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Wednesday, Dec 24 1997
Various Artists
TV Terror

Among the panoply of youth subcultures, goths are amusing because they use self-inflicted alienation from mainstream society to create a surrogate universe. It's not just that goths hang out together -- speed freaks do that; they deliberately create their own world, separating themselves from the rest of us with a children-of-the-night mystique, field trips to cemeteries, and band names lifted from medical textbooks.

That divide -- between a place called Earth and somewhere under the eternal night on the precipice of purgatory -- is what makes TV Terror such a fun record. The double CD captures 36 mostly underground goth and industrial acts covering television theme songs from Welcome Back, Kotter to Dynasty, from The Jeffersons to The Outer Limits. If it sounds like a gimmick, well, it is, but it's proof that the average goth didn't rise from a New Orleans coffin 300 years ago. (Either that, or Satan gets pretty good reception.)

TV Terror isn't the first compilation to parrot television theme songs: In the past two or three years some punks did a similar crop of ditties and a crew of alternative rockers did Saturday morning cartoon themes. But those two records were romps through Nostalgia City; on TV Terror the bands approach the project with complete seriousness.

Disc 1 of the comp is the better of the two CDs, but mostly because that's the one that contains Numb's cover of the theme song from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. The track begins with echoey industrial noise and fades to tinkling piano notes and a slow, methodical voice run through an electronic changer. In the background a man screams; a church bell clangs. "I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you," the singer slurs. At the end, the noise drops off and the singer delivers the last line in silence. A sample of a man's voice comes in: "Sweet dreams," he says. The relentless blast of a machine gun breaks the silence. Quite honestly, it's terrifying.

The rest of the record is almost as good. Christ Analogue's Happy Days are anything but. Institute of Technology's vocalist is a serial killer whispering "You might just make it after all" in Mary Tyler Moore's ear. Electric Hellfire Club make the pleasant household of Charles in Charge into a fascist regime and improvise a verse, "Charles in charge of our guns and our knives/ Charles in charge of who lives and who dies."

As it's often said, good art makes us re-examine something we previously ignored. Most of the 36 songs here are masterful pop tunes: a hook, a melody, and a sing-along chorus. They're not great art, but that they could withstand effects pedals, drum machines, and morbid samples does say a lot for the craft.

And speaking of fine art, it's also said that the style of a great painting often says more about the creator than it does the subject. That's true here, both when Hate Dept. let the melody from The Facts of Life go to their head like helium, and when Collide turn Felix the Cat into a wailing mourn. But what the songs are really saying is, as much as they might hate to admit it, goths watched the same shit on TV as the rest of us.

-- Jeff Stark


Over the course of their solo careers in the early 1990s, Gerald Levert, Keith Sweat, and Johnny Gill used street-savvy expressions of male desire and need to sell more than 25 million units among them. Sexy kings of the slow jam, their music and image contrasted with the good-boy devotion of Luther Vandross: These rakes promised body, sophistication, and -- at least by implication -- serious dick. Vandross was on his knees pleading; but for all his come-ons you knew that you were going to have to work to make Johnny Gill rub you the right way -- and would have to take his word for it when he told you that was his cousin paging him well after midnight.

But the role of the loverboy has changed dramatically in the last two years. New R&B stars like Maxwell, D'Angelo, and Rahsaan Patterson have taken Vandross' loyalty and enlivened it with body, sophistication, and, yes, dick. And to that they add an unbridled devotion to '70s music that would make Tarantino envious. Levert, Sweat, and Gill are less relevant today, and their individual careers have trailed off dramatically. Within that context, this one-off get together -- a sort of slow-jam supersession -- is an attempt both to regain relevance for a new audience (for which the trio turns to the help of the ubiquitous Puff Daddy and the likes of Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and others), and to redefine the male role in contemporary R&B vocals.

On Levert.Sweat.Gill, there is very little harmonizing among the three, suggesting that they rarely were in the studio all at once. Instead, they trade leads and provide individual backup for one another.

The best tracks are the ones without the high-profile guests. Levert's "Round and Round," a soaring soul ballad, starts with each of the trio promising complete devotion. The punch line is that the object of these pleas is not a future -- or present -- wife, but an illicit lover.

While the tracks with guest stars Elliott and Rhymes guarantee airplay on hip-hop radio, the trio make their own references to hip hop more effectively. On "My Body," the crammed, overflowing stanzas and the hurried staccato effect are reminiscent of Bone Thugs N Harmony, even as the lyrics nicely undercut rap braggadocio with their pleas of longing. Their humility continues in "My Side of the Bed," an appeal for forgiveness, in which Levert confesses with unusual vulnerability, "I am nothing special/ I am just a man." While the take is considerably less arty than that of Maxwell and his allies, Levert, Sweat, and Gill nonetheless restore a mainstream voice to the slow jam. It's too bad someone felt they needed so much help.

-- Martin Johnson

About The Authors

Martin Johnson


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