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Sunday, January 22, 2006

When New Wave Happens to Old Artists - Liza Minnelli

The year: 1989. The artist: Liza with a “z”. The idea: Bring Liza back into the present out of the standards ghetto she’d been reduced to by teaming her with the Pet Shop Boys, who would write, produce and play on her new album. The results: “Results”. The verdict?

Not half bad.

There are two stories floating around about how this project came to be – one has Liza’s then-current recording manager, none other than Kiss’s Gene Simmons, suggesting the collab. Another version has a Sony exec, quite probably Walter Yetnikoff, sparking the idea. In either case, it was one of those wild ideas that smacked of both desperation and inspiration – combine the most camp, gayest sensibilities of the Pet Shop Boys with the most camp, gayest icon short of her mother, Liza Minnelli.

“Results” was a mix of previously recorded Pet Shop Boys tunes like “Rent” and “Tonight Is Forever”, alongside some carefully selected covers (including a bewildering version of Tanita Tikaram’s “Twist In My Sobriety”) and new PSB material. Something in the songs must have breathed some life in ol’ Liza, since she toned down much of the histrionics that had plagued her delivery and actually emoted, giving the songs surprising depth. That didn’t mean the album was without its campy moments.

First single “Losing My Mind,” a Stephen Sondheim composition, seems almost unfair to put Liza through, considering her past. But luckily, Liza was in on the joke and delivered a winking performance like a champ. Dance clubs went nuts for it (imagine that), and Liza had a bona fide hit single – “Losing My Mind” peaked at #6 on the U.K. charts. U.S. radio, predictably, wanted nothing to do with it.

Now imagine Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford as a Disco Diva and you get the idea behind the album’s follow-up single, “Don’t Drop Bombs”. To wit:

I'd rather not have to hear about
Your other girls on your expense account
I know you carry on, behind my back
With your secretary, you'll have a heart attack

What’s not to love?

But as was noted earlier, it wasn’t all wink-wink nudge-nudge campy fun. The album has some honestly earnest moments, most notably “Love Pains,” a disco hit first made famous by Yvonne Elliman. It’s shocking to hear some actual grit in Liza’s voice, especially during the chorus – it’s a side she should have explored more, instead of marrying gay plastic surgery addicts and popping Xanax.

“Results” is pleasantly surprising. Don’t let the fact that it’s Liza Minnelli scare you off, especially if you’re a Pet Shop Boys fan. The album must have done okay since it’s not only still in print, but there's now a remastered version, complete with bonus remixes and a DVD of all the videos made to promote the album.

Score: Liza – 1, New Wave – 0. Decision, Liza.

Minnelli went on to record more standards, Broadway-ish things, but never returned to the pop charts. She did, however, earn major cool cred points by portraying Lucille 2 on "Arrested Development", the greatest sitcom since "Seinfeld". So for that, she gets major props.

”Losing My Mind” peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music Sales chart in 1989.
“Love Pains” peaked at #40 on the same chart the same year.
posted by John, 8:29 PM