Sharps and Flats is a daily music review.

Published October 1, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

Call it what you will -- lounge
music, cocktail music, exotica
or even space-age bachelor
pad music -- but the laid-back
rhythms of '50s and early '60s
adult pop are back in the
spotlight. This time around,
however, it's mostly a media
phenomenon. Oh, fans will
point to the success of
Capitol's "UltraLounge" series
-- now up to 20 volumes --
and Bar/None's Esquivel
compilations, but who knows
anyone who actually listens
to those recordings? True
enthusiasts do exist, but in
numbers far smaller than the Esquire-reading trendies for whom Les
Baxter is merely this year's Dick Dale.

"Lounge-a-Palooza," the first major label compilation to cash in on the
lounge music revival, makes a grand attempt to attract both trendies
and true believers. It's a strange mix of modern rock acts trying their
hands at cocktail chestnuts and veteran lounge singers warbling
alternahits. Two newly penned tunes in the bachelor pad spirit provide
the olive in the sonic martini; Poe's "A Rose Is a Rose" and Presidents
of the U.S.A. singer Chris Ballew's "Robert Goulet (On the River

Lounge music's strong point has always been its ability to create a
romantic atmosphere, usually with at least a hint of melancholia. While
the genre's current fans claim to love the way it conveys deep
emotions, many of them seem afraid to appear affected by it: Irony,
which was almost completely absent from original lounge, is a major
part of the cocktail mix of the '90s.

The problem, which "Lounge-a-Palooza" makes clear, is that, once
you've enjoyed the Pizzicato Five's gleefully schizophrenic take on
"The Girl From Ipanema" (which was a joke even in its time), there
aren't that many levels of irony left to explore. Picture the Dick Van
Dyke Show's Rob and Laura Petrie having Buddy and Sally over for a
few gin and tonics. Rob, under the influence, makes a good-natured
crack about Mel Cooley. Once Buddy's chimed in with some more
barbs about their bald boss, that line of conversation becomes tired and
they move on to deeper subjects, such as why walnuts are pouring out
of the hall closet.

To be sure, any swiller worth his salt shaker would have to have the
button-down mind of Mel Cooley not to appreciate
"Lounge-a-Palooza's" best shots. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormi's
lushly orchestrated four-and-a-half-minute take on Soundgarden's
"Black Hole Sun" exceeds one's wildest expectations. They probably
don't understand lyrics like "call my name through the cream" any
more than the rest of us do, but they belt 'em out as though it were
their last shot at a follow-up to "Go Away Little Girl." Which it
probably is.

What makes Steve and Eydie's performance great is that they clearly
respect the original version of the song, something that, judging by
what's in the grooves, cannot be said of the Fun Lovin' Criminals'
somnolent take on 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." Other
Lounge-a-Paloozers seem to respect the originals too much. Glen
Campbell and Michelle Shocked's attempt to recreate Campbell's
godlike "Wichita Lineman" has predictably secular results, while
Edwyn Collins's "Witchcraft" and Fastball's "This Guy's in Love With
You" only serve to highlight the singers' pitch problems.

Fortunately, a few artists, like Combustible Edison (joined by lounge
legend Esquivel on "Miniskirt") and the James Taylor Quartet (doing
the Bob Crewe Generation's "Music to Watch Girls By") are willing to
take a chance, mixing reverence with passion. Dedicated fans of lounge
music will undoubtedly recognize those acts' ebullient performances as
the genuine article. It's a relief to see that someone on
"Lounge-a-Palooza" understands that to fully enjoy a great cocktail,
you have to remove your tongue from your cheek.

By Dawn Eden

Dawn Eden is a New York writer and music critic.


Related Topics ------------------------------------------