Review Summary: The scam that (nearly) fooled them all.
Frauds. Phonies. Scammers. Not pleasant adjectives to tag anyone with, but some of those that usually follow the mention of the name Milli Vanilli. More than a silly fad pseudo-band, Frank Farian's brainchild became the stuff of Behind The Music legend, as well as one of the main targets of derision for "real" music fans. And all because of a jammed playback machine.
Milli Vanilli were, as mentioned, created by Frank Farian, a two-bit music impresario with a group of somewhat talented but scarcely marketable studio singers and a project for a dance/pop band. The solution to his predicament, as well as a sudden highroad to fame and fortune, fell on his lap when he came across a couple of good-looking and talented dancers at a Berlin nightclub. One conversation later, he had found the front he needed for what would soon be christened Milli Vanilli.
With all the pieces in place, the act was then ushered into the studio, where they were to cut an Europe-only release, to be titled All Or Nothing
. Containing eleven tracks and with the handsome mugs of Rob and Fab on the cover, this album was a success in the Old Continent, leading to a US release the following year. Containing some new songs and titled after the group's greatest hit, Girl You Know Its True
was the final stone in the "band"'s seemingly unstoppable escalade to success. It went six times platinum, spawned a remix album and even won a Grammy
, causing Milli Vanilli to be the next big thing as the 90's rolled around.
But then a broken playback machine sent the whole thing spiralling down, publicly humilliating the group in the process. During a seemingly normal concert, the record the fronting duo were lip-synching to started to skip, continually going back to the same section. Ever the pair of troopers, Rob and Fab tried to press on, passing it off as improvisation; eventually, however, they admitted their shame and ran offstage. The next day, the scandal was in the press and Milli Vanilli's stint of superstardom had come to an end.
Looking back, however, it is not hard to see how that could have happened. On the contrary, the hardest part is understanding just what
justified attributing a Grammy to Girl You Know It's True
. Sure, the Grammies aren't what they used to be, much like the Oscars. But still...what were they thinking
Judging by the initial European release, All Or Nothing
, they were either seriusly bribed or seriously doped. To put it bluntly, this is one of the silliest records I ever heard, and keep in mind that I have listened to To The Extreme
, Steven Seagal's musical debut and
the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles album. All Or Nothing
is worse than any of these. So brace yourselves, because THIS IS GOING TO SUCK.
By now, some of you may be accusing me of going into this album with preset ideas. Well, duh
. Of course I did! Who wouldn't? Knowing the Milli Vanilli story, it is hard to listen to either of their more successful albums without envisioning the studio singers, rather than the pretty coverboys, singing and recording these songs. No, the experience of listening to All Or Nothing
was all about damage control, and in that sense, I can say I was surprised to hear an actually good song opening the album. That was Can You Feel My Love
, a funky track with shades of Michael Jackson and some synthesized electric guitars which is to this album what Blame It On The Rain
was to Girl You Know It's True
: its sole standout and possible motive of interest.
However, anything that's good about this album ends with that track, as follow-up Boy In The Tree
introduces the bane of this album: "rapping" so hackneyed it makes Vanilla Ice sound like Snoop Dogg, and Hulk Hogan sound halfway decent. This dreadful excuse for white noise than proceeds to take up two-thirds of the album's tracks (including Girl
itself), with the remaining few being devoted to either sappy balladry (Girl I'm Gonna Miss You
, a track so bad it initiates a whole new
downward spiral for the album) or inconsequential dance-funk tracks whose "lyrics" merely repeat the title (Dance With The Devil
, the criminal cover of Joe South/Deep Purple hit Hush
) and dreadfully, dreadfully
"acted" spoken-word intros. Farian even has the gall of writing a track about how influential money is - as if we didn't know what his intentions were all along - all while directly ripping off superior artists like ABBA (on Baby Don't Forget My Number
, where he lifts the "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba" part from Take A Chance On Me
) and MC Hammer (on Money
itself, where the beat is clearly inspired by King Baggypants).
But if the tracks were merely cheesy, it might not be so bad. However, not content with stopping at that, they are also devoid of any structure, haphazardly glueing together apparently unrelated and totally random parts. And to top that
off, they present some of the worst lyrics this side of Steven Seagal. It seriously becomes mind-boggling to relate lyrics like "together we're one/ separated we're two/to make you all mine, all mine is my desire/'cause you contain a quality, you that I admire"
to the awarding of a Grammy, and when you couple that with the cheap, obviously fake beats and dime-store keyboards, the whole puzzle attains Rubik proportions.
To be fair, however, one must say that maybe - maybe
- a decent rapper or DJ could do something with a few of these beats. However, that doesn't make them any less cheap, or the songs any less awful, preventing anyone with a sane mind from ever recommending this album. Girl You Know It's True
(the song) must
be heard, of course: it is a cultural phenomenon that far transcends the musical aspect. But all the rest of this tripe should - and hopefully will - remain in the 80's, only sporadically ressurected for some easy, ruthless mocking on VH1 Behind The Music. The Grammy? It has been revoked, and good for them, because it shouldn't have been attributed in the first place. As far as scams go, this is a classic; musically...not so much.
Can You Feel My Love
Girl You Know It's True