Music

Betty Boo: Grrr! It's Betty Boo

A charming mix of pop kitsch, lite rap and Julie London mannerisms, Betty Boo's lost gem, 1992's Grrr! It's Betty Boo, gets a re-release from Cherry Red Records.


Betty Boo

Grrr! It's Betty Boo

US Release: 2016-03-18
UK Release: 2016-03-11
Label: Cherry Red
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Just as pop and rap began to intersect in the early ‘90s, a sagacious young entrepreneur on the come up had branded a very smart fusion that would take the UK music scene by storm. Whether you consider hip-hop’s merge with pop a judicious transformation or a dubious marketing ploy, it has to be observed that a young Betty Boo walked this line with sheer poise. Named after the coy and flirtatious cartoon character, Betty Boo (real name Alison Clarkson) took audiences by surprise and her 1990 debut Boomania, an album full of juicy pop hooks, cheeky raps and a retro ‘60s sheen, shot up the charts on the back of its contagious single “Doin the Do”. Recorded independently and released on the underground label Rhythm King, Boomania soon caught the attention of major label heads who scrambled over one another to sign the young rapper.

A deal with WEA records produced Grrr! It’s Betty Boo in 1992, a decidedly more pop-oriented effort which found the British rapper toning down her once spiky delivery for a softer approach. While the album caught the attention of some notable admirers (including Madonna, who wished to sign Betty to her Maverick label upon hearing Grrr!), it failed to reach the heights of the artist’s debut effort. After stalling at number 62 on the UK Albums Chart, the album fizzled out as did Betty’s career.

It was an unfortunate way to go. Had listeners tuned into Betty’s sophomore effort with a keener ear, they would have discovered a rather delightful set of pop-rap - inoffensive, yes, but enjoyable nonetheless. Going against the grain of what made up most of early ‘90s club music, Betty Boo turned toward the innocuous and fanciful exploits of ‘60s pop for inspiration yet again. Much of Grrr! consists of doo-wop appropriations, Julie London mannerisms and cocktail lounge kitsch parlayed into house beats and hip-hop lite grooves. On the charmingly blithe opener “I’m On My Way”, Betty trades in her normally crisp rhymes (far more pronounced on her debut) for a rhythmically awkward rap; such clumsy delivery would normally be regarded as sheer embarrassment, but the singer manages to elevate her verses with a cool, devil-may-care attitude. The accented touch of pop perfection rings gloriously on the brass section which interpolates a segment of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into the song’s closing – played by the original members of the horn section who featured on the Beatles’ song, no less. Released as a single, the song was accompanied by a visually stunning and brilliantly choreographed music video that exhibited the star’s marketing prowess.

There are plenty gems here that still hold up nicely, even after more than twenty years since the album’s initial release. “Thing Goin’ On”, a bouncy slice of hip-hop funk, is etched with the smart scribbles of jazz; a lightweight rap dances atop the seductive groove, springing sweetly like a pliable piece of Turkish Delight. On “Hangover”, another single, the mid-tempo hip-hop shuffle is built around a swooning orchestra right out of a spaghetti western. Understandably, the single failed to connect with audiences, who looked for more immediate thrills at the time (of which, at least in the UK, they found in the likes of Stereo MCs). The mildly tart humour featured throughout the album, however, is a strong draw and carries the album when it sometimes falls short. “Curly and Girly” is one of the weaker tracks here, but it is bolstered by a kitschy rockabilly twang filling out a rather static groove.

“Gave You the Boo” suffers from some dated production, though the sheer hilarity of Betty’s rap and a snazzy Jerzy Milian-ish vibraphone breakdown ensure a pleasant romp through carefree pop. Things pick up on “Let Me Take You There”, a beachy, laidback groove about seaside daydreams, which features the cool, sensuous rolls of tom toms and also a Four Tops sample for its hook. Even when Betty plays it straight for pop convention, the results are often dance floor magic; “Catch Me” employs a simple house beat that is lifted by an effective pop hook. On the early trip-hop leanings of the album’s lone ballad, “Close the Door”, Betty levels the tune down to a voluptuous mid-tempo groove filled in with nothing more than dreamy guitar trills, some well-placed keyboard riffs and an understated string section; it’s simple but full and wholesome, with its only ingredient the sugar of pure pop.

Betty Boo may have had a second chance at a solo career following a planned signing to Madonna’s label a couple years after Grrr! had faded into obscurity. Madonna, who was reportedly smitten by Betty, hailed the rapper’s sophomore’s effort an underrated work. Personal complications in Betty’s life (including the death of her mother) resulted in contracts being put aside and the rapper’s early retirement from the music industry. After years of hibernation, Betty would resurface as a successful songwriter for hire and eventually win the Ivor Novello Award. There have been a few attempts at reviving the Betty Boo persona, including a short-lived project with Blur’s Alex James and a one-off single with electro house producer Jack Rokka. But the artist has yet to recapture the magic and glory of her early ‘90s days.

Cherry Red Records reissues Grrr! It’s Betty Boo as a double-disc featuring a plethora of remixes and a couple of b-sides. For the serious Betty Boo fan, this is a heavenly cache of pop nostalgia; no stone was left unturned when digging the crates for even the most obscure remix. But the extra tracks are superfluous and the real winner is the album itself, which manages a cool and tight balance between pop and dance club music. Also added are extended liner notes, featuring an essay and some new candid photos of the star. Definitely appreciated, although this new packaging somewhat takes away from the original liner notes from the 1992 edition; many of the photos on the original edition that followed the album’s design concept are missing here. Cherry Red’s remastering of these tracks is wonderful; the remaster on this edition beefs up the production and mixing for a bouncier and fulsome sound.

It should be noted that the rapper’s earliest forays into music included being mentored by members of Public Enemy, who discovered Betty in the late ‘80s and had plans on producing an all-female rap group featuring the young hopeful (a charming video of Betty rapping inside a McDonalds in the UK with Professor Griff beatboxing floats around on the net). Her Public Enemy days are quite a long way from what she would eventually become when she conquered the sphere of pop music royalty in the’90s. Grrr! It’s Betty Boo, however, is an exemplary work, showcasing the songwriter’s finely-honed sense of pop mastery. It’s hardly momentous, earth-shattering stuff – but it gives credence to the simple (if disposable) pleasures of pop music. The handsome and dishy album artwork (based on the 1950s packaging design for Tigra cigarettes – and not Josie and the Pussycats) perfectly sums up how brilliant Betty was at marketing herself in such creative and fetching ways. And it perfectly sums up the music on this album: kitschy, playful, exuberant and fun – with only the faintest smile of irony.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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