Lisa Stansfield – All Around The World, Sony BMG
“Recently a label-owner friend of ours mentioned adding Halloween sounds to a new album. His reasoning: “Gotta keep it kitsch.” Another musician loves to go on and on about the guitar tones of Tony! Toni! Toné! calling the New Jack grooves a “guilty pleasure.” Lately it seems like everyone’s hell bent on tirelessly removing themselves from their own tastes – you know, unless it’s Dylan or Young, or some other tried-and-true-so-stale-it’ll-turn-yr-skin-blue artist, insisting there’s a difference between what they love and what they just can’t help but love. Well I say screw all that.
In 1989 I was 7 going slowly on 8 and the majority of television I watched was VH1 (only babysitters and older sisters viewed the in-your-face hard-rocking, hip-hopping, Dire Straits-loving MTV). Maybe my friends were listening to Madonna (I always found that Like A Virgin stuff to be totally humorless) and Michael Jackson (even then he seemed so one-note and 80s to me), and it would’ve been cool to say I was too – but I wasn’t. The two hits of ’89 for me were Lisa Stansfield’s All Around the World and Miki Howard’s Until You Come Back To Me. Kids are clueless, sure, but I was so far outside of my demographic I was practically punk (an adjective no one has EVER EVER used to describe me).
Stansfield was something of a genius. I insist her single was the prototype for Everything But The Girl’s smash Missing, and that her look was right on par for future fans of Dee-Lite and Parker Posey’s ‘Party Girl’. Downtempo Euro groove I suppose I’d call it now, probably my favorite of all the sub-sub genres. All Around the World is an instant classic – even the breakdown’s recognizable – and Stansfield’s black and white fashion/video/etc palette still reminds me of Cosmo’s late-eighties polka-dot push. And Miki Howard was like the human version of alien Grace Jones – wrapped in giant colorful puffy/fluffy/furry jackets and melting/belting out what the good Lord gave her. She’s somewhere between the vocal stylings of Anita Baker and Carly Simon (if that’s not up an 8-year old’s alley…), setting the template for poise and grace and fun to the about-to-be-inescapable En Vogue. Sade had already made adult contemporary smooth, but Miki Howard made it montage-ready, with lyrics like, “I’m gonna rap on your door/ Tap on your window pain.” That’s the kind of shit that wakes up a sleeping Nancy Meyers and informs her it’s time to write the dancing-while-making-dinner-for-one scene. And it’s the kind of shit I loved, and still love.
So the 80s and early 90s are hip, just like the 60s but not like the 70s or the 50s or the late 90s (it’s best to keep a guide handy). And it used to be that the cool music of those decades were easily obsessed over, ripped off, chopped and eventually screwed. But now the “popular” music, the VH1 stuff, is becoming not the stuff of pleasure but of pleasure’s imaginary friend, “guilty pleasure” – and now nothing seems real. Down isn’t quite up, it’s still down, but down with a wink and a blogspot dedicated to it. What does anyone REALLY like anymore? Is that guy in a Billy Joel shirt kidding? Does he cry to Piano Man or is he simply keeping it kitsch? I want to start an underground mindset where everyone drops the ironic shit and comes correct. From now on there’s only pleasure… and pain. Which one does Neil Young make you feel??? (The answer is pain).”