Edge of glory

_sm_Judas_cover_v5-RGBLady Gaga dabbles with new sounds on the album ‘Born This Way’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way can be looked at in two different ways: Either as a second chapter, or as a third. Where The Fame Monster was announced as a companion piece to her debut, The Fame, I saw it as a stand-alone album, with enough strength on its own not to rely on a predecessor. Now with her third full-length CD (yeah, third) we see the music phenomenon dabbling with her formula … but not without encountering a few bumps.

As Gaga has blitzed herself into the stratosphere of stardom, she’s finding her role as a self-help guru for the disenfranchised — “the freaks,” as she’s called herself and her “little monster” fans. The plan has worked. And while her first releases were abstract perspectives on celebrity, love and partying, here she’s direct in her message not only to her fans, but to the world. She’s on a mission to change prejudices and discrimination and she’ll do it one media onslaught at a time.

Where here sound has been straightforward dance music, Gaga has begun venturing into new territory. With touches of rock and blues, she’s resisting pigeonholing as a club diva. Gaga shows such growth in “You and I” and “Electric Chapel.” The subtlety of electric guitar punctuates the still dance-y edge of “Chapel,” but “You and I” is solid bluesy despite its Mutt Lange tendencies. That signature background chorus of Lange, mostly heard in his Def Leppard tracks, detracts from the soul of the song, but plays with its gravitas.

With the buzz of her pre-release singles — “Judas” and the title track — Gaga might have known that throwing in a few obvious hits she could get away with some textures she hasn’t pursued before. “Government Hooker” delves in darker territory, but it’s also off-putting, though as it unfolds, we hear her voice in a political stance. The song is not her greatest, but the

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PAWS THEN PLAY | Even with some growing pains, Lady Gaga expands her artistic vision into some nice maturity in ‘Born This Way.’

girl obsessed with fame is developing into a woman with eyes opening into substance.

Even with its techno-sheen, Gaga does something lovely with “Bloody Mary.” Co-written with DJ White Shadow (as are several tracks on the CD), she shows restraint with visually intense lyrics minus a turbo-charged beat. Words like We are not just art for Michelangelo / To carve he can’t rewrite the agro / Of my furied heart are degrees above what other popsters are doing and refreshing to see her developing this way.

Lots of Gaga’s appeal is in her hooks and the ease of her repetitive chants. They get stuck in your head and perhaps that’s been her plan all along. Some songs still have it (“Judas” most famously), but maybe she’s moving beyond such tricks.

While she generally succeeds lyrically and musically, she does misstep on occasion. She goes Latin again with “Americano,” but not with the sophistication demonstrated on “Alejandro.” The fast beat sounds like a throbbing headache and the chorus is too abrasive to embrace. “Heavy Metal Lover” has an earworm accompaniment, but the song mostly hangs with a 3 a.m. club beat that just drones on and on.

Gaga also gets too simple sometimes, which has its pros and cons, especially in her more empowering songs. “The Queen”(from the 22-track deluxe edition) has anthemic lyrics such as I can be the queen you need me to be / This is my chance to be the dance/ I’ve dreamed it’s happening and the beat works, but the structure lacks excitement. Even the guitar touches can’t save it. The song is really an echo of Gaga’s more popular “Edge of Glory,” another simple song, but one that works much better, even if it does recall an ‘80s confidence-inducing power track complete with, of all things, a saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons.

Gaga likely has a few more hits to come from this CD. “Bad Kids” and “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” stand out as enjoyable treats that could score on the charts, but add little to the album’s overall package.

Artistically, she falls short of Monster, but this album is more a gateway to potentially better things. Born This Way may not be easy to swallow immediately, but time should be spent with it to explore some of its hidden parts — good and bad.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Music. Score!

THE BOI AND THE COWBOY | Generations collide when Cazwell, right, and Cowboy Jeff Olson of the Village People bring their very gay music to the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, Feb. 3.

Musicians including Cazwell and Jeff Olson of the Village People head to Texas for a big gay Super Bowl party — although neither is all that excited about the game

All’s well that Cazwell

Who knew it just takes a popsicle to rise to stardom? Just ask Katy Perry. Or Cazwell, whose colorful music video for “Ice Cream Truck” became the gay anthem of last summer. With hot dancers and sexualized frozen confections, it has an infectious beat and a sense of joy that combined to make it a huge hit for the artist.

Just don’t expect the Ice Cream Truck Boys to join Cazwell when he’s in town next week for XLV Party, a three-day event inside a 60,000-square-foot climate-controlled tent on the field of the Cotton Bowl. The festivities kick off with a super-gay night of entertainment on Thursday. And even with the likes of Lady Bunny, DJ Inferno and the iconic Village People sharing stage time, Cazwell plans to bring it.

Describing himself as what would result if Biggie Smalls ate Donna Summer, Cazwell has combined the energy of dance music with the soul of hip-hop for a fun, modern sound that is all about getting people to have fun and dance.

“I’m going to turn it out. It’s going to be a high-energy show,” he says. “I’m going to do a combination of my dance songs but I also just want to kick back and wrestle with some beats and some rhymes. I think people will get to know me a little better as an artist.”

XLV Party will mark Cazwell’s second appearance in Dallas in less than a year and he’s anxious to come back.

“I was in Dallas last summer. It was really, really good. I was very surprised by the turnout. I wasn’t expecting so many fans,” he says. “We did a meet-and-greet that lasted three hours.”

His fan base has grown exponentially since “Ice Cream Truck,” but he still remembers the days when even Lady Gaga couldn’t get a reaction from a New York crowd.

“We did a song together at a club called Family. She’d always been kind of eccentric, but really down-to-earth. We had this stage that was like the size of a door, but she took it seriously. She crammed two dancers up there and then I got up there and she said, ‘I’m going to throw you to the ground and ride you like I’m fucking you and the audience is going to go crazy,’” he recalls. The gimmick landed with a thud.

“Somewhere there’s footage of it, but I can’t find it. The funny thing about it is that we really didn’t get the reaction we thought we were going to get. Nobody knew who she was so they just kind of looked at us with their arms folded. Like great, here’s another club kid with a song. Six months later, everybody knew who Lady Gaga was.”

Cazwell has garnered a loyal following on the New York club scene and has broken out with hit songs like, “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King” and “All Over Your Face,” but “Ice Cream Truck” is really where things clicked with a larger audience. And it almost didn’t happen.

“I didn’t want to write a new song; I was feeling really lazy. But a friend was pressuring me,” he says. “I wrote it for this movie called Spork, which won a bunch of awards for the Tribeca Film Festival and is going nationwide in May. My friend said he wanted a beat that sounded like an ice cream truck. We did the whole thing in like 45 minutes. It was just really, really easy.”

He wasn’t going to do anything with it until his manager suggested he make a quick video “to the song to get my face out there. It made me think of summertime and the hot Latin guys in my neighborhood. We all know a bunch of guys, dancers from the club scene so we invited them all over. No one was paid. We’re all friends and they just wanted to be a part of it.”

The video become a sensation across Facebook and video sites like YouTube, and with it came legions of new fans. But that’s OK … for now.

“I think that right now I’m in a good time in my life because I think the people that come up to me are genuine fans. I think when you get more famous, people want to meet you just because you’re famous. That could get tedious. I’m sure people go up to Lady Gaga just because she’s Lady Gaga, not because they respect her music,” Cazwell says.

“I feel right now that people are being genuine with me. I hope they’re people I’ve had a positive effect on because when people tell me that, it really makes me feel really good.”

And as for his excitement over the Super Bowl? Well, not so much. Cazwell admits he’s not a football fan — or a fan of any sport for that matter.

“I’m not passionate about sports at all. I don’t get it. I see sports on the news and wonder how that’s a news story. It’s just a game!” he says.

That’s all right. We see him as more a concessions guy anyway … like, the ice cream truck.

— Steven Lindsey

Cowboy up

Despite the cheeky allure of the Village People, the concept band is nothing to laugh at. After 34 years, the quintessential disco band still gets audiences to do the “Y.M.C.A.” dance. A  Rolling Stone cover, a Walk of Fame star and million-selling albums are nothing to sniff at.

Jeff Olson jumped onboard after the peak of the Village People’s popularity in the late 1970s, but he’s still enjoying the ride three decades later.

“Our first and foremost obligation is to just entertain,” he says. “We are obligated to do it and I’d say we do it very well.”

As a VP veteran, Olson sounds less like a music star and more like an elder slacker. He has a relaxed, cool inflection as he talks up his favorite classic rock bands and will say “man” after most everything. He’s the kind of guy you could kill a few hours with, as long as a beer and maybe something to smoke are handy.

The People don’t talk much about the sexuality of its members, but it’s hard to ignore the impact the group had on the gay community in the ’70s.

After the band floundered in the ’80s when Olson joined to replace original VP Cowboy Randy Jones, the gay audience stuck around.

“I don’t think we’ve had any change with the gay fans. They have always been very loyal and we’re still very grateful about that,” he says. “We’ve done lots to increase our other fans but really, nobody gives a shoot. Who cares anymore about gay or straight thing? We’re on this earth for very short time.”

At 60, Olson feels great and is obviously in shape to do the dance moves, but if it were up to him, he’d stay home. Still, the fans drive him to keep entertaining.

“I hate being on the road,” he admits. “When you live out of a suitcase, so much sucks like trying to get through TSA these days. I love being home, but we really love what we do.”

Where each Village Person represented a distinctive male archetype of gay fantasy, Olson is coy about the popularity of his cowboy image — though as any weekend at the Round-Up Saloon would prove, cowboys are a sexy commodity in Dallas. Olson won’t say if his cowboy is more popular with the boys than the others, but he lets out what sounds like a proud chuckle.

“Honestly I do not know and I don’t care,” he says.” The audiences react differently to all of us. We’re introduced individually so the reaction changes all the time. It’s always all good.”

The irony of Olson coming with the Village People for the very gay night of the Super Bowl party is that sports and crowds aren’t his thing.

“Nah, I don’t follow football,” he says. “And you wanna know a secret? I’m paranoid about crowds. I don’t do well with them and I need space. I don’t like signing autographs because folks don’t do the things they should do as a human being. But one on one I’m good with.”

Despite getting a few things off his chest, Olson mostly wants to remind that the Village People don’t necessarily stand for anything … but they will make you dance.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

On the heels of Brandon Hilton comes another Dallas glam popster — Chris Sapphire

Chris Sapphire

After posting Brandon Hilton’s newest video last month, I got an e-mail from “Emmy™ Nominated Film, Television and Music Producer J. Michael Brown,” informing me about another local pop singer. According to Brown’s e-mail, Chris Sapphire is a Dallas-based artist and radio/TV personality who just released a new video.

But first, I have to say that Sapphire is also part of the MZLive Internet radio team. Seems a lot like Rational Radio with an apparently higher profile. I checked out the site after reading Sapphire’s bio and checked out the latest webisode. I was kinda stunned when the show opened with Sapphire happily drinking Four Loco. Bad timing for days.

Anyway, Sapphire’s debut video, “Shake Your Ass,” has its catchy moments. Nothing complex, but I could get into the groove a bit. And I dig his Tina Turner momma.

Perhaps Dallas is becoming the home of gay glam pop. Like Hilton, Sapphire does the lip gloss gender-bending glam thing. What’s also similar is their approach to music stardom. Using aggressive social networking and web presence, the two are pushing that into a music career. Now we just have to wait and see where that takes them and subsequently, whether it makes Dallas the glam pop capital of the world.

Hey, we can dream. Watch the video now.

—  Rich Lopez

Adam Lambert brings the glam to the Palladium Ballroom tonight

Glamberts unite!

Adam LambertWe’ve decided that if any of us go on American Idol, we’re shooting for second place. That’s where the real stardom is. Especially for the gays. Clay Aiken started it, but Adam Lambert ran with the runner-up fame and turned into one surprising showman. Whether he’s this generation’s Freddie Mercury remains to be seen, but he’s going to have a blast trying.

And his Glamberts are a force to be reckoned with. You don’t ever want to say a bad thing about Lambert — ever. They will cut you.

DEETS: Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar Road. Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. $39. Ticketmaster.com

—  Rich Lopez