Music Reviews

Music Reviews: Ballads for Robots, Disco for Vamps and Lily Allen

Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase
Janell Monae
Bad Boy Records

metropolis_suite_i_of_iv-_the_chase_album_coverIn Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis, a sexualized female robot defies her creator’s wishes by becoming an erotic dancer and firing-up the workers to overthrow their elitist overseers. If you missed Lang’s revolutionary film, shadows of it fall onto Madonna’s very queerExpress Yourself video. In it, an ambiguously gay, monocled weirdo examines his wind-up jazz band while hunky workers fistfight shirtless in the rain. Meanwhile, Madonna dances in Marlene Dietrich drag then crawls around like a wet cat in a cone bra—empowering perhaps, but hardly revolutionary.

Then comes Janelle Monae’s compelling take on the Metropolis mythos.

The opening of her seven-track album, Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase, begins with her cheerfully announcing (over a death march) that Android 57821, Cindi Mayweather, has fallen illegally in love with human Anthony Greendown. Now, any licensed droid hunter can track down poor Cindi with chainsaws and electro-daggers and return her disassembled cyber-soul for a bounty.

The ominous but optimistic tunes come from Cindi’s point of view. She’s an fembot R&B lover on the run, an Outkast re-imagining of the Blade Runner replicant, pleading with her captors for some compassion. After all, who should die just for loving an alien? Certainly not the closet drunks, overweight, and HIV+ people listed in her catchy single (Many Moons) nor all the children left behind by Dubya’s costly posturing (Mr. President).

Though Monae’s not officially queer, her Elvis-hairdo and female-cut pantsuit definitely follow a queer aesthetic with lots to admire: she’s got the vocal range of several female crooners (Lauryn Hill, Shirley Bassey and Erykah Badu for example), the face of a devastatingly cute 10-year-old and a bountiful imagination. She originally envisioned the compelling The Chase Suite as part one of a four-part story; part two was slated for January 2009, but still no mention of its release—fingers crossed.

Hercules and Love Affair
Hercules and Love Affair
DFA Records

herculesandloveaffairalbumcoverPeople hate disco because they associate it with coke-encrusted, self-deluded Studio 54 glampires. But the birth of disco wasn’t all nose-candy, starlets and tax evasion. Disco’s genesis was a truly democratic New York revolution, with DJs mixing jazz, funk, calypso, Latin and African sounds into cutting-edge avant-pop orchestrations bringing every color, style and sexual persuasion to the dance floor. So while Hercules and Love Affair defies comparison with other nu-disco acts, like Dmitri From Paris or Metro Area, its only because their impressive range hits sounds so much like original disco.

Antony and The Johnsons’ immensely talented gay front man Antony Hegarty croons with desire and ache about overcompensation (Hercules Theme), fading dreams (Blind), and dancing in commemoration of a gay bash victim (Raise Me Up). Together with New York DJ Andy Butler’s synthesized instrumental loops, they create a low-key, pre-clubbing dance album for brainy brooding types—definitely worth a spin.

It’s Not Me, It’s You
Lily Allen

lilyitsnotmesleeveBefore Lily Allen emerged as a pop-trauma celebutante in the Amy Winehouse mold, she’d already established herself as a Mockney-mouthed, working class MySpacer calling out her small-dicked exes, alky-whore girlfriends, and pothead brother on her debut album “Alright, Still.” Her sophomore album, “It’s Not Me It’s You” still delivers a “fuck you very much” with a candid, Sarah Silverman smile, but she’s ditched her rogues gallery, ska and R&B sound for bigger targets and darker club beats. The opening tracks, “Everyone’s On It,” and “The Fear,” abet widespread drug addiction and soul-devouring consumerism while repeating “Everyone’s happy” to a dire chorus striking behind her.

Both “Not Fair” and “Never Gonna Happen” kiss off unfulfilled lovers in an old hat way, but two of the closing tracks, “Chinese” and “He Wasn’t There,” reveals her vulnerable side in the voice of a fatherless but street-smart woman who longs for the contentment of Chinese food and TV.

Daniel Villarreal‘s novel-in-progress is like the stoned offspring of A Separate Peace and Phantom of the Opera; he’s stuck in San Antonio for now, but attending the Marfa Film Festival just for shits and giggles.