Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marion Maerz, "Burt Bacharach Songbook" (Reprise Records/Bureau B; 1971/2009)

For every pop singer who achieves celebrity status, there are dozens whose budding music careers tank before their fame fully blossoms. It’s a story so common that the list of names could go on forever, if only we hadn’t forgotten them all. In Germany forty years ago, that’s what happened to the sprightly young pop singer Marion Maerz (who, it’s worth noting, had a comeback in the ’90s and emerged again in the ’00s). Burt Bacharach Songbook was supposed to revivify her career, a sign of her refinement and maturity, but it ended up a commercial failure. Now that 38 long years have passed, the record is getting another chance. Largely forgotten except by collectors, emblematic of so many grand ambitions and ill-fated dreams, Burt Bacharach Songbook might finally win Maerz the recognition she never received back in the ’70s. But it seems more likely that these stale arrangements will fall into obscurity once more.

Putting on Burt Bacharach Songbook feels like opening a time capsule and peering into the ephemeral pleasures of another age, one that bears a striking resemblance to today. Maerz practically lived the short life of an American B-level pop star, getting a spot on a Pepsi-sponsored talent show as she studied to be a secretary, losing the contest but winning a contract with Polydor, shooting to the top of the charts with her first single, “Er Ist Weider Da,” and then steadily falling out of fashion over the next decade or so. Coming in the twilight of her fame, Burt Bacharach Songbook feels strangely anachronistic. Maerz’s bright voice, reciting Bacharach lyrics in German with subdued rolling Rs, exudes a teeny-bopper’s coy innocence. On the other hand, Ingfried Hoffmann’s stale band-orchestra ensemble arrangements—with its grooveless rhythm section, mock-triumphant horns and hyper-dramatic strings—are fit for a washed-up celebrity living out their last years in a Las Vegas amphitheater. This is supposed to be Maerz’s prime, but it sounds like she has already passed it—without having grown up in the first place.

With the recession in full swing, this re-release couldn’t have come at a worse time. Burt Bacharach Songbook faces a tough American audience—so many of them reared, no less, on the laws of fame that spelled Maerz’s demise forty years ago and that, on American shores, are now explicitly enforced on American Idol. Burt Bacharach Songbook probably won’t pass the muster of the disagreeable Simon, or win nearly as many sales as Taylor Hicks’ next record, but it still deserves a second round. If anything, it can assure all those who failed to make the cut that even the obscurest stars have their day. (For all I know, Maerz has a cult following that has been waiting on this re-release for decades.) Only time will tell how successful Burt Bacharach Songbook will be this time around, but one thing is certain: even if it languishes, it’s not disappearing any time soon if it goes up for sale online.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dinky, "May Be Later" (Vakant; 2008)

Under the moniker Dinky, Alejandra Iglesias has run much of techno’s worldwide gauntlet. She was born in Santiago and she’s cool with fellow Chilean producers Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos. She lived in New York City during the grimy, golden rave days of NASA and currently resides in Berlin, long a hotbed for minimal techno. In an oevure spanning the past nine years, she’s matched a dance background and an avant-garde sensibility reminiscent of Arthur Russell with the limber grooves of her Chilean confederates and the more mechanical thumps of the Berliners, conjuring an exquisitely elaborate swagger.

May Be Later‘s nine tracks are variegated “four to the floor” stomps, powered by beefy kicks and jumpy wet bass lines, overlaid with metallic percussion, ricocheting congas, dancing laser shots and unpredictable clicks and clacks. In “Mars Cello,” bizarre vocoder vocals coo over a racing heart beat rhythm and the disjointed plucking of what sounds like one of John Cage’s prepared pianos. “Fademein” takes off like a pixilated rocket ship with a squawking bass and Jorge Gonzáles’ sexy robot vocals. Atop the glassy scraping and harsh hi hat of “Sunday Set” lies a liquidy loop, jazzy keyboards and, finally, a funky modulated synth. It’s refined party music, intricately composed and hard-driving.

May Be Later is the kind of record that seems to transform depending on how loud you play it. Put it on low and it’s mellow morning music. Crank up the woofers and it’s a wacky romp. So if $18.98 for CD or $22.98 for vinyl feels like to high a retail price, think of it as a two in one deal.

Rating: 73%


Published Friday on The Glow.