Music Reviews for the week 03.07.05

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Rating Guide

* Run Away! Fast! Now!
** Guilty Pleasure At Best
*** Definitely Worth A Listen
**** Flawless
***** Instant Classic

Heavy Rotation

Gwen Stefani – Love, Angel, Music, Baby

****

Say what you will about Gwen Stefani, but one is always forced to admit one cold hard fact like her or not: The woman’s got talent in spades! Love, Angel, Music, Baby is without a doubt one of the most uniquely diverse albums of the past ten years. Stefani has managed to create with her first solo outing a seamless blending of a number of different styles and influences from as disparate a selection of sources as Funk (Long Way To Go), Japanese Pop (Harijuku Girls), American Pop (Danger Zone), Hip Hop (Hollaback Girl, Rich Girl), R&B (Cool) and New Wave (Crash, Bubble Pop Electric) while managing to make each track a reflection of her own unique vision. If you have the ability to listen to this album and not have to fight the urge to move along with the beat I want to meet you so we can discuss your therapy options. This album would be a welcome addition to the collection of any DJ or other music lover guaranteed to get the party moving quickly. Though this is Stefani’s first solo venture, who would expect less than the best from the former cherubic chanteuse of No Doubt? So what are you waiting for? Why haven’t you gone and bought it yet? Oh yeah. Of course you already own it. How silly of me…

Rufus Wainwright – Want Two

***

Okay, I will be the first to admit that Rufus Wainwright is a beautiful man. And he has a beautiful voice. He is reportedly one of the sweetest men on the planet unless he’s angry. But then, show me a queen that isn’t hard to deal with when she’s pissed and I’ll show you a queen that’s finally getting the kind of psychiatric care that they have truly needed all this time. And did I mention that he’s totally dreamy? I did? Well he is.

All that aside, I must admit that not everything that Rufus has offered us of late has appealed to me on a personal level like his earlier material did. While I recognize and encourage wholeheartedly the evolution of an artist into whatever form their art takes shape, I must say that if it doesn’t speak to me I get bored even with art eventually. It’s the curse of being a Gemini. The material has been good enough during the Want Sessions especially tracks as memorable as Gay Messiah and Old Whore’s Diet. It is clear even to the casual listener that the music comes from a place deep within the singer and is not just a series of inane and garbled ramblings. However the presentation of the two albums has been underwhelming on the whole as I find it difficult to find a common thread between the songs that supports the concept that is implied. At best this collection of songs can be considered a motley collection of charming b-sides who had a home nowhere else. One really bright side is that the album is packaged with a twenty-two track live DVD of Rufus performing various songs old and new while on tour. The DVD makes the set as a whole a much better bargain in the end. Here’s to hoping that Rufus finds some direction before his next two-disk opus is scheduled for release.

Notes From The Underground

Douglas Wood – Broken

***

Okay, it’s time for me to come clean about it. I’ve agonized about it and I’ve tried hard to come up with a way to say it and I never could. The best I could think of is just the honest raw truth in all its ugly glory. I like Douglas Wood. I like him a lot. He’s a talented man. But he needs to ditch his band and get a new producer because they are making him look bad. The high points of Douglas Wood’s freshman independent offering are all overshadowed by overproducing and the blaring of the band. This is often in places where they would be best quiet and reserved so that Wood’s vocal talent can show it’s true depths. Clearly an able songwriter, Douglas Wood has fallen into the trap that so many independent artists of this day and age have: He has given up too much of his control over his work to someone else’s hands and it is changing what could be a strong statement from the artist to the listener into a tumultuous ride of clangy instruments and over polished production that makes the music feel plastic and hollow like a cheap imitation of an expensive and well made toy. The openly gay singer/songwriter bares his soul in tracks such as The Voice and All About you as well as the title track but it is almost lost amidst the confusion. Keep a close eye on Douglas Wood. He will get a clue soon and there will be great things from him in the future. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of Douglas Wood’s Broken can send me an e-mail and I will point them in the right direction, but rest assured that Tower Records wouldn’t have it in stock.

Rewind

Amy Ray – Stag

***

After ten years of recording music as one half of the seminal folk-rock band the Indigo Girls, the phenomenal song crafter Amy Ray finally released a solo excursion on her independent label Daemon Records in 2001 that saw her visiting many forms of musical presentation not usually associated with her alongside a diverse group of her peers such as Joan Jett, L7, the Butchies and the Rock*A*Teens. Ray possessed with that offering the deft ability to morph her own sound into whatever shape it needed to convey the message that she was trying to convey in each piece. Make no mistake: every word of every song that the oft-intense Ray pens has a leanness of meaning approaching hyper-distillation. Her music possesses subtleties that escape most and have alienated more than a few listeners. Stag’s standout tracks included the ironically horrible Appalachian murder ballad Johnny Rottentale, the hauntingly angry response to the Matthew Sheppard murder Laramie, the rock infused Black Heart Today and the sharp-tongued calling out of Rolling Stone Magazine Lucystoners. Ray has an edge to her work that can only be imitated by most. Highly recommended to anyone who likes music to be relevant and innovative but still accessible.

Sound Off

Chaka Khan – Classikhan

*

Picture it: The room is dark. The only light in the cramped domicile is that from a lonely television set in the far corner of the room. Huddled nearby on a couch amid the scattered remains of several bottles of Colt 45 and what once was a box of Chakalates (chocolates bearing her name) lounges the forlorn, but somehow familiar figure of a woman. Her unmade face and uncombed hair are bathed in the harsh blue of the television screen as she watches COPs. Once a long time ago she was the toast of the town. She was the wild child of the club scene and her name was on the lips of all who were near. But now, two decades later she is nobody; an almost forgotten footnote to an era of excess. She longs once more to be showered with the adulation of the crowd. Somehow she must make her return. Then it hits her through her drunken reverie. The idea that will return her to the hearts of the public who once adored her. It had worked before for others and the gay subculture catapulted them back into the heavens from whence they fell. Surely a long-gone diva of yesteryear the magnitude of Chaka Khan would be no different. And it would be easy this time. All she had to do was sing a mixture of standards and modern classics and the deal would be done. Those young upstarts would see who was the queen diva. This exact scenario may not have been the way that it really unfolded. Chaka Khan may not even like Colt 45 or even watch COPs for that matter. But one listen to her latest offering-the ineptly named Classikhan is enough for one to believe the veracity of the claim regardless of the truth. While Khan’s song selection is fabulous including such long-standing classics as Hey Big Spender, Stormy Weather and To Sir With Love and might have been sufficient enough to make the album interesting in its own right her delivery is uninspired and pathos-less at worst and unconvincing and redundant at best. Every track seems to hold the same over-lounged tempo and Khan insists upon trying to seem cool and modern but only succeeds in seeming vapid and uninteresting. It is a real shame that the London Symphony Orchestra chose to sully their good name by having it accompany Khan’s own on the album. As if that weren’t bad enough, Khan manages to utterly massacre Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger and Patsy Cline’s Crazy in such a way that is sure to have both of the legendary songstresses making high-speed revolutions in their graves. Interestingly enough, the one high point of the album is the moving and poignant last track I Believe which Khan herself penned. In all, this album is only recommended for those who enjoy losing 45 minutes of their life that can never be reclaimed. For more engaging examples of artists from the last covering classic tracks check out Cyndi Lauper’s At Last or kd lang’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel and A Wonderful World with Tony Bennett not to mention The Dana Owens Album by Queen Latifah. Perhaps once this sorry excuse for an album flops adequately enough it will serve as a signal to the eight time Grammy winning songsmith that she should stick to what she knows and stop trying to imitate others in a vain attempt to make one last mark on the industry before the light of the television screen finally fades to black.