FERGIE TAKES ON TINA… Stacy Ferguson has had an effect on the Black Eyed Peas something akin to crystal meth. Before Fergie, the Peas were a quirky, left-field hip-hop outfit focused on having small-scale fun. After Fergie, the Peas became a powerhouse of hip-hop focused on world domination. What you think about Fergie will color whether you think, three years on, the sole female Pea was a good addition — or a bad addiction. To be sure, Fergie has become such an integral part of the Peas’ pod that, should she leave, it would probably be best for the Peas to disband rather than go on without her. But she’s not leaving the band and they’re not breaking up, Fergie has stressed in interviews promoting her solo debut album The Dutchess.
In any case, Fergie has also been the one to start the conversation about crystal meth, since she’s also been stressing in interviews her past use of the drug. In the process, she’s significantly enhanced her likeability, becoming one of the few pop stars to speak out about the drug. Unlike many anti-crystal crusaders, her cautionary message is especially powerful, since it’s informed by personal experience. ”In my experience, ecstasy led to crystal meth, and I just think that people don’t know how addictive that drug is,” Fergie, 31, told New York’s H/X Magazine. ”It’s so cunning because it’s such a fun drug at first. You lose weight and look great for a while, but I don’t care if it takes six months or five years, it will creep up on you. Don’t be fooled and think you’re special.”
Fergie told H/X that she’s been crystal-free since 2001 and her days as part of the pop trio Wild Orchid. Five years later, she’s out to warn the world of this illegal drug, as opposed to, say, marijuana, which positively inspires her on one of the album’s tracks, ”Mary Jane Shoes.” Fergie actually started work on her solo album three years ago, just before she joined the Peas. In many ways, the album sounds like a Peas album with a bit less rap — and that’s because in many ways it is a Peas album with a bit less rap: the Peas’ Will.i.am produced most of the tracks here.
But Fergie creates an album that’s singularly hers, one that shows an impressive range. It segues from silly, banging hip-hop tracks to serious, lush ballads that sparkle, on account of a genuine theatrical flair to the arrangements. And Fergie repeatedly includes important messages throughout, about inner-beauty and strength, in addition to those addressing her former crystal addiction. She does this on the Christina Aguilera-strength power-ballad ”Losing My Ground,” and also on the sad-and-sweet swampy-hip hop track ”Voodoo Doll.” That last track features verses with an incessantly driving bass beat and lyrics familiar to anyone who’s seen what meth at its worst can do: ”Mind playing tricks on me/I’m paranoid, homie,” Fergie sings in a rising voice. ”Nobody know what I’m going through/God, I’m so lonely. I know I’m losing it.”
Fortunately, she didn’t. Instead, Fergie proves that her success is no fluke, that she’s not a fly-by-night artist. This woman, warts and humps and all, has a message and a determination. She’s got staying power….
THE SUGARCUBES REUNITE, BJORK AND ALL… A different band’s female lead singer went solo just as it was becoming famous. Bjork, of course, went on to become both famous and infamous. But on Nov. 17, Bjork will finally rejoin her quirky, alternative-pop band the Sugarcubes to commemorate its 20th ”Birthday” — in honor of the band’s first single — for what is being billed as a one-time only concert. Proceeds from the reunion concert in Reykjavik, Iceland, will include other to-be-determined bands and will benefit the band’s own nonprofit record label, Smekkleysa SM (English translation: Bad Taste), home to most of the other Icelandic rock bands you’ve heard of, including Sigur Ros and GusGus.
The Sugarcubes had developed a cult-like following stateside by the time of 1988′s Life’s Too Good. In 1992, they scored a major hit in Britain, with ”Hit,” with a familiar refrain: ”This wasn’t, supposed to happen… I’m in love again.” That same year they also opened for U2 on the elaborate Achtung Baby/Zoo TV stadium tour. All that attention put them over the edge, so to speak, and in short order they disbanded.
”Our main objective when we started was not to get a record contract and try to make hit singles. We started because we wanted to have fun,” trumpeter/vocalist Einar Orn told Pitchfork Media. ”[When it came to] the complexity of making music to make money, it became a bit stranger for us.” So they stopped. But for one glorious night, they’ll start it up, all over again. Don’t you wish you could be there? Well, Icelandair is sweetening the proposition, synergistically offering a package deal starting at a cheap — all things considered — $669 per person, which includes a concert ticket, two-nights’ hotel lodging and roundtrip airfare. Remember, this wasn’t, supposed to happen. And yet it is….
BEST OF MOBY’S SCHTICK… ”I kind of wanted it to sound like ABBA meets the Pet Shop Boys.” Can you imagine Moby creating such delightful disco? Coming from such an earnest East Villager, it may end up as nothing more than a West-End dream of Swedish sugar-pop. But Moby’s ”New York, New York” has at least more than just a sweet musical idea behind it. Blondie’s Debbie Harry is out front of it, on vocals. And it’s also about the city’s ”degeneracy and debauchery.”
The new ”New York, New York” will be released as a single next month as well as appear on an album with other tracks you already know from Moby. Go: The Very Best Of includes all the hits spanning Moby’s 14 or so years of mixing and matching electronic found sounds: ”Porcelain,” ”Bodyrock,” ”Honey,” ”Natural Blues,” and more. Set for release Oct. 24, according to Billboard, the package will include a second disc of remixes from electronica’s European heavy hitters, from Tiesto to Jason Nevins to Timo Maas to Mylo….
DEPECHE RE-PRESSED… Speaking of electronica’s European heavy hitters, Depeche Mode is set to release its own retrospective collection. Yes, the British electro-rockers already released a two-disc singles collection nearly 10 years ago. But The Best Of, Volume 1 covers a full 25 years of evenly spaced-out hits, from early entries ”Just Can’t Get Enough” and ”People Are People” to more recent fare ”Dream On” and ”Suffer Well.” And all on just one disc. To be released in November, the collection will be preceded by a soon-to-be-hit, the deliciously Depeche-named ”Martyr.” Meanwhile, next week the band will issue the DVD Touring the Angel: Live in Milan, recorded last year….
JANE’S ADDICTION RELAPSE… Moby’s and Mode’s best-of sets are just two of several such collections to come in coming months. Issuing greatest-hits sets is a no-brainer proposition for both labels — money rarely comes as quick or easy — and consumers. What better for gift-giving season, after all? Still, not every collection seems a shoo-in for success. And from clear out of left field comes Up from the Catacombs: The Best of Jane’s Addiction. Perry Farrell‘s band, formed 20 years ago, may not have had a hit since well before Moby had his first since then Jane’s Addiction only issued a rarities collection and a one-off reunion set. And the band only has three other albums to its credit. But that credit goes a long way in the alternative rock pantheon on the basis of one jamming hit alone: ”Been Caught Stealing.” With 15 other tunes to treasure from this just-released collection, an addict could get hooked all over again….
REVIVING CERRONE… Greatest hits sets can also work to stir new or renewed attention to seminal but under-appreciated artists, especially when much care and conviction is given to a set’s assembly. You should already know Jean-Marc Cerrone, for example. But if you don’t, Bob Sinclar will correct that soon enough. Cerrone by Bob Sinclar celebrates the French producer’s music by reworking and repackaging 21 of his biggest tracks (”Love in C Minor,” ”Love Is The Answer,” ”Supernature”). More than five years after it was released in Europe, the compilation will hit American stores Nov. 14.
Though it could do the deed all by itself, Sinclar’s set is far from the only push to give Cerrone greater recognition stateside these days, thirty years since he got his start in the industry. Five of Cerrone’s previous albums will also be reissued this November, and there are two events planned for New York: first, a party and live performance this fall. And then next fall, according to a press release, Cerrone himself is planning to produce, along with producer Nile Rodgers and assistance from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ”a mega-dance party”….
NINA SIMONE, REIMAGINED… A compilation to come from RCA/Legacy Recordings hopes to stir new interest in an under-appreciated artist — the late, great Nina Simone, the African-American singing-songwriting showstopper whose range of musical styles — from jazz to R&B to folk to European pop — was as varied and hard to sell to the pop mainstream as was her anger with and activism against American racial politics. Still, it wasn’t unusual to hear Simone on dance floors during the disco and especially post-disco eras, and again more recently, thanks especially to choice remixes included on the popular Verve Remixed sets. Nina Simone: Remixed & Reimagined is intended to carry-on the Verve-inspired rekindling of Simone’s oeuvre, featuring remixes from more electronic heavy-hitters, chiefly Francois K. and Tony Humphries.
Due Oct. 31, Simone’s set is to be the first in a series of remixed sets to come from other RCA/Legacy artists. No others have been publicly named, but a glance at the label’s roster suggests some intriguing choices, both obvious — Toni Braxton, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland — to those less so, though definitely good for a laugh. Aerosmith and AC/DC are among the latter. ”Dude Looks Like a Lady” and ”Big Balls”: can’t you just imagine there’s an untapped and sizable market waiting for remixed and reimagined versions of those tunes?….
KASKADE’S NEW ULTRA OUTLOOK… It’s a herky-jerky hip-hop-inflected pop track, and it would delight any admirer of Justin Timberlake, both the closet case and the openly fanatical. ”Don’t be shy, girl,” the singer cries in the song, fluttering his notes to best draw your attention to his plea.
But as much as it sounds like classic Justin, Timberlake had nothing to do with ”Move,” which was instead a production of Ryan Raddon, who works as Kaskade. A leading house purveyor, Kaskade is about to significantly step-up his level of recognition within the larger dance community, and perhaps beyond. He’s just signed with the genre’s leading label, Ultra Records. An occasional DJ at gay-popular clubs and events, particularly in his San Francisco hometown and in Montreal, Kaskade will stop at D.C.’s Club Five Saturday, Oct. 14. The gig is part of an extensive fall DJ tour to promote his third artist album, Love Mysterious, which Ultra will release on Sept. 26. It’s a more rock-oriented set of dance than the sweet and ”stylish house” sound for which he became known during a half-decade stint at boutique label Om Records. More New Order or Deep Dish than M People or Masters at Work, you might say.
But as a parting gift Om Records has released a two-disc retrospective of Kaskade’s career to date, which serves as the perfect introduction to the soul-house and pop-friendly sound of this king of San Francisco’s music scene. Anthony Green is that Timberlake-conjuring vocalist on the fantastic ”Move,” just one of many among 20 tracks that, with better marketing and with a mainstream culture more open to sweet pop sounds, could have — and should have — been hits you already know. It’s not too late to get acquainted.
Green doesn’t return on the forthcoming Love Mysterious unfortunately. But several other regular Kaskade vocalists do, including Joslyn, the breezy and demure vocalist responsible for Kaskade’s biggest dance hits to date, including ”Everything,” ”It’s You, It’s Me” and ”Sweet Love.” Meanwhile, newcomer Sunsun provides vocals for first single ”Be Still.” Sunsun sounds too much like a little girl, and her overly breathy delivery cheapens what is otherwise a promising example of Kaskade’s rich new sound: house-pop driven by tasteful and lush bass guitar. Here’s hoping the second single packs more of a punch….
DIDDY DOES DANCE, SORT OF… It’s been nearly four years since Sean ”Diddy” Combs first threatened to dance for us. So far all we got was diddily squat. All puff, no product. Not that, mind you, we’re actually complaining. Diddy never did issue a dance album, an idea he dreamed up after spending summers in Ibiza hobnobbing with house music’s straight scenesters. We didn’t expect it would move us anyway. Seeing and hearing the Bad Boy dance just sounds, well, bad.
But hold on: here comes Diddy’s first album in five years. Due Oct. 17, Press Play is certainly not an all-dance album, since it reportedly includes emotional duets with Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and Brandy, among others. But the album is being promoted as an album on which dance is definitely represented. In a profile, the New York Times reported that a couple tracks merge hip hop with ”Ibiza-style dance music,” a merger the newspaper said ”sounded great.” Outkast‘s Big Boi contributes one track, ”Wanna Move,” which the Times reports as ”a stunning Southern-bounce-meets-Kraftwerk track.” On Diddy’s official MySpace.com page, you can hear another club-ready album track, ”Get Off,” an unforgettable dark and gritty stomper on which Diddy screeches, ”Y’all tired yet? Y’all ready to go?” The shouted answer from the chorus is, of course, ”Hell no!”
No word on whether the album includes any of the work that Diddy did over the past couple years with house legends Felix da Housecat, Harrison Crump and even D.C.’s own Deep Dish. But Diddy did hire pretty much all of the heavyweight producers in hip-hop to work on the set, leaving precious little room for true house or techno shining through. Which — did we already say? — isn’t necessarily a bad thing….
DIDDY-FREE RAUNCHY RAP… Even if Diddy’s dance ditties do make you move, there’s still another dance-inspired hip-hopper who will prove to be even more moving. Cazwell is a raunchy rapper with amusing rhymes about all things gay, and a trampy campy look seemingly modeled after both Eminem and ’70s gay porn. He says his disco-fired music is modeled after Deee-Lite and early Beastie Boys. Fellow New York raunch acts Avenue D and Amanda LePore are among the guests on Cazwell’s debut EP, Get Into It, which will drop, appropriately enough, on Halloween, Oct. 31. And Cazwell’s latest single is a cover of a decades-old disco classic ”Is It All Over My Face,” which he reworks as ”All Over Your Face.” His goal was ”to make it all sound like one big, dirty cum shot.” You can see and hear the catchy mess he makes at www.cazwell.com….
DIDDY’S PUSSYCAT DOLL… Diddy signed up Nicole Scherzinger to sing on his new album’s lackluster first single, ”Come to Me.” Scherzinger is best known as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, the appealing but nonetheless manufactured girl group that always seemed like just a stepping stone from which Scherzinger would launch her own solo career. And now, it looks like Scherzinger may have just popped the Pussycat Dolls’ last button: Billboard reports she’s already wrapping up work on that solo debut, on which she worked with various hip-hop producers, most notably the nearly overexposed Tim ”Timbaland” Mosley….
LOGO PILES ON THE DRAMA… If you’d rather do without all the hip-hop, then LOGO just may have the show for you. There are already enough reasons for pop music fans to watch the premium gay channel, which frequently and prominently airs music videos. And while Jacob & Joshua: Nemesis Rising isn’t certain to be must-see TV, it sounds like it could be entertaining, especially considering that it should help increase the pop music pool of known out musicians, something in inexplicably short supply. Sure, it also sounds a little contrived, and a lot like marketing gone mad. Watch as Jacob and Joshua, photogenic gay twin brothers, try to make it in the music biz as a duo, Nemesis! Watch as they struggle to overcome their differences — Jacob’s a little bit pop, Joshua’s more rock ‘n’ roll. Watch as they confront a music industry reluctant to promote out musicians. And as if that’s all not enough drama, watch as they must deal with an especially religious family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Should they come out to momma and papa? Oh, dear. But LOGO will be promoting the hell out of the show, which premieres Oct. 16, and if the music is any good, and if the boys have charisma, well, consider yourself warned….
LOCAL DJ DOES GOOD, GOES NATIONAL… DJ Rob Harris regularly spins throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and in and around New York. On that front, Harris has just compiled his first commercially released compilation, celebrating New York’s Soakin Wet August pier-dance party. He’s been a co-headlining DJ for that event, organized by former D.C. resident and promoter Don Turner, the past several years.
Still, the Chicago-native Harris says he mixed Soakin Wet live right here in D.C., his long-ago adopted hometown, in the comforts of his living room and in the presence of friends. Harris’s national name recognition will increase as a result of the quality of this Centaur set, Soakin Wet 3, and it will also likely lead to more gigs across the country.
But Harris remains D.C.’s own best-known DJ, a regular at most clubs around town, either as the star DJ or as a dancing-fiend customer. Both live and on Soakin Wet 3 Harris draws from various dance sub-genres to fashion a popular and savvy blend of hard and happy, of poppy vocals and tribal beats, which he calls ”twisted house.” It’s not dissimilar to the style of David Knapp, the Soakin Wet party’s main headliner and compiler of the first two Centaur compilations celebrating the party. To be sure, Knapp’s compilations were far more focused on being a hit parade of present-day club chart-toppers than Harris’s debut is. Harris has several hits and several more soon-to-be hits here, but they aren’t quite as obvious examples, and they were seemingly chosen as much to adhere to Harris’s underlying lyrical theme as they were for standing out as individual highlights.
DJ Rob Harris
That underlying theme is one of escape: more than half of the 12 tracks here feature vocalists singing alternately about moving on from a lover and losing oneself in the music. ”Let the music take you for a ride,” sings Ohsha Kai on the new club hit ”Free Your Mind.” With Harris at the controls, you’re sure to go far on that ride….
NIKI HARIS, POST-MADONNA… The standout track on Soakin Wet 3, without a doubt, is L.E.X.‘s ”Let Me Hear the Music,” featuring Niki Haris. Haris is the longtime Madonna backup singer and dancer who reportedly had a falling out with Madge after the Drowned World Tour. Since then she’s been working on various gospel and jazz projects as well as a couple dance productions with Eddie X, the man behind L.E.X. ”Let Me Hear the Music” is a hard-core banger of a dance track, but Haris more than matches the dramatic beats with her incredible vocal firepower and an inspirational tale of ”living for the music.” With music this good, we’re all living for your music, Haris….
RACHEL PANAY’S ‘REAL THING’… Rob Harris also includes on his compilation a just-released track from Rachel Panay, the D.C. native who earlier this year moved to New York. ”The Real Thing” is lyrically similar to her past club hits about the confusing power of love. But musically ”The Real Thing” has more of an edge to it than ”Back to Love” and ”I Still Believe,” as Panay tries to convince a potential lover to take the plunge. ”You know you gotta, gotta get the real thing,” she stutter-sings with conviction. You can’t beat the real thing, folks….
JOSH HARRIS’S DANCING DIVAS… Another Harris in dance music is responsible for many of the multiple female vocalists vying for our gay affection these days. Josh Harris started on the scene a couple years ago, as part of the Passengerz remix team. But he first got our attention as Rachel Panay’s chief producer. In recent months, he’s been associated with another slate of hope-to-be divas, most notably Danielle Bollinger and Jenna Drey. Both made the gay pride circuit this year, and both are being promoted in typical fashion in the song-based beauty contest that is the dance scene. That is: our gal is different from the pack; she’s got smarts and meaning to her music. She’s more than just a pretty face with a hot body that she moves so sexily. But would you check out that glamour shot!
”I would say I’m the girl next door who isn’t afraid of showing a little skin,” says Danielle Bollinger, in promoting her debut album, When the Broken Hearted Love Again. Showing skin is working: she’s scored a couple dance hits, including the title track and especially ”Kiss the Sky.” Bollinger has a sweet innocence to her voice that suits her music about heartache, sounding as if she’s learning as she goes. But her music is often bland and blah, with overheated emotion. And the Nashville resident, and former back-up vocalist for Faith Hill, seems at least as interested in country music as in dance.
Jenna Drey, on the other hand, says all the right things about dance. ”I think it’s sad that grunge and alternative rock dominated in the ’90s, pushing and segregating dance music out of mainstream pop. I only hope dance-pop will dominate again,” she says in promoting her new album One Step Further. Drey’s music isn’t quite good enough to do the job by itself, but she does have an appealing presence and a commanding vocal presence. She’s already had a couple dance hits, including ”Why Should I Believe You” and ”Killin’ Me,” and there should be more to come….