[Originally published 1996 |
Updated here 1999.06.20
This is a music column in a gay paper and not a gay-music column. But I do, in fact, listen to queer musicians, three of whom I'll be discussing now. Warning: One of them is... Jimmy Somerville.
Gregory Gray. This homosexualist composer/vocalist from Northern Ireland can boast some truly dreadful and truly gorgeous publicity photos. (Keep your shirt on, Greg, and that quilted orange bomber jacket looks just fabulous on you.) I am partial to funny voices, and while G.G.'s warble can bring unwanted memories of Glass Tiger gurgling to the surface, listeners of the post-Somerville generation will find Gray's timbre nonchalantly gay-sounding after the manner of Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. (Nonchalant gayness is the way to go for the '90s.)
Gray's début, Euroflake in Silverlake (on EMI U.S. import), situates him in a chronology of glass-shattering gay voices. While the Pet Shop Boys rely on droll wordplay and deadpan delivery as counterpoints to their updated disco experiments, Euroflake in Silverlake is a simple dance-pop album. That is an achievement and a liability. Songs like "Lover, Brother, Friend" and "Tough, Baffling Road" are too nakedly sentimental, appealing to an adolescent sappiness that curmudgeons like me would like to leave behind. One is much more taken by numbers like "I Don't Know Who I Am" and "Troubled Mind," where the treacle is danceable or – the acid test – makes for uplifting listening while doing the dishes.
Gray's intentions in "Three-Minute Requiem" are noble, but in the realm of AIDS anthems the Pet Shop Boys' stunning "Dreaming of the Queen" has yet to be surpassed. Let's also hope radio programmers do not discover the very gay and sardonic opening number, "The Pope Does Not Smoke Dope." It's too delicious to be overplayed.
Extra Fancy. Gay rock is more enjoyable as an idea(l) than as a genre. One is suspicious of a homo surfpunkhardcore band whose majordomo, Brian Grillo, gets to write a feature article in Details. But my bad faith was largely unwarranted: I nominate Extra Fancy's Sinnerman (Diablo Musica) as chill-out music for the perpetually angry. (Don't tell me there are no such people. I lived through Queer Nation.) If your idea of a supergroup is Courtney Love, clad in soiled bra and miniskirt, shouting obscenities with and/or at Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig while Nine Inch Nails bangs away as backup band, Brian Grillo has a roiling payload of aggression for you!
But the flat atonal bellowing is as hard to endure for a full album as Rollins's; Sinnerman's sexy slow number "Seven Years Ago" joins "Yes, Sir," the "Head Like a Hole"�esque tale of wilful submission (to a cop!), in providing needed variety. Sinnerman boasts high production values, the band is only going to get better, and limited vocal range has not impeded musicians' world domination before, nor should it here.
Ironically, despite being queer, Grillo needs at least another two years of weight-training and a dozen tattoos to rival the studliness of a Danzig or a Rollins. Why are the straight rocker dudes the sexy ones? It's a funny world sometimes.
Jimmy Somerville. I will reveal a secret. "Smalltown Boy" and "Disenchanted" (heck, even "Why?") remain tremendously relevant, powerful, exultant, and stirring queerdancepop gems even as I count the grey hairs proliferating on my person. They are pleasures, period, not guilty pleasures. A decade ago, Somerville's audibly and visibly blatant faggotry was a sorely-needed gush of pop-music homosexualism after the disco backlash. (Don't tell me there wasn't one. I lived through house music – and Huey Lewis.)
Given this, Dare to Love is perhaps an anachronistic, even passé title for a mid-'90s album by the world's most famous homo falsetto. But Somerville is from England, where freedom is simply an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary and not a real-world fact, so the lush, swingin' title track can be forgiven. But boy, am I tired of Jimmy Somerville songs about hurtin', particularly hurtin' tunes set to a fake reggae beat ("Hurts So Good," itself a grating pop cliché) or uptempo soul ("Cry"). Somerville needs a complete reinvention to keep himself relevant; there's only so long you can dine out on a reputation as a gay icon.