Here are some old album reviews I didn’t post when they were timely in their respective editions of V-Rag. I upload them here for archival purposes.
Born This Way: Lady Gaga
V-Rag wasn’t kind to Lady Gaga’s lead single from the eponymous Born This Way in March. The comparative flop Judas left even hardcore Little Monsters digging for enthusiasm as they awaited the release, heralded by Gaga herself as “the greatest album of this decade”.
It’s not without missteps – or delights. The album’s overall success is in its baffling ability to meld metal guitar riffs, rock saxophone, and Euro-electronica into an effort that begs the question, “What were they thinking and why is it so good?” Its major failure is Gaga’s need to tackle a checklist of political issues without much lyrical eloquence. She’s at her best in Hair, a sugary pop anthem so hot it kicks the title track’s ass practically off the album without attempting the religious commentary that otherwise pervades the disc.
There is plenty on Gaga‘s third effort that is well worth the price. Skeptics who like pop will enjoy its infectious fury, but probably won’t convert into Mother Monster’s zealous flock.
Beyoncé’s fourth solo album (ohhhh! I just got that!) was apparently culled by studio suits from the best of a whopping 72 demo tracks.
I’d hate to hear the 60 rejects.
I couldn‘t remember much about it after I‘d finished listening except that it is so oversung, unconventional and unpoetic it’s frustrating. I also recall one particularly bad line: “You showed your ass / and I saw the real you,” she accuses on “Best Thing I Never Had”.
Wait. On second thought…I’ve had some unpleasant shocks that way too.
The disc contains no classics, no hits, nothing memorable or catchy. It’s overwrought, weird and inconsistent, effectively removing it from the pop lexicon without allowing it to breathe in any particular genre. Maybe it’s hard to see past one of the biggest names in pop to assess the music fairly. If this album were released by another artist, some underground up-and-comer, its retro balladry might place it in a similarly nostalgic category as Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.
But a lesser, greener artist didn’t release 4. Friggin’ Beyoncé did, so where’s the beef?
You can cook ground beef in almost anything.
I’ve been surviving my first month-and-a-half of 2nd year at Langara Journalism with absolutely no money and a seriously dwindling stock of non-perishable food.
Receipt of mailed student loan certificates has been delayed across Canada for over a month. I hope to investigate the issue over the course of this series.
So while I look for answers, I’m gonna tell you how to spend your last $50 on groceries, and how to lie, cheat, steal and use the random crap in your kitchen cupboards to get you through the next 30 days. They’re cheap-to-free and will barely keep you alive!
Since you and I are too poor to give any thought to the nutritional content of our scraped-together meals, comedian and fitness nut Amy Wilding, along with her trainer Jen Olson, will be providing commentary and helping us improve our shopping and eating habits after reviewing my ugly concoctions.
“Hi! I’m Amy Lucille Wilding, a stand-up comedian, improviser and writer. I am also a self-proclaimed health nut addicted to working out. Over the last year I have rediscovered health and fitness, making me a buff force to be reckoned with! I have lost over 25 lbs and 14 inches all over my sculpted body. You can learn how I do it – the secrets to my success, including my meal plans and workouts. My humorous accounts on getting in shape and what not to eat and the little it leaves you allowed to eat will have you rolling on the floor as you pound back the salad I just taught you how to make and on a budget too. My good friend and personal trainer Jen Olson will also help guide you along. Also very fit and funny, she is one of the driving forces behind my complete transformation in less than a year! My recipes will get you started and her workouts are the ‘dessert’! Enjoy.”
“Gentoo Fitness is owned and operated by Jen Olson. Jen Olson is a certified Personal Trainer with the BCRPA and the ACE. Jen is also certified by the BCRPA as a Thrid Age (55+) and Group Fitness Instructor. Jen graduated from Hilltop Academy with a Fitness Leardership Diploma with honors and was top of her class. Jen has also been certified to teach R.I.P.P.E.D group classes. Jen is comitted to personal fitness and health. Her nurturing and supportive style works well with everyone’s fitness goals. Jen develops each program to suit every individual client’s needs.”
See you soon for the first recipes!
Check out my reviews of Grace Jones’ Hurricane, Bruce LaBruce’s Hustler White, and the documentary about his life The Advocate for Fagdom, on page 30.
Click the album cover to go to this edition of V-Rag. To see the unedited reviews of Hurricane and Hustler White, scroll on downwards!
Grace Jones: Hurricane
Grace Jones is her own genre. Her first studio album in 19 years is heavily dub-influenced, but otherwise, the only categorical descriptor needed is the name of the artist herself. The abundant iconography of the 63-year-old’s career takes care of the rest.
The opening track, “This Is“, is an energetic primer with tribal beats and rousing vocals. You can practically see the Africans in grass skirts cavorting in celebration of the Hurricane Jones is about to unleash as she declares, “this is my voice / my weapon of choice / … this is technology mixed with live band.”
“Williams’ Blood” is like Grace Jones’ impression of a worship song, and the catchiest track on the album. As the funk-rock bass and piano are borne on soaring strings in the last third and a soulful choir takes up the chant “I got the Williams’ blood in me,” all that’s missing is a “Hallelujah!” Jones may never have had this much unabashed fun with music before.
“I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears)” is another standout, featuring a rarely-heard vulnerability in Jones’ voice. Apparently more autobiographical than the other tracks, Jones repeats “I’m strong enough / I’m tough enough” throughout like a mantra, as if to reassure herself. It’s surprising to hear the flesh-and-blood woman who was once an unsure little girl beneath the self-possessed, teeth-baring, posturing space cadet who is Grace Jones.
Most of the other tracks are trademark Jones, with esoteric lyrics and spoken-word verses. But it’s great to hear her still repping her individual style – just updated – via the dub and calypso flavours found on “Hurricane”.
Hustler White. Dir: Bruce LaBruce
To many queer culture buffs, Bruce Labruce is an icon. He’s practically revered for his crude, sexy films, and because his exploits in controversy have become the stuff of legend, it is almost pointless to talk about whether or not the movies are any good. “Hustler White” is entertaining, nicely photographed, and occasionally hot. These, not storytelling, are its primary aims.
Hustler White is a sort of anthology of short stories
The film follows several gay prostitutes in the area surrounding Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. The main plot concerns hustler Monti Ward (Tony Ward, supermodel then-boyfriend of Madonna) as he turns tricks and finds himself pursued by the prissy author Jurgen Anger (played by Labruce), who says he is writing a book about the L.A. porn and prostitution scene. Unconvincingly attempting to mask his crush on Monti by insisting it’s all about research, he gets the rent boy to show him around and explain the ins and outs of the business, while the film’s supporting characters get into sexual misadventures with various johns.
There’s no real conflict
We are just along for the ride, as Labruce mischievously subjects the audience to scenes of bondage and S&M that seem crafted intentionally to shock, yet are presented playfully, even sweetly; every character yearns for their own kind of freaky-naughty companionship. In one infamous example, the “stumpfucking” scene, a john with an amputee fetish picks up a skinhead hustler who is missing a foot and proceeds to live out his wildest fantasy.
It’s not that disturbing
While the scene was certainly controversial in 1996, its impact is lessened for the audience of today, which knows that if you can imagine it, there’s a porn of it on the internet for free. Still, the scene exemplifies Labruce’s ability as a director to show images of raw sexual deviance that some would consider disturbing in a way that makes them weirdly earnest and touching.
If Labruce removed all the so-called “shocking” pornographic material from the feature, however, it would probably be about fifteen minutes long, with Monti and Jurgen as the only characters (who, ironically, never have sex). Film is the medium of choice for frustrated gay men who want to capture their sexual and/or romantic fantasies in vivid eternal life on screen. Without the shock-jocking, “Hustler White” would just kind of look like an excuse for Labruce to make out with the superhot Ward.
If you want to watch a movie with emotional depth and range, see something with Kate Winslet.
If you want hardcore sex, try Xtube. If you want to watch Tony Ward trotting around like a hooker with his shirt pulled up to his nipples, bingo!
Because of its status in the queer cinema canon, “Hustler White” is a must-see for queer history enthusiasts regardless of its shortcomings.
First thing’s first: Bjork is releasing her next album, Biophilia, as a series of interactive iPad apps.
Girlfriend is ahead of the game.
The lead single, “Crystalline”, opens with a frosty keyboard section and Bjork’s trademark hesitant wail. Shortly this childish, innocent charm is corrupted by bright-edged electronic zaps and Bjork’s vocals soar rhythmically in and out of the fray. The lyrics seem to correlate crystal formation, or plants or something, with a budding human relationship. It’s a fairly comfortable pattern until the last minute or so, at which point the sense of security unravels without warning as the beats become frantic and the electronic jolts gather into thunderclouds.
Despite the album’s advanced release concept, this first taste is surprisingly Bjork-y, recalling her now-15-year-old album Homogenic and provoking comparisons to electro artist Squarepusher.
The return to form isn’t displeasing, though. Perhaps the most Bjork-y thing about “Crystalline” is that it dares you not to have it stuck in your head, even while defying popular music conventions like hooks and choruses, and without being even remotely catchy.
Going Down in La-La Land. Dir: Casper Andreas
Don’t judge Going Down In La La Land by its premise, which might at first make you roll your eyes: a pretty, naive New York twunk (hunky twink) moves to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming an actor and gets swept up in porn, parties and red carpet premieres. This film has a lot more heart than its accurate, yet deceptive synopsis foretells. It’s a modern gay Cinderella story, with blowjobs instead of brooms.
Adam’s the aspiring thespian, played with ease and some charm by Matthew Ludwinski’s juicy pout - and the rest of him. After landing in L.A. and having little success finding a job, porn photographer Nick (writer-director Casper Andreas) approaches Adam to do some “modeling”. It isn’t long before Adam’s desperation and Nick’s coaxing urge Adam right into porn and escorting. Under Adam’s circumstances, it’s at least a fairly believable transition for the character, as the script and Ludwinski’s acting manage to convey Adam’s hunger to find some aspect of performing at which he can be great.
Of course, the lure of quick cash isn’t without pitfalls, and Adam finds himself in morally compromising situations – especially his relationship with the meth-addicted Nick and a famous closeted sit-com star who wants Adam to be more than just a discreet trick.
One of a few minor drawbacks is Candy, Adam’s over-the-top, unscrupulous best friend. When she expresses concern about his career path, this contradiction in her otherwise clownish characterization is one of the most interesting moments – but the script doesn’t realize it and never delves into this vein.
All-around solid filmmaking makes this a reliable entry in Out On Screen’s program this year.
In June I interviewed Martina Sorbara of Dragonette for V-Rag, British Columbia’s largest LGBTQ arts and entertainment monthly. You can click that link and check out the q&a as it printed in this month’s addition – but below I have included the unedited article, with a few questions and answers that didn’t appear in the mag due to space restrictions.
If you haven’t heard of them, you’ve almost certainly bobbed your head in blissful ignorance when one of Dragonette’s tunes played on the radio over the last four years.
The new-wave synth-pop hipster darlings originated in Toronto before relocating to London to lay down their 2007 debut album, Galore, which was critically praised as “The Killers fronted by Gwen Stefani”. Their 2009 follow-up Fixin’ to Thrill garnered increased attention and better chart performance, and solidified Dragonette’s place at the top of the heap among the kind of cutting-edge lesser-known homegrown bands that snobby futurists and digital boomers enthusiastically embrace and hope never break the Top 40.
Indeed, Dragonette didn’t score a chart position outside of Canada or the UK until the smash collaboration “Hello” with French DJ Martin Solveig, which went to number 1 in several European countries, peaked at 8 in Canada, and saw Dragonette finally entering rotation on U.S. airwaves.
The hit track has given Dragonette fuel to boost their steady ascent out of counterculture and into a warm worldwide reception, but they don’t forget to give back to their fans – Dragonette will perform at the closing ceremonies of the 2011 North American Outgames in Vancouver this summer.
Frontwoman Martina Sorbara says the LGBTQ community has always shown support for Dragonette.
You’ve played Pride events across the globe and now you’re closing the North American Outgames in Vancouver. Why are queer people so fond of Dragonette?
I don’t mean to generalize, but aren’t the gays known for their good taste?
How are Canadian gays different from London gays?
They have a distinctly different accent.
It seems sex has a big part to play in your music, but what would you say motivates and inspires the songwriting?
When writing lyrics for a song I am always either trying to find themes otherwise not sung about, or else I like to try and take a very common theme and unravel it in a way that people can see/hear it in a different light.
How does your take on sexuality differ from how other mainstream female-fronted pop acts or singers use it?
I’m not actually interested in conveying sexy or sexuality per se. What interests me is showing people that there are more sides to the feminine than mainstream media generally puts out. I guess some people call it feminism, which is not a term I mind at all. But I just see it as being true to what attracts and inspires me visually, artistically and emotionally.
“Hello” with Martin Solveig blew up into Dragonette’ best-charting and, arguably, most popular song. You’ve had other relative hits – do you ever feel pressure to replicate big successes?
There can be the nagging feeling while writing music of “wouldn’t be great if I could just spit out another X or Y radio hit?” But ultimately my creative is most excited by surprising itself. And there’s not much surprise that comes with writing the same song over and over again. So if that kind of thinking occurs while trying to write a song, we do our best to banish it.
Will you keep working with Martin Solveig? What’s next?
We have a few more songs on his record and, who knows, maybe he’ll turn up on ours.
How do you spot a Dragonette superfan?
By their wild eyes and sweaty palms.
Would you tell us about your favourite moment with a fan?
Well, last week a fan of ours let me squeeze her brand new fake boobs. Very exciting. But not, perhaps, as special a moment as being given homegrown purple fingerling potatoes.
What might fans be surprised to know about you?
I lost my virginity at 21.
What do you do to stay sane on the road when you and your bandmates are living in close quarters?
We find excellent interesting places to eat. And the good thing is we all like each other, and we all like eating.
Dragonette seems effortless in its ability to pluck tropes from other genres, incorporating country twang or Bollywood-style instrumentals into previous releases. It’s a pretty exciting sense of limitlessness. How are those ideas born? And, how do you know they’re good?
I think we just like to see what whacked out ingredients we can make taste good together. And whether other people like it or not doesn’t effect whether it gives you that satisfying feeling. If I get that ‘uh huh’ feeling then I’ve succeeded, because that’s all I’m ever really looking for: Uh huh.
Alfred Hitchcock was often baffled by the symbolism people would dig out of his work. You’ve said the “Fixin’ to Thrill” video was just “funny shit” you could get away with. Are you frequently surprised by the meaning people find in your music and videos?
There’s actually lots of personal meaning and metaphor intended in the “Fixin’ To Thrill” video. I think the ‘funny shit’ remark was referring to the fact that it was just my friend and I coming up with ideas and having exactly zero regard for whether other people could follow our drift. But on the other hand, I love and cherish the thought that there could be as many interpretations of that video as there are Youtube hits on it.
Favourite musicians growing up?
Sinead, Kate Bush, Zappa, Bjork, Cyndi.
What do you miss about Canada?
As it’s summertime, I find myself missing lakes and cottages and big Canadian shield rocks and chipmunks and raccoons and wild blueberries.
Getting back to gays, a huge Dragonette fan begged me to pose you this question. Marry, fuck or kill: Britney Spears, Cher, Lady Gaga.
Marry Brit Brit, just cause you know at least there’ll be drama. Fuck Gaga, ‘cause if we got married I think we’d turn into one of those couples that accidentally dresses alike every time they go out. Kill Cher, ‘cause I didn’t realize she was still alive.