Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Music Box: 'Despite Straight Lines'

The 23-year itch, scratched

Cry and be free? Perhaps it does work. It was just this past July that I wrote a sentimental Music Box post about Marilyn, in which I lamented how the one album recorded by the British gender bender had never even made it into the "digital age." Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that by year's end, the album -- which was a bomb when it came out in the U.K. back in 1985 and never even released in America -- would be reissued on compact disc. Cherry Pop popped Marilyn's digital cherry on Dec. 9 with the release of "Despite Straight Lines: The Very Best of Marilyn." (If this can happen, then you might want to hold out hope for any album that never made it to disc!)

Blitz Kids + Jerry Hall + Jamaica x Marilyn Monroe = Marilyn

While a CD by the ultimate style-over-substance artist of the '80s is a welcome addition to my collection, the long-awaited results are decidedly mixed. (FYI: This is not a review of the album -- which I can't even be objective about all these years later because the songs are so deeply ingrained in my childhood that I just love listening to them -- but of the reissue of the album. I will concede, however, that if I'd never heard most of these before I'd probably be pretty horrified!) Let's start with the good news: Cherry Pop did a decent job with the digital remastering. The production was always tight (God knows Marilyn's label was banking on his being the "next Boy George"), but the engineer is to be credited for a job well done here, even if it doesn't sound that much different from the MP3s that have been floating around the World Wide Web for ages. Much more impressive is the fun packaging -- always a key point in any Marilyn release, why do you think I bought all his import 12-inch singles in the first place?! -- with a beautiful 10-page booklet with glamorous color photos of the real Marilyn (not that buzz-cut version on his LP cover, which never seemed right), including an old Smash Hits cover, plus a complete biography and discography.

Unanswered prayers

But from there things begin to go a little off. For starters, the ever-demanding Marilyn himself -- who can cop a diva attitude from a Council flat -- apparently insisted that Cherry Pop omit "Pray for That Sunshine" because he has "no affection for the track." While I understand wanting to please an artist you're working with -- especially one who was rumored to have been making things extremely difficult for the people at the label -- I find this decision to be completely unacceptable, a deal-breaker even. The album only had 10 songs to begin with, so to eliminate even one -- particularly one that was released as a SINGLE!!! -- leaves a huge void. (It's even still listed on the original artwork included on the CD, above.)

Fans who have waited some 20 years for an official CD release -- most of whom have long ago gotten their hands on MP3s of everything - and are now shelling out close to 20 bucks for the import deserve the album in its entirety. (A very selfish move by Marilyn.)

Once, twice, three times a diva

To make up for this omission, the CD boasts eight bonus tracks. While this sounds promising, fans will be quickly disappointed to learn that not all of Maz's b-sides are included on this collection either. His first two B's -- "Move Together" and "Running" -- are here and are as delightful as ever. But then "I Ain't Been Licked" (a HUGE fan favorite) is missing (perhaps because it was too costly? it's a cover of the Diana Ross song by Ashford & Simpson) and so is the original "Raining Again," although an extended version is. (I'd rather have ALL the originals before we get into any alternate versions, but I guess you could call this one a wash if not for the fact that this 7-plus-minute "Raining Again" is REALLY annoying and strips away all of the charms of the single version.) In addition, none of the songs he recorded during various comeback attempts -- "Sofia" and "Hold on Tight" or his covers of "Sooner or Later" and "Spirit in the Sky" -- are included. (There's also a bunch of demos that could have been included.) Instead, we get two extended versions of "Calling Your Name," two alternate recordings of "Cry and Be Free" (only they're labeled incorrectly, switching "Streisand Style" and "Gospel") and an extended version of "Baby U Left Me (In the Cold)."

The first Mrs. Gavin Rossdale

So, it's a truly mixed bag. If you're a Marilyn fan, of course you'll want to pick up a copy. (What self-respecting '80s queen could resist a MARILYN CD?!) But at the same time it's a bit of a shame this one-time-only effort would have a stupid song labeling error (oh, and the URL to his official Web site is WRONG, too!) and, more importantly, be robbed of some of Marilyn's best songs. Perhaps it's fitting that this album -- which could have only been made in the 1980s -- would finally get the '90s treatment in the '00s. I certainly see no listing for it on iTunes or Amazon MP3s, which I'm sure won't upset any of the kids buying music out there now. But at least I can be free of wishing for this CD, even if left me (a bit) in the cold ...

Always looking out for No. 1

Does it come as any surprise that this disappointed purchaser of this long-overdue CD had produced his own Marilyn collection several years ago? It's like my mother always told me, if you want something done right, do it yourself. So tell me, Marilyn fans: Which one would YOU rather have?

(Artwork by Greg Jelinek)


"Cry and Be Free," Marilyn's second single, which Boy George dubbed "Try and Be Me"

Since Cherry Pop didn't bother to include it, here's "I Ain't Been Licked," Maz-style

Marilyn tries to undo the damage from his career-wrecking 1985 mishap at Area with this 1989 performance of "Give It Up" in Milan 


Neal said...

Hey Kenneth: Any chance you'll post a digital copy of this cd?

nojarama said...


I completely agree with you on all counts. I was huge fan back in the day (I was even mistaken for the diva many-a-time when I'd go dancing in WeHo back in the day- most infamously by Viva Sex- a wonderful Madonna impersonator). I think it's criminal that PFTS isn't included, but at least DSL finally saw a digital release. And I have a copy of your version locked away for safe keeping. Great job!



Kenneth M. Walsh said...

Neal --
I "pride" myself on only giving away music that cannot be bought elsewhere (would never want to rob artists of their royalties, even if the majority of the time the label/lawyer/mob's taking the bulk of it). However, I am willing to send out a Zip folder of the songs that weren't included on the compilation to fans, provided you have proof of purchase of the Cherry Pop CD.


Walter Mason said...

What a great post! Thank you!

MeloolahJayne said...

I can't believe I've only just found this entry and you! Well, Peter (the actual ever-so-glitzy Mr. Marilyn himself) is my best friend... and the lovely little shit won't give me a copy of Pray for that Sunshine! (He has, however, promised me the infamous Band Aid coat, tho I stopped holding my breath after passing out for the 12th time!)... I think your assessment of the re-release is fair, but you really don't have all the info--he's not a bit the demanding, loud, insipid primadonna he's been made out to be (gotta love that Boy...). There were a lot of label issues, and he was royally screwed outta royalties. Still, as a fellow editor/writer, I dig your writing style! I will agree that he doesn't actually realize how special PFTS - or any of his music - is to GenXers like myself & I doubt he considered that anyone would be upset. Far from a diva, he's actually the MOST unpretentious guy i know. But if he had a particularly bad experience/memory/feeling about a track, yeah... he'd trash it on principle (and i do love that about him!). IMHO: You Don't Know is the best he's ever done, with Sophia and Vital Part of You right behind. He didn't really use the true power and depth of his voice on DSL. The song you don't have here is "How Could I Live" a cover of the reggae classic that is PHENOMENAL... NINE separate mixes were made... and he thinks they are all "crap." Sadly, another fab song "disappeared." I also don't see "Kiss of Life" (you can hear the end of this song before he starts "Give It Up" in the above vid... another home run!) And he's got still more tucked away... Just FYI: He's on Twitter (@thamrmarilyn), he's sober, working his recovery, living in Bury St Edmunds and going for his extended college degree in drama... and he's got several great projects on the fires as I type this! PS: ya think you could send me that zip? I WANT PRAY FOR THAT SUNSHINE!!! I'll send u a pic with my copy of DSLs,,,! ~melissa