Thursday, October 12, 2000
a letter to two musicians
In and Out of Love
Street Date: October 13, 1998
Length: 56:51 minutes
Label: CONCORD JAZZ
Category: Soul/R & B
Official site (pattiaustin.com) now defunct; new fan site just beginning: Totally Unacceptable: A Patti Austin Fan Site
Just got through your old CD, "In and out of love". Took me ages to find after I saw the publicity for it on your (now deceased) website; nobody carried the thing except Borders and this one little audiophilish store. I'm guessing that Concord Jazz didn't give it a lot of distribution or press a lot of copies, because frankly, it got no publicity. It was pretty nearly invisible.
For pretty good reason, as it turned out.
Patti, Patti, Patti. See, it seems to me that you've got really three or four aspects to your musical personality: (1) The Jazz/Swing Diva, (2) The Woman Who Gets DOWN With Her Own Bad Self, (3) The Power Balladeer, and (4) The Romantic Honeydripper.
"In and Out of Love" is an album composed entirely of love songs. Big swoopy romantic ballads for the most part. So much honey is dripped that you could give a guy diabetes.
What the hell were you THINKING?
If I'd seen the CD liner before I'd bought it, I'd have known to run for cover. I mean, teenagers love letters on every single page with the lyrics. That just can't be a good thing. (I hope they're teenagers. If they're adults ... well, that could just be deeply distressing.)
I must confess, the first time I listened to this CD, after the first four songs, I started speed listening. I'd play the first minute of each song, and if the Romantic Honeydripper had been let out to play, I'd skip to the next song. After seven songs, I just surrendered and stopped listening for a while. It was just too damned disappointing.
After a few days of listening to Robbie Williams (see next letter) and a few other things, I came back and listened to it all the way through, with occasionally gritted teeth and an open mind.
I have to say, five of the first six songs--In and out of Love, Don't go away, Once in a Lifetime, If We're not in love, and Why you Wanna be like that--are pretty much a waste of space. They're all overarranged sappy ballads. (Well, technically "Why you wanna be like that" is a hot disco lament. Ponder that concept a moment; there are at least two of those concepts that don't belong in the same sentence together.) It's not that you can't do ballads, but not one after another after another after another... nobody could sustain an album like that.
"Totally Unacceptable", the third song, is easily, EASILY the best song on the first half of the CD. You finally start Gettin' DOWN With Your Own Bad Self. You never quite cut loose in the way that you can, but it feels like you're finally getting back to yourself.
And then we get another three songs of schmaltz. (OK, "If we're not in love" is not completely awful ... but it's not particularly good. It's just better than the stuff around it.) "Why you wanna be like that" IS particularly disappointing, because the fast pace leads people to believe that you will, again, be Gettin' DOWN ... and it's so muted. Your voice never cuts loose, you never goose that song with afterburners the way the pace demands. (Of course, given those drippy lyrics--"Why you want it to be like that when I only wanted to love you", inDEED!--cutting loose would have been inappropriate. Although I note that didn't bother you so much later on.)
And then, just like with the later "Street of Dreams", the second half picks up. A very little bit.
"I'll never get over you" is Just Simply Awful. We shall never speak of it again.
What I want to know is why in the name of EVERYTHING did you finally finally FINALLY completely cut loose and let Your Own Bad Self out to play on a song called "Do-Si-Doe'in", for heaven's sake! I mean, it's a "my man done me wrong" song, Patti! The man married you, then ran away! And you're singing "Oh, I'll be doesidoein' Til you come back to me". This is not a lyric that says "Cut loose! Open the after burners!" But I am SO glad that you did! (Oh, and in response to your musical question/statement: "Oh, I know I'm a domestic goddess, but that don't mean I can't wait for you to make up your mind; See what I'm sayin'?" ... well, no, I don't. Domestic goddesses wait for no man. Just ask Martha. Besides, goddesshood has nothing to do with it.)
The duet, "I offer you love" you sang with Tony Lindsay ... we don't have to talk about that again either, do we?
And then we FINALLY see your Power Balladeer on "Maybe". Somehow, it fits that it's a 40 year old song. Granted, I don't like the song proper, but I do like the way you sing it.
You do have a knack for resurrecting the most ... unexpected songs, I must say. I would never have expected to see you doing the old Seals and Crofts song "Summer Breeze" ever at all, let alone on this gooshy mess of a CD. And doing it as a hard rock-edged jazz tune would never have occurred to me, either. But I am seriously glad it occurred to you; we almost never get to see the Jazz Diva AND the Power Balladeer all Gettin' DOWN With Your Own Bad Self. (OK, I could have done without Dauntay Johnson's rap. But it was a mild distraction at worst.)
"I will be there" is a good way to close a CD, I think. Power Balladeer and Your Own Bad Self to the rescue! And I love the way you put it together; it sounds like it almost wants to be a church hymn. (In fact, except that it's clearly about romantic love, it almost sounds like it was a hymn.)
For the sake of those four pretty good songs, I'm not sorry I bought the CD. But it was a close thing. And if I hadn't already had "Street of Dreams" to know that you get back to yourself, I would have hesitated to buy anything new.
Patti, please don't scare me like that again!
Sing When You're Winning
Street Date: Oct 3, 2000
Official site: http://www.robbiewilliams.com/ (seriously high bandwidth needed!)
I must confess, I bought your CD for ALL the wrong reasons. Or, more specifically, ONE wrong reason.
I wanted to see the Rock DJ video. See, since it's an enhanced CD, it had the video on it, and MTV and VH1 aren't playing it when I'm at home, somehow, and ... well, I bought the thing, OK? And I have to say, I was expecting absolutely nothing from it. I figured it would have one song I didnt dislike heartily and that would be it.
Robbie! You surprised me!
I note that you do have a problem with your ballads, as well. They're all seriously insipid. I mean, every freakin' one. That said, I understand that it's difficult to put out a CD of nothing but uptempo dance stuff; even good dance music gets boring.
And I got to tell you, Robbie: you do some good dance music.
OK, the caveat is: it's good, but you can't actually listen to the words, because if you do, you'll just stand there saying, "He did not just say that. He did NOT just say that." And the answer is, "Of course he did. What, doesn't every pop star sing a song about his penis?"
The lead off song wouldn't be a bad single, frankly. Except, of course, for that hideously unfortunate title; I think most DJs would just twitch at introducing a song called "Let Love Be Your Energy." This song does, I must admit, have prime examples of the "What the FUCK is Robbie talking about?" moments scattered throughout the CD, although the ones in this song are more philosophical and less anatomical than some. "Every tear that you cry will be replaced when you die." Huh? (Actually, from what I understand of it, this song would probably make a fabulous theme for the movie "Pay it Forward." But I digress.)
"Better Man" is OK. Standard ballad. Lyrics aren't bad, actually. Startlingly sweet sounding, not in a bad way; you're fond of that acoustic guitar on your ballads, arent you?
"Rock DJ" ... what were you on when you wrote that? Have you read your lyrics? Do they make sense to you? I think it's about the way the music world works, although it's missing a few verbs here and there ("Give no head, no backstage passes"--there's a "get" missing, right?)
"Supreme" is fiendish clever. Take the tune for "I will survive", slow it down a shade and write new lyrics all about the search for "a love supreme" and its impediments. Periodically startling, of course: "All the handsome men are gay/ You feel deprived." Of course, it's interesting that for most of the song, love seems to equal sex ("Do you need a bit of rough?/ Get on your knees"), but there ya go.
"Kids" ... I have to say, Robbie, "Kids" is totally totally BITCHIN'! With Kylie Minogue, even! How the hell did you manage that? Of course it doesn't make the least sense ("Me no bubblicious" inDEED!), but who cares? It sounds great! Just a couple things, though: that rap part at the end is probably going to get chopped by most US radio stations. Mostly because the song works without it and they can chop it and stick in an extra split-15 second commercial, but also because your US promoters are probably having small kittens every time they hear "Press be askin' do I care for sodomy / I don't know, yeah, probably". US record executives really really don't like it when their stars say things like that. And you could properly have called THIS CD "The ego has landed", you know: "There's only one of me / Singlehandedly raising the economy / Ain't no chance of the record company dropping me..." Don't tempt them, Robbie. (Oh, and I see you've got the "Kids" video up on your [terribly busy] site! Totally cool! It's like Busby Berkeley channeled by Cecil B Demented on an off day!)
I have to admit, after "Kids" kicks ass, the rest of the CD just doesn't quite compare. Partly it's those three contemplative songs in a row right after that; there's a slight pacing problem there.
Robbie, can we talk? You do seem to be rather fond ... of your penis. I mean, that's not unusual; most men are. But you do sing about it rather a lot. I mean, in "Forever Texas", you say, among other things,"Mother said, Son if you do it too long, you'll go blind" (a song including masturbation; I'm deeply impressed!) and then later, "Everyone wants to know how I'm hung", in the midst of a stanza which basically says "I give it up the ass, I don't take it."
"By all means necessary" is quite ... well, quite. Deceptive, for one thing. It starts out so nice and gentle, and the lyric is so curiously savage. "It all seems so easy / But so are you..." It's one of those songs that would be a nice little midtempo number, sounds really good right up until the point where you actually listen to it ("sex with a stranger / you've been laid in a manger / and you think he's your saviour...") and you suddenly feel the need to wash your ears and mind out.
"The Road to Mandalay" is sweet and totally demented--weirdly, it sounds like it should have come from "Jesus Christ Superstar" although I can't say exactly how. It just does.
The dance stuff is, honestly, a LOT stronger than the ballads. And, as mentioned, "Kids" kicks quite a lot of ass and takes prisoners. But I have to say, I don't regret buying this CD, and I thought I would.
Oh, yes. The "Rock DJ" video also kicks quite a lot of ass. The bit where you take off your skin is nearly as cool (and considerably more gross) than the part where you take off your clothes. And I have to say, Robbie, you're a man whose music works better visually, if that makes any sense. You're a positive genius at selling yourself in a video.
And that woman at CDNOW who says that only one photograph of you without your pants would have been sufficient? Don't listen to her! (Actually, that one photo with the four naked but properly figleafed Robbies is very impressive.)
And if you want to get over that indecision on whether or not you like sodomy, I'm sure that there are any number of healthy young men out there willing to help you make up your mind.
Posted by iain at 09:37 PM in category