Ute Lemper: But One Day

Charlotte Robinson

Ute Lemper

But One Day

Label: Decca
US Release Date: 2003-03-11
UK Release Date: 2003-03-31

German chanteuse Ute Lemper has been caught between worlds for some time, but never has it been more apparent than on her latest disc, But One Day. A respected stage actress who has appeared in Cats, Cabaret, and Chicago, Lemper has expanded beyond Broadway blockbusters to sing French chansons, cabaret, and the songs of Kurt Weill, of which she is today's foremost interpreter. While her interpretations of standards and Broadway fare have earned Lemper the respect of mainstream theatre audiences, her edgier, more sexually charged work (not to mention her film noir good looks) attract a younger, more hip crowd. Lemper took a big gamble on the latter audience with the 2000 release of Punishing Kiss. Featuring songs by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, and the Divine Comedy, plus a cover photo of Lemper looking like a real leather-clad bad girl, the album was an obvious attempt to please the hipster fan base and lure new pop/rock fans. While Punishing Kiss generated some positive press, it wasn't a pop breakthrough, leaving Lemper in the unenviable position of deciding what direction to pursue on her follow-up.

Anyone in the same situation would be bound to feel a little lost, and Lemper is no exception. She admitted in a recent interview that her first impulse was to continue in the modern direction of Punishing Kiss and record an album of her original songs, but she also wanted to make an album that would please her theatre audience. No wonder the resulting album -- which contains five Lemper compositions, two each by Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel, and even two Astor Piazzolla tangos (!) -- feels more like a document of a transitional period in Lemper's career than a fully realized album. It is almost as if two different albums, one contemporary and one classical, are battling for space on one disc. Adding to the disunity is the fact that Lemper's original songs were recorded with producers/musicians Peter Scherer and Todd Turkisher, while the remaining tracks were produced by Robert Ziegler, whose Matrix Ensemble provides strings, as it also did on Lemper's excellent Berlin Cabaret Songs. With the exception of the simple arrangements of "Living without You" and "Oblivion", Ziegler's tracks display an elaborate theatrical bent that is at odds with the adult contemporary style of the Scherer/Turkisher productions. Ziegler can't really be faulted for this, though, because not only are his arrangements excellent, but they are essential to the spirit of the songs.

For her part, Lemper handles both strains of material well, proving once again on the classical material that she is an excellent dramatic singer while giving the modern songs an intimacy and violence of feeling that a mere Celine Dion could never accomplish. As a songwriter, Lemper's varied subject matter includes a smoldering love song ("I Surrender"), an ode to the daughter of Holocaust survivors ("Lena", featuring Laurie Anderson on violin), an abusive kiss-off ("But One Day"), a sweet tribute to her children ("Little Face"), and a poem inspired by Bertolt Brecht ("On Brecht -- Epilogue"). It will be interesting to follow Lemper's development as a songwriter, as she's certain to pursue composition now that the writing bug has bitten her. In the future, though, she will have to make some tough decisions about how to pursue her many musical passions. By trying to serve two audiences on her current release, Lemper has created an album that is likely to fully satisfy neither.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.