Picture Jennifer Love Hewitt making a tribute album to Madonna: It's not at all like a prayer -- it's like a curse: Anyone who listens to it feels forever damned. Which is exactly how you're likely to feel after listening to Mad'House's Absolutely Mad.
The title track is the only cover worth listening to because of its deep-house echoing drum pattern. But then again, the effect is overdone throughout the album, apparently cut-and-pasted from another recent Europop hit.
Bambi Mukendi and Stephane Durand, who comprise Mad'House, show little in the way of creativity. The album's are restrained, but a computer could churn out similar passionless emulations -- far removed from Kelly Osburne's “Papa Don't Preach.” And save for “Frozen,” Mad'House wisely cops out of the more novel challenge of remaking post-Erotica Madonna (how awful to contemplate a Mad'house “Ray of Light”).
Madonna consented to this project, even after hearing it. Perhaps she's gone mad.
Puretone, on the other hand, is worth going mad over, thanks to the presence of Josh Abrahams, who previously conspired with musical wunderkind and fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann, as lead engineer and producer on the director's sensational Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Abrahams displays his eclectic musical tastes on Stuck in a Groove, artfully mixing Depeche Mode-style dance with Masters at Work-style house with Destiny's Child-style hip hop with No Doubt-style pop-rock, all in equal measure. The CD opens with the all-systems-go “Thrillseeker,” whose moody electronica effects and jazzy riffs inspire movie-making excitement. Soon enough, we come to Puretone's first released single, “Addicted to Bass,” which has been described as a sleeper hit, since it took a while to register attention. It's one of the best albums of the year.
The original “Addicted to Bass” is little like the popular John Creamer and Stephane K Mix (that's not included here, but Robbie Rivera's wonderful Daft Punk-style electro remix is here as a bonus). Creamer and K stripped the drum 'n' bass intensity and jazz-funk vocalizations (provided by the effervescent Amiel Daemion) and in the process lost the essential need-a-hit sensation of the lyrics. Daemion sings: “Listening to the radio I feel so out of place, There's a certain something missing that the treble can't erase, I know you can tell just by looking at my face, A word about my weakness, I'm totally addicted to bass.” Lyrical sophistication, with a focus on freedom, inspiration and uplift, is stamped all over the album, even on musically less-than-stellar tracks like “Headroom” and “Echoes.”
The title track is the only other to follow the theme of “Bass.” Here, however, it's a hip-hop sensibility that shines through, especially in the way the words in the title are repeatedly scratched. The lyrics take on a force all their own: “There's no doubt that I am afflicted, I'm totally obsessed and I will admit it, Oh no, I'm not high, But I'm very much addicted to the music I like.” It's a heady concoction, this mix of sweet acoustic guitar riffs opening each verse and the hard-edged pop that characterizes the whole song. I think I need another hit. Pass the Puretone, man. I need to get back into this groove, after Mad'House and shit.