By Gregg Shapiro
Didn’t we all just want to revel in Déjà vu (RCA), the cleverly titled new Giorgio Moroder album and his first studio effort in umpteen years? Didn’t we think it would be one of the coolest comebacks of all time, following Daft Punk’s respectful revival of interest in the EDM godfather? Then why is the album—complete with a horrifying album cover—such a clunker? The ubiquitous queer singer/songwriter Sia co-wrote the title track with Moroder, which sounds more like a Sia track than a Moroder tune. “Diamonds,” featuring co-songwriter Charli XCX, is a Moroder track in production alone. “Right Here, Right Now” is a disappointment on several levels, not the least of which is the way that both Moroder and guest vocalist Kylie Minogue are completely adrift in this generic and dull song. The disc’s triumphant centerpiece, “74 Is the New 24,” is remarkable in the way that it both recalls and updates vintage Moroder. Also notable are the Daft Punk instrumentals “4 U With Love” and “La Disco,” as well as “Wildstar” (featuring Foxes) and “Back & Forth” (featuring Kelis). Let’s hope Suzanne Vega was paid handsomely for the use of her song “Tom’s Diner,” which is practically disemboweled in a tasteless cover by Britney Spears.
At least Giorgio Moroder is making an effort to stay true to and revitalize his roots. On Feeling You!: The 60s (BFD), KC and the Sunshine Band step into a homemade time machine to perform lounge-music versions of classic tunes that were hits before the band hit the charts during the disco invasion of the 1970s. Harry Casey (the KC of the band) was never a great singer, and some of this material requires a good singer, at the very least, to fully come across to listeners.. Still, you have to admire Casey’s pluck, but his choice of cover material—including Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (featuring Jason Scheff), and The Supremes’ “I Hear a Symphony”—are examples of his reach exceeding his grasp. However, his renditions of “Tell It Like It Is” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” (featuring the Unity on the Bay Choir, led by openly gay choir director Dale Stine) are especially sunny.
Like Giorgio Moroder and KC, Paul Weller’s musical roots are in the 1970s. Weller, the father of a queer son (!), was at the forefront of the first wave of U.K. punk rock with his band The Jam. Not long after The Jam split up, Weller formed The Style Council, in which he expanded his already-growing musical palette by focusing on soul, pop, and R&B. Following an even shorter existence than that of The Jam, The Style Council dissolved, and Weller launched a solo career that continues to this day. His new album Saturns Pattern (WB/Parlophone) has a distinctly bluesy feel to it, with the title tune, “White Sky,” and “In the Car . . .” being some of the best examples. Then there’s the gorgeous “Going My Way,” the bouncing pop of “I’m Where I Should Be” and “Phoenix,” and the mini-epic “These City Streets” to wrap it up nicely.
Singer/songwriter and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie has not been sitting idle since releasing her debut album 51 years ago. Her output may have slowed a bit since the 1970s, but she has continued to write and record. She even won an Oscar for co-writing the song “Up Where We Belong,” sung by Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker, from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. The title cut from her new album Power in the Blood (Gypsy Boy/True North) is a dance anthem with a message on par with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” and turns out to be an effective way to get your point across. Sainte-Marie revives her own classic tune “It’s My Way” and goes on to make more musical statements in “We Are Circling,” “Carry It On,” and “The Uranium War.”
Leonard Cohen’s Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (Columbia/Legacy) is his fourth (!) live album since 2009 (coinciding with his 2008 return to performing concert tours). Its main selling point is that it includes two new songs, “Never Gave Nobody Trouble” and “Got a Little Secret,” both of which were recorded during sound checks in 2013. The remaining eight songs were recorded at Cohen’s shows during 2012 and 2013, and represent various chapters of his lengthy and extraordinary career.
No matter how good a songwriter and performer Colin Hay has become over the years, whether he likes it or not, he may always be thought of as that kooky lead singer from the ’80s Australian band Men at Work. That’s the band that topped the charts with hits such as “Down Under,” “Who Can It Be Now?” and “It’s a Mistake”—and briefly made the Aussie treat vegemite a household word in the States. Hay’s voice, which was a big part of his appeal, sounds great on Next Year People (Lazy Eye/Compass). Still working the singer/songwriter angle of his last several albums, Hay’s brand of modern folk is exemplified in the title track. Other recommended cuts include “If I Had Been a Better Man,” “Mr. Grogan,” and the CD-only instrumental bonus track “Lament for Whisky McManus.”
Let’s get this out of the way as soon as possible: there’s nothing on Big Love (East West/Rhino)—Simply Red’s first new studio album since 2007—that comes close to matching the band’s 1985 Picture Book (or Stars, for that matter). While it does have lots of blue-eyed Brit soul tunes that have their appeal, it lacks the staying power of, say, “Holding Back the Years.” Of course, it’s 30 years later, and perhaps Mick Hucknall and company have other things on their minds. Big Love isn’t a complete loss, as you can hear on the title cut, the easy funk of “The Ghost of Love,” the painful father tribute “Dad,” and the torchy jazz of “The Old Man and the Beer.”
It’s no exaggeration to call Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard “two American icons.” They are iconic not only in the world of country music, but in popular music in general. On Django and Jimmie (Legacy), the twosome teams up for an album of 14 newly recorded songs—a mix of originals and covers. From the spicy Tex-Mex romp of “It’s All Going to Pot” to name-droppers such as “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” and the title track to the Hawaiian harmony of “Alice in Hulaland,” among others, the common denominator would have to be that these guys not only sound like they enjoy each other’s company professionally, but that they might actually be friends.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine