The Blue Hawaiians
It's hard not to feel a bit sorry for the Blue Hawaiians, since there's really no way that their hybrid of lounge and surf music won't be associated, however misguided it may be, with a scene that reached its peak more than two years ago. Let's face it: The movie Swingers may have initially brought much attention to both the swing and lounge scenes, but it also ultimately destroyed both genres for anyone other than diehards and the sort of second-rate hipsters who are late to every bandwagon. The Blue Hawaiians still pack in two-bit TV actors like sardines at local L.A. clubs like the Lava Lounge every week, but the media and the kids in the mall are already chasing after Latin pop, the "new Beck," Buckcherry, or whatever comes next.
It's a shame, because Savage Night, the Hawaiians' major-label debut, is a fine album. Once you get past the personal prejudices created by overexposure to martini-swilling, Martin Denny-referencing cads and $300 Hawaiian-shirt-wearing bohos, it's easier to appreciate what elevates these guys above the mindless and soulless mimicry of most retro stylists.
Actually, styles are all over the place here, from traditional surf to Vegas-style crooning to flamenco to noir theme music -- all mingling together both naturally and surprisingly, and not like textbook compositions of "cool" elements. A moody piece like "Sway" begins as an early-'60s Italian mob ballad before breaking into a Hawaiian steel-guitar solo that alternates between the exotic and the twangy, and then finally explodes into a fuzz surf-guitar freakout.
Rumba and rockabilly collide with high wailin' surf and beatnik jazz on an unexpectedly sweet cover of Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon." A toreador riff that's half authentic and half a rip of Love's "Alone Again Or" fuels the ever-so-dramatic ode to bad love, "Trouble Bay," before escalating into full red-flag-waving flamenco. And "Hot Rods to Honolulu," a rousing instrumental, sounds just as it should -- all greased-up, revved-up, and luau picked-up.
All these songs hold together because they're played with the sort of confidence that permits such musical digressions and innovations. The only thing threatening to crash everything down here are the decidedly low-rent female back-up singers.
Vocalist/bassist Mark Fontana is not an extraordinary singer, but he is quite competent, which is more than can be said for the girls who, thankfully, only back him up on a few numbers. Their hammy turns on the band's version of Lee Hazlewood's "A Cheat" (the unfortunate choice for first single) and "Flesh and Soul" bring the cheese factor up unacceptably high.
Still, if you can simply ride through these campy moments, you'll probably appreciate all the other intoxicating sounds that overcome both genre clichés and the jaded ear. -- Sabrina Kaleta
Detroit Rock City
The only thing worse than Ted Nugent is Pantera covering Ted Nugent; Phil Anselmo can cure a boy of "Cat Scratch Fever" real quick.
The only thing worse than Thin Lizzy is Everclear covering Thin Lizzy; if "The Boys Are Back in Town," then run for your lives. And Marilyn Manson's "Highway to Hell" sounds as if it was recorded on the access road. The only remarkable thing about Manson's AC/DC "cover" is how utterly soft and bloated and unrecognizable it sounds, thus rendering it nearly impossible for play at topless bars, which is a real shame. Where's P.J. Soles when you really need her? Rock and Roll High School this ain't.
If anything, this soundtrack to the film about a bunch of kids hightailing it to a KISS concert in 1978 offers only the definitive proof that today's rockers don't know dick about rawk. Everclear makes the original -- represented here by "Jailbreak," and bless Phil Lynott's overrated-by-death heart -- sound seminal. And if ever there was tangible evidence that the members of Drain sth need to find real jobs, here's a plodding, torpid "20th Century Boy" as Exhibits A through Z; compare and contrast to Placebo's version from Velvet Goldmine, then ask yourself how these bastards sleep at night.
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Best songs on a soundtrack released in 1999: Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil" (come back, Dave, all is forgiven), Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" (scary then, corny now), Cheap Trick's "Surrender" (like, they got their KISS records out, dude), and David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" (pardon?). Smells like cutout-bin K-Tel.
Leave it to the girls to show the boys how it's done: The Donnas inject the forever-missing strut into KISS' "Strutter," proving once more these four women have more balls than every other cock-rocker on this otherwise worthless piece of plastic. Brilliant bit of sequencing, though, following the Donnas with the Runaways ("School Days") -- even if it's hard to tell one from the other.
Odd that for a movie about teen obsession with the clown princes of crock and roll, only three KISS contributions appear on Detroit Rock City -- the emasculated "Shout It Out Loud," the obligatory "Detroit Rock City," and "Nothing Can Keep Me Away From You," a co-write with Diane Warren. Here, pap music's antichrist does for Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter what she did for Aerosmith on last summer's Armageddon soundtrack: turn them into Kim Carnes. No self-respecting doper would be caught dead listening to such tepid balladry, the likes of which makes "Beth" sound like "White Riot." The KISS resurrection ends right here, right now. -- Robert Wilonsky