Wednesday, November 3, 2010
CD: Liza Minnelli - Confessions review...
Reviews, By aurengzebe, 3rd November, 2010
For me, one of the great moments in cinema comes near the end of Cabaret and it’s not Liza Minnelli’s luciferous rendition of the title song. No, the moment that really gets me is the instant before.
Minnelli’s character, Sally Bowles, has aborted a child in order to break with the probable father. Germany is crumpling into Hitler’s grasp all around her. Harassed, exhausted, she assumes her place onstage as her number is announced.
Then, the lights of the fleabitten nightclub dawn on Minnelli’s face, lifting from folorn apathy into a gracious smile of welcome. The cabaret is her home.
The moment passes. Liza saunters downstage and sings. She’s the daughter of Judy Garland all right: same lung power, same lush sonority. But Minnelli’s consonants are just a little sharper, the vowels a slightly darker hue – a legacy, most likely, of time spent in England during her early years. The voice tags her as belonging to the postwar generation of interational stars, independent of the Hollywood studio system that made then all but broke her mother.
But can you be a film star on a single great performance? Although thoroughly deserving her acting Oscar for Cabaret – she runs an impressive gamut from dirty high comedy to pricking-the-back-of-your-eyes drama – never again would there come a role that seemed worthy of Minnelli’s distinctive bourgignon of abilities.
What followed, then, seemed not so much a career as a sporadic series of firebursts, like the 1989 single of Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’ in collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, or her winding up of the Freddie Mercury AIDS benefit concert with a roof-raising ‘We are the Champions’. Most recently she cameoed in Sex in the City 2 taking on Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’.
Throughout these years Liza Minelli has remained a favourite of many LGBT people. It seems to have started way back with the androgynous pageboy haircut she sported in Cabaret. This, coupled with her characteristic gangly movements, has reminded many a gay man of his own adolescence, while some of our sisters have found her combination of commanding vocals and black suspenders in the number ‘Mein Herr’ giving them plenty to think about.
Perhaps, though, our strongest connection with Liza comes from the way that her ‘too much is never enough’ performance style somehow seems to embody gay pride at its most exuberant. It’s no surprise that Minnelli’s stage persona has inspired drag queens the world over, a compliment she repaid in 2005 by singing Aznavour’s ‘What Makes a Man a Man’ when accepting her Vanguard Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Now, having reached 60, Minnelli offers us Confessions, a bouquet of rarer jazz standards, released simultaneously with the DVD of her Broadway return Liza’s at the Palace.
The backing is minimal, mainly the elegant piano of Billy Stritch plus the odd touch of keyboard and drum brushes. It exposes her completely, and the recording engineers have done an excellent job of presenting in an optimal acoustic Minnelli’s voice as it now is. There’s still the trademark dark lower register, and some admirable rich sustaining at top. It remains a voice worth listening to, despite the increased huskiness and even occasional rasping.
It may even be that Liza remains compelling because of her very imperfections; they suggest survival in the face of suffering. I know next to nothing about Minnelli’s sufferings (having only the media coverage to go on) but it’s probably enough to say that if you’re human, you’ve suffered – and Liza has always been one of the most vulnerably human of performers.
Not that she betrays any sense of self-pity, that was never her style. On the contrary, a somewhat dry, chuckling quality is sometimes present, as in the opening track:
I always go to bed at ten,
Now isn’t that a bore?
I always go to bed at ten
Then I go home at four…
But there is also plenty of room on this disc for the things Liza always does so well. There’s devotion in ‘All the Way’; seduction (yes, seduction!) in ‘Close Your Eyes’; and it would take a truly deadhearted critic not to respond to her wide-eyed account of ‘I Got Lost in His Arms’. Personally, though, I like her best in the one-eyebrow-raised mood of such bluesy numbers as ‘He’s a Tramp’ and ‘I Must Have That Man’.
This album is definitely a keeper, there’s much that you want to keep coming back to. What it captures above all is the Minnelli presence, her total commitment to the performing moment, that moment captured, all those years ago, in Cabaret. Paradoxically, then, this uncharacteristic Liza Minnelli offering gives us the performer as she has always been: happily, completely, uniquely – herself.