The stereotype dictates gay people are tastemakers and pioneers when it comes to fashion, art and culture. But rock ‘n’ roll is a straight man’s club, which is why I have this terrible assumption that only lesbians are best suited for the task.
When Sony announced it would form a label that would sign only gay-identified artists, the measure of my skepticism burst any indicator. Music with a Twist aims to feature gay artists with potential mass appeal, while also releasing compilations geared for gay audiences, so says the press release scuttlebutt. If my abbreviated dating history serves as any reference, that’s going to result in a lot of bad music.
(And somehow I miraculous exempt myself from such criteria. Funny.)
Revolutions is the first sampling of what the label may produce. Oddly enough, only two artists on the compilation, the Gossip and Kirsten Price, have actually signed with the label. Everyone else seems to have licensed their content. Given the major label backing, the collection itself leans heavily to commercial music. The indie gays won’t find their Grizzly Bear, Xiu Xiu or Sleater-Kinney.
The Gossip is the exception. Beth Ditto’s forceful voice opens Revolutions with its only display of serious crunch. Most everything that follows is tame by comparison.
The easy Bo Diddley riff of "Come Over Here" doesn’t quite represent the adult alternative rock of Sarah Bettens. Bettens and Price are pretty much geared to the folks who like Melissa Etheridge. I am not a fan.
God-dess and She represent the hip-hop contingent, but what little I know of hip-hop tells me this stuff doesn’t rank. Tangela Bell has a classic gospel voice, but her handlers should have pulled an Amy Winehouse and sample old Motown singles. Those stuttering thug beats sound incongruous.
Jonathan Mendelsohn, Adam Joseph and Jessie O all cover the same pop ground, but it’s Mendelsohn who makes the most appealing track. The shoutout to ’80s new wave on Mendelsohn’s "Together" feels natural, and his smooth voice is the perfect vehicle for that sound.
Israeli pop star Ivri Lider has a more cosmopolitan aesthetic, slightly rock, slightly pop, and of course, he sings in English to appease US audiences uninterested in hearing pop music in a foreign tongue. eMusic subscribers can check out the music he released in Israel.
Dylan Rice — on whom I have a serious crush — provides something of an anomaly to the collection. He’s a gay man who can actually rock out, and his smooth croon is a sharp contrast to the mostly nasal timbres of Joseph and Mendelsohn.
Levi Kreis closes Revolutions with an affecting, beautiful piano ballad. His mostly piano-driven album, One of the Ones, makes me think of him as the gay male Onitsuka Chihiro. (Although Onitsuka has a more haunting sound and a more rustic voice.)
So does Music with a Twist have a chance at reaching its goals? Do the artists featured on Revolutions have mass appeal? If constraining music to fit a Clear Channel ideal is the goal, then perhaps the answer is yes.
Like any such compilations, some artists have more appeal than others, and Sony should be commended for braving to court the pink dollar by throwing its own cash into gay artists. But on the whole, Revolutions feels more revolutionary as a social and marketing experiment than as a creative exercise.