Monday, December 27, 2010

Album Review: Kimberly Cole - "Bad Girls Club"

The debut album inhabits a category all of its own, a unique art form that spans the numerous and disparate genres of popular recorded music.beginning in August the girlfight-themed dance track was featured throughout the fifth season of The Bad Girls Club, the Oxygen Network reality show based around a gaggle of women whose behavior the Brits term "anti-social." That collaboration was successful enough for Oxygen to take on former MTV host and roller derby star Kimberly Cole for her first full-length project that will double as the official soundtrack for the show's upcoming sixth season.


Cole prides herself in her bio as a "gimmick free" artist, and she's been wise enough to make full use of her first opportunity to back up that claim without reaching the opposite extreme through self-consciously zealous eclecticism. She lets out her aggression early on, smartly not deviating too far from the "Smack You" persona she's been cultivating for well over half a year now, following a new but loyal edit of the Dance Chart hit with a trio of 125-BPM confrontational stompers that relate both musically and thematically, each one just as polished and solid as "Smack You" if not as obviously single-ready.

Once Cole has paid those dues, though, she and producer Jeeve mix things up for the album's exploratory middle third, starting with the pounding, sexy, relentless "Cherry Pop." Cole's feat on this and several later tracks is impressive and exceedingly rare, possessing as she does an admirable openness to the sexually explicit (“I'm about to break and lose it again/ you're turning back my clock/ you make my cherry pop”) - it's “Like a Virgin”/”Teenage Dream” for the dirty dance club set - and yet Cole's presentation ends up more sensual and even almost, yes, romantic than either of those famous predecessors. Cole and Jeeve, who have writing credits on all eleven tracks, exhibit a playful handle on lyrics as well as musical intricacies - see the minor sliding scales of "Pocket Rocket," (which is as much about lipstick as Katy Perry's "Peacock" is about colorful birds) which displays Kimberly Cole as rocking chick and soars on the weird fun of a singer who can sing and a producer who can play with her voice without obscuring it, the ultimate sign of respect. And Cole earns it throughout, not hitting a single sour note over lead and significant backing vocal tracks (the one potential exception - Cole can belt, but there's a definite upper limit, although it's one that another year or so of voice lessons will easily eliminate - is deftly disguised by Jeeve's elegant, spot-on production). The playful tidbits of clever harmonies or unexpected vocal asides show up all over the set, often adding a dash of extra spice that succeeds in turning already enjoyable tracks into sheer delights.

"Get Stupid," especially, shows off Cole's vocal accuracy and personality, as well as the duo's charming penchant for mixing and matching. The verse barrels in with a girlie-rock edge suited to the lyrical annoyance, but then it gives way to a funky dance chorus that reveals the thin layer of seriousness at play. It's a thoroughly strange combination of styles, but the result is thrilling. My notes as I listened to the track the first time are appropriately bewildered and scattered: "she whips out her high range, slows it down, then Jeeve pulls his stuff, then they come together on the chorus...the song has it ALL," I wrote.

"Walk of Shame" is another gem, speeding up a common lyrical topic that is usually a disingenuous attempt at balladry by other dance artists. Not Cole, who here as she does throughout plays the older and wiser gal about town; she keeps it in perspective. The minor sliding on "Aw damn" mocks the very drama of the situation, adding to the comedy without losing all believability. She does sound ashamed, and she is pissed, but not because she had a one night stand - she's miffed about having to undergo the infamous morning-after trek back home without even having a good story to make it worthwhile. Unlike most of her predecessors, recently including Ke$ha ("Hungover") and 2004-era Britney Spears ("Early Mornin'," although Spears did get it right later with "Blur") she doesn't get melodramatic about it. Jeeve backs it all up with a farcical whirlwind of sound, representative of a mindset anyone who's been in (or near) the situation in question will recognize all too well. (And is that a Röyksopp sample I hear underneath that chorus?)


The 37 minute set closes with the hilarious "Three Way," in which our heroine finds her first attempt at a menage-a-trois with two gentlemen waylaid by her guests' apparent preference for one another. She's so charming and straightforward that one can't help but empathize (even if I'd wager Cole, a Los Angeles dance circuit mainstay for a while now, would never herself be so naive in reality), and the wiser among listeners will have figured out the punch line as soon as Cole's sly "Hey Johnny, meet Jack. Jack, meet Johnny!" introduction. This is how you do a threeway song, Ms. Spears...the first half, anyway. When the inevitable punch line comes, Cole handles it with the deftest of humor, channeling her (understandable) disappointment and annoyance without resorting to inadvertent homophobic gay-bashing...the lady knows from whence she comes. Laugh-inducing lyrics ("Kinda wasted, don't know whose is what...") intermingle with more clever wordplay ("his body on my body, and my body on his body," which later becomes "his body on his body and my body with nobody") and a teeth-chattering 146-BPM tempo, and it's a just ending to a nonstop heart-pounding dance extravaganza.

Cole's debut full-length is, in short, a triumphant affair that far outshines even the brightest of expectations, and, if there is any justice in the world, should cement Cole's status as a rising star in the dance music scene from whom we shall hopefully hear a good deal more. A dance artist who can sing, write, and dance like no one's business (that Tricia Miranda choreography ain't for the faint of heart)? Who'da thunk it possible?


Listen to two new tracks from Bad Girls Club, "Get Stupid" and "Three Way" below.





Watch the excellent music video for lead single "Smack You," choreographed by Tricia Miranda and featuring Bad Girls Club alumna Natalie Nunn.



Click to buy Bad Girls Club on iTunes
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