Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places (1981)

At one time I liked to refract this through the lens of a concept album, because arguably that's what it is, though one rather more like a song and dance musical than Tommy—a South Seas cruise more or less, departing from approximately New York City with stops in the Caribbean and across the Panama isthmus, with local color and musical numbers and styles galore. To point out that something like that was a little out of step in 1981 is an understatement, though by and large it was well reviewed, as a bit of a novelty, which is how it came to my attention. I'm not sure how many people even remember Kid Creole at all now but for several years in the '80s I numbered him among my pet obsessions and collected 'em all. I even saw the act in 1986, attending it more out of duty than anything but in the end coming away more than a little impressed—I count it as one of the better live shows I've seen, in fact, thanks partly to the comically sexualized energy and presence of the Coconuts. But the music of Kid Creole (nee August Darnell), who somehow went directly from the Bronx to an astonishing plurality of musical locations across the globe, is what always seals the deal, and Fresh Fruit may well be the best single-volume introduction to his work. A heady stew of rhythms, pure pop tunesmithery, and a Broadway producer's flair for showmanship, the fragmented stories of journey, border crossings, adventure, and love found and lost move briskly through their paces and somehow grow almost illicitly charming. Not a one of them is a bit like any of the others, yet the overarching sensibility and sharp production unifies them into something that's practically seamless. It's not hard to understand how "fresh" worked its way into the title. At one point this became an album I listened to frequently enough that even now I can hear the beginning of the next song in the end of the last. And while I remain impressed with the musical styles absorbed so completely and deployed so artfully, I have to say that it's when Kid Creole opens the jacket of his quasi-zoot suit to reveal the palpable pounding of his throbbing heart that I am most enduringly affected. So "I Stand Accused" and "Gina, Gina" and especially the album closer "Dear Addy" tended to be the tracks I put on mix tapes again and again for friends and for myself, and that even now I enjoy hearing again most fondly.

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