A Tribute to Madonna Volume One (Cleopatra)
by Jamie Kiffel
“There’s a place in France, where the naked ladies dance,” sings my friend Kathy, as I thud in with, “CHOONK, ch-ch chunk, ch-ch-choonk-choonk-choonk.” Any catchy tune can get down and jiggy wit’ it via the rhythmic aid of a well-placed backbeat. Try spinning “Like a Prayer,” for instance, on Turntable One and then get those hormones booted up and running by hyping up the bassline of your favorite Donna Summer album on CD Player 2. Suddenly, Madonna is groovin’.
This is what Virgin Voices: A Tribute to Madonna, Volume One has accomplished. “Holiday,” as rendered by Heaven 17, sounds exactly the way you thought you remembered it, until you realize Madonna was never so techno-enhanced (CHOONK, ch-ch chunk, ch-ch-choonk, “Holiday! It would be so nice!”). The excellent thing about this kind of, er, remix is that it allows you to hear the song the way your brain recorded it. This is closer to a soundtrack for a step routine than to the actual tune, for which the bloodbeat in your brain fills in the let’s-pump-this-up-and-jump-to-it thud marks. The truth comes out upon replaying the original, which suddenly sounds dragged-out and thin in contrast with your over-excited imagination.
So revel in Loleatta Holloway‘s soul-rich disco dance “Like a Prayer;” a Limelight dancefloor-ready “Like a Virgin” from Annabella Lwin (of Bow Wow Wow), or a fast and dark, sweat-pumping “Why it’s so Hard” from Dead or Alive, sounding like very glam Depeche Mode. Other tracks are so much like the original, such as Astralasia‘s “Vogue,” that I don’t know why you’d trade a spare tech-noise and wispy girl voice for Madonna’s own jewel-encrusted croon. Equally forgettable is a cinematic ballad version of “Live to Tell” from Berlin. Frontline Assembly attempts something weird and sultry-depressive dark (junkie style?) on “Justify My Love,” which sounds more like the singer was recorded muttering death threats in her sleep than heavy pillow talk. Boy George‘s “Bad Girl” could pose for Tracy Chapman getting funky. KMFDM disappointed me with a very plain brown oil-slick wrapper version of “Material Girl” – Cuisinart a string of Mardi Gras beads, a few nails, and an oversized crucifix and you’ve heard it. Play the track backwards and it says, “Written by intern while we were in john.” College radio will adore it.
Silverbeam‘s “Bedtime Story” is astro-floatier than the original, but what could be more appropriate, with the opiate lyric, “Let’s get unconscious”? Hoorah for Information Society‘s Anglo-glam-tech “Express Yourself,” which, with male vocals, makes feminine masculinity of one of Madonna’s most deliciously drag tunes. The only great loss on this man’s translation is the line “She’ll be back on her knees,” which loses a lot in the transmogrification. Spahn Ranch does a slickly wired, candy-buzzed and bennie-coated “Swim” (off Madonna’s latest album, Ray of Light). In a sometimes sweet, very danceable “Frozen,” Gene Loves Jezebel flexes its industrial joints without licking the split tar pavement into which KMFDM grinds its steel teeth. Satisfying my techno tastes, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black enjoys a fast-break, fuzzed-up and tweeter-trying “Frozen,” complete with synth-sticking vox that hop, stop, and repeat throughout.
Rarely does a track on this disc take Madonna any further than she’s taken herself (but then, bottles only go so deep before causing intestinal damage), and no more is proven than the monetary value of a remixed hit, rewired to live again for a new generation of dancefloors. Shadowy indie junkies will smoke up an ash storm to this and sneer out their butts in the jewelcase. Clubhoppers will clink drinks and slip on the dancefloor, wondering who remixed The Virgin. Thirteen-year-olds will rock it to the top of the pop charts and ask, “Madonna who?”
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