`Date With John Waters': wacky, zany, kitschy, bawdy

What else did you expect on a CD from Baltimore's own?

Music Review

February 14, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Imagine some alternate, pseudo-glamorous universe where you rub shoulders and sip cosmos with the stars. In it, you and legendary Baltimore cult filmmaker John Waters have become casual friends. Sure, he's kooky, perhaps even a little creepy, and he has a penchant for sporting funereal-if-natty outfits. But Waters makes you laugh. And you two always seem to have a blast together. Lately, though, you've begun to think that your 60-year-old friend with the pencil-line mustache really likes you.

For Valentine's Day, he sent you a dozen blood-red roses, a box of chocolates and a copy of his just-released compilation CD, A Date With John Waters. There's a note inside the jewel case: "Play this and think of me."

You slip the disc on and after a few cuts can't decide whether you ever want to speak to Waters again. Like the celebrated auteur behind such kitschy flicks as Hairspray and Pink Flamingos, A Date With John Waters is deliciously strange and sometimes downright hilarious. What he wants to convey to you is crystal-clear at the beginning but blurs in the middle.

Hopelessly sweet and lilting, the 1956 single "Tonight You Belong to Me" by Patience and Prudence kicks things off innocuously enough: I know you belong to somebody new/But tonight you belong to me/Although we're apart/You're part of my heart. Ah, Waters really does like you.

But the next song, charging with choppy punk guitars, sends your jaw to the floor. An explicit ode to gay sex, Elton Motello's 1978 number "Jet Boy Jet Girl" leaves very little to the imagination.

The effect is subsequently softened by the lighthearted New Orleans stomp of "Ain't Got No Home" by Clarence "Frogman" Henry and the '30s swinger "I'd Love to Take Orders From You" by Mildred Bailey & Her Swing Band. About the latter song, Waters quips in the liner notes: "When [Bailey] sings about `discipline,' it goes way beyond race and gender and guess what, so do I."

Waters' warped humor surfaces again with the winking hillbilly love duet "In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine and Iris DeMent. And he shows you his affinity for deep-in-the-crates soul, unearthing a rare live recording of Ike & Tina Turner's "All I Can Do Is Cry," searing with raw, ragged vocals by a young Tina.

But what in the world is Waters trying to tell you with Edith Massey's silly take on "Big Girls Don't Cry"? He'll have to explain that one - if you ever decide to call him again.

Inexplicably, he turns drippy and melodramatic with Earl Grant's strings-laden recording of "Imitation of Life." Well, you know Waters has a soft spot for such antiquated fluff.

Ever the mood manipulator, he cools the air with Mink Stole's icy reading of the jazz-kissed "Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun." Then things get hot and bawdy again with "Night Time Is the Right Time" by Ray Charles. In the end, though, Waters goes back to the sugary with "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake" by Eileen Barton and the New Yorkers and "Bewildered" by Shirley & Lee.

Now that the 14-song CD is over, you still don't know what to think of your friend Waters. He's sweet, then perverted, then hilarious. All in all, he is charming in his own unique way. Maybe you'll call him after all. He's never boring. A Date With John Waters is full of twisted surprises.


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