[The Guardian, 1999]
BAZ LUHRMANN & VARIOUS ARTISTS
SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY
THIS may not be exactly what you expected. If the name Baz Luhrmann means anything to you, it's most likely associated with the giant novelty hit Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen). Those who pay attention to the credits in cinemas will recall him as the director of Strictly Ballroom and the American teen version of Romeo & Juliet. A clever, camp entertainer with a fair few avant-garde notions, then. Which is closer to the mark. This is not a cheap cash-in LP, this is a project. With all the aspirations associated with that dread word, and all the care and attention parcelled up in it. The nub being, Something For Everybody is a genuine attempt to live up to its title. Judging by the content, that title might more appropriately read Something For Everybody Me And My Friends Know. So if you're the kind of person who might conceivably be one of Baz's mates - if you are an Australian artist, gay in spirit or in fact, on the more robust side of New Age, or a precocious 15-year-old girl - there will certainly be something for you here, because this album seems to have been assembled by exactly such a group of people.
Based in Sydney, in an establishment known as The House Of Iona (also the title of Luhrmann's forthcoming film), this very group, which may or may not be constituted as described above, collaborate under the name of Bazmark. Their motto runs: “A Life Lived In Fear Is A Life Half Lived.” So it's understandable that when they happened across Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich's mock commencement address, it resonated with them, containing as it did the same mix of homely wisdom and gung-ho sentiment. The column had been circulated on the internet, attributed to Kurt Vonnegut Jr; Bazmark tracked it to its true source and decided to record it. Although the album may appear to have been constructed around the resulting single, it was actually well under way by then. It's based around more than a decades' worth of Luhrmann's previous work in film, theatre and opera, and it would probably have slipped by largely unnoticed outside of arty circles, but for Sunscreen. And Sunscreen is a remarkable piece of work, created with the same instinct and imagination that made Strictly Ballroom an equally invigorating hit. One Lee Perry provided the voice-over; and while the idea of the (until now) more famous Lee Perry, reggae legend and top-flight nutter, performing this duty is an entertaining one, the Perry in question is an Aussie actor. His convincing and mild Southern US drawl is the record's masterstroke. Tom Wolfe has documented how test flyer Chuck Yeager's laid-back patter became a template for the reassuring authority common to American airline pilots. Perry simulates this voice precisely. That's why the advice sounds so good; this is your captain speaking.
The rest of the album feels both strange and familiar. It takes a minute to recognise The Cardigans' big single from the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack, Lovefool, re-recorded with a deadpan spoken vocal curiously reminiscent of Soft Cell, for some reason - both limp-wristed and sinister. Candi Staton's radio favourite Young Hearts Run Free is reworked Latin style; not surprisingly there's a lot of Latin stuff on here, and also plenty of lounge music. Doris Day, for instance, giving it the large camembert on Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps. Credit is due to Luhrmann for being well ahead of the game on both counts. His use of the styles may be highly mannered, but then they're highly mannered styles, and he certainly pre empted the easy listening renaissance and the re-emergence of Latin as a worldwide commercial prospect.
Reinterpretation being the keynote here, you'll also hear a macarena version of jazz age classic Happy Feet; Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time given a faintly drum & bass tinge; a discofied Hair medley of Aquarius and Let The Sunshine In, from a stage show called Haircut; a modernised R&B take on When Doves Cry, which I found irritating in the extreme; and Australian MOR titan John Paul Young's Love Is In The Air rendered even more melodramatic than the original. Now there, by the by, is a revival waiting to happen. Young may have ranked among the more gruesome performers of his day, but his babyteeth rock-out I Hate The Music is easily the equally of anything recorded by, say, The Osmonds. In fact, it's his own Crazy Horses, kind of. If anyone's planning to bring him back, do let me know. Forewarned is forearmed, and I plan to be somewhere else for that one. Still. . . I hate the music! Daa! Da-da-da dum. Catchy.
Forgive my meandering off like that, but that's really what this album is about. Camp and cheese and all your childhood memories coming back as a musical. The old joke about nostalgia not being what it used to be is literally true here, because Luhrmann has been careful to revamp it. So, if nothing else on the album strikes the same chord as Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), that's because Sunscreen, or at least the lyric, is its only truly novel piece of work. What began as a “project” has inadvertently become litter-bearer for a phenomenon, albeit a brief one. This too will pass. Which is, I guess, the whole point.
All material on this site is copyrighted © to David Bennun and may not be reprinted or reused without permission. Voulez-vouz reprinter avec moi ce soir?