In my hometown, Philadelphia, the best radio station to listen to in a car is Jammin’ Gold (that’s Jammin’ Oldies for you New Yorkers). Which means about 10 tons of disco, with little bits of Motown, Philly Sound, and all the early-’80s r&b hits that use robot voices (except more Dazz Band than Zapp), with the cutoff at Michael Jackson’s first nose job. And just about everyone I know likes it, from my mom to my snobby indie-rock friends to my hairdresser. The format switch from Alt Rock couldn’t have come at a better time. And on TV in the summer of The Summer of Sam, Jammin’ Gold’s nuggets sell vests for Old Navy, flip Burger King burgers, and dress up the Gap in Khaki Soul.
I’m guessing that the Jammin’ Gold audience is divided into two groups: those who were shaking their groove thing back in the day, and those who were at home with babysitters, boogie-ing the night away with Barbies on shag carpeting, learning about sex from Donna Summer. Too young to wear a Disco Sucks button or sequined tube top, they’d come of age as cool club kids or wide-eyed suburban new wavers who understand the Jammin’ Gold segue from “Good Times” to “Heart of Glass.” Cibo Matto and Luscious Jackson live inside that segue too, making grown-up records for the kids who grew up eating to the beat indiscriminately.
Luscious Jackson— probably the first band to write a “Rapture” for bike messengers— bring their genius of love full circle on Electric Honey when Deborah Harry turns up on “Fantastic Fabulous.” In the intro, Debbie does “X Offender” again but tells that cop she wasn’t thinking of him after all, and then Jill Cunniff, Gabrielle Glaser, and Kate Schellenbach launch into an electric ladyland. It’s their most rocking moment to date; part “When the Levee Breaks” and part “Dreamin’,” and Schellenbach is as convincing as Bonzo as she is as Clem Burke.
Luscious Jackson’s harshest critics would say they don’t rock out enough, but part of writing a good citysong is giving it atmosphere, because how else can you cool down when it’s summer in the city? Daniel Lanois’s cool production on 1996’s Fever In Fever Out froze some fans out, but the songs reminded me of ingenues in noir films, holding onto their precious secrets until the airport in the video for “Naked Eye,” when the men in their lives brush past them because they have to get on that plane— modern love walking on by.
Most of Electric Honey is a return to the musical ingredients of 1994’s Natural Ingredients. Only exceptions: “Christine,” a drum’n’bass soundscape that slinks along like the former MTV animaton Aeon Flux, “Devotion,” which is a page out of Liz Phair’s post-Guyville incarnation, the tremolo seduction of “Fly,” and the country of “Lover’s Moon”— which might be a nod to Cunniff’s recent songwriting client Emmylou Harris, who returns the favor with sweet backing vocals on “Ladyfingers,” Electric Honey‘s answer to “Brass in Pocket.” Lyrically is where they’ve changed: the gun in the vanity is traded for sanity, the “Energy Sucker” of 1994 is thanked for providing a “nervous breakthrough.” They want to see your side no matter who’s right or wrong, but divas can still declare that their space is the place.
Cibo Matto’s Stereotype A is declaring space too, in the very bike lanes that Luscious Jackson once sang about In “Sci-Fi Wasabi,” biking in New York City is a metaphor for life, and if it’s anything like biking in Philadelphia, it’s filled with lots of honking, yelling, and the threat of the car door opening. Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda are passing on your right, don’t be snobby with them. There’s a hole on Broadway, no control, it’s in their way. A-OK gotta find an alley anyway.
Here, too, there are energy suckers to dodge. On “The Lint of Love,” not even the president can avoid the dust of confusion. Relationships have replaced food as subject matter, and Cibo Matto sound like they want to have fun but they lost the spoon that brings their sugarcubes together. They keep meeting kings of silence, their Savings of Love is closed on Sunday. And you know what Morrissey said about Sundays.
Cibo Matto have made a serious second album that doesn’t take itself all that seriously; it’s just as playful as 1996’s Viva La Woman. Give or take two bossa novas (“Flower” and “Stone”) and two throwaways (metal dirge “Blue Train” and avant-noodled “Mortming”), Stereotype A is mostly jamming and gold— takes me back to the days of double-Dutch buses, wordy rappinghoods, and freakazoids. C’mon and wind them up.