Let’s Not Think About It
Saratoga’s Sixfifteens, whose lineup includes former Dryer
men Bob Carlton and Joel Lilley, have a bit of an identity
crisis on their debut album—which is not a bad thing at all.
The most ambitious tracks come in the album’s opening and
closing moments: the towering melody-meets-noise thunder of
the opener “Dusk and Dawn” and the breathless batteries of
the final track, “Auto-Stop.” Here they stand the arm hairs
on end much the way . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail
of Dead did with 2002’s Source Tags & Codes (and
the way Mission of Burma did two decades back). It’s the transmutation
of a simple rock group into powerful, emotional machinery.
The rest of the album (a short one, at seven tracks) is full
of short, sharp, clever songs of power-pop/punk that wouldn’t
be out of place on early efforts by fellow Saratogians the
Figgs (with the exception of the mellow, Sonic Youthish “5
Minutes”): good tunes, with strident hooks and often delightfully
nasty wordplay. But listening to the more resilient “Dusk
and Dawn” and “Auto-Stop” (and having witnessed the group’s
remarkable live energy), I hear an even more powerful band
emerging. One can find it in the album’s grand final moments:
Carlton’s hoarse-throated desperation yields way to the id
and ego of two guitars (Carlton’s pummels, Jeff Fox’s worries
out a ringing melody line) and a crashingly martial display
at the drum kit by Lilley. Here, the Sixfifteens leave nothing
on the field.
Stephen Sondheim’s most Broadway-sounding show in 40 years
won’t be coming to Broadway any time soon. After many years
of workshop productions, Bounce premiered in Chicago
last summer and then moved to Washington, D.C., where reviews
were tentative enough to pull the plug.
But it was recorded there, giving us a 74-minute trip through
a score that has all the hallmarks of latter-day Sondheim
wrapped in a peppy, upbeat score that harks back to A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Wilson and Addison Mizner were entrepreneurs whose ventures—especially
Wilson’s—soon turned into cons, culminating in their participation
in the Florida land boom of the 1920s. Originally conceived
as a sort of vaudeville show, Bounce (book by John
Weidman) gives an episodic look at the brothers’ exploits
and their tumultuous relationship.
Some vaudeville flavor remains, especially in the title song
(reminiscent of “Everybody’s Got the Right” from Assassins,
a song sung at a carnival), but behind it is a carefully crafted
score that reworks and develops musical elements to go with
an evolution of lyrical ideas, tracing the concept of finding
and seizing opportunities in life.
This includes opportunities for love, of course (or it wouldn’t
be a musical theater piece), and Sondheim provides some less-cynical-than-usual
songs like “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened” and “You,”
in which simple, direct lyrics underscore aching melodies.
The Sondheim wit sparkles here, too: Wilson’s honeymoon begins
with a reprise of “The Best Thing” and quickly turns into
a side-show of his proteges in “I Love This Town,” heralding
his advance upon New York. And “Talent,” sure to become a
cabaret staple, is the plaint of a man grappling with his
love of art: “I had this dream of becoming an artist/A painter,
a poet, who knows?/I had a nice little talent for drawing/And
a natural feeling for prose/I even began to compose.”
Like the scores to his other shows, particularly unsuccessful
ones like Merrily We Roll Along and Anyone Can Whistle,
it benefits from repeated listening. This may be Sondheim’s
curse. A Lloyd Weber score reveals what mysteries it contains
the first time through and then grows tiresome; Sondheim’s
stuff gets better.
The Bounce recording at least gets us familiar with
a show that warrants a New York production. The cast, by and
large, is very good, the orchestra is terrific and recording
quality is excellent. The austere packaging includes no production
photos or bios, which is unfortunate, but it’s better to have
this much rather than nothing at all, I suppose.
is George Michael’s best album since the mega-selling Faith
made him a pop superstar in the late 1980s. Alternating uptempo
tracks like “Flawless” and “Amazing,” the memorably hooked
leadoff single, with the more ruminative “Cars and Trains,”
the delicately written and sad “My Mother Had a Brother” and
“John and Elvis Are Dead,” it showcases a candid, thoughtful
artist who no longer hides from his homosexuality. Eight years
since his last album, six years since the Los Angeles arrest
for lewd conduct that outed him, Michael is crafting some
of the best music of his career.
Despite its glossiness, this feels authentic and heartfelt.
Michael’s supple, bluesy voice, which made tunes such as “Careless
Whisper” and “Father Figure” so haunting, is flexible enough
to animate tunes as disparate as the ballad “American Angel”
(about his lover), the urgent, revelatory “Round Here” and
“Freeek! ’04,” a techno pumper with a harsh, weary worldview.
Michael isn’t pulling punches here. Beneath the highly refined
production and the startlingly contemporary beats is a dual,
but not contradictory, message: Dance to the world but take
it seriously, too.
Michael had a tumultuous ’90s. He sued Sony in 1993 to get
out of his contract with Columbia Records. He recorded Older,
a spotty album for DreamWorks, in 1996. Then came the arrest
and the controversy, and then the resigning to Sony. Now comes
Michael’s most personal album, far more than a comeback. It
affirms Michael’s complexity and contemporaneity with variety,
assurance and an unerring sense of pop form. Patience
was well worth waiting for.