Three Singles

"We Like to Party!" Vengaboys: I remember a review a few years ago where somebody commended a record for its "puzzlement value." That's how they should have done it on AMERICAN BANDSTAND: "It's got a good beat and it's got puzzle- ment value--I give it a 95." "We Like to Party!" has more puzzlement value than anything I've heard this year. It took me about three months (until I finally saw the video) just to figure out why the Vengaboys pronounced their own name so oddly: because it's the Venga *bus* that's coming, the Vengaboys just happen to be inside. Bus songs are second only to car songs in pop music's transportation hierarchy: the Partridge Family and the Merry Pranksters rode busses, the Hollies waited for one, Kris Kross missed theirs, the Who hallucinated about them, the Guess Who wouldn't have anything to do with them, so on and so forth all the way back to Ralph "Big Poppa" Kramden back in the mid-50s. "We Like to Party!" also reminds me of the KLF and Tammy Wynette's "Justified and Ancient," winner of the puzzlement-value award for 1992 (where ice cream vans were the vehicle of choice), and Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" from the year before. I usually start dodging even the best radio novelties within a matter of weeks (e.g., Eminem), but the Vengaboys' mixture of humane reassurance ("happiness is just around the corner," "we'll be there for you"), Monkees-like defiance ("get ready 'cause we're comin' through"), and roller-rink blip-blip-blip just gets weirder and more liberat- ing all the time. They have a follow-up out now where they invite you back to their room, but the ride over's twice as interesting. (8.0) "Beautiful Stranger," Madonna: "Haven't you heard?" is the perfect opening line for a Madonna single: reminiscent of how "Live to Tell" began with "I have a story to tell," but more suggestive, like an amazing bit of privileged gossip is about to be shared (being Madonna, the question is phrased in the negative--it may be a secret, but she still wants you to know you're the last person in the world to hear it). This sets up some rhetorical should-I-stay- or-should-I-go? musing that draws you in further still: the rise and fall in the way she sings "but I'm not, so I guess I'll stay" is resigned, dramatic, the promise of another great story. The rest of the song is addressed to the beautiful stranger himself. Much more than all that arty "Justify My Love"/ "Erotica" silliness from the peak of her celebrity earlier in the decade, "Beautiful Stranger" is a fair match for Prince's "Erotic City" and Company B's "Fascinated" as an obsessive fuck-epic. I think it might be Madonna's best single ever, and as unexpected a turnaround as last year's "Ray of Light" was (after having pretty much bottomed out for a couple of years beforehand), "Beautiful Stranger" is a complete surprise, all the more so turning up as AUSTIN POWERS filler. The trippiness that serves "Beautiful Stranger"'s soundtrack obligations (my car turns into the Factory every time it comes on the radio, and for extra ambience I've even hired a pale blonde guy with sunglasses to sit in the backseat and stare) made me think at first that it was an effective but superfluous "Ray of Light" remake, but I've come to agree with a friend who says its hypnotic appeal owes more to the swampiness of Creedence Clearwater. Excellent. If EYES WIDE SHUT goes even half as far, it'll have been worth the wait. (9.0) "Livin' La Vida Loca," Ricky Martin: Speaking of obsession, here's a glimpse into all the desire, fear, glamour, mystery, danger, and erotic abandon that promises to be unleashed in the upcoming Al Gore-Bill Bradley showdown. (2.5)

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