Music wrap-up 2008

Divas and icons were out in force this year

Well, here we are — another year, another year-end recap. These are the albums I loved or just felt compelled to re-visit that were issued by gay and allied artists in 2008.

Madonna – “Hard Candy” (Warner Bros): The Material Mom’s 11th studio album is an interesting combination of the fizzy dance-pop of her 1983 debut and the urban luster of 1994’s “Bedtime Stories.” Unfortunately, it never quite matches the best of either, lacking the coquettish charm of the former and the musical sophistication of the latter. Producers Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Nate “Danja” Hills provide Madonna with a stable of propulsive beats that she rides like an Escalade. The drawback with “Hard Candy” is that it lives up to its name: a sweet confection that pleases while it lasts, but melts away leaving you with nothing to show for the experience.

Bob Mould – “District Line” (Anti-): The openly-gay virtuoso behind seminal post-punk outfit Hüsker Dü as well as ’90s alt-rock band Sugar returned in 2008 with “District Line,” a fab mix of power chords, melodic accessibility and sharp lyricwriting. My favorites among the album’s 10 tracks are “Shelter Me,” a great rock song driven by House music beats and synth stabs, and “Who Needs To Dream,” a man-chases-man power-pop tune with a great hook.

Solange – “Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams” (Geffen): Solange spectacularly emerges from big sis Beyoncé’s shadow with this soulful, near-concept album about a young woman coming into her own. The production is old school R&B laced with modern electronic flourishes by super knob-turners Mark Ronson, The Neptunes and Soulshock & Karlin, along with sonic innovators like Thievery Corporation and Jack Slash (from Plantlife).

Rahsaan Patterson – “Wines & Spirits” (Artistry): When he issued his eponymous debut in 1997, Patterson more or less got lost among the sea of male neo soulsters vying for attention. It’s too bad because the album was among the better R&B offerings that year. After issuing two more critically acclaimed but commercially overlooked collections, Patterson dropped this alternative soul/funk gem in early fall. During a promotional interview with BETJ.com, he took the bold step to come out of the closet — a particularly heroic move for a male entertainer of color.

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Matt Alber – “Hide Nothing” (Silver Label/Tommy Boy): Alber, a former member of the Grammy-winning a capella ensemble Chanticleer, offers up a lovely, dreamlike song cycle about out of the closet love in its various forms and stages. “Field-trip Buddy” recalls that first grade school crush while “The End Of The World” is an unflinching look at a crumbling relationship. “Hide Nothing” is a gorgeous work of art.

Little Jackie – “The Stoop” (S-Curve): Little Jackie is not a solo artist but the duo of 30-year-old singer/lyricist Imani Coppola (best known for her minor ’97 solo hit, “Legend Of A Cowgirl”) and DJ/programmer Andy Pallin, who’s still in his early 20s. Their unlikely collaboration yielded this finger-snapping debut that’s chock full of Motown and Stax inspired soundscapes over which Coppola waxes poetic, witty, bitchy and confessional. If “The Stoop” is any indication, it’s going to be fun watching Little Jackie grow up.

Hercules And Love Affair – Self-titled (Mute): Disco and Classic House collide on this acclaimed debut. Working with a trio of vocalists that includes openly gay Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, Hercules’ driving creative force Andrew Butler sculpts 10 outstanding cuts on this genre exercise that spans from Disco workouts to Frankie Knuckles’-inspired Chicago House jams with multiple stops in between.

Cut Copy – “In Ghost Colours” (Modular): Fans of such post-punk and new wave bands as New Order, OMD and The Cure should be delighted with this album from Cut Copy. The second release by the Aussie trio of Dan Whitford, Tim Hoey and Mitchell Scott is a moody, melodic affair that perfectly captures the synth-sational early ’80s era of kohl eyeliner and killer basslines. Tim Goldsworthy, co-founder of the influential dance-punk label DFA Records, co-produced with the band.

The Presets – “Apocalypso” (Modular): The sophomore album from Australia’s The Presets is a molten eruption of 80s inspired Electro and Industrial. Concussive robotic drums, hollowed-out voices, bruised harmonies and the energy of complete abandon propel the 11-track project to the edge of orgiastic chaos. Queer-friendly beatmasters Julian Hamilton (keyboards and vocals) and Kim Moyes (drums) have created the soundtrack to the sex club in your head. It’s a place where every dark corner is occupied by a hungry stranger and each propulsive thrust is punctuated by the kickdrum.

Cyndi Lauper – “Bring Ya To The Brink” (Epic): Girls just wanna have fun — on the dancefloor. Lauper has enjoyed tremendous success with her remixed singles the last few years, but this is the first time she’s ever recorded a full album of dance material. The new direction — from an artist who is known for constantly trying new things — paid dividends. Lead single “Same Ol’ Story” and follow-up track “Into The Nightlife” both reached the top of the Billboard Club Play chart.

Morel – “The Death Of The Paperboy” (Outsider Music): After co-writing and producing three of the best cuts on Cyndi Lauper’s 2008 dance opus (including lead single “Same Ol’ Story”), producer/remixer Richard Morel, who is openly gay, turned his attention to completing this two-disc set. “Disc 1” is moody and introspective; “11 new songs about the things that bring you down,” Morel explains. “Disc 0” (get it, disco?) is eight remixes of disc one tracks.

Duffy – “Rockferry” (Mercury): Following the retro path blazed by Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black,” this 23-year-old Welsh singer-songwriter released her own impressive throwback album in 2008. Listening to “Rockferry” was like discovering lost tunes by Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Ellie Greenwich. Duffy’s singing maintained the illusion with its heavy influences from ’60s soul and the classic girl groups. Album highlights include the swirling-strings title cut, wrenching break-up ode “Warwick Ave.,” and go-go boot scoot “Mercy.”

Donna Summer – “Crayons” (Burgundy): In 2008 the Dance Music Hall of Fame inductee and five-time Grammy winner (who has sold an estimated 130 million records worldwide) came back strong with this eclectic 12-track set. The album, co-written by Summer and a handful of collaborators, produced the dancefloor smashes “Stamp Your Feet” and “I’m A Fire,” making Summer the only artist to have a #1 dance hit in each of the past four decades.

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Leona Lewis – “Spirit” (J): With the 2008 ascension of Leona Lewis, it looks like we have a new diva on the block. Lewis has certainly got all the ingredients — a wonderful voice, stunning beauty and a career that’s being guided by a pair of the industry’s heaviest hitters: “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell and J Records chief Clive Davis. With her debut album and it’s hit lead single, “Bleeding Love,” Lewis accomplished two impressive feats. “Spirit” landed atop the album chart in its first week, making the singer the first British artist to reach that position with a debut album. Not to be outdone, “Bleeding Love” became the first track by a U.K. female to hit #1 since 1987.

Mariah Carey – “E=MC2” (Island): The eagerly anticipated follow-up to “The Emancipation Of Mimi” failed to match that musical juggernaut in terms of either quality or commercial success. The album picked up where its predecessor left off — meaning it was also a mid-tempo showcase for Carey’s voice and the beats of an army of top urban producers. The best tracks were the ones where the star changed things up, like the disco-fied “I’m That Chick” (which perfectly re-uses a line from Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall”) and the gospel-fueled piano ballad “I Wish You Well.”

Taylor Dayne – “Satisfied” (Intention Music): Taylor Dayne’s fifth studio album, her first new release in a decade, thinks it’s still 1988 — and that’s a good thing. “Satisfied” is a winning collection of pop songs and power ballads aimed squarely at listeners raised on Top 40 radio. The throwback production evokes the right sort of nostalgia (i.e. the kind that doesn’t seem merely reheated) and Dayne’s pipes are as powerful as ever.

Linda Eder – “Greatest Hits” (Rhino/Atlantic): Linda Eder might be the best-loved Broadway belter of this generation. It’s easy to understand why after listening to this stirring set that culls 15 tracks from four albums (and nine musicals, including “Funny Girl,” “Man Of La Mancha,” “Gypsy,” “La Cage Aux Folles” and her star-making vehicle “Jekyll & Hyde”). Also included is Eder’s reading of “Over The Rainbow,” the song she watched Judy Garland sing in a TV broadcast of “The Wizard Of Oz” that turned her eight-year-old world upside-down.

Dame Shirley Bassey – “Get The Party Started” (Decca): You wouldn’t expect a song from a 70-year-old artist to rip up the club but that’s exactly what Bassey’s #1 dance hit did every time it was played. Moreover, the song was the title track for a fabulous new collection of Bassey remixes (with one new song, “The Living Tree”) by a cadre of knob-twirlers including NorthxNWest, Bugz In The Attic, Phil Asher and Mark de Clive-Lowe. The reinterpreted tunes included “I Who Have Nothing,” “This Is My Life,” “I Will Survive,” Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and the James Bond theme “You Only Live Twice,” originally recorded by Nancy Sinatra for the 1967 film.

George Michael – “Twenty-Five” (Epic): After performing 80 shows in 12 European countries for a staggering 1.3 million fans in 2007, Michael brought his smash 25 LIVE tour to the U.S. this summer. The gay superstar’s first American tour in 17 years supported a career retrospective, “Twenty-Five.” The 29-song, 2-CD set spans from Michael’s earliest hits with Wham! to his smash solo career to new duets with Paul McCartney and Mary J. Blige.

The B-52s – “Funplex” (Astralwerks): After a 16-year break between studio albums, the killer Bs returned with this appropriately titled collection. It was a relief to hear that Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland and Cindy Wilson hadn’t lost any of their quirky gusto during the long layoff. In fact, Strickland nailed it when he described the 11-track album as “loud, sexy rock and roll, with the beat pumped up to hot pink.”

Erykah Badu – “New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War” (UniversalMotown): The list of urban/soul/R&B artists who push the artistic envelop is lamentably short, but Badu is unquestionably among them. After a five-year break from record bins, she made up for lost time with this hypnotic release. Striking soundscapes, turn-on-a-dime arrangements and confessional, stream-of-consciousness lyrics made “New Amerykah” my top headphones album of 2008.

Moby – “Last Night” (Mute): After a detour into the singer/songwriter realm, the electronic auteur returned to the familiar territory of the dancefloor on his sixth studio album. Encompassing smiley-faced rave anthems, euro-disco, hip-hop (both old skool and underground) and downtempo, “Last Night” is a pulsating romp through Moby’s N.Y. club kid roots.

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Posted by David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at editor2@goqnotes.com.