or on record. His second Centaur Records compilation to honor Miami’s Winter Party, Party Groove: Winter Party 8, unlike Gauthreaux’s Cherry set, is loaded with fully formed songs featuring strong vocal melodies. The set is bright and sunny, like a typical Miami day. It’s one of the very best compilations released so far this year, and it’d probably be the best if not for Belmares’ love for the blaring siren sound that globs up the set, repeatedly interrupting the happy mood. Does he mean it to be a subtle warning to clubheads of the dangers of illegal drug use? If so, hopefully he’ll figure out another, better way to convey that message in the future….
SUPERSTARS, NEW AND (ESPECIALLY) OLDÂ…Who would have ever expected Kelly Clarkson as a dance-pop sensation? It could be just a temporary high, a one-hit dance wonder. But that can’t-be-denied song, “Since U Been Gone,” is the talk of the clubs right now, and it kicks off Superstars #1 Hits Remixed in blazing fashion. The compilation, due from Sony/BMG this Tuesday, is part of an emerging trend: a major-label dance version of Sony’s hit series Now That’s What I Call Music. Like the Virgin Records Dance Hits set last year, Superstars is a good introduction to dance-pop, especially for anyone who came of age in the last decade, a time when pop radio stopped playing dance. It features nothing but radio edits of club remixes, and it’s not seamlessly mixed together by a DJ, two strikes against it for serious danceheads. But whoever assembled the collection is a little wily, ending the CD with a full-on diva track attack, all crying over a broken heart. And another American Idol, Fantasia, is, somewhat appropriately, cued up right after Whitney Houston — Fantasia’s “It’s All Good” is the contemporary equivalent to Houston’s “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay.”
Hold up: Houston’s song is on a brand-new release? The song is from 1998! And this particular remix is the original, overplayed Thunderpuss one. And it’s now 2005. What gives? Well, Jennifer Lopez‘s “Waiting for Tonight” is nearly as old. And even older is Toni Braxton‘s “Un-Break My Heart.” And Mariah Carey‘s “Dreamlover.” That one is 12 years old! And sadly, they’re all here. Just about half of the 19 tracks on this collection are old – years old. Again, unless you’re a newbie to the dance scene, this set isn’t intended for you, since you’ve already got these tracks – and if you don’t, then the last thing you want is these tracks. And newbies want to be current, right?
So can’t you just pick and choose tracks at an online music store, instead of buying the full set? Hmm, sadly, that looks doubtful. Sony has been reluctant to sell tracks from its Now series online, and it’s a safe bet the label will feel the same with Superstars. The long-overdue return of the singles market is still not here yet, it seems….
A FILTHY NO. 1 HITÂ…Another problem with Superstars: It’s a catfight in there. There are only two male voices heard. And neither Simon LeBon (Duran Duran) nor Adam Levine (Maroon5) is gay, as far as is known. Just where are the Scissor Sisters? Well, if Sony/BMG was being true to the compilation’s title – and they aren’t, since many of these tracks failed to hit #1 on any Billboard chart – they’d have included Scissor Sisters’ “Filthy/Gorgeous.” It’s the Sisters’ first No. 1 hit in the U.S., having just assumed the pole position on the Club Play Chart two weeks ago.
“Filthy” is about a prostitute, which you know from listening to the words or watching the gleefully depraved video of “Filthy/Gorgeous.” Jake Shears sings about his days, pre-Scissor Sisters, turning tricks for money. (One might call them his Blower Brother days.) The Sisters’ Babydaddy told NPR last December that it’s a song intended to appeal to society’s outsiders, those who might take solace in the prostitute’s shared plight. On the other hand, he joked in the same NPR interview, it could be a theme song for senior citizens on cruise shipsÂ…
A GREEK SUPERSTARÂ…And to think there was a #1 female pop star missing from the Superstars roster. Okay, so there are many missing. But one of them is Anna Vissi, the Greek superstar. She’s not very well known in the U.S. — yet. She performed last year at the White Party in Miami, and her first single, “Call Me,” just topped the Billboard Club Play Chart (the week before “Filthy/Gorgeous”). Her debut American release is expected soon. I have yet to hear a bad remix of “Call Me,” and nearly every version stays pretty much true to the original, a pop anthem nicely sugarcoated with just a touch of exotica courtesy of flourishing Greek strings. But Friscia & Lamboy lives up to claims that it is the up-and-coming tribal remixing duo. The two don’t overdue it here, mostly just gently speeding up the original, keeping things relatively calm. That is, until about two-thirds of the way through the Mixshow remix. That’s when the duo breaks down the song and adds a tribal bridge, where what sounds like bongos compete to beat out an intoxicating rhythm that soon ushers in the original Greek strings, creating a hyper-charged plea to danceÂ….