A silver medal for Dana Jean Phoenix's
For some relief from the bombast of the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony, the endless stream of mockery of the games themselves, and the frustration of not being able to effectively protest the horrifying Russian laws and attitude, I decide to indulge in some pop music. Dance my cares away. Dana Jean Phoenix has just released Drrty Shooz and her pedigree is beyond intriguing: vocalist with funkmeisters God Made Me Funky, just off a stint starring in The Musical of Musicals, The Musical, and, not insignificantly, an endorsement from pop royalty and utterly eccentric Nicki Minaj. Phoenix dubs herself a "Retro Electro-Cabaret Vocalist" and the press package trumpets, "What happens when Blondie meets Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Bette Midler." Sounds like a perfect pop pick-me-up pill.
First stop is the YouTube video for "You're Not Alone" which is billed as "an empowering response to the homophobic policies of the Russian government (and any other policy/ stance by any government in the world which alienates any members of their society)." Very à propos. It is sonically very '80s, all synths and programmed beats, and echoes those generic power-pop songs written to promote nationalistic events - ironically very Olympian - or discourage drinking and driving. And, like the aforementioned musical earworms, just try to get the chorus out of your head. It is impossibly catchy and I will be singing it for weeks.
It is the lyrics that give me trouble. Allies should be encouraged but platitudes about empowerment and tolerance are a step behind where I see myself situated.
You're waiting for the day That you can find a place A space to call your own. Where you can just belong
You're not alone You're not a freak You're not a geek And you will find a home
Well-intentioned and undeniably catchy but more pacifistic and less an iron fisted rallying cry. Phoenix has amazing chops but less Ghandi and more Guevara would make me happier. However the video, with its striking images of presumably gay athletes triumphing, is a perfect antidote to my scepticism and makes me eager to hear more .
Drrty Shooz is all about empowerment and relaxes into a retro '80s groove that luxuriously fills the ears and tickles the feet. The title track starts with a crotch-grabbing bassline and Phoenix revels in her lower register where she is less chipper and very sexy.
We're gonna hit the floors and kick the doors down Nobody's gonna keep us out Together hand in hand in our dirty shoes
That's more like it! You go grrrl.
Phoenix is aiming more for the feet than the heart or brain and she succeeds more often than not. The disco-inflected "Bullitz" begins with a Wizard of Oz reference, "Swagsters, hipsters and queens, oh my," before going really gay when Phoenix emphasizes that she, "doesn't want a relationship. I really just want to dance."
In the hands of an astute manager and with the addition of some slick packaging, Phoenix would be a star instead of an artist. The overall vibe of Drrty Shooz needs just a bit of tweaking to emphasize it's uniqueness or, though hopefully not, to be remixed into a series of contemporary pop princess purgatory anthems to become a mainstream hit. Phoenix has pipes and when she lets loose - "Cheap Disguise" is a sexy ballad with passionate and nuanced vocals, and "Till Wild" lets her set off some vocal fireworks without being a Mariah Carey-esque showoff - the effects are stunning. When she writes or receives a really gripping melody, she'll sing the shit out of it.
On "Morning Breeze," Phoenix lets a slight dirty rasp creep into her voice when she sings, "I believe in me." She should. When she tears into "Big Time" and then raps a bit, just for fun and a dash of street cred, we forgive her for the spoken word finale of "California," which trails off instead of raising the roof, or for the occasional lapses where she lets her backing vocals - which are astounding - upstage her main vocal performance. To riff on "You're Not Alone," please don't wait for centre stage, you can claim it and own it.
Phoenix invites us, in "Rollacoasta Baby," to
Come and take a ride with me on a roller coaster baby We could touch the sky you see
Phoenix almost does touch the sky, almost grabs the gold, and my Olympic blues have been cured by the solidly silver medal Drrty Shooz.
Drrty Shoozis available on iTunes and SoundCloud. The release party, with an appearance by God Made Me Funky is on Sat, Feb 8 at Bar Italia, 582 College St. danajphoenix.com