Platinum Weird

Platinum Weird

2006: Interscope/Weapons of Mass Entertainment B0006644-02

  1. Happiness*
  2. Taking Chances
  3. Will You Be Around*
  4. Nobody Sees
  5. Crying at the Disco
  6. Avalanche
  7. Somebody to Love
  8. All My Sorrow
  9. Love Can Kill the Blues*
  10. Mississippi Valentine
  11. I Pray*
  12. When We Met

* = twinned with a track on Make Believe, the “1974” album

Heavens, where to start….

I guess I should get one thing out of the way first: with the exception of a brief comment comparing the two available versions of the song “Happiness” I will not be dealing here with the purportedly-1974 Platinum Weird album Make Believe, as I consider it to be a quirky offshoot of this album’s origins and not the other way around. I’ve addressed the other album with this one in mind, but Platinum Weird stands on its own here.

It’s fascinating to finally get to hear the fruits of a labor Dave Stewart’s been at for awhile (and so vocally enjoying). That he’s not merely producing but is actively performing in this band is abundantly clear, and he is obviously enjoying this opportunity to strut his guitar stuff (probably even more than I’m enjoying hearing him get to show off and really rock out on some tracks). His singing contributions are brief but appropriate and effective, and I can only guess at his presence in the lyrical side of things because what he and Kara DioGuardi have generated here could be from either of their worlds.

But that does bring up the subject of his partner’s songwriting credentials, which are abundant but feature some really dubious “artists” of fly-by-night celebrity status whose talent has less to do with music or art than with publicity and the seedy side of popularity. I can’t judge DioGuardi’s songwriting range, because I lack the masochistic will to listen to her words as “sung” by the likes of Ashlee Simpson, Christina Aguilera, and similar bint-du-jour fluff. The lyrics on Platinum Weird range from arresting to tediously cliché, so the partnership’s evidently not found its perfect balance yet, and where it’s arresting (for me anyway, and that may be a relevant caveat) is in Eurythmics territory: the recognized dark side to any joy and the light shining out of blackest despair.

Performance and lyric don’t always coincide on that point, but where they do, on this album, is unquestionably the opening track, “Happiness.” And that is one mighty solid piece of work. Lyrically it’s nearly pure Eurythmics, with a little hyperbole from a different land, and I can see Annie singing this one pretty much as written. Which is NOT to say that DioGuardi doesn’t do it well enough on her own: au contraire, she delivers an absolute smackdown performance here that ranges from weary voice to direct-current wail. She unexpectedly builds to heights I didn’t think she could even approach, and she fucking SLAM-DUNKS them. I’m still shaking my head in amazement at the stuff she pulls out of nowhere to turn this track into a volcano…although in hindsight her descant vocal track on the chorus gives ample notice of her range if not the intensity and power to come. The version on the “1974” album provides an interesting alternative perspective, but there is simply no comparison on the question of performance and impact. Lovely lyrics aplenty, an early example being this: “…my greatest gift / is falling down and taking it / ’cause everything is better when it hurts….” “You know there’s never pleasure without the pain / here it comes again!”

I have VERY mixed feelings about the “Here Comes the Rain Again” quotation in “Taking Chances.” Especially (as of July 2008) now that Celine Dion has recorded a cover version of “Taking Chances,” so the lyric is getting another trotting-out from a bigger name…is that good? I suppose so…it’s keeping the original song in some of the public consciousness, and after all it does have some nice lines to run through your fingers.

Rain is conspicuously present in the lyrics on this album…so much so that I’m inclined to view mentions of it as being lyrical gimmickry rather than heartfelt and immediate artistry. For that matter, I confess I consider the use of the phrase “here it comes again” in “Happiness” to be a direct reference itself to “Here Comes the Rain Again,” but then it’s not as though Eurythmics themselves haven’t tapped that same phrase for the allusion (in “Cool Blue” on Touch and “Here Comes that Sinking Feeling” on Be Yourself Tonight for example).

I’m afraid no track on Platinum Weird holds for me quite the same impact the opening track does, although “Will You Be Around” has promise and might grow on me, but “Crying at the Disco” is getting more enjoyable. It certainly benefits from a fine opening line: “Everyone thinks that I am who I am…but I think my dance has just begun.” On top of that, Stewart finally gets to let rip with his electric guitar (though it’s only a hint of what’s to follow on “Avalanche”).

“Avalanche”—YEAH!! That’s an opening like I love to hear. :^) Pity the song’s lyrics aren’t quite clear enough to be sure of throughout. Still, it’s a nice strong rocker with dark connotations, and I’m fond of those.

Overall however the album sounds like a superbly-rocked-up Sheryl Crow one—twangy rhythms and lightly gritty vocal edge throughout—except for the tracks I’ve noted here. Not that it’s bad…it’s just not clearly unique overall. I’m delighted to hear what Dave’s been up to, and this introduction to DioGuardi’s unexpected voice is emphatically welcome.

The strange flaw to this album, as far as I’ve found upon repeated listenings, is uncharacteristic of Dave Stewart’s work: it works extremely well on headphones but not on stereo speakers or radio. Stewart’s touting of DioGuardi’s voice is mostly justified by what I hear here, although her range seems to be strident above and husky below on the whole, disguising a not-especially-broad gamut when it comes to actual octaves. It’s showcased pretty well, but I get the impression that that’s production rather than basis. It works well for ballad-y tracks such as “Nobody Sees,” but “Taking Chances” exposes the voice’s limitations: strong on high wails amid bombastic power chords and gritty/weary up-close confessional stuff but without much shown elsewhere. I get the impression that DioGuardi’s capable of rectifying that impression—turning the tables to give the upper zones more body and the lower ones greater range of expression—but on this first outing she doesn’t quite seem to get there. The electrifying work she does show here, especially on “Happiness,” confirms for me what Dave enthused before the Platinum Weird records were released, that DioGuardi has a mighty voice, so I hope to hear it continue to find its full form.