By Gregg Shapiro
The London Suede, returning with Night Music (Rhino), its first new studio album in three years, has two unusual links to the LGBT community. Lead singer Brett Anderson identified himself as a “bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience.” Confused? It sure sounds like Anderson was when he said that in the band’s early years. From the androgynous couple smacking on the cover of The London Suede’s major-label debut to Anderson’s indeterminate sexual persona, the band definitely left its mark on the 1990s—including one of the strangest lawsuits in music history. Lesbian trumpeter and vocalist Suede, who had been using that moniker for a number of years, sued the band over its use of the name Suede…and she won (!), hence the addition of the word London in the title of the band for domestic releases. Night Music contains and refines the essence of The London Suede (minus original member Bernard Butler), including Anderson’s trademark plaintive wail on songs such as “Tightrope,” “Like Kids,” “When You Are Young,” “Outsiders,” “I Can’t Give Her What She Wants,” and “The Fur and the Feathers.” The CD/DVD set includes the Night Thoughts film.
Anyone caught up in Sia mania (and these days, who isn’t?) owes it to themselves to do the research and explore earlier releases such as Some People Have Real Problems and 2010’s We Are Born. That way, you will have something to which you can compare recent albums such as 2014’s 1000 Forms of Fear and Sia’s latest, This Is Acting (RCA). It’s a career trajectory that is easily as fascinating as Adele’s. Sia, who is both a songwriter and a performer of her own songs, has also written numerous hit songs for others. But anyone who’s familiar with her 21st-century recording career knows that no one sings a Sia song like Sia. This Is Acting has more in common with its most recent predecessor than some of her more audacious early recordings, and this might be what separates Sia’s fans into pre- and post-“Chandelier” ranks. That said, there’s enough to recommend about This Is Acting, including the songs “Bird Set Free,” “Alive” (co-written by Adele), “House on Fire” (co-written by Jack Antonoff), and
the dance-floor workout “Move Your Body.”
One of the most awkward recordings of his legendary and lengthy career, the ironically named Wonderful Crazy Night (Island) by gay rock royalty Elton John, is neither wonderful nor crazy. Coming, as it does, after 2013’s strong The Diving Board makes it that much more of a disappointment. Co-produced by John and T-Bone Burnett, with songs co-written by John and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, and played by John’s old band, the album is so lackluster and forgettable that it makes you wonder who thought it was a good idea to release it to begin with. To be fair, the country comfort of “Blue Wonderful” might please gay NASCAR fans, “Guilty Pleasure” lives up to its name, and the strings on “The Open Chord” are a nice touch.
Power (Atlantic/Big Beat) is just the right name for the five-song debut EP by larger-than-life Glee-va Alex Newell. Born to be a dance queen, Newell proves that he has what it takes, beginning with the opening blast of “This Ain’t Over.” Also recommended are “Basically Over You (B.O.Y.),” “Devilish,” and the easy-to-love “Nobody to Love.” The weak link in the short set is “Shame,” a song so generic you’ll find yourself thinking it’s a shame that Newell didn’t do a cover of the Evelyn “Champagne” King classic of the same name.
It should come as no surprise that Taxidermy (Producer Entertainment), the second album by gothy 2012 RuPaul’s Drag Race champ Sharon Needles, straddles the line between disco and dark wave. Sharon Needles is more of a speak-singer than a full-on belting diva, but that doesn’t necessarily work against the material. In addition to a respectful cover of Cerrone’s “Supernature” (co-written by Lene Lovich), it wouldn’t kill you to listen to the title track, “Dead Dandelion,” “Glow in the Dark!” and “The Damned.”
Mark Etheredge and Sven Sundberg represent an unexpected aspect of queer music: both men have newly released albums of contemporary instrumental music. Composer/pianist/keyboardist Etheredge, who some might remember as one half of the gay duo Mark & Dean, writes and performs a kind of Sunday-brunch jazz (that is meant to be a compliment!) on Connected (Vipaka). Most of the tunes are light and sunny toe-tapping and head-bobbing numbers, with “Be Who You Are,” “For Your Love,” “Rain,” and “Groovin’ with My Baby,” being of special note. The 15 songs on Intimacy: A Collection (svensundberg.com) sound like what we used to call “new age” back in the day. With an emphasis on piano, electronic keyboards, and synthesized beats, the liner notes recommend listening to the album “alone in relaxation…as background music for an intimate dinner or open house.” Sounds like a good idea.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.