Pet Shop Boys

🏷 English synth pop duo

Ending the week with top-shelf synth pop. Ecléctico is good for your ears and algorithms, one tune at a time.

"Rent" by Pet Shop Boys
(1987)

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Wayne Studer: Undoubtedly one of the most controversial songs ever written by the Boys, yet also one of their most frequently covered. Commonly viewed as a narrative by a "rent boy" (British slang for a male prostitute), Neil has directly denied this interpretation, stating that he wrote the lyrics from a female viewpoint. (Indeed, Liza Minnelli later covered this song on her Results album.) Then again, in his essay "Queen Theory: Notes on the Pet Shop Boys" (published in the 2002 critical anthology Rock Over the Edge), British scholar and critic Ian Balfour claims that an early, unreleased version contained such pointed allusions to Elton John's alleged and refuted dealings with rent boys that our heroes felt the need to rewrite the lyrics to avoid legal difficulties. Neil and Chris, however, told Chris Heath (as related in his book Pet Shop Boys, Literally) that they had changed some lyrics specifically to prevent people from thinking the song was about Elton since, in fact, it wasn't. That being said, in an April 2007 interview on the British TV program Hardtalk Extra, Neil conceded that he and Chris quite enjoyed being "provocative" with the title, which, as he put it, "obviously came from the phrase 'rent boy.'" So the ambiguity was consciously "built in" from the very start.

Whatever the case, the lyrics focus on the narrator's mixed feelings about being "kept" by the person with whom s/he is in love. Alternatingly mercenary and tender, the song invites the listener to share these mixed feelings, blurring the moral lines between sexual and financial arrangements. Released as the third single from Actually and a major hit in Britain and elsewhere, "Rent" wasn't even offered as a single in the U.S., probably because the Boys and/or their record company realized how misunderstood it would be.

Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18

🏷 Welsh singer and multi-instrumentalist collaborates with Brazilian musicians

Next stop, Brazil via Wales. Ecléctico sends your ears and algorithms across the pond, one song at a time.

"Dwyn Dŵr" by Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18
(2021)

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Monocle: Wales and Brazil may not be two countries that are often paired but this new album by songwriter Carwyn Ellis creates a mesmerising marriage of the two. With the help of band Rio 18, he has engineered a joyous multicultural hybrid that overlays his melodic language over the tropical sounds of bossa nova, samba and cumbia. These songs are an homage to nature, love and community – and they are an uplifting delight.

Adia Victoria

🏷 South Carolina-born, Nashville-based blues singer

Yesterday we were in France. Today we’re in the American South. Ecléctico is fine-tuning your ears and algorithms, one song at a time.

"Devil is a Lie" by Adia Victoria
(2019)

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Dangerous Minds: Silences is the name of [Adia Victoria’s] second album. The first thing I want to say, right up front here, is that it is goddamned amazing. The second thing I want to get across is how different it is from its shithot predecessor. Beyond the Bloodhounds roared along like Charley Patton sitting in with the Gun Club fronted by Billie Holiday with a hellhound on her trail. Silences isn’t that. It’s a different animal entirely. Oh trust me, it could have been a sophomore effort showing but a bare minimum of artistic growth and I’d still be right here right now raving about it, but it’s not as much of a guitar-based blues this time. This time it’s even more sophisticated and certainly the arrangements are more complex, but to be clear I’m not trying to convey that it is actually a better album than her debut.

It’s the equal of it and you need to hear both.

On Silences, the lady is most assuredly still singing the blues, but she is doing it very, very differently from the way she did it on her 2016 debut. That album was swampy and it rocked out. Silences, as the title might indicate to you, isn’t that. The same amazing voice, the same extremely high quality of wordsmithery, the same sense of heightened drama, the touches of evil, the tension she is so good at evoking are there in the same measure—all very good things—but the sonic palette expands here dramatically to incorporate piano, strings, synthesizers, a horn section and other “serious artist” (and larger budget) embellishments. Victoria co-produced the album with Aaron Dessner of The National at his studio in upstate New York.

When an artist can plug so very directly into the source of the blues as Adia Victoria can, this is not a well of inspiration that’s likely to ever go dry. She’s got a quite a bit of the same artistic essence I find in Nick Cave’s work. That is a mighty goddamned statement to make about someone with but two albums under her belt, but I feel compelled to make it. She earns it. This is an artist who I would follow anywhere. When Adia Victoria writes a novel, I’m gonna read it. When she’s acting in a film, I’m going to watch it. She’s just that good.

Cortex

🏷 French jazz-funk band

Ecléctico — making your ears and algorithms more eclectic, one song at a time, since 2019.

"La Rue" by Cortex
(1975)

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The Find: For this edition we return to France, in the 1970s that is. Friends Alain Mion and Alain Gandolfi teamed up as Cortex to make a record inspired by the early 70s records of Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock, to name a few. But, as true Frenchmen, with a particularly different flavour.

Alain Mion, who already played with Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley, teamed up with a group of fellow musicians, namely Jean Grevet on bass and Mireille Dalbray on vocals/scat. The record prooved to be a true rare groove classic, mixing Headhunter-style funk with Brazilian flavoured jazz and heavy bass.

Sadly, they never topped the first release and the band broke in the early 80s, with only a handful of records in their discography. But luckily the rare groove and acid jazz scene, and later the hip hop scene, rediscovered the Troupeau Bleu record: while the first edition sold 7.000 copies, the reprint now has sold over 10.000 copies. Not bad for a France-only reissue! Mion and Gandolfi are now actively performing again – perhaps partly thanks to the fact that their music has been sampled by MF Doom, Madlib, DJ Cam, Tyler, the Creator, amongst many others.

The "5" Royales

🏷 Influential rhythm and blues quintet from Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Ecléctico — fine-tuning your ears and algorithms, one song at a time, since 2019.

"Tears of Joy" by The "5" Royales
(1957)

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Bear Family Records: No matter how many sessions they cut for Cincinnati-based King Records, The "5" Royales could never remove the glorious gospel feeling from their earthy output.

The quintet from Winston-Salem, North Carolina was enormously successful during their early secular days with New York's Apollo label (their Baby Don't Do It and Help Me Somebody both topped the R&B charts in 1953; the latter's flip Crazy, Crazy, Crazy as well as Too Much Lovin' and I Do all close behind over the course of '53 and '54). But when the Royales switched over to King later in 1954, the hits dried up despite the ongoing presence of church-fired lead Johnny Tanner and the increasingly blistering lead guitar of Lowman Pauling, their primary songwriter.

The quintet finally made it back to the R&B hit parade in 1957 with Tears Of Joy and the romping Think (later revived with a funkier groove by James Brown). Their Dedicated To The One I Love (featuring Johnny's brother, Eugene Tanner, up front) provided a blueprint for The Shirelles' subsequent hit rendition. Jimmy Moore and Obadiah Carter remained staunch in the chorus, as they had since their '51 Apollo debut date when they were still a gospel group, The Royal Sons Quintet.

Although the Royales usually cut at King's Cincy headquarters (or occasionally in New York), their February 3, 1960 session was held in Miami at Criteria Studios. Johnny torched Lowman's intense I'm With You, drenching his lead in sanctified fervor as Pauling's guitar provided a surging underpinning and the Royales chanted hypnotically. The storming flip, Don't Give No More Than You Can Take, and both sides of their King farewell, Why and the group-generated (Something Moves Me) Within My Heart, came permeated in pure holy roller goodness.

From King, the Royales signed with Memphis-based Home of the Blues, where they stayed from 1960 to '62 (the logo licensed some of their masters to Vee-Jay and ABC-Paramount). After a '63 date in Nashville for Todd Records, the quintet remade Baby Don't Do It and I Like It Like That under James Brown's supervision for Smash in '64. Lowman tried to break out on his own with five early '60s 45s for Federal under the name of El Pauling in partnership with pianist Royal Abbit. Pauling died December 26, 1973 in Brooklyn, his mind-boggling axe never gaining him the adulation he deserved. The equally spectacular Johnny Tanner died November 8, 2005. As one of the earliest R&B acts to bravely blend gospel into their attack, The "5" Royales were one of the founding fathers of soul.

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