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21/10/2010

Liza Minnelli's Forgotten 1989 Foray into Dance Music is a Must for Pet Shop Boy Purists

Liza Minnelli's recording career never really took off. Her strange, nervous stage presence and talent hasn't been captured well on vinyl. She doesn't possess the heart-stopping voice of her legendary mother, Judy Garland, nor does she sing with the versatile skill of her chief peers, Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand. She is a musical actress born in the wrong generation, whose talents belong on a theater. Like Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters and Nell Carter, Liza Minnelli seems to be a true Broadway baby - the one medium that still treasures an act like hers.

Her albums are largely forgettable affairs, with a few exceptions -- her best works are usually soundtracks to her films (Cabaret and New York, New York) or souvenirs of her concerts. She rarely records in the studio since the 1970's, and has released only one studio album in the 1980's and another in the 1990's.

Hoping to change her recording fortunes, Minnelli teamed up with UK-based dance-pop group, the Pet Shop Boys for an album of songs that marry Minnelli's stagey belt with the Boys' synth-driven disco beat. The result, apty titled Results, isn't as forced as expected, and the result is a pleasantly surprising and witty record that is high on camp and energy. The Pet Shop Boys resurrected 1960's pop icon Dusty Springfield's career with a string of hit records, and were trying to do similar work with Minnelli.

The collection of songs is a mix of covers and originals. Minnelli and the Boys pay tribute to her Broadway roots with a version of "Losing My Mind," from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies. Minnelli attacks the song like any showstopper she performs onstage; relying heavily on her dramatic ability, she gives the song a paranoid, claustrophobic reading. Her cover of Tanita Tikaram's "Twist in My Sobriety" is also a humorous tongue-in-cheek track, harking back to her association with John Kander & Fred Ebb (composers of Minnelli's most important hits including "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret"), by including a vampy male rapping her theme "Liza with a Z" as an intro. Also the title is more than just a little reminiscent of her much-publicized stint in rehab.

Results also includes Minnelli's renditions of two Pet Shop Boys tunes: the sad, gold-digger lament, "Rent" and the epic "Tonight Is Forever." "Love Pains" is a tight-fisted dance-number that is echoing late 1980's Janet Jackson or Madonna, expertly capped off by an enthusiastic participation by a joyous, almost gospel-choir. "So Sorry, I Said" is another poignant, resigned ballad, which allows Minnelli to bilk her considerable reserve of pathos. The album's shiny production and very decadent, European feel meshes perfectly with Minnelli's drag queen-like vocal style. The albums only sore spot is "Don't Drop Bombs" a dated number that includes record scratching and an unfortunate rap by Minnelli.

2005 saw a rerelease in Europe of Results that included remixes of the album's singles and the accompanying music videos. The videos are time pieces of 1980's MTV, with splashy production and glossy editing. Liza Minnelli looks fantastic in them, vibrantly thin and attractive, with a stylish assymetrical haircut and highlights.

Minnelli would release one more studio album, Gently, a collection of standards and pre-rock pop standards in 1996. The album is more in tune with Minnelli's image of a singer of a past generation. Results is a great look back at Liza Minnelli's successful reinvention as a dance-pop diva.

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