Slow to Burn
Virgin Island jazz-pop/dance diva Vanessa Daou and her producer/instrumentalist husband Peter Daou earned the favorable notice of dance-club feminists in 1994 with Zipless, an album that set the poetry and occasionally the voice of Erica Jong to music (the Fear of Flying author is Peter's aunt). On Slow to Burn, her second solo album, Vanessa takes over the lyrics but continues to draw inspiration--if not actual texts--from female cultural heroes.
Each of this album's 11 songs seeks to capture the spirit of a well-known 20th-century woman: from Isadora Duncan and Gertrude Stein to Betty Page and Edie Sedgwick (Vanessa's painted portrait of each woman is reproduced in the CD booklet beside the respective song lyrics).
Song by song, Slow to Burn is a beautiful recording. The Daous craft light and easy trip-hop that crackles and churns and tingles in all the right places. The music is deeply erotic; misty and moody with a sweet pop coating. And Vanessa complements the often understated and ethereal mix--mostly keyboards and electronic beats--with her sultry whisper and gentle melodies.
Monotony, however, ultimately holds Slow to Burn down. Each impressionist song is written to suggest its famous subject rather than pay overt tribute (the only exception is a cover of Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain"), but there's little to distinguish one track from the next. Too many cliched images (dark/light/twilight/shadows, rain/water/swimming) repeat from cut to cut, with tunes and tones similar enough to make the song for Georgia O'Keeffe ("If I Could") sound more or less like the song for Josephine Baker ("Taste the Wine") . . . which sounds like the song for Nico ("This Blue Hour"), and so on. Despite Slow to Burn's elegance, the spectrum of womanhood has never sounded so homogeneous.
While some grumpy souls contend the Beatles shouldn't have issued those re-Fabbed demo recordings on the recent Anthology series without John's breathing approval, at least he was present in spirit. The Rutles, on the other hand, shouldn't have even considered reuniting without Dirk McQuigley's active participation. Rutles singer Neil Innes played McQuigley (a parody character of Paul McCartney) in the 1978 film All You Need Is Cash. That celluloid satire and its soundtrack (recently rereleased with outtakes by Rhino Records) holds up to this day because the songs fed off Eric Idle's irreverent script and vice versa. On their own, the Past Masters pastiches on Archaeology (get it?) barely register a chuckle. Since the late '70s, everybody from Utopia to XTC has tweaked the Beatles songbook, and the novelty has worn painfully thin. The long and winded Rutles should've ended with Shabby Road. A sophomore jinx hardly befits a band once touted "the legend that will last a lunchtime."
One Fierce Beer Coaster
"Know thyself," goes the first commandment of the ancient Greeks. "I'm more tongue in cheek than a lesbo orgy," goes Jimmy Pop Ali, mouthpiece for the twisted band of mallrats from suburban Philadelphia known as Bloodhound Gang.
The connection? Like its white-trash PA homeboys in Ween and Dead Milkmen, Bloodhound Gang is rude, stoopid and vigorously gutter-minded--and knows it. The band is also surprisingly clever, and its second album, One Fierce Beer Coaster (the cover is designed as a beer coaster, a nod to the band's frat-boy constituency), is ripe with smart lines and creative arrangements. Not one of the recording's 10 originals misses its mark.
Unlike the Gang's 1995 debut, Use Your Fingers, which was essentially a sample-heavy rap album with rockist tendencies, Fierce Beer Coaster is more radio-friendly, with muscle-bound funk touches and white-boy rap vocals in the 311/Cake vein. But Jimmy Pop remains an MC at heart. Lest you doubt mike skills, check the rapid-fire U.S. tour in "Going Nowhere Slow": Pop names 72 cities in less than 30 seconds.
The lyrics on Coaster, however, overshadow both the music and the vocal chops. Full of TV name drops, shopping lists (No-Doz, Rolos) and gleeful juxtapositions (Jack Kerouac and Gilbert Gottfried in the same line), Pop's rhymes are a guilty pleasure for the politically incorrect. Like Jimmy says, "I'm an Alka Seltzer . . . you're a sea gull"--and if you get the joke, you deserve to hear this recording.
Goin' Through Changes
Even in these days of what Spin magazine recently classified "post-grunge fallout," Vancouver, British Columbia's Zumpano is a tough sell. It's hard to imagine a commercial alternative-rock station jumping from Bush or Korn's latest to a song by a bunch of guys in black suits and ties singing "ba ba ba ba" like the second coming of the Association. It's our loss. On Zumpano's superlative and criminally overlooked debut, Look What the Rookie Did, the band proposed that the greatest composers since Schubert weren't Lennon & McCartney but Webb & Webb--both album and single contained a tune by old-school romantic songwriter Jimmy Webb ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix").
Despite this collection's title, the band hasn't lost its appetite for ornate pop song structures. Subject matter hops from jewel heists and millionaire poets to wrestling love partners, and each installment provides several unexpected detours, stops, starts and, yes, plenty of "ba ba ba bahs"--occasionally with actual horns behind them. Singer Carl Newman's lispy delivery will remind you of a pre-"Lola" Ray Davies, while the instrumental work recalls the upfront keyboard approach favored by the Zombies, and the inventive songwriting doesn't betray either comparison.
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Barry Adamson--whose credits include a stint with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and contributions to soundtracks for films such as director Alison Anders' unjustly overlooked Gas, Food, Lodging--is clearly an extremely disturbed bloke. Fortunately, he's decided to share his problems with the rest of us. The multi-instrumentalist and conceptual prankster describes Oedipus Schmoedipus as the score to an imaginary flick about a mother-son relationship taken a wee bit too far. But aside from "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Pelvis," a lyrically specific ditty featuring the lead vocals of Pulp's Javis Cocker, Adamson prefers subtlety over specificity. His best pieces are instrumentals in which he slams together rock, funk and various movie-music references in order to achieve a melange that's as cheeky as it is catchy. The juxtaposition of darkness and smarm gives these offerings an undeniable charge. Mom wouldn't approve, but you will.