RED HOT AND BLUE (1991)
Starring David Byrne, Neneh Cherry, Jimmy Somerville, Jody Watley, Salif Keita, Erasure, Sinead O’Connor, The Jungle Brothers, The Neville Brothers, k.d. lang, Les Negresses Vertes, Aztec Camera, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Lisa Stansfield, Kirsty MacColl, The Pogues, Tom Waits, U2, Annie Lennox, Bill Irwin, The Thompson Twins, Fine Young Cannibals, Richard Gere, John Malkovich and Jean Paul Gautier.
Directed by David Byrne, Jean Baptiste Mondino, Steve McLean, Matthew Rolston, Zak Ove, Adelle Lutz & Sandy McLeod, John Maybury, Mark Pellington, Jonathan Demme, Percy Adlon, Roger Pomphrey, John Scarlett-Davies, Alex Cox, Phillippe Gautier, Neil Jordan, Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders and Ed Lachman.
Distributed by Shout! Factory. 90 minutes. Not Rated.
The first of the Red Hot benefit albums to fight AIDS was the most popular and the most influential release from the charity (which went on to release titles such as Red Hot & Rio, Red Hot & Rhapsody, Red Hot & Dance, Red Hot & Country and others.) It was a clever idea that mostly set the template for the series to come, then-current pop stars performing the songbook of a classic composer – in this case, Cole Porter.
This original tribute album also spawned a TV special and a VHS video release. Now reissued to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of this long out-of-print video (and for the first time on DVD – with the original tribute CD as a bonus) Red Hot and Blue is a wonderful time capsule and a surprisingly fascinating visual feast. Not surprising, considering that beyond the musical artists the videos were helmed by some of the best art film directors in the world, including Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire), Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law) and Neil Jordan (The Crying Game.)
U2’s haunted cover of “Night and Day” actually became a minor radio hit. Sinead O’Connor’s faithfully shimmery “You Do Something to Me” and Neneh (“Buffalo Stance”) Cherry’s new jack rethink of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” also scored airplay.
They also include brief intros by then-huge actors like Richard Gere and John Malkovich (sadly, it appears that the intros in the TV special version of this material by Kyle McLachlan, then white hot from Twin Peaks, have been lost to history.) Also, apparently out of the loop are the video of the last recording by then white-hot funkers Fine Young Cannibals, who never followed up their multiplatinum 1988 album The Raw and the Cooked and a performance by an also-about-to-break-up duo version of 80s pop stars the Thompson Twins – their third member had left years before and these two members eventually reformed as Babble before disappearing completely.
Like any tribute album, there is some great stuff here, and other stuff that doesn’t work quite so well.
Most of the truly great moments here are the ones done most simply and with an old-fashioned sepia tone. Sinead O’Connor wears a peek-a-boo Veronica Lake wig as a USO singer to do a quietly simmering version of “You Do Something to Me.” Also, stunningly gorgeous is k.d. lang’s breathtaking version of “So in Love” done to a simply powerful visual of the depressed singer doing household chores and laundry while trying to forget a dying love – believe me it is much more affecting than that quick description implies.
Lisa Stansfield reminds us yet again how much her voice is missed from pop culture with a show-stopping version of “Down in the Depths” and the Neville Brothers add a smooth soul vibe to “In the Still of the Night.” Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) gives a moody sheen to U2’s track. Jim Jarmusch gives a jittery offbeat feel to Tom Waits’ eccentric view of “It’s Alright with Me.” Most fun of all is Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop playing a downtrodden Frank and Bing in an uber-ironic version of the intricate high-life wordplay of “Well, Did Y’Evah?”
The Jungle Brothers even prove that Porter’s melodies can be refashioned into rap – although whether that lesson was necessary to the world at large is questionable. It makes for a nice rap, but it doesn’t seem like the same tune, particularly with that same ubiquitous little scream sample that was in dozens of songs at the time including “It Takes Two” and “Rhythm Nation.” Neneh Cherry’s “I Got You Under My Skin,” Jimmy Somerville’s “From This Moment On” and Erasure’s “Too Darn Hot” also feel sadly dated.
However, even if it isn’t all perfect, Red Hot and Blue has some spectacular music and arresting visuals, and the proceeds go to a good cause. So, what’s not to like? (5/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 9, 2006.