Sunday, February 28, 2010

The "Autoamerican Effect"

Picture 1980. New decade, new musical movement, new everything. The close of the '70's on a violent, anti-disco note and the return of "rock 'n' roll" as the dominant force in music had Blondie, a very New York outfit, in the middle. Deborah Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitars), Clem Burke (drums), Jimmy Destri (keyboards/guitars), Frank Infante (guitars), and Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) themselves had achieved momentum in England and were revered as cult heroes at home. Not until their third album Parallel Lines (1978/Chrysalis) did they succeed in commercial crossover in the States. Their evolution continued to race forward and arrived on 1980's Autoamerican (Chrysalis). Punkers from the start, their rock spirit was intact, but now Blondie handled reggae romance ("The Tide is High") and hip-pop ("Rapture") among the ranging flavors of Autoamerican.

Basically, one of the biggest rock groups of the time made the cardinal sin of orbiting other sounds outside their birth genre. Autoamerican showed that groups like Blondie could take chances. Spreading their wings to embrace new musical frontiers put them in conflict with their limited fans. Blondie, without even realizing it, set a unique standard for rock acts to expand themselves. Two of Blondie's biggest followers, No Doubt and Garbage, had similar trajectories and records that patterned themselves after the curious Autoamerican. These formidable groups are fronted, like Blondie, by larger than life female singers Gwen Stefani and Shirley Manson. Their albums exemplify that the "Autoamerican Effect" can thrill fans who are willing to take a risk and earn the reward.

beautifulgarbage (2001, Interscope)
The Players: Shirley Manson (vocals/guitar), Butch Vig (drums/loops), Duke Erikson (guitar/keyboards), Steve Markes (bass/guitar)

Ambition describes this long player. Garbage sought to tie in all their influences here on beautifulgarbage. A softer, detailed sound is heard with Manson's voice mixed to the fore of the songs. Manson boasted new found confidence that stretched the genre gamut. The gentlemen of Garbage constructed different sets for Manson use: bright new wave pop ("Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) ), sprawling ballads ("Cup of Coffee"), and classic thrashers ("Silence is Golden").

"Androgyny," lead single from beautifulgarbage
Directed By: Donald Cameron

Rock Steady (2001, Interscope)
The Players: Gwen Stefani (vocals), Adrian Young (drums), Tony Kanal (bass), Tom Dumont (guitar)

Stefani had already done two solo side works with Moby and Eve between Return of Saturn (2000) and the sessions for Rock Steady. Traveling the world, No Doubt labored alongside varied songwriters and producers for the album. Dave Stewart (one half of the Eurythmics), Sly & Robbie (Grace Jones), Nellee Hooper (Madonna, U2), and Prince assisted on the Rock Steady, but the record was still very much No Doubt's. Moving forward into the island rhythms ska is tied to, the title track seduced and grooved in a chill-like way heretofore No Doubt hadn't explored. "Hey Baby" wore its klaxon bite fiercely, whereas "Start the Fire" boomed off the speakers. Expansive and cohesive, Rock Steady lived up to its namesake.

"Hey Baby" lead single from Rock Steady
Directed By: Dave Meyers

[Editor's Note: Autoamerican, beautifulgarbage, and Rock Steady are all in print.-QH]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mariah Carey: Live On 2/10/10

In the wake of Whitney Houston, no other singer has worked the black female vocalist archetype as successfully Mariah Carey. Carey propelled throughout the decade of her genesis with a blend of adult soul flecked with gospel and pop. It was "Fantasy" that freed Carey from her genre bubble by injecting California hip-hop and dance into her music. The song planted a seed of what promised to be an interesting switch. Butterfly (1997) delivered on that promise by incorporating mainstream hip-hop/R&B colors without sacrificing her lyrical and vocal abilities.

Overnight, Carey's audience and music broadened. Yet Music Box (1993), Daydream (1995), and Rainbow (1999) struggled for a creative compromise. Carey's overindulgence cost her uniformity and quality in the long term. That stated, her discography never lacked for lost jewels ("All My Life," "Subtle Invitation"). Regaining commercial, critical, and (mostly) creative ambitions on The Emancipation of Mimi (2005), that set the stage for Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (2009). This new album, like Glitter (2001) before it, was an uncanny portfolio of Carey's best and worst on one LP. Mariah Carey had been caught in the trap of balancing chart banality against art.

All of these thoughts knocked in my head as the curtain dropped to the stage floor at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio on the night of February 10th. Carey's The Angels Advocate Tour was my first live initiation to Mariah Carey. I waited to see if Carey could bring that balance that eluded her on record to a live setting. Swinging into her "Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)" without any hint of the fatigue shown on recent television performances, Carey rose above my expectations.

Splitting between her classics ("Make It Happen," "Hero"), Carey plugged recent work too. The late-night grinder "The Impossible" bounced next to the reinvented '80's hip-hop of "It's Like That."
Carey's roof raising "Fly Like a Bird" and "My All" had everyone on their feet in glorious applause. Even recent (blunders) hits like "Touch My Body" and "Obsessed" were woven into the fabric of the evening to the joy or chagrin of some. Carey's live mash-up of Diana Ross' steamer "Love Hangover" and her own tarty "Heartbreaker" was the pinnacle of the evening. Carey's band, placed behind her on elevated platforms, gave the stage an uncluttered feel. Her backing vocalists, with longtime companion Trey Lorenz among the three, gave Carey strong support when needed. Further, Debbie Allen's choreography finally cleaned up Carey's messy background dancer issue, here the dancers framed Carey versus crowding her.

The show was brief, only an hour roughly, but Carey was funny and divalicious. She renewed my longtime faith in her, proving herself where it mattered most: on a concert stage.-QH

[Editor's Note: For more information on The Angels Advocate Tour, please]