By Gregg Shapiro
All hail Liz Phair! Kicking the male-dominated Chicago rock scene in its tender nuts with her steel-toe boots, Phair’s 1993 debut album Exile in Guyville didn’t mince words when it came to the battle of the sexes. It was a bruising felt round the world, as dudes and bros moved to cover their privates. Twenty-five years later, the 18 songs on that album, as well as those on the preceding Girlysound home demo tapes, still sound fresh and ring true. The restored triple disc set Girly-Sound to Guyville (Matador), a provocative musical history lesson if there ever was one, is a potent reminder of female resilience in these #metoo days. With Exile, and songs such as “Fuck and Run”, “Dance of the Seven Veils”, “Stratford-On-Guy”, “Flower” and “Divorce Song”, Phair essentially left Madonna in the dust while planting the seeds for Alanis Morissette. Regardless of what you think of Phair’s later output (2003’s eponymous disc, we’re talking to you!), nothing compares to this masterwork.
It’s no exaggeration to say that when Gomez released its debut album in 1998, it didn’t sound like anything else. Newly reissued in an expanded four-disc 20th anniversary edition box set, Bring It On (Virgin), still doesn’t have any comparable recordings to match its unusual sonics. A big factor is the shared vocal duties by Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball. Ottewell’s vocals in particular, alternately warm and ragged, provide the songs with a bluesy soul that is hard to match. This is best exemplified in “Make No Sound”. Songs such as “78 Stone Wobble”, “Whippin’ Picadilly”, “Get Miles”, “Tijuana Lady”, the twangy “Free To Run” and the jazzy “Bubble Gum Years” also provide Gomez with its distinguishing edge. In addition to a 2018 remaster of the original album, the box set includes a disc of remastered single B-sides, a record company demo tape, 4-track recordings, live recordings and more.
Avoiding membership in the so-called “27 Club” by three years, Andy Gibb was yet another tragic loss in the pantheon of gone-too-soon pop music deaths. The Very Best of Andy Gibb (Capitol/UMe) is not the first compilation of the hits of the most attractive of the brothers Gibb, but it is the first time one has been tied to an anniversary (the 30th) of his passing. In addition to his looks (have those been mentioned yet?), Gibb could sing as well as his older siblings and he also co-wrote his notable number one singles “Shadow Dancing” and “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water”. Not surprisingly, his other big hits included here were written (or co-written) by brother Barry and include “I Just Want To Be Your Everything”, “An Everlasting Love”, “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away”, and the Olivia Newton-John duet “I Can’t Help It”.
Back when it was a quartet known for its sassy harmonies, En Vogue owned the early `90s. En Vogue’s first two albums Born to Sing and Funky Divas contained a string of dazzling hit singles including “Lies”, “Hold On”, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”, “Free your Mind” and a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Sparkle tune “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”. They even teamed up with female rap outfit Salt-N-Pepa for “Whatta Man”. This was also at a time when music videos still held sway and En Vogue took full advantage of the medium. The departure of Dawn Robinson changed the group’s fortunes as they added and removed members. En Vogue returns with the delicious Electric Café (eOne), its first album in 14 (!) years, with an incarnation featuring Cindy Herron, Terry Ellis and Rhona Bennett. Sounding very au courant, En Vogue returns to form with outstanding numbers including “Blue Skies”, “Déjà Vu”, “Reach 4 Me”, “Life”, “Love The Way”, “Have a Seat” (featuring Snoop Dogg) and the title cut.
Like En Vogue, Matthew Sweet has a storied past in music. Sweet released a couple of albums for a couple of different labels in the eighties that weren’t met with much fanfare. Everything changed with the 1991 release of his breakthrough album Girlfriend. From the vintage Tuesday Weld pic on the cover to the album’s irresistible string of hit singles including the title tune, “Divine Intervention” and “I’ve Been Waiting”. Sweet maintained the momentum throughout the 1990s. Beginning in 2006, he teamed up with Susanna Hoffs (of the Bangles fame) for a series of Under the Covers album on which they performed renditions of songs from the `60s, `70s and `80s. In 2017, Sweet returned with the solo recording Tomorrow Forever, and has followed it up with Tomorrow’s Daughter (Honeycomb Hideout), both of which sound as strong as the best of Sweet’s earlier work. Standout tracks on Tomorrow’s Daughter include “Ever After”, “I Belong To You”, “Lady Frankenstein”, and “Now Was The Future.”
Formerly known as the Grammy Award-winning Les Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, the renamed female choir The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices teams up with Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard for its first new studio album in two (!) decades, BooCheeMish (Prophecy). It’s a successful pairing, with the incredible voices of the choir members complementing Gerrard’s distinctive wail. Merging the Middle Ages with a contemporary approach, the songs on BooCheeMish, including “Rano Ranila”, “Mani Yanni”, “Yove”, “Unison”, “Tropnitsa” and “Shandai Ya”, have an unexpected immediacy and go a long way in eliminating any language barriers.