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[whitespace] The Moody (Music) Blues

One man's search for the perfect romantic LP

By Michael Stabile

In the beginning, when everyone was white, straight and upper-middle-class, mood music was easy to choose. My first-year college classmates, when they were in the mood to lure a potential frat bunny back to their tapestried bachelor pad, always had plenty of jazz and funk, Miles Davis and Barry White. I, on the other hand, could only claim The Greatest Hits of Patsy Cline, Madonna's Erotica and the original cast recording of Evita for my repertoire. Hardly music to get anybody in bed with. As I grew and matured into a faux-clubbish kid, I used Dee-Lite's Infinity Within, various mediocre trip-hop albums and Prince's Diamonds and Pearls. Clearly, I had work to do. Various nonsexy disasters followed.

I finally decided to re-evaluate the whole process after a would-be partner complained when I put an aggressively throaty and angry Marianne Faithfull on the CD changer as I dimmed the lights. My problem surfaces in Tower Records, where I get sucked into buying albums with little or no romantic value but plenty of emotion. A month ago I came home with Carole King's Tapestry and Dusty Springfield's seminal Dusty in Memphis. While they would do well if I were cleaning the house or looking through photo albums, they were, upon second thought, not going to lure anyone into my recently refurbished bachelor pad.

Along came Macy Gray, and my life changed. She wants it, and her voice implores you to want it as well. Her inaugural album, On How Life Is, brilliantly showcases her range, her raunch and her traumas all delicately hidden within entrancingly smooth vocals and tasteful subtlety. While everyone has been whooping and hollering about someone else's Miseducation, Ms. Gray rises above it like a sexy, throaty Carole King. The opening track, "Why Didn't You Call Me," is a "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" after the deed has been done. "We went out one night/ Everything went right/ We got something started/ It was outta sight/ We had such a good time/ Hey! Why didn't you call me?/ I thought I'd see you again." How many times have I wanted to say that to a post-paramour? She continues to tell modern stories of heartbreak and hot sex, and your date will be none the wiser that you're subconsciously warning them to be good to you. I do have to admit, however, that I do get slightly uncomfortable when she begins, mid-album, shrieking about what a "sex-o-matic Venus freak" she is. But I suppose at that point no one's supposed to be paying much attention to the background noise. Only beats and rhythm count.

Fiona Apple's sophomore release, When the Pawn ..., is a little more quickly paced, but just as pubescently sexy as her debut. Anti-pop critics may declare her an anorexic sexpot with a hoarse voice to match, but I can't deny the charm of her adolescent anger. While she whines away about pain and suffering, all I can think about are passionate kisses. Though the lyrics are less pronounced than on Shadowboxing, the mood is the same. Hot, fleshy, sensual. Danger is in the air with Fiona--you and she together mean business.

Between the two ladies of love, one has a rotating choice of the newest in the disappearing genre of mood music. It's neither corny nor clichéd and a hell of a lot better than the New Age trance I hear when I go back to their place .

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From the January 3, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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