BAD ENGLISH… To this day it still gets club play. Kim English‘s eight-year-old bombastic hit ”Unspeakable Joy” still appeals to gays, as do many of her follow-up club hits, including ”Higher Things,” ”Everyday” and ”It Makes a Difference.” Oh sure, anyone who pays half a mind knows she’s nearly always singing about God. And yes, there is serious irony in such churchy music getting shouted sing-alongs and dancing ovations at very secular, not to mention gay, spaces where nearly anything goes at all hours of the night, from Saturday on into Sunday. It makes churchgoing a difficult proposition, to say the least. But it’s a paradox we’ve grown used to, ever since the days of Deity-devoted disco divas.
Still, English obviously hasn’t gotten used to it, and she hasn’t learned to get out or put up with it either — unlike, say, Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor, both of whom these days generally stay away from dance or stay quiet about the gays. Not English. In promoting her latest collection of dance remixes, My Destiny, English cited the Bible in casting aspersion on our way of being. In an interview with New York’s gay Next magazine, English says of homosexuality: ”I don’t believe it’s a lifestyle God agrees with.
”From my understanding of what I’ve been taught,” she continues — after attempting to soften her unspeakable blow by saying, you know, she doesn’t know for sure and that anyway we’re all sinners — homosexuality ”is not God['s design]; it’s a personal choice.” Well. That presents gay English fans with a whole other choice, now doesn’t it? On her latest chart-topping dance single, ”C’est La Vie,” English sings, ”When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not.” Am I the only one who doesn’t feel so hot for English anymore?….
CYNDI’S COLORS, EVER-TRUE… Cyndi Lauper‘s true colors on gay rights, on the other hand, have always been beautiful like a rainbow, to quote a phrase. The long-standing performer at gay and AIDS benefits has also made a big deal of publicly supporting her lesbian sister. Next year she’ll co-headline a tour with Erasure that will include other gay and gay-friendly artists. The tour, dubbed the ”True Colors” tour, will make stops around the country during June 2007, otherwise known as Gay Pride Month.
By the time of the tour Lauper may be ready to release her next album, or at least preview tracks from it, since she plans to begin recording in November. She’s aiming to go back to her dance-pop roots for this one, according to a press release. Meanwhile, she’s launched a second leg of touring in support of last year’s remarkable album of acoustic reinterpretations of her biggest hits, The Body Acoustic. Baltimore is the closest she’ll get to us this time around, appearing Oct. 17 at Ramshead Live….
WATLEY’S MAKEOVER… Jody Watley is another dance-pop diva who has repeatedly stood up for gay rights. Another regular at Gay Prides, Watley also performed at this year’s Gay Games, and the Los Angeles resident trekked up to San Francisco early last year of her own accord to serenade the thousands of city-sanctioned gay newlyweds. Like Lauper before her, Watley has reinterpreted some of her classics for a new album, Makeover, which actually features more covers of other people’s songs than it does her own. Watley sticks to the dance/electronica genre, though these days her sound is more soul-house or chill-out, more mid-tempo and leisurely. Makeover isn’t nearly as accomplished as Lauper’s set, in part because Watley sounds bored too often, uninspired by her own work — or more precisely, the work of others. She zaps the life completely out of Diana Ross‘s ”Love Hangover” and Madonna‘s ”Borderline,” refashioning both as bland, emotionless smooth jazz ballads.
And yet, when Watley reinterprets her own work, or offers new songs of her own, she wakes up and shines. The new ”A Bed of Roses,” featuring 4Hero, is a plush and uplifting neo-soul jam to make Jill Scott jealous. The remodeled version of her 1989 hit ”Friends” — originally with Eric B. and Rakim — respelled ”Friendz,” bangs with an updated hard staccato beat and a sassy rap from Voshaun Gotti. Just don’t go ”Looking for A New Love.” The remix EP of that song released last summer and featuring her re-recorded vocals may have reportedly inspired this Makeover collection. But either she wanted to make consumers buy both sets, or she had trouble deciding on which ”Love” remix to include: Chus & Ceballos‘ percussive and emotional popper, Chris Joss‘s chunky funky Remix 1 or Heinrich Z‘s robotic electro-soul. There’s no wrong answer. Yeah, yeah, yeah….
GLITTERING GOLDFRAPP… Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, known together as Goldfrapp, have remixed their own 2003 hit ”Strict Machine.” It will appear as part of a full-length album of remixes in October. Goldfrapp’s music is mainstream in its home country of the U.K. and increasingly prominent in U.S. advertising. And now, on We Are Glitter, Goldfrapp’s music provides the duo’s European electro-pop contemporaries, including Benny Benassi and Alan Braxe & Fred Falke, with luscious material to remix. Except for ”Strict Machine,” all of the songs are drawn from Supernature, the duo’s third album, released earlier this year and including the dance hits ”Number 1” and ”Ooh La La”….
Chus and Ceballos
C&C’s TASTEFUL TRIBAL… Chus Estaban and Pablo Ceballos, the Spanish powerhouse house duo Chus & Ceballos, have essentially made a dare to listeners of Back2Back — just try to find fault with this two-disc compilation, their first official American release. They compiled it with a clear sense of purpose, to export a distinctive, warm and hypnotizing sound, which is adventurously, intensely percussive but never to the point of being busy, cluttered or undignified. Tasteful tribal, you could call it. As such, Chus & Ceballos have created the most accomplished compilation heard in a long time. This DJ-mixed album raises the bar for a young medium that after just two decades shows more and more signs of becoming an art form. It goes a long way to explain why to hear these straight Spaniards spin live, as they do at select engagements in North America, both straight and gay, is to become an instant fan. Hopefully soon they’ll venture to D.C.
But about that dare. One obvious criticism a cranky consumer could make: Where are the vocals? The 29-track set includes only a handful of vocal-based tracks. Also likely to frustrate some is that surprisingly few of the tracks are familiar to even the most observant clubgoers. To these complaints, C&C could respond: Patience is not a four-letter word. Stick it out — many tracks will prove to be sure-fire club hits sooner or later. In the meantime, the tracks are perfect for boosting your adrenaline, whether you’re dancing, weightlifting or just seat-warming.
This compilation won’t appeal to the common-denominator dance music consumers seeking a hit parade. And that’s where C&C seems to dare the listener again. Just listen to the set a couple times — really listen, paying attention to how they’ve plotted out the music. The two usually spin together, but not always and not here — yet there’s a stunning uniformity in sound. Chus opens disc one with a very sensual, post-sunset-type of groove, with a flute, what sounds like a didgeridoo, lightly tapped hand drums, a pulsating electronic bass and singer Monica Hernandez agitating in Spanish about wanting to be free. Soon enough, but so gradual it might take you by surprise, it becomes late night, a free and freewheeling time of heavy bass lines, galloping beats, synth swooshes and well-paced dramatic pauses and parsing of sound. Chus is taking you on the proverbial DJ journey. Sure, all DJs aim to do the same, and they all talk a good game. But you’ve never experienced anything quite like this before….
RAUHOFER’S ELECTRO BOOM… On their compilation, Chus & Ceballos feature many of the artists on their own Spanish label Stereo Productions. But the set comes from their new American home, Star 69 Records, owned by this year’s Cherry headliner Peter Rauhofer. Rauhofer signed C&C because he wants to increase the duo’s recognition stateside, in the same way he’s hyped gay Israeli DJ Offer Nissim, also on his roster. Rauhofer is also promoting another newcomer — Nick Terranova. You may already know him by his handle, Starkillers, and his first single, ”Discoteka,” the gritty club-burner on which Tia Texada coos sultrily about her wet and dirty sound. ”I make the beats go boom, papi,” Texada sings, provoking an aural orgasm. If Starkillers’s upcoming second single, ”Scream,” is even half as fantastic, the only thing to say is, boom, boom. Also, in late fall Star 69 will release a Starkillers mixed compilation. Boom, boom, boom….
ELECTRO-FIED… Terranova as Starkillers offers a case study in how what started out five years ago as faddish electroclash has mutated and endured to become one of the leading sounds of today’s dance floor. Now known as just electro, the sound is booming. But unlike most of electroclash, electro is not cold or robotic. It’s not as confrontational, and the emphasis is as much on substance as style. Rauhofer has become one of the sound’s biggest champions, especially in gay clubland.
And new electro has gotten so popular two other leading dance labels have gotten in on the act, releasing two-disc sets wholly devoted to the style. Fittingly enough, America’s leading dance label Ultra Records includes new work from some of old electro’s pioneers (Depeche Mode, New Order). But otherwise Ultra Electro, compiled by Ultra’s David Waxman, isn’t particularly noteworthy. And it’s far outdone by the soul-house-focused Om Records’ foray into the genre. Electrolush lives up to its name — the sound is chunky and funky, generally the opposite of austere and obtuse. Some of the best tracks from Ultra’s set repeat here. And with less stress to appeal to the masses — Ultra’s characteristic weakness — Om’s DJ Fluid puts together a smarter, hipper mix….
ULTRA’S VICTOR(Y)… Ultra Records hasn’t given up on other styles of dance music. In fact, the label is expanding all around. They’re working to increase their already-strong appeal to the gay market, beyond a steady output of diva-dominated dance-pop compilations. They released the first explicitly gay diva-dance compilation this summer, DJ Ricardo!‘s Out.Anthems. And now comes word the label has signed Victor Calderone. Ultra will release a mix album in January from the gay-popular tribal housemaster — and it should be noted, early Chus & Ceballos champion. It’ll be the first compilation from Calderone in more than three years, or a long time for fans to Resonate….