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Annie Lennox: Little Bird
ANNIE LENNOX’S ‘MASS’ APPEAL… Annie Lennox will finally return this fall after a four-year absence. This time out, Lennox has teamed with producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette‘s breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill), and Ballard says the album is ”very intense” and ”very personal to her.” It’s got a title to match. Songs of Mass Destruction is due Oct. 2, according to Billboard, and it will feature a song, ”Sing,” inspired by Lennox’s work with Nelson Mandela in the global AIDS fight. But besides the fact that it’s a new Lennox album — cause enough to celebrate, because you know it’ll be great — the most exciting aspect is the all-star roster of divas who have contributed to that song, including Sarah McLachlan, Gladys Knight, Melissa Etheridge, Fergie, Shakira and Celine Dion. Oh, and we almost forgot, Madonna. Sounds like the set will do some serious damage….
DESPERATELY SEEKING, BLONDIE?… Speaking of forgetting, the low-budget film that helped make Madonna a star is being recast as a musical. Desperately Seeking Susan will open on London’s West End in October and will feature songs from — no, not the now nearly half-centenarian, oddly enough. But Blondie. ”Heart of Glass,” ”Atomic,” ”One Way or Another,” ”Dreaming” and ”The Tide Is High” will feature into the show along with a new composition from Blondie’s main blondie, Debbie Harry. If it’s a hit, the show could transfer to Broadway….
DANCING SEAL… It seems many artists are returning this fall to dance — and it’s making us hopeful that dance music beyond hip-hop will gain some newfound attention after years of mostly mainstream neglect. There’s Madonna’s expected return, of course. And then there’s Britney’s, too. And J-Lo. Is your excitement waning? Well, perk up, ’cause there are more and better ones to come.
”Over the years I’ve somehow become more known for my ballads, which I also love doing, but dance music has always been close to my heart.” That’s Seal talking, the British singer known for overwrought and way-overplayed power ballads. But four years after his last full-length and two years after becoming Mr. Heidi Klum, Seal will in November release System, which was co-produced by Stuart Price, aka Grammy-winning dance remixer-extraordinnaire Jacques Lu Cont, Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor mastermind. How cool is that? Billboard reports Price has added his touch to a couple upbeat tracks on the album, due Nov. 20, which Seal went on to describe as ”turning out to be much of a dance record. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do seeing as most will say that dance is my background.” His singing career was launched 17 years ago with the track ”Killer,” a hit in nightclubs then and 15 years later, when special, slamming anniversary remixes were commissioned by the likes of D.C.’s own Morel, Peter Rauhofer and others. To paraphrase that seminal track, yes Seal, there is still a part of us that wants to live, give — and dance….
DEPECHE’S DAVE GAHAN DANCES… It’s not clear how much it will venture into dance territory, but at least Dave Gahan, lead singer of Depeche Mode, says his second solo set, due in October, is more electronic-sounding than his forgettable four-year-old debut Paper Monsters. Hourglass, Gahan has said, features songs with acoustic instrumentation manipulated by computer but not so much as to lose their rough, rock edges. That makes it sound very much like Paper Monsters, which suffered from too few songs with smooth, memorable melodies and too many that were bitter and slow-moving. The hourglass isn’t a very exciting or fast-moving motif, and some of the track titles aren’t too promising either (”Endless,” ”21 Days,” ”Love Will Leave”). Don’t be surprised if he lets us down again….
Underword: Two Months Off
UNDERWORLD RISES TO DANCE AGAIN… Nearly five years after Underworld brought light in to clubs with its fantastic sweet and storming ”Two Months Off,” the British duo will finally return to try again. First single ”Crocodile” isn’t as magical as that mind-blower, but it is pretty and propulsive, densely layered pop that makes you move and think warm thoughts. What more do you need? And it comes from an album with a promising title: Oblivion with Bells. The duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith sought out advice from famous friends who know something about pop music in narrowing down 200 possible tracks for the album to just 11 — friends like longtime super-producer Brian Eno and U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. A preview of the set, due in October, reveals it to be altogether more cohesive than 2002’s One Hundred Days Off. The new set features some particularly riveting pieces of smart dance-pop that rarely get too cerebral to become pretentious or even boring as did much of the recent digital-only releases from the duo, who also recently wrote arty film scores for Anthony Mingellas‘ Breaking and Entering and Danny Boyles‘ Sunshine. (The duo gained much attention a decade ago through Boyles’ Trainspotting, which prominently featured the duo’s trippy, trancey ”Born Slippy (Nuxx).”) On Oblivion with Bells, subtly shifting sonics go from sweet or somber pop and rock to banging but beautiful and lush house and techno. Often before you realize it, you’re on your feet….
New Order with Bernard Sumner (center left) and Peter Hook (center right)
NEW (OUT OF) ORDER… ”My lawyers told me to shut up till we start negotiating, so it’s off my agenda till then,” New Order’s Peter Hook posted to his MySpace page this past Monday. At least someone finally shut him up. Hook first suggested the demise of the pioneering and still influential British synth-pop band in a press interview months ago, which came as a surprise to his bandmates. Then he continued to taunt them by airing his grievances through MySpace. After fellow New Order founders Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris said the band was still on, with or without Hook, the bassist protested that they can’t unilaterally call the whole thing on, since ”I’ve still got a third.” As such, ”this group has SPLIT UP!” But even old Order types know that two against one doesn’t work in the individual’s favor. So apparently, Hook has resorted to threatening legal action to make sure New Order is good and dead and that the others don’t use the New Order name. (But what about Renew Order?) It’s not exactly clear what’s got Hook’s goat beyond a need for special attention….
VIRGIN DANCE… New Order’s influence was one of the common threads tying together the DJs in the Dance Tent on day one of the 2007 Virgin Festival. As much as progressive house and trance were the day’s predominant flavors of dance, it was synth-based Britpop that formed the underlying core, particularly those pioneers of modern dance music, from New Order to Depeche Mode, both of which got DJ play. (So did Coldplay, though not, oddly enough, the day’s headliner The Police, or even Sting.) From Felix da Housecat to Danny Tenaglia to even hard-trance Dutch closer Sander Van Doorn, the Brit stitch was apparent. Housecat and Tenaglia were the most boisterous of the DJs, both regularly taking to the mike and being chatty. If Tenaglia put the bass in our face one more time, there would have been treble.
It was a stellar line-up overall — not counting day two, when D.C.’s Deep Dish seemed sorely misplaced as the only DJ act not focused on what you might call heavy metal dance, or generally annoying industrial or speedy techno. Each DJ act on day one turned out strong, if not phenomenal, sets. So much so that staying there outweighed checking out LCD Soundsystem or The Police or any of the other festival’s carnival-like attractions, including something called ”Incredibly Strange Wrestling.” Maybe next year. Instead, Tenaglia surprised with an exuberant and well-executed set. And technology wizards Sasha & Digweed proved why they are still near the top of the lists of the most-popular and best-regarded DJs around, a decade or so after having popularized several concepts we now take for granted (from the DJ mixed compilation to high-production DJ events).
What the lineup lacked for in established, explicit gay appeal (with the exception of Tenaglia), it more than made up for in general dance music appeal and sophistication. And then there was the smattering of gay festivalgoers and the overwhelming number of very attractive straight boys and girls. And best yet, unlike at a normal, indoor straight event, men’s shirts were often removed and pants and shorts hung teasingly low. If only the lights could have extended further into the crowd, and the music played louder….
FESTIVAL HIGHS AND LOWS… Amy Winehouse was the rare act we actually managed to catch who didn’t perform in the Dance Tent. (Though you couldn’t avoid the off-key shouts and pealing guitar solos of Cheap Trick.) Winehouse seemed especially bored performing her biggest hit, as if suffering from a bad hangover. Everything about the first day of the 2007 Virgin Festival was high, from the triple-digit temperature, to the prices all around, to this year’s estimate of 42,000 attendees on just day one alone….
VIRGIN DJS KEEP BUSY… You wouldn’t know it from their performances, and there have been no pushes from their press handlers either, surprisingly. But it turns out most of the Virgin DJs have new productions forthcoming — which should mean, fingers crossed, they’ll spin in the area again soon, this time to specifically promote the work. The second in Sasha’s slightly overwrought and definitely more for techies than clubbers Involver series will see release in the fall. The third in Digweed’s better Transitions series will be released in late September. It’s said to be darker and more minimal than the previous sets, which grow on you after each listen, as you appreciate how much Digweed focuses on the titular drawn-out shifts from track to track. Housecat will release a new artist album in early October. And meanwhile, Tenaglia, who hasn’t released a compilation in many years and just one production (last year’s tribal gem ”D’Ibiza”), has multiple projects in the works, including another classics set, a triple-disc set commemorating his old New York Be Yourself party and a regular compilation focused on current tracks….
LADY DAY AIN’T MOMMA NIGHT… Billie Holiday has never been part of the diva dynasty that still holds court on gay dance floors. Even at her jauntiest, jazz’s leading female vocalist never danced. And for the most part, today’s dance makers haven’t tried to get Lady Day to become Momma Night. One notable exception was the three-part Verve Remixed compilation series. The series was the perfect introduction to some jazz greats dance and electronica fans might not have encountered otherwise. The series focal point was Nina Simone, with good reason. An underappreciated singing-songwriting showstopper, Simone always had passion and drama to spare, no matter whether she was performing jazz or R&B or folk. Speed it up, add some beats behind it, and just like that, Simone works on the dance floor.
Holiday’s quiet-storm music and languid lyrical phrasing, by contrast, is so subtle, even delicate, it’s harder to manipulate. And so the remixes of Holiday’s classics were some of the weakest of the Verve Remixed bunch. The latest in Legacy Recordings’s new Remixed & Reimagined series suffers, too, since it’s solely focused on Holiday. Though, truth be told, the problem seems to be as much with the crop of remixers on tap. Last fall, Legacy released Nina Simone: Remixed & Reimagined, featuring Simone songs from the RCA vaults. The set definitely had its moments, but it was nowhere near as great as you’d expect, given what Verve had done before. Why didn’t Legacy tap any of the many Verve remixers, including Felix da Housecat, Carl Craig, Koop, Danger Mouse and DC’s own Thievery Corporation? Half of the remixers on tap for Billie Holiday: Remixed & Reimagined, out next Tuesday, August 7, simply repeat from the Simone set. And as with that first edition, there are only a few tracks here that would actually work on the dance floor; the focus is far more on providing simple electronic embellishments, not on coaxing anyone to actually dance. Also in this case, the point seems to be to shine the light on some of Holiday’s lesser-known tracks from her Columbia Records catalog.
Tony Humphries, the legendary New York house DJ in semi-retirement, does get us grooving though. His ”But Beautiful” remix here is a pumping deep house treasure that deserves dance floor play. Also working our feet: Roland Richards and Lady Bug Mecca of Digable Planets with a high-stepping, ”hip hop meets swing” remix of ”Spreadin’ Rhythm Around,” and Poppyseed with ”He Ain’t Got Rhythm,” which has rhythm to spare….
WHITNEY’S WORK… By now you’ve no doubt heard that Whitney Houston is fixing to make a comeback. Several big-name producers have been mentioned as working with her on the effort, no small feat. The latest: Akon, the Senegalese crooning rapper. Billboard reports the two haven’t hit the studio yet, but he’s plenty busy scheming — not to mention stating the obvious. ”I just think she needs to come with great songs. I think the music will overcome all the things she’s been through,” Akon told Billboard. Uh, well, duh. So get to work, Akon! Now that her marriage with Bobby Brown is all said and done, it’s make or break time: Was ”Bob-BAY” really the source of her problems, from drugs to finances? Or, as some have suggested, was he merely just her foil — the blatantly bad boy who was no match for a bad girl who only appeared prim and proper before they met? No word on exactly how soon we’ll find out, or when the album will drop….
BRITNEY’S JOKE… But wait, there’s more — and less! What we have here is what they taught in gay econ 101: the law of diminishing divas. Every subsequent female singer you encounter is less and less a ”diva” — at least in the sense of someone to get positively worked up over. So we’ll surely get less and less product worthy of our ears. You hear the one about Britney Spears? No, it’s not a joke that she’s also hoping to revive her moribund career by putting out a new album in the near future. It is a joke, though, at least at this point, that her new album will be called Omg is Like Lindsay Lohan Like Okay Like. That was one potential title among five Spears actually asked members of her fan club to vote on, according to Rolling Stone. So presumably, if that wins out over Integrity or Dignity — and in this case it really should — then the joke will be on everyone. That is, unless her fans pick What If The Joke Is On You, then the joke is on…we’re crying just thinking about all this. Why are we still talking about Britney?
Well, we’re not done just yet. You remember her bashing a poor, helpless automobile with an umbrella a few months ago? Right before which she had shaved off all her hair? She recently posted a note to her Website claiming it was all just a gimmick, all just in preparation for an acting role. ”I take all my roles very seriously and got a little carried away. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the part.” Oh? The director must have thought she was too unbelievable….
PARIS’S RAT(ATOUILLE)… Hear the one about Paris Hilton? No, it’s not a joke either — and yes, I’m crying too. But Hilton is already back to work with producer Scott Storch on a follow-up album to last year’s Paris. Rolling Stone quotes a ”source close to the heiress” who insisted that Hilton is taking voice lessons: ”She’s really serious about her music career.” Boo-hoo-hoo….