Review Summary: This is how the blues should sound; like Satan himself.
A retreat back into 'pop' music was probably the only place Diamanda could go after Plague Mass
, but since it's Diamanda, 'pop' needs to go into quotations. There might be songs on here you've heard, but where the acts before her were trying to be dark, she makes them look like puppies. "Gloomy Sunday" turns Billie Holiday into Kylie Minogue in comparison. "I Put a Spell on You" makes Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Nina Simone, and Creedence Clearwater Revival sound like Gareth Gates, Whitney Houston, and Keane.
And it's still probably her most accessible album, because where Plague Mass
was completely and utterly fu
cking terrifying, The Singer
is slightly less completely fu
cking terrifying. I mean shi
t, have you seen the artwork? Seen her knuckles? We've all got AIDS. Look, it says so, right there. Every time she reaches down into that gutteral, trembling, demonic bass end of her voice, it sounds like we're all about to die. Ditto when she screams up into that grinding banshee screech - it's like an angel getting raped. Was Robert Johnson possessed by the devil? If so, Diamanda Galas IS the devil. "Gloomy Sunday" is famous for being the song that has caused more suicides than any other, and here's a woman singing it as if she was personally responsible. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" was meant to be a spiritual about being lifted to heaven, and all of a sudden it sounds like that chariot is being dragged into hell by wild-eyed hell hounds, as the song resignedly peters out into darkness. "I Put a Spell on You" is even more blatant - for the first minute and twenty seconds, the only word she sings is 'devil'. Over and over again. And all this goes on over piano playing that straddles Cecil Taylor's noisy clanging and Fats Domino's deep-fried blues.
In a way it's probably a little disappointing that she had to make this album, because there was always something bluesy about her work, even when she flung herself furthest into the avant-garde. That's what makes a lot of it so special; that moment a few minutes after an album finishes where you think, 'Jesus, was that the blues
I was just listening to?!' But then, there's something defiant about her doing this material - like she's standing over you asking whether or not you NEED - HER - TO - SPELL - IT - OUT - FOR - YOU. The ever-present AIDS theme acts that way too, nowhere moreso than on the deeply spooked "Let My People Go"; the cry of 'Oh Lord Jesus, do you think I've served my time?' might be the most direct piece of emotional pleading in her entire catalogue. Put it in the context of her life and work as an AIDS activist, and it's incredible how somebody can make a spiritual this passive-aggressive.
Haven't heard this? Son, you just don't know what the blues is