(produced by The Pet Shop Boys)
Epic Records/Sony Records, 1989
Epic ID#: EK45098 (compact disc)
Review by Michael Walker
It may seem pretty odd for me to be reviewing an album that is now ten years old, but when this gem was released, I was still in the midst of my own turmoil as a gay male adolescent and did not even know of its existence. Had I discovered this music back then, well, I doubt it would have changed my entire life, but I suspect I would have traded in my skater-kid persona for something a little more dramatic, to say the least. Now, after encountering the album via a club remix of one of the songs on it ("Don't Drop Bombs"), I believe it to be no less than an all-time gay classic, and a product resultant of the craftsmanship and artistry of not one, but three icons of gay-associated music: Liza Minnelli and Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe -- the latter also known as The Pet Shop Boys.
Apparently, this album was a product of Liza's desire to work with The Pet Shop Boys, a desire that was realized when she transferred Epic Records, which is also the parent company of the record label for which The Pet Shop Boys were recording at the time. Liza and The Pet Shop Boys might at first seem like something of a strange combination, after all, she's best known as the star of Cabaret and a world-renowned vocalist specializing in old-school Broadway show-stoppers. The Pet Shop Boys, on the other hand, are most associated with dance music and a more spartan, fluid, sound than the type of heavy orchestration often used in Liza's arrangements. But when you look --or listen, more accurately-- more closely to this album it is apparent why a collaboration of this sort suits all concerned parties very well. While I have been a fan of The Pet Shop Boys for years and consider their mid-1990s work to be among the best dance music of that period, I have to confess that their vocals seem a little too staid and demure at times. Their genius is in their arrangements, their electronic instrumentation, and their sense of wit and camp. All good things, but the vocals are a little stiff and static in places. Liza, on the other hand, is all about her vocal abilities and delivery, so it's very refreshing to hear what a vocalist of her caliber can do with songs penned by The Pet Shop Boys. The instrumentation chosen for this album is a well-planned blend of The Pet Shop Boys signature electronica and the more convention orchestral sound found in other Liza Minnelli recordings. Overall, the recording quality is excellent in every sense, showing a pristine and bright sound like that of the later Pet Shop Boys albums (think of Bilingual and their single "Somewhere").
Most of the songs on this album were written by The Pet Shop Boys, as well as arranged by them. Three that really stand out to me are "I Want You Now", "Don't Drop Bombs", and "If There was Love". "I Want You Now" is the sort of song that shows off the dramatic flair of The Pet Shop Boys but one that would suffer from less solid and controlled a voice than Liza's. As it is, this song comes across as both high camp and a truly moving, captivating, piece that would be well-suited as the highlight of a musical or movie soundtrack. Aside from The Pet Shop Boys, this album benefits from the talents of Anne Dudley, one of the greatest and most versatile of European film scorers and orchestra conductors. The merging of an orchestra under Dudley's baton and The Pet Shop Boys' synthesizers lays down a lush field for Liza to sing over in "I Want You Now". "Don't Drop Bombs" became an underground club hit of sorts in the early 1990s and still gets a fair amount of play in gay-oriented clubs; with its high drama and Liza's emotional delivery it's no wonder that the song has become something of a standard. Speaking of emotion, Liza also covers the song "Losing my Mind", which is written by Broadway great Stephen Sondheim. While this song is most often associated --like most of Sondheim's work-- with theater, Liza turns it into a contemporary, upbeat, number suited for radio play as well as more focused listening. Liza also covers Tanita Tikaram's classic "Twist in my Sobriety", a song that benefits from Liza's style, which in turn, takes the song outside of the context of the mystic pop artiste Tikaram and towards a more everyday yet alluring place. Admittedly, due to Liza's theatrics, this song loses some of the personality it had when sung by Tikaram herself, but it fits in well on this album and is testament to Liza's varied approach to material for her recording projects.
This album is, in my opinion, a true classic because it showcases one of the most distinctive and discussed performers of our century in a unique musical environment. The Pet Shop Boys deserve praise for adding the type of artistic touch and signature sound that they're know for while not masking Liza's own distinct sound and her way with a song. Liza is to be commended for taking chances with this album and for offering her voice in a way that it had not been heard until this release. Results is a most appropriate title for this album, because it truly is the result of what three legendary artists of popular culture were able to accomplish when they put their heads together. Although it's easy to tell from the synth sounds and general arrangements used when the album was recorded, the overall work has a timeless sound to it, transcending a period in popular music plagued by sound-alike artists and copycat recordings. Liza's voice resounds with the clarity and mellow histrionics that have garnered it great renown the world over. I can't imagine a more perfect album to capture for our generation the essence of drama that has been proudly associated with gay men in America for years, but much maligned in our contemporary times. The American musical theater not only lives in its most pure form, but has spawn this sort of romantic, coy, and campy music and Liza, I thank you for it!
MICHAEL WALKER is the interim Science and Medical Editor of Oasis Magazine. He is also a contributor to a number of academic, scientific, and general interest publications. His interests in music are broad -- from Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand to Anita Baker to Atari Teenage Riot -- and include his own love for playing the piano and desire to compose music. He can be reached at: MCWalker@hotmail.com