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WHAT ABOUT THAT, WHAT ABOUT THAT… Janet Jackson‘s new album, due Sept. 26, will be reflective of the music she’s created over the past 20 years. And it will feature songs that will make you want to dance. I know, I know, that’s not saying much. You probably already expected that. In fact, that much has already been reported. Still, Jackson thought it was enough new information that she came all the way to Washington last week just to say it and precious little else. She came as part of an unusual media push in several large markets to drum up attention to the forthcoming 20 Years Old. But not too much attention: The reporters gathered at the press conference did not get any advance information about the album, much less anything about Jackson herself. Nor did she preview tracks from the album. So 15 or so reporters were forced to sit in silence until she and her entourage, including her boyfriend, Virgin Urban executive Jermaine Dupri, finally strolled into the room, some 40 minutes late. After several minutes of posing for pictures, Jackson sat for about 15 minutes to field questions about the album, as well as about her life with Dupri. Her answers were often mumbled and vague, and produced nearly the exact opposite effect as her barely-there blouse — a tight, cropped vest held together by a single button that proudly revealed for all to see her generous bosom and her once-again-rippled mid-section, further accentuated by a silver belly ring.
”It’s definitely more uptempo than Damita Jo,” Jackson said in response to a Metro Weekly question about the new album. But how much more uptempo was left unclear, and perhaps there’s a reason. The first single ”Call On Me,” featuring rapper Nelly, is a mid-tempo number that hasn’t gotten much traction. Chances are you’ve only heard it once if you’ve heard it at all. You can’t help but wonder if that’s causing Jackson and her handlers to reconsider plans for 20 Years Old — after all, they’ve saved themselves that right by avoiding identifying the album’s final track list. Maybe they’ll add even more uptempo numbers than originally planned?
Jackson said that the next club anthem to come from her should be a track called ”Clap Your Hands.” At least she hopes so. ”If I get my way,” she said, before adding, ”and I always do.” But does she? If there were any time when she might not get her way, it would be now, after the poorest-performing studio album of her career and a news media that still doesn’t know how to present her after the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction blow-up.
She said she doesn’t feel like she has anything to prove, nor does she feel a need to keep up with the Beyonces and the Ciaras of the world — though physically speaking she is doing that just fine, of course.
”I want people to enjoy it,” the affable but coy artist said about the new album. ”I want to be remembered for making people smile.” How, or why, will people feel like smiling after listening to the new album? She didn’t say. Instead, she went right back to smiling for the cameras, enjoying the fact that the conference had come to an end, and the fact that ultimately this time, she had gotten nothing off her chest….
NEO-NEW WAVE TO RETURN… Two of the leading new-wave revivalist bands are working on new albums, and you should begin hearing at least one of them very soon. Of course, by now you were supposed to be very familiar with both Interpol and The Rapture, given all the overheated press that greeted their last albums. They were released around the time dance-rock was just beginning to come into fashion, three years ago. And the bands did become pretty popular in the United Kingdom, original home of new wave. But stateside, the Brooklyn-based Rapture found favor with a happy cult following and remained unknown to everyone else. That could change September 12, when the band’s new major label home, Motown/Universal, releases the dance-punk group’s second album, Pieces of the People We Love. The Gorillaz-member Danger Mouse is one producer of tracks on the album. The first single, ”Get Myself Into It,” is a horn-punctuated gem that sounds like something The Police would have concocted in collaboration with Men at Work. You can hear how dreamy and screamy the track is by streaming it at www.myspace.com/therapture.
Interpol faced even more pressure than the Rapture to hit big with its 2004 sophomore album. Several New York publications touted them as the saviors of the New York rock scene. Reaching the top 20 on the Billboard album chart and selling over 400,000 copies of Antics are not exactly feats to complain about. But they don’t add up to widespread success either, or meet the expectations the band’s label obviously had set for it. As such, Matador is still deciding whether it will release the band’s next album. In any event, the band is currently writing for that album, though it doesn’t expect new material to be ready for release until ”sometime next year,” according to its Web site….
VIRGIN’S KILLERS, SISTERS AND DJS… The headliners are the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Who, and tickets are a steep $97.50. But chances are even you will want to be at the first annual stateside Virgin Festival, set for Saturday, September 23. Some 60,000 revelers will be drawn to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course to see performances from a well-chosen lineup of indie-rock and dance-oriented artists. The Scissor Sisters will be there, just three days before the quintet’s sophomore album drops. The Killers will be there, as well. And Gnarls Barkley, Keane, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The Brazilian Girls are others among 20 or so performers appearing across two stages over the course of 10 hours. And the festival, sponsored by Virgin Mobile, will also feature some of the world’s most popular DJs in a separate tent, including Tiesto, John Digweed and Carl Cox. Tickets go on sale this Saturday, July 22 through Ticketmaster….
KILLERS’S NEW APPROACH… At the Virgin Festival, the Killers will likely preview tracks from their sophomore album, due October 2. And Rolling Stone suggests the band’s new music is perfectly suited for such a large festival. Whether it’s as suited to fans of the band’s original dance-rock sound isn’t as clear. The magazine reports they’ve opted for ”bigger songs…trading synths and cold robotic vocals for full, swelling guitar melodies.” The magazine quotes frontman Brandon Flowers as saying, ”There are people who want us to write ‘Somebody Told Me’ again and we just don’t want that.” The magazine reports that U2 and especially Bruce Springsteen were the band’s guiding lights with the new album, though it also reports that some of the album’s songs conjure Depeche Mode, David Bowie, even David Byrne. And first single ”When You Were Young,” while a bit harder than earlier Killers, does feature the band’s signature vintage keyboard sound and a thumping bass line. So dance appeal is not completely lost….
THIEVERY IN BALTIMORE… D.C.’s own Thievery Corporation will also perform at Baltimore’s Virgin Festival. The 11-year-old duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton may preview new productions, since they are said to be working on a new artist album. Thievery has one of the most distinctive sounds among all electronica acts, and the two have at least sonically defined their own sub-genre, even if they don’t like the names alternately given to it: chillout, downtempo, contemporary lounge music. Regardless of whether the pair are performing their own productions with featured vocalists or spinning their own remixes, the electronic fusion of sounds, drawn from dub reggae, bossa nova, jazz, salsa, Mid-Eastern and alt-rock, is always unmistakably theirs.
The duo’s latest release is not a continuously mixed compilation. In fact, Versions is a collection of 18 exclusive Thievery Corporation remixes, many rare or previously unreleased. But over the course of 76 minutes the duo manages to reconfigure songs from as disparate a collection of artists imaginable — The Doors, Sarah McLachlan, Astrud Gilberto, Herb Alpert — and make them all sound as if they were kissing contemporaries, all brands of one global corporation….
IMELDA MARCOS, THE DISCO MUSICAL… David Byrne, frontman of the 1980s band the Talking Heads, is currently spending time putting together a new musical with Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim. It should prove to be as quirky as you’d imagine from those two, and actually more, given that the musical focuses on Imelda Marcos. Yes, it’s about the life of the wife of former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Well, except pitchforkmedia.com suggests the musical, Here Lies Love, doesn’t go into any significant detail about her notoriously excessive shoe collection.
Instead, the music news Web site says the focus is on how surreal life inside a dictator’s court is, and about Marcos’ love of legendary New York nightclub Studio 54, where Marcos spent much of her time. ”A lot of it is about getting outside of yourself and losing yourself in the club, and the beats, and all that kind of stuff,” Byrne said of the show’s music. ”I imagine that’s a similar experience to the heady experience of having all this power.” Byrne said he intends to perform a concert version at Carnegie Hall this winter, but he’s also currently shopping the musical around Broadway, for what he hopes will be a future theatrical production….
FATBOY SLIM’S GREATEST, LATEST… Cook, as Slim, is one of electronic music’s most well-known artists. The Brit has just released The Greatest Hits — Why Try Harder, featuring all of his playful hits big on pop radio and at straight clubs a decade ago. These include ”Praise You,” ”Right Here, Right Now,” ”The Rockefella Skank” and ”Weapons of Choice.” Hits, in other words, that were cute the first couple times you heard them, but because of their repetitive loops and limited ideas, quickly grew grating. The set also features two new tracks that actually show him trying harder — they’re among his strongest yet — as well as his exceptional remix of Groove Armada‘s ”I See You Baby (Shaking That Ass)”….
TRIBAL’S TRIBULATIONS… Nearly a year ago Billboard‘s dance music columnist proclaimed the reign of tribal house over clubland to be mainly in Spain… er, sorry, in decline. Tribal house is the often-dark, usually-fast dance style driven by intricate, unpredictable percussive patterns. Some find it monotonous and brooding, others appreciate its subtle alterations, its distinctions, its intensity, and enough of them do so to have kept tribal the dominant house genre in clubland — particularly gay clubland — since the turn of the millennium.
But the Billboard columnist may have simply been a year or so ahead of her time. Interest is rising in an upbeat pop-song-centered style you could call neo-disco. The evidence is plain to see in most every circuit party compilation to come out since the spring, regardless of label. It’s also plain to hear in recent live sets from many of those considered to be tribal house’s signature DJs. And it’s certainly in evidence by reviewing many of the tracks and artists creating buzz in dance circles….
BOB SINCLAR’S WORLD OF LOVE… Bob Sinclar is one of the leading pop-focused dance artists, and he’s quickly making a name for himself in clubland. Last year he was the man behind the Africanism All-Stars, a collective of Paris-based African musicians who, with Sinclar’s guidance, created one of the year’s best albums, Africanism III, and one of its most memorable songs, ”Summer Moon.” He also produced Brazilian chanteuse Salome de Bahia and her club hit ”Outro Lugar.” And near year’s end Sinclar [pronounced San-Clar] topped the dance charts with ”Love Generation,” a song that continues to garner club play and increasing crossover appeal. It was chosen as an official song at the just-completed World Cup 2006, which seems just perfect, given the song’s call for world unity. If ”Love Generation” sounds like a Bob Marley tune, it’s no wonder. The song features on vocals Gary Pine, current lead singer for Marley’s former backup reggae band The Wailers.
As of last week, Sinclar has another club chart-topper as an artist, ”World Hold On.” It’s basically another plea for world peace, or at least tolerance. It would be easy to mistake Pine on vocal duty here, though it’s actually Steve Edwards, the soloist who most recently gave voice to dance hits from French acts Cassius (”The Sound of Violence”) and Axwell (”When the Sun Goes Down”), among others. And there’s still more to come: Sinclar’s debut artist album Western Dream is brimming over with happiness. ”I am lost in my dream of a sunny, happy, positive world,” Sinclar says in press notes to the album. He’s created an album distinguished less by stylistic achievements — Sinclar is not afraid to stick strictly to familiar song formulas — than by his skill at diversity. Very few tracks sound alike on Western Dream, which runs the gamut of today’s global dance-oriented pop music, from Calypso to Afrobeat to gospel. But its best songs follow the reggae-inspired sound of ”Love Generation,” and include, often as not, Pine on vocals, from the child’s choir-aided anthem ”In The Name of Love” to the blissful ”Shining from Heaven”….
FRESH-SQUEEZED SUNNY HOUSE MUSIC… The latest compilation from the British label Defected would by sunny and happy and delightful without Bob Sinclar. Defected in the House: Eivissa 2006 celebrates the Spanish island of Ibiza after all. But by including two Sinclar productions, Defected has made this three-disc set that much more satisfying. What makes it essential, however, is its inclusion of ”How Long,” a future hit from Ultra Nate, the Baltimore great whose 1997 hit ”Free” is one of dance music’s all-time best songs, as well as one of its gayest. We’ve waited far too long for ”How Long,” in other words.
There are plenty of other future hits on Eivissa. Eivissa isn’t quite as accessible or even as accomplished as Defected’s Miami 2006 set released some four months ago: It’s occasionally too hip for its own good, with a couple tracks that go nowhere, offering nothing new. But as with Miami, Defected’s owner Simon Dunmore does a fine job at compiling disco-dipped and soul-marinated tracks of high songwriting quality that you’ll likely be grooving to well into the fall. Mr. V featuring Miss Patty does the job better than most with ”Da Bump.” That’s just one of several tracks here to blend house and hip-hop in an old-school way that stands out even today….
NO DITTO FOR DIDO… Following in the unlikely footsteps of both alt-rocker Fiona Apple and mainstream hip-hopper Kanye West, Dido has enlisted rock producer Jon Brion to help with her third studio album, which could be out as early as year’s end. ”I don’t think people who know either of us would think it’s the thing to do, and yet it’s making total sense,” Brion told Billboard. He also said the British chanteuse Dido is moving away from the mainstream pop sound of her first two albums, which sounds better than you might think at first. ”She wants something less glossy and further left. There’s a certain kind of restraint in record making that she doesn’t want anymore,” according to Brion, who suggests he’s helping Dido tap into her voice’s power potential always implied in her recorded music….
POST-PRIDE OUT ANTHEMS… Gay Pride Month may have already come and gone, but gay anthems have a long shelf life, so you’ll get at least another month or two of use from two new pride dance compilations. America’s leading dance label has released its first-ever openly gay set. How does DJ Ricardo! Presents Out.Anthems differ from other sets released by Ultra Records? Well, it’s the first to feature a man on its cover. So we see a shirtless and hairless man just emerging from the ocean instead of a bikini-clad woman in a provocative pose. Otherwise, the 14 tracks are standard Ultra fare — which was pretty gay to begin with. This set is no better or worse than other recent Ultra compilations, though without the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Madonna and Goldfrapp, or really any well-known singers, it seems less gay than another new set from the label, Ultra.Weekend 2. It’s also nowhere as good as the label’s two-disc Clubber’s Guide Vol. 1 as compiled by Johnny Vicious, which still manages to sound pretty fresh one year after release.
The label defines ”out anthems” as easily as possible, as those that ”have rocked gay clubs around the world.” But those assembled here have rocked — or soon will rock — straight clubs, too. Further, none of these songs have gay-specific lyrics, and few are performed or produced by identifiably gay artists. What ultimately gives them status as ”out” anthems here is, essentially, that DJ Ricardo! declares them to be. This unknown DJ, who has spun for small gay parties in New York, is hardly the ”gay superstar” that the label makes him out to be. Maybe, in time, he will be. He does an astute job compiling his selections, transitioning between them and house music genres with great ease. The latest from the increasingly prominent British production team Freemasons is included here, the catchy ”Watchin”’ featuring Amanda Wilson. Wilson sings key phrases from Deborah Cox‘s popular hit ”It’s Over Now.” The standout track of the compilation is Dylan Drazen‘s remix of ”B*tch” by Dave McCullen, a Belgium-based DJ/producer. The track pops with sassy energy as the chief lyric is frequently repeated: ”I just like to call you my bitch”….
POST-MARSH PRIDE BRINGS JOY… For Centaur Records, the question is not so much what defines an out anthem, since this gay label only releases records that have a gay angle. Instead, the question is: Just what differentiates a pride dance compilation from any of the others Centaur frequently releases documenting and commemorating gay circuit parties across the nation? For all five previous editions, the answer was, essentially, overplayed ”classics” and especially underdeveloped covers of classics, as well as anything new leftover after selections for the circuit party compilations had been made. And just as often it was all assembled without any concern for smooth segues from one track to another. But with the retirement of the once-great DJ Julian Marsh, the label has stepped up its game plan for what has been its biggest-selling series. Replacing Marsh in compiling Party Groove: Pride 06 is Max Rodriguez, a longtime resident DJ at New York’s Splash Bar/SBNY. And though Rodriguez still assembles forgettable classics and especially forgettable classic covers, he also shows a keen sense for selecting tracks worth repeated listens. Highlights include Sami Dee & Freddy Jones‘ fantastic reconstruction of Crystal Waters‘ ”Gypsy Woman (La-Da-Dee),” with the addition of sauntering bass, and full-throated singer Alisha King‘s jiving remake of the piano-driven disco classic ”The Love I Lost”….
RUPAUL REWORKED, NOT TRANSFORMED… RuPaul does not factor into either pride compilation, though it’s not for lack of material: the drag queen’s last full-length album, 2004’s Red Hot, included many uptempo tracks that never got much attention. And RuPaul recently released a collection of 15 remixes, RuPaul. ReWorked. Most of these remixes are too hyper and predictable to draw renewed interest in either RuPaul classics, including his 14-year-old breakthrough hit ”Supermodel (You Better Work),” or newer singles, including ”The Lonely,” as remixed by Giuseppe D, who, with Tom Trujillo, does a much better job reworking RuPaul’s remake of Depeche Mode‘s ”People Are People.” Despite other contributions from the likes of Junior Vasquez and Gomi, that Giuseppe D remix and Joe Carrano‘s tribal taunting rework of ”Are You Man Enough?” are just about the only two that will compel you to sashay, shante, shante, shante, shante….
GAYEST SONGS EVER… So what are the gayest dance songs of all time? According to his show on Sirius Satellite Radio’s OutQ, Frank DeCaro suggests it’s a toss up between ABBA‘s ”Dancing Queen” and Sylvester‘s ”(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real.” DeCaro and co-host Doria Biddle identified those as the only two dance songs in a top ten ”gay sensibility” countdown that aired June 23. The gayest song? ”Bosom Buddies,” as performed by Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur in the filmed musical Mame. David Bowie, The Smiths and Doris Day also factor into the countdown. But Billboard columnist Michael Paoletta noted one classic, among others, that was oddly not included: Judy Garland‘s ”Over the Rainbow”….
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