Various Artists, Kid Creole – The August Darnell Sessions
Camp out on the dance floor — Creole blends sweet beats with a sharp tongue.
For 20 years New York mixed-race showman extraordinaire Kid Creole, aka August Darnell, was written off as cheesy novelty pop, possibly due to the wedding disco perennial status of his 1982 hit "I'm a Wonderful Thing, Baby." The truth is that Darnell was, quite possibly, the greatest old-school bandleader of his generation, defining the visionary fusion of punk, funk, pop and social satire that made the New York label Ze — which was also home to Suicide, Was (Not Was), James White, the Waitresses and Lydia Lunch — the cutting-edge imprint of the era.
So, eventually and deservedly, Darnell has become a presence in pop culture again, being interviewed in glossy mags and played at all the hippest electro-disco clubs. Time for a Greatest Hits, then? Actually, Strut had a better idea, trawling through the vaults for 15 definitive Darnell productions that never hit the mainstream. Cue tunes from Darnell's rapping partner Coati Mundi, Ze acts like Aural Exciters and the glorious Cristina, and two non-hit Kid Creole and the Coconuts belters, including the title track from debut album Off the Coast of Me. It's such a strong collection that it almost renders all conventional Creole "Best Of"'s redundant.
What The August Darnell Sessions continually reminds us is that Darnell was a musical prodigy, shaping complex big band arrangements that fused classic Broadway-style melodies with disco, funk, Latin, jazz and early hip-hop. He was also brilliantly adept at hiding savage lyrical ironies in records that sounded like campy, superficial floor-fillers. Cristina's legendary cover of "Is That All There Is?" updates Peggy Lee's resigned ennui by way of Quaaludes, masochistic sex and smashing glasses — a tack that so horrified composers Leiber and Stoller that they slapped an injunction on the potential hit and killed Cristina's career.
Dance-pop may be going through a golden phase right now, but no one in 2008 makes disco that hits the listener where it hurts, nor comes close to Darnell's level of musical ambition and virtuosity. The August Darnell Sessions captures pop's most undervalued visionary at his very best.