PRINCE at the Hollywood Palladium, May 4
You dont have to be rich . . . to see the post-squiggle Prince . . . but when youre shelling out 75 bucks for a general-admission ticket, it might help. Still, the line for the sold-out-in-210-seconds show rectangles all the way around the Palladium, and its all stripes and sizes: Red-hot couples dressed to the leopard-skinned nines, white Valley girls in leather jeans with butt-length hair, tight-pantsed Prince freaks with Controversy tank tops, 40ish sweetheart secretaries from Yucaipa, and what seems to be most of L.A.s black cultural elite. The mood is impatient but anticipatory the scene feels so good outside that even the presence of that damn Dennis Woodruff, slowly circling the block in his giantheadmobile, is strangely tolerable.
Finally, an hour and a half late, those of us without counterfeit tickets are in. And within minutes of His Purple Majesty taking the stage and immediately getting down into a stomping medley of Uptown, Controversy and Mutiny, one thing becomes glaringly obvious: the word genius is used much too loosely these days. Because here is the rarest kind of performer a cocky, preening flower-in-teeth ecstatic singing dancing soul-elevating awe-inspiring joyous sexy guitar funk-force for whom the highest terms of acclamation should be reserved: words that are used to describe no one else.
Twenty-one years down the line from Dirty Mind, backed by an airtight six-piece New Power Generation (and occasional backup singers and dancers), Prince is a miracle of continuous, multitalented inspiration who doesnt seem to have aged a minute: a hit parader reinventing old favorites while tackling fresh jams (The Work) like a tuff-talking James Brown working out Hot Pants with his new band in 71. His singing is all aces: falsettos and coos, screeches and grunts. His between-verse dancing is marvelous, his stage presence open, charming and generous: He preludes Housequake with L.A.! I play for U would U dance 4 me? and invites a gang of ladies from the audience up onstage to share the spotlight for a couple of songs. (When he does the same thing for the fellas during the second encore for Come On, a roly-poly bearded-and-eyeglassed white fella gets so funky mammalian that the Purple One almost blushes.)
And then theres his electric guitar playing: fantastic fuzzy lines all over the set-closing Nothing Compares 2 U, a brilliant intro to Little Red Corvette, and some lengthy soloing at the stages western edge at the end of I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man thats flamboyant and cocky, sensitive and soaring a model of effortless, beautiful economy, accompanied by those coy eyes of his that dart, rove and roll so suggestively . . . and by enigmatic, purposeful hand motions that seem to finger-point the guitars trailing notes directly into some collective id. When Princes backup vocalists croon Aint your soul divine on a slow gospel-blues, its not a question theyre asking its a statement of beautiful fact. Awesome, extraordinary and, yes genius.
FINLEY QUAYE Vanguard (Epic)
Listen toFinley Quaye
: Real Audio Format The Emperor Burning
What do you do when you go from Next Big Thing to Never Really Happened in the blink of an eye, with nothing to show for it except some minor MTV buzz and lots of cover stories in trendy British magazines? If youre reggae singer Finley Quaye, you simply shrug and move on. His debut record, 1997s fantastic Maverick a Strike, did garner some major awards in the U.K., where he behaved as badly as a young rock star with newly minted privileges can (alienating the media, publicly feuding with his equally mercurial nephew, Tricky, and giving indifferent live performances). Maverick was a near-flawless fusion of roots reggae, 60s R&B, folk and pop, the sum often wildly, eccentrically exceeding its parts. Considering Quayes poster-boy looks and coolly seductive voice, the package should have made a much larger pop impact than it did.
On Vanguard, the same basic formula is employed, only the emphasis is much more on reggae influences, and the experimentation with genre boundaries is considerably toned down. Theres still much that shines, however. Drum n bass beats on the opening track, Broadcast, lie just beneath a lilting island groove, then give way to a raucous rock workout on Spiritualized. Reefer madness is the only explanation for the nonsensical stream-of-consciousness rhyming and riffing on Broadcast and Chad Valley, where the sheer force and funkiness of the grooves mitigate artistic disaster. (Digs at the culture of celebrity and at the music industry are tucked deep inside such babbling as I signed with Sony, you ride a pony/You wear stilettos, check your history/I love to burn weed, I love electro.)
The albums highlights are The Emperor and Burning. The latter is a moving love song where Quayes voice creaks and cracks with both devotion and the effects of too many blunts; the overall impression is one of ridiculous sexiness. The former song would make Bob Marley himself proud; strings shimmer behind the singers vocals as his voice so achingly lovely conveys both mournfulness and defiance. Its a protest song drawn from spiritual strength, from deep reserves of conviction, and almost single-handedly makes Vanguard worth owning. (Ernest Hardy)
DEPECHE MODE Exciter (Mute/Reprise)
Depeche Modes mid-90s traffic-stopping stardom crept up on us, and before anyone could really savor it, the backlash began singer Dave Gahans drug and marital problems, culminating in attempted suicide, reported in every dismal detail. While all this extracurricular activity blunted the band commercially, their tribulations duly delivered arresting art: 1997s bleak but consistent Ultra and now the entrancing and considerably more optimistic Exciter.
Listen toDepeche Mode
: Real Audio Format Dream On Freelove
Once eschewing traditional instrumentation, the Mode have thawed with time, and recent releases have been warmed with smatterings of strings among the stark electronica. The beauty of D.M.s approach is that they use these tools only when they truly have something to say with them, and the resulting restraint is stunning. Exciter jumps from the gate with the achingly exquisite intro to Dream On, the tiniest of loops and bass blips beneath a melancholy acoustic guitar, a snapshot of D.M. past and present. Arguably their most endearing quality is that Depeche Mode, for all their riches and sonic opulence, have retained the wide-eyed songwriting style spawned as teenage bedroom synth-pop pioneers. Twenty years later, they continue to communicate through fresh-faced, uncomplicated melodies and deceptively simple lyrics that might come over as merely cute if they werent sung so sincerely. Gahan can deliver a potentially hackneyed hook like No hidden catch/no strings attached (Freelove) and make it sound like life or death. No longer teetering on the ledge, he still takes lingering looks into the abyss and describes the view with subtlety and genuine distress. D.M. are here to remind us what desolate soundscapes and obsessive lyrics really sound like; shunning escapist shock-rock, Gahan sings of everyday dark gods, everymans demons, while head honcho Martin Gore bursts techno bubbles around him.
Mellow, dramatic and bathed in atmosphere, Exciter is the sound of a band at the height of its powers. Depeche Mode may have become an institution, complete with tribute albums and imitators, and theyve undoubtedly had a huge influence on contemporary radio fodder from Moby to Manson, but they deserve respect for what theyre doing, not for what they did first. (Paul Rogers)
DJ SMASH Phonography: A Blue Note Mix (Blue Note)
Listen toDJ Smash
: Real Audio Format Whatever Happened to Gus Rose Rouge
In the red, hot and blue-noted mix of Phonography, DJ Smash follows the jazz bloodline that interrelates the divergent tribes of urban dance music, and flows through the passageways that connect todays underground with black American musics very first. The material is taken from the more contemporary crates of the 63-year-old jazz label Blue Note Records: 14 tracks in all, each remixed by the likes of DJ Spinna, Joe Claussell, Todd Terry and a host of others.
Smash does a couple of his own remixes on the album, but his more essential presence lies in the smooth, smart arrangement of his hard-to-find track selections. He begins on the hip-hop down-low, with Guru informing the mic on Medeski Martin & Woods Whatever Happened to Gus and via Ronny Jordans A Brighter Day featuring Mos Def, before acknowledging the breakbeat era with Kingsizes remix of Tim Hagans Are You Threatening Me? After dropping a few Afrobeat rhythms, Smash then takes you on a full body-and-soul flight through the global scene of house, which includes Blazes upswing remix of St. Germains already essential jazz-house hybrid Rose Rouge.
Yet even after repeated listening, the album never quite prepares you for its most remarkable moment of discovery, a remake of the Beatles Hey Jude by Bob Belden, remixed by the Amalgamation of Sounds. Add some hip-hop drumbeats, a clarinet in the wings and the soul-tender voice of Jhelisa, and what once sounded like a flower-power pep talk for a dour-faced kid suddenly takes hold of you as an inner-city cry, sung by a woman looking out from her fire escape and wondering if her younger brother will ever return home. Its ultimately because of the deliberate way Jhelisa sings the curiously extracted line go out and get her; in the cultural remix of our generation, you could almost swear that she was saying, Go out and get help. (Tommy Nguyen)
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NICK GILDER The Best of Nick Gilder: Hot Child in the City (Razor & Tie)
Well, its about damn time. The missing link between the Sweets Desolation Boulevard and Cheap Tricks Heaven Tonight, Nick Gilder specialized in hard-candy pop loaded with plenty of glitter-rock decadence and new-wave hooks. The London-born front man of Canadian glamsters Sweeney Todd (who had the dubious distinction of giving Bryan Adams his first break), Gilder moved to L.A. in 1976 with Sweeney Todd guitarist James McCulloch. Despite often facing unfriendly audiences I was too young to get into L.A. clubs back then, but several friends and colleagues remember him being bottled off the stage at the Starwood and the Whisky Gilder scored a deal with Chrysalis, eventually repaying the labels faith with 1978s Hot Child in the City, Chrysalis first-ever No. 1 single. Now, 23 years later, he finally gets a greatest-hits CD.
Razor & Ties welcome new collection draws exclusively from Gilders three Chrysalis albums 1977s You Know Who You Are, 1978s City Nights and 1979s Frequency. All three are unsung classics of the power-pop era, filled with punchy rockers and ethereal ballads, most of which concern themselves with the seamy doings of late-70s Sunset Strip scenesters. Yes, theres still something innately creepy about hearing Gilder wrap his fey, androgynous voice around sleazy tales of skintight teens, trench-coated perverts and rock & roll lectric boys, but thats also part of the fun. Gilders lyrical perspective was never leering or moralistic; the young hustlers of Hot Child and Roxy Roller are respected for their ability to survive on Hollywoods mean streets, while Got To Get Out and Runaways in the Night empathize with their reasons for leaving home in the first place. Into the 80s, the synth-swathed meditation on the future that closes this compilation, is all the more moving for its total lack of rock-star bravado.
Its great to finally have this stuff on CD, but Razor & Ties decision to limit the collection to 12 tracks (thereby excluding the singles Here Comes the Night and Electric Love, as well as several other key tracks) is frustrating in the extreme. So, too, are the liner notes, which include some basic biographical info but offer no real insight into the man himself. (What, he was too busy to sit for an interview?) Hopefully, this CD will generate enough interest to spur someone to reissue the first three albums. Razor & Tie, you know who you are. (Dan Epstein)