Friday, 25 December 2009

Diva of Christmas Past

After a deal to produce her own brand of ketchup, Diana Soss, fell through, Diana Ross had no other option but to 'go fro with it' and release a sublime Christmas album, A Very Secial Season. Her soft whispering sigh is so often underrated with an unmatched ability to soar and land straight back down again - a knack that propelled a late bloom into the lucrative early 90s commercial market for furlorn power ballads. And no one in the world does cooing soggy ballads like Ms. Ross does. Note: if that last sentence was read without motioning a z-snap, do so now.

Her stop-gap holiday album presents itself as warm and tender interpretations of other peoples work - her fine voice does the usual quivering, skimming the surface as always in flighty rapture. On Winter Wonderland, refined and oh-so-lush, the big old lush herself opts to deliver a mischevious sense of drama: not everyone can match the perversity of Annie Lennox, but Ross never loses sight of her impeccable aesthetics. Her flirtatious excitement dwelling on the line 'two hearts are thrillin' sound like the old timer is propositioning a young police officer arresting her for drink driving. Sleigh bells tip-toe on her highly-competent version of Wonderful Christmastime, where her voice has all the giggling confidence and shameless majesty of drink-driver throwing up in her cell.

Sounding like her yoga session is being interrupted, she almost loses it on Happy Christmas (War Is Over). Her serenity comes under fire when her sincerity boils over into a heartwrenching pledge in order to avoid being upstaged by a childrens choir. It is a dramatic thrill for her to come so close to danger and come out the other side wig intact - she must have left the recording booth with more sweat beeding down her than one of her staff daring to make eye contact.

Most surprising is her poignant handling of the tear streamer Ave Maria, and never before has the diva sounded more statue-esque and convincingly humble since admitting to Oprah that in all her years she had learned: "absolutely nothing!"

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Before the year ends I shall post my top 2009 singles, but it's taking forever to do as this blogger is far too exhausted with other commitments. It's been fun and I hope to continue in 2010.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Meg Mathews Looking Better Than Ever

It was obviously past sweet Jesus' bedtime stories, so a freshly-peeled Madge takes her 12 year old daughter out to see the premier of 9. Now that the hits have dried up, a career in javelin throwing seems eminent - it was either that or put some effort into being something of a singer again.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Lauper and Gaga Come To Mac's Aid

Above: Cyndi and Gaga promote MAC's AIDS fund.

Coming up:

Diva Incarnate's 69 best singles of 2009.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Disco Dannii's Double-D Dollop of Dance: The 1995 Sessions

With physical gifts and technical accomplishments her multi-million selling longtime sister could only dream of, in 1995 Dannii Minogue was poised to address her pop present, of which she had longed for the same permanence as her less talented but thinner sibling, and yet before she could shatter the definations of 'dance', 'pop' and 'actress', her 2 previous flop albums suddenly got in the way and Dannii's dance-drenched dreams were denied when her music label got cold feet and pulled the plug on her recording contract.

The 1995 Sessions (an intensely likeable pure pleasure machine) makes a clear statement: she wanted to do something big with her big gifts, and it is concievable this just might be a singer who sort of actually really quite likes music after all. An emotional rapture only serial killers can relate to: Dannii (whilst poking nervous fun at rubbish bissexuals) consumates her status as a TV icon with a belated benchmark of contemporary mid 90s disco. Unlike her then-previous albums, it does not merely lipo-suck from the thighs of singles and remixers - it carves out the old Dannii-fan favourite word of having a niche. This disco-charged construction should not be unexpected, but surprise certainlys boosts its immeasurable peaks.

If anything summed up a gay icon's foreshortened horizons in the late 90s, it was Hi-NRG music. However, within this timecapsule to 1995 we are well within the halycon days of the genre, and Cher would briefly turn this notion on its head when a 1998 dance single became the biggest success of her 4-decade-spanning career, which was ironically a Dannii Minogue cast-off.

Dannii was set to trigger a renewed respectability of a pop evanescence, which would peak with the Spice Girls and give birth to Britney. Grown from the DNA of Madonna, Janet, Olivia Newton-John and Karen Walker, Dannii got a free ride being an easy target for the press to pick on her, which ironically helped her thrive, as did her marriage, her divorce, her Playboy shoot, as well as flopping too. Kylie-haters spurred her on to make no attempt to conceal her aloof authenticity, thus rendering her an underdog and favourite for The Gays.

Though I do think Kylie has made terrific records, I have my reservations about how eagerly rubbish gays suck up her amusing teenage-prostitute vocal scam (her cover of Santa Baby is her worst offence, whilst the Danniitastic On A Night Like This - written and produced by Girl knob-twiddlers Metro - is tellingly a live favourite to this day).

Assuming no chart future, Dannii asserted her cultural significance with fiercely trivial presenting gigs and playfully futureless playboy shoots. Now in 2009 she exploits her new-found acceptance using the dazzlingly repackaged The 1995 Sessions.

Produced by Italian studio-studs the Rapino Bros (who remixed the definative version of Corona's Rhythm of The Night), the body-friendly dancefloor thrush of Free Your Love flaunts Dannii's free spirit with pugnaciously delivered verses and a thoughtless chorus Whigfied would chop her plats off for. I am sure Kylie's trying to rip it off right this minute, but this is a tailored-fit sheen for Dannii with the same comfortable pulse of anything from Corona's landmark Rhythm of The Night album. There is something risidual in Dannii's voice that gives her songs such an unmistakable boost - those scandalous verses are just perfect (nasal, discriminating, and bent on submitting to a solid groove).

Her into-the-quick vocals are fantastic on the euphoric Skin Deep, with explosively flesh-eating production arranged in addictively messy pelvis-unlocking fashion. Dannii's infectious wailing digs into the frothy euro-pop that is worthy of Strike or Urban Cookie Collective, but is instead produced by Oliver Jacobs (of techno-pop trio Arkarna House On Fire 1997 UK #33 fame, who also wrote Peter Andre's 1996 UK #1 single I Feel You).

Bizarrely, the skillfully adequate and well-manicured Love & Affection sounds like the 1998 version of Everlasting Night. Painted with vintage disco strings - clearly Dannii hadn't just had her boobs lifted, as the equally perky melody is also almost This Is The Way part two. I enjoy the languid disco feel, gender-gap lyric and compassionately self-promoting vocal flushes.

Gays craving a big-voiced R&B singer should probably grab this rough-edged Get Into You gamble. A sure-fire Sabrina Johnston-type production: those in control of their urges should note that nothing else on the album matches Dannii-on-her-knees religious experience of the recapitulating Let Love Into Your life; a jittery, gurning, invigorating and gospel-healing dancefloor baptism, showing she loves a good hook almost as much as Kylie enjoys ripping them off. Further listening: Sabirna Johnston (Friendship, Peace), Mozaic (Halleluja, Nothing In The World). No setback is irreducible here - Dannii simplifies everything, her marched-out chorus is so basic yet confident and powerful with a vocal that channels her inner-singer so grandly and declamatory that you will learn to understand her perfervid sensations just by singing along.

Below: image taken from
Claiming the uplifting soda-shaking Gina G sound as her own (with just as much juice), Dannii gets the Hi-NRG runs on the remarkably ecstatic Everlasting Night, which is party jam packed with adrenaline and a giddy sex drive. A majestic intro and full-facial fountain spray of splashing synths do their best to extinguish her unquenchable exhiliration and good cheer, flavouring her gushing and appointed vocals with a rapture that abrasively assails the central nervous system like a decadent ecstasy trip. A definantly rueful celebration: the rampant frivolous energy of her previous hit Jump To The Beat is not merely intensified, but eclipsed. In 2009, nevermind 1995, Dannii Minogue has never sounded so necessary - at just the right side of hectic, the palpitating seizure Everlasting Night is unending pleasure.

The minor thrill of Crazy is alternately klutzy and yummy, with poor Dannii drowning into the pining chorus. Cleansed with fizzing synths syngeing, it almost activates into the official 2003 remix of Dead of Alive's Lover Come Back To Me, but doesn't.

For 2 sensational seconds, Take My Time almost stop-starts into Cher's Strong Enough, but doesn't, and might be produced by Steve 'Silk' Hurley, but isn't. Instead, Gypsy Woman style keyboards milk the juice and sweaty Do You Want It Right Now house beats soak up the impact of Dannii just delivering business as usual.

The elegantly cautious Love In Me makes use of Dannii's most expressive vocals ever, taking full advantage of her glass-cut quality on the verses especially. Her silky delivery oozes a one-too-many confidence - the track is nuanced cool par excellence and a new tint for her sultry reportoire. The word-drunk 'wanna get your love in me tonight' is Dannii rubbing her soul with honesty - a novelty fusion of effortless vulgarity and classy simplicity, and its cheesey embouchure horn sections alone will take you inside there alright. Her lithe and dulcet tones are on equal billing with The Rapino Bros glamorous architecture.

Her dancefloor endurance runs out of poppers somewhat and back into Get Into You territory with Exclusively, which has a bass so deep you'll feel raped. Dannii moans aggressively over a bass-drum thump in what amounts to an empty-headed Paula Abdul-esque neck-snapper brought sassily down-to-date. Falling into the lame R&B grooves of Get Into You is a shame, but is almost forgivable with its can't-help-myself promises meant to be broken. Understanding the difference between her dignity and her genitles, 'all I know baby is you feel so fine,' this woman has thought about the tough stuff.

She fires blanks pledging slow-motion devotion on Love Will Find A Way with its martini-swishing beats, whilst her gin-breath vocals provide a satisfying gloss, and the trotting piano is a decent enough engine for it to get going at least.

Modern love is getting to Dannii on the Janet Jackson-esque watery-cum ballad Don't Wanna Leave You Now where she takes another lie down - sad, fragile and contained, she gracefully never pretends to belt. The melody might be hidden in her cleavage, but Dannii's quivering weakness for quiet grandeur is catching - the style of beauty here is something new for her, which became a foregone conclusion on Am I Dreaming and It's Amazing. Dannii's distinctly different deployment of stripped down resources and top-rack knack for naked ballads might be worth sticking with after all (see Invitation, It Won't Work Out for further investigation). Dannii emotes inconsistent banalities as if her life depended on them, which must scare the shit out of poor Kylie. And yet there is a chilly unreality to Dannii simulating sensual warmth, but her faux-masochistic maturity would throb with more useful intent on All I Wanna Do and Who Do You Love Now.

Exploiting Dannii's radical race views ('brother bought a coconut') and liberated dance abilities, she's all set for the loony bin on the party-shaking concoction Coconut, we catch a glimpse at some of the cattiness that would define her misinterpreted X-Factor homophobia ('now let me get this straight' she laughs). We love you Dannii and you love us, we finally get it.

Can I really state a case for arguing that the average record buyer was fundementally insane for not buying Dannii Minogue albums? Perhaps she was too specialized, too rarefied, even gauchely obvious. She might not yet compete with the likes of Madonna and Cher, but Dannii sure does give the delicious impression she enjoys singing possibly even more by flaunting her flops with more pride than her brand new facial expressions could possibly convey without another years practice. While not every song clinks, Dannii skims the cream and her synthetic perfection is an outstanding performance - dance is her integral domain, and The 1995 Sessions is all the proof we ever needed.

Program these: Free Your Love, Skin Deep, Let Love Into Your life, Everlasting Night, Love In Me, Free Your Love (Extended Mix).

Friday, 4 December 2009

Merry Christmas ... Have A Nice Life

Cyndi's bittersweet and rootsy festive kiss-off to Sony, Merry Christmas ... Have A Nice Life baffled a Q Magazine reviewer who at least noted Lauper was in 'fine if not spectacular vocal form'. Indeed, the singer was in a pensive mood on the cabin-fire opener Home On Christmas Day ('something about this season, hmmm, makes me feel a little queer' she shrugs). I would say the Q critic missed the point - this album is about as far removed from the She Bop mooncalf some people will always want her to be as is possible.

Early Christmas Morning
was a Japanese bonus track on her 1996/7 album Sisters of Avalon. For me, too much reliance is on the children's choir, but Cyndi's voice flickers in glorious celebration, with solidarity and her trademark vulnerability on the sky-reaching chorus. The production assembles a fairly bouyant clatter, but dare I say it still sounds cheap! She almost yodels into a Goonies 'R' Good Enough towards the end.

Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree simply has to be deliberately cheap sounding - I have to tell myself that Cyndi is perversely getting off on these whispy synths lathering up as she runs wayward with soprano ad libs, or else find myself wondering just how big a 'fuck you' to her label this really was in places, but more on this below.

The prickly heat of Cyndi's skirt-hoisting/thigh-chaffing party jam Christmas Conga is much better: budget-priced production simmers with wonton invitation for embarassment, but only Cyndi can make this genuinely infectious. She puts her Miami pal Gloria Estefan to shame - the Cuban's own Christmas effort was soggy tampon in-the-bath ballads. And here it comes - Cyndi denies the insult of a woefully inept music label with her deadpan and unequivocally gestured words:

And by the way - have a nice life!

Believe it or not, this next track could be where the Basement Jaxx collaboration Rockin' Chair was consumated - just wait for Cyndi's mexican-wave 'ooooh' moments. Minne & Santa also reminds me of He's So Unusual, with slow organs burning from the same candle as Say A Prayer and - crikes! - Lyfe. At least Cyndi can put some orginality into this project - so many festive albums are too straight for my liking. I love Cyndi's breathless mock-horror 2 and half minutes in guessing what-only-knows Minne and Santa are getting up to after they ran away together.

Feels Like Christmas is lifted from her 1993 Hat Full of Stars album. Aesthetically, it is very similar to Early Christmas Morning, with an acoustic bluesy cutlery of instruments and a carpet-yanking organ. Cyndi's verses are cute as can be, with 'tit for tat' bridges breathing gorgeous melody, showing just how underrated her 90s albums really are. I love how its guitar middle-eight could be face-lifted from just about any Cher song from her Love Hurts album.

Three Ships sounds like The Corrs busking outside Borders book store in Dublin, or the soundtrack to a Eurovision V.T. Moris dance troups will love it.

The self-written New Year's Baby (First Lullaby) is actually one of my favourites. The fragile sadness of Cyndi singing 'and I'll take this old man by the hand to begin again' is tinged with all the fatal pathos of prosperity, and it is very poignant if the frail words can dillute into specific meaning for anyone like myself.

The soft-focus of Cyndi's snowflake vocals and December Child catch a gorgeous draft with sparse keyboards and frostbite triangles.

When I saw Cyndi live she did a traditional Scots song acapella, which In The Bleak Midwinter ought to have prepared me for. If you are a fan of Cyndi's statuesque voice, this is gorgeous. Low key, but beautiful.

There wasn't much need to include Silent Night, but I like the slightly OTT bandpipes over-playing Cyndi's farewell. Her spooked virgin nun, snow-soaked vocals are as vivid as a reflection onto a fragmented mirror, probably attempting some sort of voodoo curse onto Tommy Motola no doubt. 2:35 is gorgeous, massaging comforting humming sounds and - sadly - another choir but even they can't piss me off with less than a minute left.

For a big 'fuck you' statement, she sings tastefully throughout this album, even when she is embarassing herself. It is both heartwarming and slightly eerie - the passionate dissociation of the mix is entirely appropriate where the principals of singer and music label have all but disappeared from each other's work. Charming craft (Home On Christmas Day) juxtoposed - deliberately? - with offensive banality (Silent Night), it's still my second favourite non-Spector Christmas album.

I May Find Myself Delayed

This dazzling one-of-a-kind champagne flowing wave of staggering magnificence is the perfect pop single, my very own favourite song, and I never ever tire of it some 10 years after I first fell under. If ears could hallucinate, the time-freeze of Siouxsie's scooping cooing chill (2:44) into the final verse would be it. The song tipifies what this blog was designed to pay tribute to: lavish, ornate, usurping and disdainfully glamorous. The cork-popping video sets off the teeth-shattering decadence to the Talvin Singh and Stephen Hague flourashes, and Siouxsie's peek-a-boo eyes travel almost as fluidly as her whisky-soprano turn. I have decided once Dannii's 1995 Sessions is seaping into my ears (keyboard at hand to write my review) I shall lay my shrine to rest for 2009 at least, and what better time to pay one final tribute to a song that describes itself better than I ever could without drugs:

It glittered and it gleamed
For the arriving beauty queen
A ring and a car
Now you’re the prettiest by far
No party she’d not attend
No invitation she wouldn’t send
Transfixed by the inner sound
Of your promise to be found

"nothing or no-one will ever
Make me let you down"

Kiss them for me -- I may be delayed
Kiss them for me -- if I am delayed

It’s divoon, oh it’s serene
In the fountains pink champagne
Someone carving their devotion
In the heart shaped pool of fame

"nothing or no-one will ever
Make me let you down"

Kiss them for me -- I may be delayed
Kiss them for me -- I may find myself delayed

On the road to new orleans
A spray of stars hit the screen
As the 10th impact shimmered
The forbidden candles beamed, oh

Kiss them for me -- I may be delayed
Kiss them for me -- I may find myself delayed

Kiss them for me -- kiss them for me

Kiss them for me -- I may find myself delayed

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Sheena Easton's Groove Album

With a motionless voice that demands female-jealousy, gay-loyalty and a reminder for her P.A to buy more KY, Sheena Easton delivered an album funky in its sexiness and sexy in its funkiness. Structured to evoke an everlasting night, Sheena bleeds in dancefloor agony, and whether its latent self-indulgence commited the project to refuse commercial triumph is anyone's guess, it's a compulsive experience absorbing the sounds of sharp production disintegrating into the singer's seemless glide between grunting and squeeling.

By the mid 80s, the formerly dowdy former reality TV contest girl snorted her act out with sexed up jams such as Sugar Walls and Strut, and was set to fully blur the distinction between tragic and less tragic by copying Madonna with her Nile Rodgers-produced Do You album in 1985. With Madonna becoming the new Queen of pop, Sheena proudly admits it by begging Rodgers to pimp her out. Despite lacking any songs as perky and identifiable as the knowingly over-sold Material Girl or even the ditzy sparkle of Over And Over, Sheena's sheer force of put-upon and glad-to-put-out personality will either kill or maintain any notion that she was ever an 80s contender.

Without containing anything she wrote herself (not usually a Diva Incarnate criticism by any means), the singer is the blushing bride of her sizzlingly akward union with the tight disco fuck-me-funk arrangements - as a Glaswegian, I have been raped countless times with more intimacy. Even if the songs themselves do not exactly succumb to the concept, they 'take advantage' (as she famously blurted out on Sugar Walls) of what is on offer, all tinted with Rodger's squelching, ribbed and exuberant oil-based textures.

Do You benefits from stylistic consistency: never not vitalized with speedy tempos, her dedicated romanticism is earnest, extreme and reliably unhinged - to trust her pretentious vocal grit is too much fun to relent, and her sex-lust baloney is in its vintage peak with generously indiscreet bad taste. Sheena never achieves a truly signiture flow as it is a chaffing toss-off between being her own solo record and a Chic comeback hurrah, but because there are so many bright (though never blinding) spots it matters like ex-bandmates do to Beyonce.

On the album's biggest hardon, she puts herself on the line on the shoulder-pad funk of US #29 smash Do It For Love, a slinky disco slither licked by Rodgers' glossy production: a rueful celebration of anywhere-goes penetration. She opens up her door 'a little wider', which eventually lets in the tinkling guitar riff from Thinking of You by Sister Sledge. Her forthcoming vocal discharge is aided by intoxicating oriental guitar fiddling and shades of Madonna's La Isla Bontia before that song even happened. Not quite packing all the porno juice of her galvanically pelvic Prince hits, it's nevertheless good enough to give you stiff nips in the meantime. It also reminds me of the swaying sounds on Depeche Mode's Everything Counts.

Sheena continues her stab to commercialism on the anti bull-shit disco oomph of Don't Break My Heart, with vocals relieving us of the responsibility; contains a vague instruction to 'hit me with your love thing'. This is accessibly incarnated, Sheena's flurried yet fresh vocals show commitment and all that's missing is a sing-along chorus to flush it down.

She gets the horn on the ghostly love song and final single, Magic of Love. The musky bedroom aura is matched with her dusky pearl-clutching vocal intensity. Written by Nile himself, so basically this is all-front Sheena fronting Chic, yet the lewd velvet grain to her voice evens the score somewhat. Reminds me of the solicitousness Now That You're Gone on the Diana album.

The chugging guitar melodrama of Don't Turn Your Back is a slightly off aim facial of gushing love angst. 'You've been used, I've been better' is her adamant vocal.

2nd single Jimmy Mack (US #65) is a sincere love pain retro pop number that brightens the room with its fabrication around a bunch of 60s girl-group trademarks - well okay, it is a cover of the Martha & The Vandella's track.

The production is sensational on Can't Wait Till Tomorrow, a tight Prince-esque fusion of scattering beats, percolating basslines and an appealing throaty vocal groan.

Young Lions is a half cock-hungry midnight bedroom ballad, half half-hearted cock-hungry pseudo grunger. Sheena ought to have let rip a bit more - she had nothing to lose except her Adam's apple.

Kisses is littered with tempting sighs, and is another example of Sheena's distinct throbbing vocal style, with glamorous desperation and gaping availability.

On Money Back Guarantee, the blow-up doll chanted opening promises a lot, but it falls short of breath. With glistening synths disintigrating like rain, Rodgers' can only rodger these second-rate songs so far.

On a better note, When Lightning Strikes Twice has yet more severe crooning from Sheena, which just about hits the colon for me.

Cheek-blushing diva? Present. The softness of her orifices? Unquestionable. Chart success? Hell no. Miss Easton's strike rate is all over the joint, and that's exactly how she likes it if we take these cock-bothering dancefloor jams at face and crotch values. Both her glory and her failing is that after Sugar Walls and Strut, she plays coy when the game is already up. Easton is clearly a over-rouged romantic egotist who can't resist turning ordinary human encounters into hyperventalating bourgeois sex dramas. Unequivocally visceral, these songs suggest Sheena'd rather be putting her clothes back on and catching the 'morning train' back home than putting out. Do It For Love may well be the album's hands-down on-all-fours keeper, but that's not to say tracks like the steamy Magic of Love and heart-racing Lightning Strikes Twice won't have you bent over the table asking for more. An importantly minor and minorly important 80s dance-pop record: track for track, a classic in casual quite good-ness. The whole album might be a put-on, but Sheena defiantly drips with feminine treacle that's as cool as it is robotic. The ultimate near miss album, less songful than it should be (nothing as nasty as her pugnacious turn-on turn on U Got The Look), but oh so elegantly fused together by scintilating textures and Sheena's autditioning vocals doing all they can to nail it.