3 min

A decade of post-disco pleasure

Bland George Michael may not be gay, after all

There’s a trap waiting for me if I attempt to do a millennial wrap-up. You know – a best of the last 1,000 years.

I’d be tempted to dole out fantasy awards, stuff like Best Visionary In The Lesbian Category to Hildegarde Of Bingen. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the 12th century abbess whose migraine-induced hot flashes and distinctive melodic approach earned her the definitive reputation as the only documented lady composer for many centuries. New age and foxy.

So I thought I’d settle for an end-o-century review. But my column size would only allow for 7.5 words per year. That’s tight for a chatterbox.

So excuse me Sergei Prokofiev, Vaughan Williams, Maurice Ravel, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, John and Yoko, Sex Pistols, Suicide, Neu, Throbbing Gristle, Motörhead, Kraftwerk, Sparks, Morrissey, Adrian Sherwood’s On-U-Sound, Lee Scratch Perry, VU, ABBA, AC/DC, PSB, disco, punk, Iggy, Stones and Beatles. You changed my life, but I’ve got a decade to review.

The same goes to Bowie, Bolan, Roxy and Lou. You were there when I needed you the most. Mid-teens, the glam explosion rescued me from miserable, closeted, suburban ennui.

The 1990s began as rave culture first laid down roots. The disco-sucks mentality was about to be over-thrown, and the dawning of late ’80s Detroit techno was shining bright.

Like circa ’76-’78 punk rock, rave gave permission to a generation of sound artists to DIY. The conventions of music were abandoned as a global nation of bedroom studios and independent labels infused the scene with fresh ideas unencumbered by major label parameters.

For the majors, the task of learning to package something without a familiar face seemed impossible. The industry retaliated with an army of lawyers shouting about copyright infringement. Sampling became a crime and artists the criminals. Even Ricki Lee Jones jumped on the lawsuit bandwagon, despite the fact that her cosmic chatter on The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” was the first time anyone had noticed her in years. Can’t you just be grateful for the attention, Ricki Lee?

Legal fees aside, The Orb continued producing what one person described to me as “the most beautiful house music I’ve ever heard.” By ’95 they achieved perfection with Orbus Terrarum – still the finest hybrid of techno, ambient, house and dub.

At the other end of the electronic spectrum was hedonistic German sound brat Cosmic Baby – the Ferrante & Teischer of techno music. Classically trained, he became so engrossed in his own neo-Amadeus reputation, that he simply spun off into oblivion in a blaze of bad behaviour and 16th note arpeggios. But not before recording a plethora of albums (including my personal favourite Thinking About Myself), EPs and publishing sheet music of his oeuvre (that’s right, sheet music… with the fancy pebbled sleeves et al).

Hip hop, perhaps the most influential voice of the underground, finally got the respect it deserved. Artists like Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and De La Soul initiated the decade with some of the genre’s most eloquent expressions.

Prince, the thinking-man’s soul-funky cock rocker, saved the ’80s from artistic desperation, but dug a hole for himself in the ’90s by simply being too good. His is a talent so large that my ears are spoiled.

Gavin Friday made his cleverest move to date in ’95 with the release of Shag Tobacco. Vastly underrated, this album of sublime pop songs is, without a doubt, the gayest recording. Not bad for a straight boy from Dublin. Shag Tobacco’s sexual tension is so thick, you could gag on it.

Also released in ’95 was Lisa Germano’s Love Circus, one of the most personally-charged musical diaries I know of. Crafted songs, extraordinary performance and interesting production – mixed with the sound of cats.

But the most significant shift I’ve witnessed this decade is in the depth of music.

Once a haven for artistically-minded outsiders, music is now a serious career consideration for youth. New pre-fab groups, like Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls, appear like clockwork. Dreams of fame and fortune glimmer in the eyes of attractive hopefuls who are willing to tow the corporate line for some space in the media, a level of control that is changing the sound and message of music. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell which came first: the song or the marketing plan.

George Michael provides an immaculate example, and secures his place in the 21st century with the lamest collection of standards ever. Even Bryan Ferry seems conscious in comparison. The in-denial album of the decade, Songs From The Last Century, is a cheap-shot for a singer/songwriter whose personal life has been chock-full of experience since his last set of self-penned material. I refuse to believe George couldn’t think of one thing original to say. Perhaps he’s not gay, after all.