Music

Going the distance on the distaff side

David Livingstone May 28 1979
Music

Going the distance on the distaff side

David Livingstone May 28 1979

Going the distance on the distaff side

Music

Madleen Kane, a former model who performs disco music that Truman Capote likes to exercise to, winds up her new album Cheri (Warner Brothers/WEA) mistaking a fashion trend for a school of thought and longing, in soft-shoe time, for yesterday’s glamor: “As they say in Paris, ‘Je suis retro.’ ” On No New York (Antilles/ import), Lydia Lunch, vocalist with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, sings The Closet: i can’t talk i can’t enunciate and i’m treated like Sharon Tate. The range of female viewpoints in pop music has never been greater. Still yet to come is Ethel Merman’s disco album.

Some may have already enough proof that anything goes in the fact that Patti Smith has become a rock ’n’ roll star—four albums worth. Wave (Arista/Capitol), her latest, is the least idiosyncratic. Still the poseur, Smith strikes less

menacing attitudes—the Statue of Liberty, a waif on the beach. There’s a lullaby, a hymn (complete with primitive Autoharp), an anthem and a version of The Byrds’ So You Want to Be (A Rock V Roll Star) with climactic guitars and Smith’s own view of the business: “This is the era where everybody creates.”

With ribbons on her wrists and doves on her fingers, Smith has never been so melodic, but other New Wave women still favor the hiccuping chant. On The Scream (available as an import since late 1978 but, with the addition of the British hit single Hong Kong Garden, just released domestically by Polygram),Siouxsie and TheBanshees forego conventional musicality and make their way through dismemberments and breakdowns to the tune of metallic bass, insistent drums and Siouxsie-Sioux’s sullen, clipped vocals. The impression left by songs like Jigsaw Feeling, Suburban Relapse and Nicotine Stain is haunting but not pretty.

The Roches are both. Maggie, Terre and Suzzy Roche, sisters from New Jersey, have been welcomed as fresh breezes for their album, The Roches (Warner Brothers/WEA). Produced— just barely—by Robert Fripp, they sing complex but uncluttered triple harmonies accompanied primarily by their own acoustic guitars. Their conversational lyrics take unexpected turns, suggesting discomfort on account of jobs, heredity and married men, but over-all they sound calmly indifferent, happy to be singing.

Joan Baez used to sound that way, dazzling with her effortless soprano. But for some time now, Baez has been trying to shake her previous incarna-

tion as concerned folk-singer and demonstrate her worldly wisdom. On Honest Lullaby (Portrait/CBS) she sings Janis Ian’s Light a Light and Jackson Browne’s Before the Deluge taking advantage of nothing in her voice but a warm pleasantness. On the title track, which she wrote herself, she talks about bitterness (The town was much too small, you see/And people have a way of being even smaller yet) but she doesn’t really express it.

On Blue Kentucky Girl (Warner Brothers/WEA) Emmylou Harris fails in similar ways to satisfy. Portrayed on the cover as a country gentlewoman— velvet suit, lace cuffs and fancy boots— she sticks to her forte: sad songs plaintively supported by pedal steel guitar and fiddles. Nevertheless, even with harmonies by Don Everly, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, her pain is so decorous it’s dull.

Donna Summer, her hand on her

dropped hip under a pink streetlamp, has laid decorum to rest. Bad Girls (Casablanca/Polygram), a double album where a single would have done nicely, again finds Summer convinced that happiness is just a thing called Hot Stuff. What’s new is that she no longer seems content to let her voice soar over a dance floor. Producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte have kept their trade-mark disco arrangements but have taken the wind out of Summer’s voice. What’s left can still hold a note (dramatically, near the beginning of Dim All the Lights) but is lacklustre and crude.

Unlike Summer, Millie Jackson has never strayed so far from funky rhythm and blues that she can’t go back when she wants to. But having won a reputation for telling her business in raps between songs, Jackson’s output has degenerated into formula: some gutter talk, a few slow songs, a few fast ones. On A Moment’s Pleasure she delivers Seeing You Again, a slow ballad, as capably as Gladys Knight. Then there’s What Went Wrong Last Night (Part 1) and What Went Wrong Last Night (Part II): I’m gonna ring opportunity's doorbell tonight/I’m gonna get fine, get dressed and go out and disco. That kind of trashy monologue used to be amusing, but the salacious grin has turned clown-like. It’s even conceivable that Ethel Merman will be more fun.

David Livingstone