Look at the ARP Odyssey. It looks like 1976. At 23(!), Manuel Göttsching used it and an array of other synth equipment to create New Age of Earth. By ’76, the Ash Ra Tempel veteran had spent over 5 years with that group as a young guitarist and vocalist. Despite the Ashra moniker here, New Age of Earth is essentially Göttsching’s solo debut. Göttsching’s official website bio hilariously characterizes him as “Modest, quiet, [and] bad with self-promotion and with answering the phone”. He made all the music himself, and in falling with his modest and quiet character, there are no vocals to be found here, just 4 instrumental pieces.
“Sunrain” is propulsive, perhaps the least “ambient” piece here. It makes me want to sing along like the guy on Pat Metheny’s Still Life who goes “dadadada de DAdoo dayah” (maybe check that album out if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
“Ocean of Tenderness” is, as its title suggests, calm and soothing. Göttsching whips out the Gibson SG on the last 5 minutes for some dank noodling. “Deep Distance” is a whistling jam that some have likened to a proto-Aphex Twin track.
“Nightdust” takes up the whole B side, and it’s the trippiest piece on the record as well as my favorite. It fans out like a bellows before settling, appropriately, like cosmic dust. Along with the ambient pieces on NEU! 75, this is about as good as it gets for spacey Krautrock music. I recommend it to any fan of ambient or atmospheric synth and guitar work.
Ah, Autumn. The perfect time to wistfully smoke a cigarette while staring into the ground. What’s that Frankie? You’re wondering where she is? Damn man, sorry. Haven’t seen her around. You’ll get over it, bro (probably).
I had a bit of a Sinatra phase this year. Lovely stuff, and it felt appropriate during the lonely summer months of 2020. If you ever felt like you couldn’t see your S.O. because they were in another state and it wasn’t feasible to travel during a global pandemic, or you couldn’t go to your favorite restaurant or see friends for the same reason, don’t worry! Frank understands. He’s been lonely. He’s been through it. He’ll tell you all about it.
Yes, Where Are You? is depressing, but also comforting. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic praised its “luxurious sadness”. Want to cry diamond tears on your 24k gold pillow? This is the album for you. As soon as those first string notes open the title track, you’re wrapped up in the sad glory of traditional pop’s greatest singer.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I love music without drums. No drums! And hey, no piano either, so no percussion to be found. Standards become lullabies. But if you’re snoozing by the end of the sublime “Laura”, Sinatra bellowing “New York, NEW YORK!” at the beginning of “Lonely Town” might wake you up. No, this isn’t that New York song. In fact, most of these standards were unfamiliar to me prior to listening. The notable exceptions were also recorded by Miles Davis: “Autumn Leaves”, which Miles performed live frequently in the early 60s, and “There’s No You”, which appeared on the underrated Blue Moods.
Where Gordon Jenkins orchestrated the Where Are You? sessions, the bonus tracks (13-16) were recorded with Nelson Riddle, who conducted two of Frank’s most acclaimed works – In the Wee Small Hours and Sings for Only the Lonely. I’ve read reviews that characterize Jenkins’ arrangements as “dour” and “overwrought” compared to Riddle’s work. Frankly (heh), I can’t tell the difference. Where Are You? sounds lovely to my ears, and it’s perfect for this time of year.
The great Nina Simone has several lauded live albums, but Emergency Ward! stands out for two key reasons. First, there are are only three songs on this full-length LP. Second, only the first half was recorded in front of a live audience.
The live A-side, “My Sweet Lord / Today Is a Killer” was performed on November 18, 1971 at the Town Theatre in Wrightstown, NJ (just outside of Fort Dix). Noted political activist Jane Fonda (remember when she starred in an experimental political comedy by Jean-Luc Godard?) organized the event as a continuation of the vaudeville/variety anti-Vietnam War FTA tour. A transgressive performance, it allowed the soldiers stationed at Fort Dix the “chance to rail against the army”. Good thing Fonda was a Nina Simone fan.
The Fort Dix performance is electric. The band gets right to it: drums, tambourines, handclaps, bass and a choir quickly develop a rollicking groove to back up Simone on piano and vocals. Audience cheers and the timbre of the recording perfectly capture the live atmosphere of the theater. David Nelson, a founding member of The Last Poets, contributed the poem “Today is a Killer”, which Simone brilliant splices into George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”. The album refers to the piece as a medley, but it’s really more of a new song, a lighting-in-a-bottle creation that was thankfully recorded by RCA technicians at the performance. Which, at 18 minutes on the album, is one of those tracks that sounds way shorter than it is. In fact, the only complaint I have about this release is how quickly this opening track fades out. Surely the live show was longer, but as listeners we can’t be sure what happened.
The last two tracks were recorded in-studio. “Poppies” is a lush song that RCA billed as a “poignant tribute to a drug victim” (see the ad below), though it probably has as much, if not more, to do with war. Then another George Harrison cover (again from his debut) in “Isn’t It a Pity”. If you’re a Galaxie 500 fan like me, you probably think that their version (which closes On Fire) is the best one. Unless you’d like it more sombre and less Beatles-y (Beatlesian?), Simone’s 11-minute rendition won’t change that. But it is lovely and intimate. The reissue/streaming version also adds “Let It Be Me”, culled from the Fort Dix performance.
The George Harrison connection isn’t all that strange if you know that her preceding album was Here Comes the Sun, which began with the titular track (written by Harrison). In addition, the concert she performed before the Fort Dix show (October 10 at Lincoln Center) featured a cover of another track from Abbey Road, “Come Together”. Thank god we don’t have to hear an 18-minute version of that. Apparently, Harrison was inspired by Nina’s take on “Isn’t It a Pity”, but I’m not sure the two artists ever met, let alone recorded together.
This period of Simone’s career was marked by frustration. Between the late 60s and early 70s, she had a strained relationship with RCA and America as a whole. Amidst label disputes, sociopolitical unrest and Simone’s increasing mental health issues, the fact of Emergency Ward‘s existence at all is kind of a miracle. This is an anti-war album, largely recorded (by RCA) at an anti-war event, and released (by RCA) with a collage of Vietnam-related news clippings (like Bombing of North Termed Highly Effective by U.S. – Accurate Laser Guided Bombs Believed Freely Used) on the album cover. But you probably won’t find it in your parents’ record collection. “While Nina remained proud of Emergency Ward, essentially a concept album, the commercial payoff was minimal,” writes Nadine Cohodas in her Simone biography Princess Noire (2012).
The next decade of Nina Simone’s career would be markedly less prolific than the previous one. In 1973 she moved to Liberia, then three years later to Switzerland. ”Switzerland is the only place in the world where I am at peace,” she told the Times in 1983. ”The people live in peace, and they don’t steal, and no one’s crazy. When the Swiss see fat tourists from America, they laugh as though it’s a circus and say it’s not possible for people to look like that. The Swiss have protected me. They know that after every visit to America I would always have to go to the hospital to recover.”
Not exactly high praise for the USA, but I can’t blame her. I’m just glad that today, as a time-capsule of a uniquely tumultuous period in American history, we have this magnificent album.
Not gonna lie, when I discovered this album I assumed Tor Lundvall was someone in Scandanavia, perhaps making experimental records for Oslo’s Rune Grammofon label. But no, my man Tor is a good ol’ American like me, born in Jersey and based in Long Island. His self-described “ghost ambient” music is soothing, spectral and perfect for Fall, the spookiest season.
Lundvall’s primary output is his paintings, and his website hosts a gallery where you can view hundreds of them. The album cover above is a good representation of what you’ll find: tree-filled landscapes as well as costumed characters who are occasionally a bit creepy. And his painting style is absolutely reflected in the music: pastoral and gentle tones abound.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I love music with no drums, and like a lot of ambient music, Under the Shadows of Trees fits that description. It is a a collection of reverb-soaked synthesizer and piano pieces, many featuring vocals with discernible lyrics (“Distant Children” is almost a pop song) or muted cries (adding to the “ghost” theme).
At just over an hour, Under the Shadows of Trees is fairly long and many tracks sound the same, but this is rarely a problem for me when it comes to ambient music. If quiet, contemplative full-lengths are your thing, then this is a beautiful choice. On its Bandcamp page, Lundvall suggests that listeners play the album outside as the sun sets, “just as the evening ghosts call softly from the woods”.
So I was thinking, I bought this 1200 year-old Chinese clay flute and I’ve been learning to play it. It only has a scale of five notes, and it is like blowing over a Coke bottle, but I’ve written this piece called ‘The Plum Blossom”, and I think I can make it work.
The accomplished Dr. Yusef Lateef passed away 7 years ago in 2013, at the age of 93. He was 40 when he recorded Eastern Sounds in 1961. All this to say, the man was from a different era. “The idea of the album, as he tells it, was to have an oriental feel,” wrote Joe Goldberg in the liner notes. To quote The Big Lebowski, that’s not the preferred nomenclature, at least not today. The term “oriental” is about as dated as “negro”, but I think it’s important when approaching this album to consider the context of the time in which it was recorded and the artist’s intentions. Granted, I am a white person of no Asian descent, but to me Lateef’s exploration of Eastern Sounds are genuinely informed by his practice of Ahmadiyya Islam (a movement based in India) and, as the quote above shows, an interest in experimenting with instruments uncommon in the Western hemisphere.
This context in mind, it’s not hard to see why Eastern Sounds is Lateef’s most popular recording today. We begin with the aforementioned “Plum Blossom”, and indeed the Chinese flute, or xun, sounds a bit like a Coke bottle or jug instrument. It’s a bit funky, but it has legs. In particular it reminds me of Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet on “Bitches Brew”: deep and ominous, but wonderful all the same.
The next couple tracks were penned by Lateef as well and continue the album’s theme, but after that we get just as many American standards. It breaks up the sound a bit, but these songs are lovely and mellow. This is also, with “Love Theme from Spartacus“, the only jazz album I can think of that incorporates a theme from a Kubrick movie, and to great effect.
A later highlight is “Purple Flower”, which has all the space and beauty of a 60s Miles ballad, albeit with no trumpet. The album rounds out with “The Three Faces of Balal”, on which bassist Ernie Farrow makes great use of the plucked rabab instrument.
This month, Lateef would have turned 100, and UMass Amherst has launched an online celebration of his life featuring music, writing, photos and more focusing on the late jazz legend. One thing I love in particular is this short NPR tribute by John Rogers on his friendship with Lateef. Yusef Lateef has a large discography, but Eastern Sounds is a great place to start. May his life and music be celebrated for centuries to come!
Mariah Carey is snarky. After Eminem repeatedly dissed her and then-husband Nick Cannon, she made “Obsessed“, a smash hit that still ranks among the most popular songs in her extremely successful catalog. And she wasn’t afraid to bite back at Em: “See, the difference is, my song is on the radio and his, you have to search for it,” she said in 2009.
Of course I knew the brilliant “Obsessed” back then, but I just discovered Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel earlier this year and my first thought was, “how did it take so long for me to hear this album?” I’ve followed The-Dream for the past decade as a big fan, so it surprised me that until 2020 this album, almost-entirely penned and produced by The-Dream, somehow Mandela effect-ed its way from seeming nonexistence into my ears. And – surprise! – it’s her best work.
Most Mariah full-lengths are scattershot. And that’s ok! She’s made a lot of music, and plenty of it is top-notch. But for every “Vision of Love” or “Fantasy”, there’s usually some sappy filler that lines the rest of the album. Memoirs, however, hits over and over.
Much of Memoirs sounds exactly like what Dream was doing on his first three albums (AKA The Love Trilogy), and that is a good thing. “Candy Bling”‘s beat is almost identitcal to “I Luv Your Girl”; the screwed “lovin’ on my mind” vocals on “Ribbon” recall the same effect on “She Needs My Love”; the whole album is filled with ay-ay’s and oh-oh-oh’s that are hallmarks of Dream’s sound. No complaints there.
What separates the album from being just another Dream record is, of course, Mariah herself. Besides contributing her iconic vocals, the female voice in her songwriting is the antidote to what we hear excessively on Dream’s solo albums, namely the licentious tales of an extremely horny guy. Take “It’s a Wrap”: over a silky piano line, she begins, “Yet another early morning and you walk in like it’s nothing / Hold up, hold up, hold tight / Ain’t no donuts, ain’t no coffee / See, I know you seen me calling and calling / I should crack you right in your forehead”. Damn, MC. Sass is a consistent lyrical motif in this album, and she pulls it off. For the last few songs, however, Mariah changes her tune and goes full ballad mode, covering Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”. She pulls that off, too.
In fact, Carey’s cover of “I Want to Know What Love Is” got the nod of approval from Foreginer’s Mick Jones, and broke the record for longest-running number 1 on the charts… in Brazil. It’s a euphoric end to her tightest album. I only wish that Spotify had a version of the album without the bonus remixes, so that I don’t have to hear a ridiculous techno mix of “Obsessed” every time the main album ends.
What a wonderland of a zoo, a cross between steaming smoke, atonal mystery and hanging, frothy ditties…
Brian Eno is an agent from some other time and some other place who seems to know something that we don’t but should…
There’s a scene in Y tu mamá también where the protagonists are driving across rural Mexico listening to Brian Eno’s “By This River”, and one of the stoned teens says “This song rules!” As someone who spent many a stoned teenage night with Before and After Science, I absolutely identify with this moment. Like the quotes above (from Down Beat and Crawdaddy! respectively) suggest, Eno was tapping in to something otherworldly with Before and After Science, a record that took two years to compose and represents an artist at a peak of his musical powers (Low, “Heroes” and Cluster & Eno were recorded in the same time period).
Like his preceding masterpiece Another Green World, Before and After Science mixes the art-rock of Eno’s first two albums with the ambient sounds he pioneered. But unlike Another Green World, the two sides are distinctly separate in their styles.
If you’re familiar with Eno’s career, you probably know of his Oblique Strategies. This creation method takes the form of a deck of cards, with suggestions like “Ask your body” or “Not building a wall but making a brick”. Created by Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, this technique was utilized heavily by Eno in this period and inspired many, if not all, of the songs on Before and After Science (apparently over 100 tracks were written for it).
Schmidt’s contributions to Before & After Science are particularly notable. Apart from co-authoring the Oblique Strategies cards, four of Schmidt’s prints (including the image above) were included in the original packaging of the album. Schmidt’s work inspired Eno, and the prints included in Before & After Science seem to reflect the meditative, autumnal quality of the album.
As I mentioned before, the two sides of Before & After Science have different styles. With the exception of “Energy Fools the Magician”, the first side is a collection of upbeat, vocal-lead art rock tracks, with a standout in “Backwater”, featuring drumming from Can’s Jaki Liebezeit. It’s a great bunch of songs, but the second side makes the album a 5-star masterpiece, and for my money the greatest work of Eno’s career.
After the pastoral “Here He Comes”, “Julie With…” creates a celestial atmosphere featuring Eno’s Moog synth and bells. It is a dazzling six-and-a-half minutes. “By This River” is a meditative yet moving song made with Eno’s Cluster buddies Moebius and Roedelius. It has a descending piano line that embodies Schmidt’s watercolor depictions of nature. “Through Hollow Lands” is an instrumental piece that acts as a sort of preamble to the album’s final track.
If the heavenly sprawl of Eno’s many lengthy ambient works were distilled into a sublime four-minute “pop” song, the result would be “Spider and I”. Indeed, the album closer achieves the great beauty of “Discreet Music”, while the lyrics paint a youthful fantasy: “We sleep in the morning / We dream of a ship that sails away / A thousand miles away…”
Of course, Eno has continued to make stellar music over the past 40+ years, and any fan of ambient or work labelled “art rock” may have a different favorite in his discography. After years of listening to it, Before and After Science remains his dearest treasure to me.
How does one describe the sound of the beat on “Pony”? Belching synthesizer? Squelching vocoder? Hungry jury? I like to think of it more as a croaking toad, but whatever the case may be, the timeless classic vaulted both Ginuwine and Timbaland into stardom for good reason.
There’s a lot more to Ginuwine’s debut album, however. Timbaland and Ginuwine’s Virginia-based crew (including Missy Elliott, among others) came up under the tutelage of Jodeci’s DeVante Swing. Transplanted to New York, where Jodeci was working with the late Andre Harrell’s Uptown label, Ginuwine and the 23-year-old Timbaland recorded in Rochester (where Jodeci made their third album) and Ithaca. The late, great Static Major wrote the hook for Pony, and the rest of the music was Timbaland’s creation.
Timbo’s value and influence here cannot be understated. The use of space, bass, stuttering drums and unconventional (often squeaky or “squiggly”) sounds created something darker and cooler than the majority of 90s R&B, and it still knocks to this day. What makes both Ginuwine and Aaliyah’s voices so perfect for Timbaland’s production in this time is their sense of restraint and minimalism. Instead of belting and warbling like R. Kelly and Mariah Carey, Timbaland’s singers brought something slick and chill to fit snugly into the folds of Timbo’s futuristic grooves. Nothing is rushed on Ginuwine… The Bachelor: no song runs under 4 minutes in length, and most are over 5. Maybe it’s the lack of immediacy (outside of “Pony”, the album’s first proper track) that has kept this album from being canonized alongside other R&B classics.
The Bachelordoes have the songs, though. “Lonely Daze” flips the guitar from “You Are Everything” with a sublime performance from Ginuwine. “Only When ur Lonely” is perhaps the most emotionally charged track here, building to a superb climax (sampled well by the Ginuwine-worshipping PARTYNEXTDOOR on “Muse”). Throw in a great cover of “When Doves Cry”, complete with Timbo’s deep background vocals (10 years before Futuresex/LoveSounds!) and you already have a few standouts. Also, Missy Elliott raps over Portishead’s “Numb” on “G Thang”.
“World is So Cold” is my favorite track here. Any R&B song that can make me wistfully stare out of a window (other examples include Aaron Hall’s “I Miss You” and Tweet’s “Smoking Cigarettes”) is an instant classic in my eyes. This one also has one of those amazing moments where everything goes up an octave, adding significantly to the impact of the ballad. After some unnecessary 3-second interludes (remember when silent interludes were included at the end of CDs?), The Bachelor concludes with a banger in “550 What?”. The drums and group vocals will have you wanting to party at Ginuwine’s address, even when you have no idea where the hell they are talking about.
Ginuwine’s follow-up 100% Ginuwine rules too, that one being his final album-length collab with Timbaland. “Pony” and other hits have stayed in the collective conscious, thanks in part I guess to Magic Mike and Parks & Rec. But Ginuwine’s debut should be taken seriously as an R&B classic, and a wonderful document of the blossoming of Timbaland’s fruitful career.
If you asked me at any point over the last 8 years what my favorite song was, I’d probably say Immature’s “I Wanna Know U That Way”. I discovered the R&B boy-band’s early track via a Spaceghostpurrp sample of the track’s face-melting keytar sample. Immature quickly became my favorite boy-band, these adolescents providing the soundtrack to many a high school night of cruising around in the ’03 Honda Pilot.
The members (led by a young Marques Houston, then known as Batman) were aged 12-13 when their second album Playtyme Is Over came out. The kid on the cover with the eyepatch is Jerome Jones, then known as Romeo (later Young Rome). Romeo predated both Lil’ Romeo in name and Nelly’s band-aid in fashion sense by rocking the eyepatch for years (apparently Brandy hit him in the eye). Batman takes the lead here on vocals, while Romeo occasionally raps (like on his adorable “Walk You Home” verse), and third member LDB basically plays the background.
What makes Immature special? Ostensibly, they were just one of several New Edition clones; a factory made formula designed to gain traction on the “Urban” charts, with contemporaries in Hi-Five (“I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)”) and Another Bad Creation (I kid you not). Where Teddy Riley produced Hi-Five at Jive and Dallas Austin produced ABC for Motown, writer/director to-be Chris Stokes (You Got Served) was at the helm for Immature (for Virgin on the debut, then MCA). While Riley and Austin are both certified legends, I think Stokes had a bit more proving himself to do. Jermaine Dupri and “Tricky” Stewart(!) assisted on the debut On Our Worst Behavior, but that album is super scattershot and as the group’s name implies, the youngsters were underdeveloped vocally – they were literally 10! There are some serious standout tracks, like my favorite song mentioned at the top of this piece, but it is not a great album.
Playtyme Is Over is. They almost completely ditched the New Jack Swing thing here – which is a good idea, because you can’t beat Teddy Riley – in favor of a smoother sound. Opener “I Don’t Mind” lays down the vibe – summertime in Cali, cruising in the jeep, just oozing that inexplicable 90s cool. “Never Lie” became the group’s biggest hit and still is to this day. This always surprised me, because the back end of the album hides two absolute jams, which I believe could have hit bigger if released as singles. “Sweetest Love” snaps – think TLC’s “Diggin’ On You” (released 3 months later!) with a bit more punch in the chorus and you’ll be there. Then “Just a Little Bit”, which has a kind of Backstreet/N*Sync synth groove (one that French producer Onra would later sample) and killer background vocals. Both songs rank among the top of the Immature catalog. But I haven’t yet touched on this album’s greatest track, “Constantly”.
What a trip it is to be a young teen in love. Few R&B ballads capture the absurd pain and longing quite like “Constantly”. So picture me, 18 and lovesick, pulling over the aforementioned ’03 Pilot to cry to “Constantly”. Have you ever pulled your car over to cry? It is very cathartic. I mean, just listen to the lyrics here: “You look so fine / I often pretend / That you’re my girl / At least my friend”. Damn. Oh, and that high synth note after Batman sings “Every single way of every single day / I start driftin’ away” – incredible shit.
If “Ambient R&B” were a thing it might be my favorite genre. Maybe I’ll explore the idea further another time, but as a seeker of this particular sound Playtyme Is Over ends with an absolute blessing: “I Don’t Mind – The Vibe Mix”. And what a vibe it is. Simply a version of “I Don’t Mind” with no drums, the subtle difference nonetheless creates an indelible atmosphere, allowing the listener to bask in the harmonies and open spaces of the song.
Immature’s legacy seems largely forgotten, and that’s a shame to me. They would go on to release two more good full-lengths as Immature before rebranding at the turn of the century as IMx, releasing another pair of albums with middling results and eventually separating. Marques Houston continued a fairly successful solo career as a singer and actor. The group reformed in 2015 for an EP released on Soundcloud that mostly harped on 90s nostalgia (with an updated “Never Lie”), but of course failed to beat the peak they hit in ’94. Playtyme Is Over is an excellent album that stands up against almost any 90s R&B release.
Lo-fi production has a special resonance with music nerds like me. Whether it’s Ariel Pink’s early material (recently re-mastered and re-released), or an obscure gem like Otis G. Johnson’s God Is Love ’78, various genres achieve a special luster when they sound like they’re recorded in a trash can.
Timex Social Club never really made it big. Formed in Berkeley, California in the early 80s, they reached an apex in 1986 opening for Run-DMC while simultaneously hitting #8 on the Billboard Charts with their single “Rumors”. “Rumors” is a glossy, goofy song in the vein of New Edition or Alexander O’Neal. It’s good, but not remarkable amidst a swarm of similar 80s R&B singles. Plagued by infighting and a suit from Timex watches, the group broke up shortly after their hit. Member Michael Marshall would go on to sing the hook for Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” and have his own solo career. Founder Marcus Thompson currently operates as a DJ and performer under the Timex Social Club name.
In 2019, Thompson released The Lost Tapes, Vol. 1. These songs were recorded in the mid-80s and sound drastically different from “Rumors”. Recorded on a 4-track and truly lo-fi, these Lost Tapes are gritty, weird, minimal R&B jams. The killer, unfinished “Coke Life” envisions a world of beepers, plastic baggies and pistols, while “Driving With Dee-Dee’s” employs sounds of screeching tires and laughter over an anxious beat.
As far as I can tell, Thompson as bandleader sings every song here. Of the bizarre ballad “Green Tears” he writes, “Michael [Marshall] was supposed to come and lay vocals, but he never showed. I thought he might not come because he never liked the song” (How Do Rumors Get Started: The True Story of Timex Social Club, 74). The desperation heard in synth-laden ballads like this and “Heart Like Mine” recalls the outsider romantics of Lewis Baloue. “Heart Like Mine” has a little bit of “Betcha By Golly, Wow” in its noodling background synth melody, but none of the lush nature of classic R&B is shared here. These songs are stark and strange.
It’s not all great. “I’m In Love” is the misstep: it’s simply way too long. But things end on a cute note with “Loving Angelina”. This tale of puppy love is full of fake handclaps and a humming Kurzweil K250 synth.
It’s unclear how much other unreleased Timex material Mr. Thompson has in his possession (I assume much more if the Vol. 1 is any indication). For now we have a worthwhile curio that, at its weirdest, is more Night Dolls With Hairspray than Michael Jackson.