Singer-songwriters usually make my skin crawl--tell me one more time how great Jewel is, and you risk serious dental work--but Colorado native Jill Sobule not only soars over that hurdle with Happy Town, she tops her surprisingly fresh 1995 hit "I Kissed a Girl."
Sobule had already had one aborted career on MCA (including a Todd Rundgren-produced debut in 1990) when she resurfaced on Atlantic with Jill Sobule and a tongue-in-cheek video that flirted with bisexuality while poking fun at Fabio. If her MCA debut was dismissed as too dark, critics who didn't listen beyond the hit knocked Sobule for being a little l-i-g-h-t. On the new album, she shows a wider range of emotions, addressing them all with the eye of a sharp and witty storyteller, and varying her musical backing from stark acoustic guitar to goofy Casio keyboard sounds to Steve Earle-enhanced twang.
"I could sneer, I could glare/Say that life is so unfair/And the one who made it, made it/'Cause her breasts were really big," Sobule sings on her opening track, going on to proclaim that she's having too much fun to be so "Bitter." She wrote the tune with Richard Barone, former leader of the late, lamented Bongos, and it betrays her hook-happy roots in early '80s power-pop, from Cyndi Lauper (who was clearly a vocal model) to the dB's (who are invoked on the title track via some Repercussions-style horns).
But Happy Town isn't all bright and bouncy. In "Attic," Sobule fantasizes herself in the role of Anne Frank, wondering if her boyfriend would give her safe harbor or turn her over to the jackbooted thugs. "Underachiever" is a melancholy ode to the slacker girl who "only passed Spanish and gym." Best of all is "Soldiers of Christ," which takes dead aim at religious right-wingers. "Our Lord loves the family, Our Lord loves the saved/Our Lord loves the unborn babies and the NRA/Our Lord hates the liberals, the faggots and their friends/We're Soldiers of the Christ, and we're here to defend/The way it used to be," Sobule sings, her wispy voice making the words even more effective.
Honey, better call Wal-Mart and start the boycott! That girl who was kissin' other girls is back, and this time, it's even worse. And she looked like such a nice little singer-songwriter.
The Captain & Tennille
20 Years of Romance
Ever grab an oldies CD off the spin rack at Walgreens only to find it's all modern rerecordings? One such bogus collection called Rock Fever offered Box Tops fans the novelty of hearing a down-on-his-luck Alex Chilton take time off from his early '80s dishwashing duties to butcher the group's 1968 blue-eyed-soul hit "Cry Like a Baby," in his post-Big Star whiny, white-guy voice. And they still billed it as the Box Tops!
Well, that dastardly duo the Captain & Tennille is trying to foist the same unforgivable shuck upon its legions of muskrat-lovin' fans. Just because the couple recently recanted their wedding vows after 20 years doesn't mean they had to recut "Do That to Me One More Time" one more time.
Anyone who thinks he's too hip to feel possessive about the Old Spice-promo pair should listen to the retooled "Love Will Keep Us Together." When Toni rips into her irresistible exhortation "I will! I will! I wi-i-i-i-i-i-ll!" it sounds like she's squeakin' from the nozzle of a rubber kitty toy. Honey, I shrunk the Tennille! What happened here? Every superfluous drum fill stinks of betrayal, and every keyboard flourish the poker-faced Captain tries to slip by is grounds for musical mutiny! You don't reheat Velveeta and, goddamnit, you don't mess with Top 40 cheese! This here's imitation spread!
The Captain & Tennille are scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 29, at the Sundome in Sun City West. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Lost Highway soundtrack
Lost Highway's soundtrack is based upon an ironic twist worthy of a David Lynch screenplay. Lynch--the underground subversive who infiltrates mainstream cinema--hires Rolling Stone poster boy Trent Reznor to produce and heavily contribute to his new film's soundtrack.
Luckily, Lynch is just as concerned with the sonic landscapes of his films as he is with the scenic. The director himself is credited as sound designer on both Highway and his last film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He's also on-board for this album as co-producer, and he brought a few friends more interesting than Reznor along for the ride.
David Bowie kicks off the album and accompanies both sets of credits in the film with a dated technopop reworking of "Deranged" from his Outside album. Um, David? Stick with jungle. As for Reznor's contributions . . . well, he does a decent enough job producing "Various Ominous Drones" for the film, several of which are included here--not to mention some passable if predictable metal-edged chase music. Then there's the single "The Perfect Drug," which is utterly typical of Nine Inch Nails' polished angst. Frenetic drum machines slap and thump, dirty guitars buzz and the whined chorus attacks the cerebrum with vicious repetition.
There are more big names on the roster. Smashing Pumpkins start off midtempo alt.rocky and try to finish funky on the thoroughly forgettable "Eye" (the track accompanies a dance scene in a bowling alley in the film). And Marilyn Manson--who has a bit part in the movie with bandmate Twiggy Ramirez--puts in his two songs' worth with the ready-for-radio "Apple of Sodom" and a God-awful remake of Screaming Jay Hawkins' gloriously insane scream fest "I Put a Spell on You." Finally, Lou Reed takes us back to the '70s for an early Reed, solo-period, pedestrian rock reading of the 1960 oldie "This Magic Moment."
Lost Highway is not a total loss, however. The instrumental, "incidental" music scattered throughout this soundtrack makes the save. First there's British composer (and former bassist for Nick Cave's Bad Seeds) Barry Adamson. You wanna go to lounge nation in style, but with an off-kilter, Lynchian twist? Groove on "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Only the bits of turntable scratching at the end will shake you out of thinking you're in 1965, giving it up for hot, juicy organ jazz in some noirish smoky dive. Interested parties should check out Adamson's last album, Oedipus Schmoedipus, for more of the same.
Last but not least, longtime Lynch stalwart Angelo Badalamenti shows he can still dish out the sultry, ethereal dream music that made Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet so eerily beautiful. But here, Badalamenti's got a full orchestra instead of merely a synthesizer bank, and rather than just floating by in an electric haze, his minor-key melodies hover deliciously with an organic richness they previously lacked. Check out "Fred's World" and "Haunting and Heartbreaking" in particular.
Lie to Me
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Jonny Lang missed the rediscovery heyday of the blues in the '80s--he started off that decade as an embryo, but quickly grew into a bluesman of the first water. Listen to Lie to Me's title track and you'll hear a 15-year-old prodigy with the burning belly of a weary Delta drifter. Lang's chops draw favorable comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan; he growls with Joe Cockeresque intensity and interprets weighty torch songs like "Darker Side" and "Still Wonder" with startlingly heartfelt dejection. Plus, he adds an unintentional new wrinkle to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." Unlike Williamson, Lang could actually help that schoolgirl with algebra! On this assignment, he scores a B-plus.
Jonny Lang is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, April 1, at the Hard Rock Cafe. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. (free).