by Greil Marcus

(1) Gossip, Music for Men (Columbia). After years living off the novelty that singer Beth Ditto is bigger than female singers are supposed to be, this trio has produced an album as cool and impassioned as anything since the heyday of Book of Love. Everything that might get in the way of put-you-on-the-spot vocals and slap-back rhythm has been pared away; the songs breathe and snap. That you might hear Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug” or Fine Young Cannibals’ “You Drive Me Crazy” in “Heavy Cross” doesn’t mean the band is recycling someone else’s hits; the musicians have a jukebox in their collective head, just like anybody else. That turns up an “I Heard it through the Grapevine” quote in “Love Long Distance” so graceful it can almost make you doubt you’ve heard it before—and even if you know you have, the Bronski Beat beat, thin, clean, and swirling, will make you forget. With “Spare Me from the Mold,” as strong an image as you can ask from a song title, they head out into a rave-up so hot they can turn it into a breakdown with the twist of a neck. Sometimes craft gives as much pleasure as vision; sometimes vision sneaks right out of craft.

(2) Dion, “Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms),” in Big Fan, written and directed by Robert D. Siegel (Big Fan Productions). Near the end of a film that in the pitch meeting you can see Siegel trying to sell as a cross between Buffalo ’66 and The King of Comedy (“What about The Fan?” “It’s ‘Big Fan,’ and who remembers The Fan anyway?” “Me?”), there’s a no-ambient-sound slow-motion bar scene where the hero, the schlub “get a life” was invented for, walks through the place like Robert De Niro in his Mohawk, all sorts of conflicting and repressed desires flooding him like a bad cold; the only sound you hear is the flipside of Dion’s 1968 “Abraham, Martin & John,” the most threatening record he ever made. Somebody knows their stuff.

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Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, and The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, and other books. His column, Real Life Rock Top Ten, runs monthly in the Believer.

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