Hear Me Out
Published Thursday, 20-May-2010 in issue 1169
Sticky & Sweet Tour
Even if our Gay Goddess ran out of reinventions and sold into mainstream trends with Hard Candy, the unremarkable album she supported on this 2008-09 tour, Madonna’s mojo still makes for one heck of a show. Over several hours – a couple on DVD; one on CD – the enduring diva gives us a shotgun seat on her disco ball. The album, thankfully including many of the genius do-overs of such heyday classics as “Vogue” and “La Isla Bonita,” is cool and almost too polished, but what hardcore fans really wanna see is Madonna get her jump-rope on, enter on a throne and masturbate with her guitar. Watching her do so during this Buenos Aires stint – being both playful and intense – is definitely a steal compared to the in-person cost, but no DVD could ever mimic the magic of seeing Madge live. With full-screen videos and scoping cameras, it captures that rush as best as you could hope for from someone of such Queen of Pop caliber. Seeing Madonna rip apart her guises, sing “Human Nature” alongside a videoed-in Britney Spears or make “Into the Groove” a pulsating playground were just a few highlights of this tour – one filled with frilly fun, flamboyant theatrics and the kind of energy that’s typical of someone half Madonna’s age. Go behind-the-scenes of it all with a 30-minute feature that actually feels like a backstage pass to one of music’s most iconic fixtures. How’s that for Sweet?
Glee: The Music, The Power of Madonna
“Glee,” we were already crazy for you. But then you went even gayer and did an all-Madonna episode! With Sue Sylvester doing “Vogue”! Turns out, we can love you more. The cheer coach adds her infamous cutthroat attitude to one of music’s most delicious songs in a way that even the Material Girl herself could, ya know, cherish. With her show-singing debut, one of TV’s favorite meanies sings with apropos swagger, not sounding all that different from Her Madgesty with slight Auto-Tune and hilariously dropping her own name among the legends in the spoken-word bit. Other New Directions kids get into the groove with equal – if not more – Madonna moxie on this EP-ish release, which includes seven other faves from the veteran diva. A mash-up of early career classics – “Borderline” and “Open Your Heart” – works even if Finn wrestles with Rachel’s powerhouse pipes. No surprise, she keeps him down. Finn fares better with the series’ guy gaggle, giving an all-dude adaptation of “What it Feels Like for a Girl” that’s shockingly sweet and tender and not at all as weird as it should be. Out theater doll Jonathan Groff – one of the Fox show’s fresh faces – joins the rest of the cast on “Like a Virgin,” and Mercedes injects some of her sassy soul into “4 Minutes.” Arrangements stay true to their originals – right on, Ryan Murphy! – and the ensemble totally nail “Like a Prayer” with a chilling intro and the choir’s moving end-runs. So good it is, in fact, just like a dream.
Rockin’ riffs, soaring runs and that unbreakable soul that even cancer couldn’t stop – Melissa Etheridge welcomes back the slamming sound that made her a rock goddess. Tweaked, though, with some modern U2 siren-like guitars, notably on the wailing power-anthem Fearless Love, her 11th album is as ’90s as it can be while still keeping Etheridge relevant. More than ever, though, she’s using her collective wisdom – nearing 50, and having wrestled with disease and inner demons, there’s a lot of it – and imparting it into a galvanized and hit-heavy album that ranks as one of her best. It’s a reflective road to self-love, finding it and then giving it, as she does on “Gently We Row” – an intimate acoustic wrap-up that builds to an intensely moving climax about her kids. She parts her own mirror on “Indiana,” a piano-guitar seesaw that’s an empowering tale of her wife’s journey, and then on “The Wanting of You,” about a woman resisting temptation. Both should be radio hits. Etheridge also gives a big ol’ “suck it” to her home state on “Miss California,” a scorching, guttural-sung rant about Prop. 8 that she wails with such fiery passion and win-win sway, it could change legislation. Fearless, indeed.
New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
Naked as they come (and very naked in her au naturel “Window Seat” video), Erykah Badu has a husky rawness about her voice that connects to the heart and soul of her songs. She’s as crafty a writer as she is a quirky vocalist, slipping in snappy rhymes and singing about love with the kind of laid-back vibe that might conjure up a summer romance and a bag of pot. Whatever weirdness that envelopes Badu, it’s diluted with a more modern approach to R&B than 2008’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) – a sociopolitical album as out-there as Badu herself, trippy and twisted and hard to warm up to with its unconventional sound. More lightweight and accessible, Part Two comes closer to the neo-soul smoothness of her debut Baduizm, never working too hard to work: “Window Seat” stomps and claps its way into your head, “Umm Hmm” quilts a catchy chorus with a lo-fi sample and mellow standout “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” rides atop a hella good groove. What she loses in mind-bending mechanics, she gains in melodic reverie. Only at the end does she truly venture out with a loungy-launched ballad that morphs into a hypnotic 10-minute-plus emotional cry – proof that, even with slighter material, we’re missing a lot more than we think in that video of hers: some balls.
All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
Troubadours like Rufus Wainwright get off on being grandiose, but what happens when you lose something you can’t get back? You scale it down, as he has after the recent death of his mother. On his sixth studio album, Wainwright comes equipped with his rich croon, the piano and lots of grief. It weeps and wallows, only once sounding anything like his usually flamboyant baroque-inspired self on “Give Me What I Want and Give it to Me Now!” Otherwise, he’s sulking – crying for sibling civility on the standout “Martha” and then leaving us with an emotional juggernaut, the lonely “Zebulon,” that shoots right through your heart.
Raymond v. Raymond
Usher’s one horny hottie. He basically does the dirty enough on his latest CD to make you forget about his other career – the music one, where he’s wooed followers with his smooth falsetto and crunk club grooves. Even though nothing ever goes as deep as the album’s title might suggest, the sampled “Making Love (Into the Night)” works its bump-and-grind magic and “Foolin’ Around” is a decent “Burn” redo. Rapper/bi-of-the-moment Nicki Minaj springs “Lil Freak” to life, but the disc is still remarkably flaccid for someone who always seems to have a hard-on.