Doll Parts

Disco actor portrays disco singer, has new wave hangover

Cristina Monet passed for a disco singer, but she was actually a disco actor. In the late '70s, she wrote theater reviews for the Voice (as an enthusiastic Brechtian, by the sound of things), and when she stumbled into a recording career, she constructed "Cristina" as a character to critique the economic and erotic power dynamics of boogie-oogie-oogie. August Darnell (Kid Creole/Machine) wrote and produced her halfway-there 1980 debut, Doll in the Box, as a vehicle for her persona: a hedonistic airhead with the smart-playing-stupid -playing-smart voice of Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. (The album's title is a reference to its sprechstimme cover of Michel Polnareff's "La Poupée Qui Fait Non.")

The new reissue is mostly worthwhile for the three brilliant singles appended to it: a mercilessly funny rewrite of Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" that the song's composers promptly suppressed, thanks to its lyrical updates ("I remember when I was a little girl my mother set the house on fire. She was like that"); a sophistiqué disco version of "Drive My Car" that Cristina sings in her best "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" simper, whereupon its sexual politics instantly pop to the surface; and "Disco Clone," a luscious stomping thumpzilla about the way the conformist plumage display of places where they play luscious stomping thumpzillas reduces people to indistinguishable, mindless sexual playthings. Talk about an alienation effect.

The B-side remix of "Disco Clone" was retitled "The Ballad of Immoral Manufacture," and for the benefit of anyone who hadn't caught on yet, 1984's Sleep It Off includes Brecht-Weill's "Ballad of Immoral Earnings." This time, Cristina wrote her own lyrics, and sloughed off disco for new-wave-hangover arrangements from Don Was. She also dropped the Marilyn act, and worked up a more unnerving persona: a burned-out high-society pinup with boozy prep-school enunciation, a little black book full of despicable gold diggers, and a transparently phony social circle.

"I've passed out with a novel or a needle in my hand/I've passed out with a rag doll and I've passed out with a man," she slurs on "What's a Girl to Do," and the kiss-off that steals a riff from "Anarchy in the U.K." is called "Don't Mutilate My Mink." Paris Hilton should just cover the whole thing when she starts making records three years from now.

 
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