The Great Masters did not helpFans, by Malcom Maclaren.
Malcolm McLaren has done it again. In his most recent studio effort, Fans, the former Sex Pistols manager and one of pop music's most subversive elements has attempted to coalesce diverse musical styles with his own. In his LP from 1982, Duck Rock, McLaren collaborated with The World Famous Supreme Team to produce a collection of songs incorporating elements from African, Latin, Hip-hop and American folk music.
McLaren and co-producer Robby Kilgore have attempted to mate opera (mainly Puccini) with R&B and rock rhythms.
Upon first examination, one notices the Fans LP is more like an EP, consisting of only six songs for a running time of 30 minutes. Deficiencies in quantity may be excused, but McLaren's efforts also lack in quality.
The record opens with the strongest cut, "Madame Butterfly," an adaptation of Puccini's opera with the same name. McLaren keeps Puccini's characters but changes most of the lyrics into English. A programmed drum track and repeated pentatonic melody are laid over a wash of synthesizer throughout the song.
The vocals, alternately sung and spoken by McLaren, Debbie Cole, and soprano Betty Ann White are added to complete the mix. McLaren succeeds impressively, his greatest feat being the skillful meshing of the haunting soprano part with a syncopated rhythm track.
"Carmen," McLaren's arrangement of Bizet's opera, is the only other successful cut on the record. McLaren sticks to Bizet's melody, superimposing a funky bass line on the tune, and adding a rap done by Angie B. to Valerie Walter's singing. Surprisingly, these seemingly incongruous elements work in the ensemble, creating an interesting interpretation of the popular opera.
The four other cuts are unsuccessful. "Fans," based on the opera "Turandot" by Puccini, is about a fan's obsession with a singer. In this song pieces of Michael Austin's tenor part seem to be merely inserted between the lines of a very ordinary "adult-contemporary" tune. Similarly, "Lauretta" (based on "Gianni Schicchi" by Puccini), "Boy's Chorus" (adapted from "Turandot"), and the closing tune, "Death of Butterly" are also weak efforts.
To quote McLaren (from "Boy's Chorus"), "All work, no joy, makes Mac a dull boy." Indeed, he must have worked hard to stretch two songs into an album. I recommend getting the single version of "Madame Butterfly" instead of the LP.
McLaren once said on a radio interview, "I've never written any love songs before, so I figured that with the help of Puccini I might be able to compete with Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson." Well, by the sound of Fans, it's no contest.