Madonna began the 90’s at her commercial zenith, bestriding the
world in the overweening manner common to pop-
culture colossi. She ended the decade with only that English accent as her most
detestable affectation. In between, she released some magnificent singles. Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (WEA/Warner Bros.) not only complements her first hits
compilation, The Immaculate Collection ,
but also serves to silence those clowns who say she has no musical ability. She
has always relied on collaborators, but there’s a thread running throughout GHV2 that proves the simple fact that
when she isn’t distracted, Madonna is a supreme melodist as much as she is a
marketer or provocateur.
As it is, 1992’s Erotica
and 1994’s Bedtime Stories are pretty
shitty albums, redeemed only by the thrilling flamenco-househybrid “Deeper and
Deeper” and “Take a Bow,” her greatest ballad by some distance. Her futile
attempt to erase Patti LuPone’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from collective
memory cleared the way for her second great period, emblematized by 1998’s Ray of Light and last year’s Music . Who knew that middle age and
motherhood would prompt songs as great as “Ray of Light,” “Beautiful Stranger”
and “Don’t Tell Me”? (By contrast, Prince, her closest analogue, used that time
of life to disappear into his own hindquarters.)
In any case, GHV2
amounts to 10 of Madonna’s most splendid tunes padded by five mediocre ones.
Thanks to the programmable skip function of your CD player, it’s one of the
only holiday gifts you can have sex to.
Kid Rock/Britney Spears:
Our James & Carly
Many showbiz couplings are head-scratchers. Even the most
absurdity-numbed mind boggles at the sick-making reports that Kim Basinger’s
current swain is none other than Eminem. Perhaps Alec Baldwin will start
courting Philadelphia’s own R&B pixie Pink in response.
I imagine that, 30 years ago, as another crisis threatened the
American psyche (not to mention American lives), it was comforting to know that
somewhere-either in Martha’s Vineyard or a Manhattan recording studio-James
Taylor and Carly Simon were cuddling.
And so it is in the national interest that I appeal to Kid Rock
and Britney Spears to have the “you know I’ll always love you, but it’s not
working out” talk with, respectively, Mr. Rock’s pneumatic consort and Ms.
Spears’ boy-band swain, and to begin dating one another. After all, Ms. Spears
has been carrying on for quite some time like a young woman who might drop her
flimsy raiment next to Mr. Rock’s chair at Scores.
Looking at Kid Rock, you can’t help but be struck by how he
resembles David Lee Roth circa 1981-85. These days, Bob Ritchie grins the same
grin that was plastered on Mr. Roth back then-the rictus of a man who has the
world by the balls in a downward tug. It’s impossible to begrudge him such
proclamations as “I’ve got the baddest bitch in the world” and “Got more money
than Matchbox 20 / Get more ass than [Sugar Ray singer] Mark McGrath” in the
Unlike1998’s Devil Without a Cause , Cocky (Lava/Atlantic) tends to
vacillatebetweenbig, dopey,riff-rap behemoths-concerning Mr. Rock’s
affection for himself, the greater Detroit area, the signature guitar figure of
“Free Bird” and “big, corn-fed Midwestern hos”-and pleasant country and Southern-rock
ready-mades in which his good-naturedside shines. “Picture,” a duet with
Sheryl Crow, is the best of these.
Here is a man who, like Mr. Roth, is enjoying himself. While his
peers combine hip-hop and heavy rock (two idioms that should, at their best,
bellow “PARTY!”) and proceed to plumb the depths of cheap, aggrieved
miserablism, Mr. Rock’s narcissism is purely celebratory. God bless him!
Now, as for Ms. Spears: Her third album, Britney (Jive), is a fairly delightful mixed message. She’s “not a
girl, not yet a woman,” as a tune by that name puts it. Yet every sign, such as
that HBO special, points to where her true allegiance lies. Clearly, this is a
matter her handlers are still grappling with, but that sort of tension is what
makes pop music worthwhile.
The storied Swedish songwriting and production team of Max Martin
and Rami is joined by staccato R&B sculptors the Neptunes (Kelis, Mystikal)
and Rodney Jerkins (Destiny’s Child). The former fashion two terrific, vaguely
lewd tunes, the single “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Boys,” which recalls the duo’s
work on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money”-and which finds Ms. Spears using
her coital purr to ask the object of her ardor if they should “turn the dance
floor into our own little nasty world.” Mr. Jerkins contributes a useless
rendition of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” while Martin/Rami largely rearrange their
previous, better tunes like the immortal ” … Baby One More Time” and “Oops!… I
Did It Again” for Ms. Spears.
Britney Spears is the sum of her packagers, but maybe it’s time
for her to move on to mentors who are less conflicted about what’s appropriate
for the Nickelodeon set. It seems to me that Kid Rock is the kind of Svengali
she could use: someone who could help her find her voice as a full-fledged
woman. And they would look good together, don’t you think?
The Nortec Collective:
Forget the Donkey Show!
Ever since dance music (and its less danceable electronic-music
variants) became easier to produce via affordable technology, a consistent
pattern has emerged throughout the world. To wit: take your parents’ corny
music, chop it up, and use it to accentuate and distinguish the de rigueur bouillabaisse of pulsing bass
lines, 4/4 beats and ghostly synth washes you just cooked up.
The two-year-old Nortec Collective is nine chaps from Tijuana who
have taken the tropes of norteño
music (martial snare rolls, horn bursts, zip-zagging accordion fills), put the
beats on, and-hey, presto!-Nortec was born. The
Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1 (Palm
Pictures) is the prime exponent of a movement that may yet supplant donkey
shows and an indiscriminate drug trade as the thing that Yankees should know
about the crossroads of California and Mexico.
Norteño music doesn’t
have the foothold in New York that it does in the Southwest-particularly in
Texas and Southern California, where a huge Mexican-American presence ensures
that you can hear it booming out of car stereos all day. The Tijuana Sessions , while a fine techno record, isn’t a great norteño primer, since its elements are
either scattered or deeply submerged in the mix.
But the Nortec Collective’s show at S.O.B.’s with D.J. Krush on
Dec. 12 may make the role those same elements play much more explicit. Or it
may not! But you will be moved to
dance, unless you’re one of those pitiful souls who prefer to stand stock still
and stroke your chin.
John Paul Jones:
Englishmen In New York
It is with some certainty that I predict that the only women
attending the King Crimson/John Paul Jones show at the Beacon Theater on Dec. 14
will be accompanying their husbands or boyfriends. In 1999, I dragged my ex
along to see Mr. Jones, the bassist of Led Zeppelin, at Irving Plaza, and she
promptly fell asleep in the lobby. This led to the realization that watching
technically demanding music played by rock veterans in their 50’s does not a
great date night make. So it’ll be me and my guitarist pal checking out King
Crimson-at some times the most vicious progressive-rock band, at others the
most rhythmically compelling-and Mr. Jones, the living half of one of the top
five greatest rock ‘n’ roll rhythm sections ever.
King Crimson is led by Robert Fripp, an owlish little pedant of
whom it was once said, “Rock music’s gain is the field of economics’ loss.”
People like him don’t typically make great guitarists, but his circumspect yet
frenzied approach is unique. He has led numerous incarnations of the band off
and on since 1969; the current version involves Adrian Belew, singer and
tremendous guitarist in his own right (the id to Mr. Fripp’s superego), and a
bassist and drummer who are disciples of their predecessors in the band. At
Town Hall in October 2000, King Crimson threw in David Bowie’s “Heroes”
alongside the brisk, interlocking geometry of their own songs.
Like fellow secret weapon George Harrison, John Paul Jones
largely retreated from view since the 1980 demise of Led Zeppelin, occasionally
busying himself with soundtrack and production work. In 1994, he paired with
Diamanda Galas on the sepulchral The
Sporting Life , following up with 1999’s bass-guitar showcase Zooma (released on Mr. Fripp’s DGM
label). His band, which includes a former member of Kajagoogoo (!), plays
rearranged instrumental versions of Led Zeppelin songs-such as the melody of
“When the Levee Breaks,” which Mr. Jones plays on lap steel guitar-alongside
his more recent pile-driving compositions.
So two essentially avant-rock bands, led by two stiff-upper-lip
Englishmen, will play to a bunch of folks who will use many bridges and tunnels
to get there. I promise you that this will be a fine thing.