”I just want to hear a good beat,” sang Deee-Lite’s Lady Miss Kier on the group’s 1990 hit album, World Clique. And dance-driven bodies all over rushed to her call. Deee-Lite, and more recently this year’s top 10 smash C+C Music Factory, are among the most popular acts to bridge the gap between deep, dark dance-club culture and the American pop mainstream. Underground dance clubs take an adventurous, multiracial urban crowd far away from its normal routine. The clubs’ dominant musical style for the past 10 years has been house music — a distillation of ’70s Philadelphia soul into a pounding beat with just a hint of added melody. House music’s beat, its provocative (though minimal) vocals, and its slinky electronic interludes penetrate your heart and send your mind into oblivion. You don’t even need to dance with a partner — you ”jack your body,” or, in other words, connect one-on-one with the music. You let the rhythm hit you; you lose yourself in your own movements.
But now this feverishly contagious style has finally caught on, and caught on big. Every major label is busy looking for the next Deee-Lite — and in the interim putting together compilations that allow all of us to sample the new sound of dance.
A&M’s compilation, Jam Harder, concentrates on ”hip-house,” a gritty mix of rap and the basic house beat. A&M released the album on the heels of ”Tom’s Diner,” an unaccompanied Suzanne Vega song remixed over a mesmerizing dance beat by two British DJs who called themselves DNA. The single was so big for A&M that it outsold even the label’s former flagship artist, Janet Jackson. But ”Tom’s Diner” turns out to be the least energetic cut on A&M’s collection.
”Groove Me” by Seduction, for instance, is a playful, pumping song; its slamming beat and catchy chorus — mixed by C+C Music Factory’s producers, David Cole and Robert Clivilles — won’t let you quit. Jazzi P’s ”Feel the Rhythm” features quick thumping beats over samples of Chic’s disco classic ”Le Freak,” and LA Mix’s ”Coming Back for More” shows the strength of the pure, raw rhythm of the bass line. Some songs, though, have a softer but still beat-crazy groove: New Life’s ”Got to Be Free,” for instance, or A Certain Ratio’s ”Won’t Stop Loving You,” which highlights a house-music trait popular up to now only in Spain: the sound of a softly strummed flamenco-like guitar.
”Got to Be Free” is an example of the grandiose Italian house-music style showcased on RCA’s compilation Decoded and Danced Up Rhythms of De-Construction. The best-known of the groups on the album is Black Box, which took the pop world by storm last year with the roaring sound of ”Everybody Everybody,” featuring the grand-diva vocals (originally uncredited) of former Weather Girl Martha Wash. Black Box really is Italian, but most of the other acts on the compilation aren’t. The style gets its name because it’s popular in Italy and emphasizes the main components of the great Italian opera tradition, melody and singing.
Opera may well have encouraged Italian house producers to imitate the dramatic, often sappy arrangements of ’70s disco acts like Donna Summer. Black Box opens Decoded with a rhythmic cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 hit ”Fantasy,” turning the jingling rhythm of the original into vocal melodrama. But there’s a flip side to this up-front, pop-like sound: The latter half of Decoded consists of atmospheric, almost skeletal tracks, like Vandal’s ”Amazing Grace” and Guru Josh’s ”Warehouse Requiem,” meant to turn the mood on the dance floor more somber.
Arista’s Dance Now!! is the most consistent of these compilations: It includes two of the biggest current American club hits but still introduces music that’s fresh and new. These hits are Shawn Christopher’s ”Another Sleepless Night” and Alison Limerick’s ”Where Love Lives,” energetic, fast-paced tracks with light, catchy choruses; gone are the days when house music meant stone-cold rhythms and hardly any melody.
One of the groups taking a new direction is Snap, whose hit last year was ”The Power”; their ”Cult of Snap” is a dark song, with African drumbeats and chanting. Device’s ”What Is Sadness?,” with its combination of house music and Gregorian chant, seems to be a copy of ”Sadeness,” the current hit by a new top 10 dance group, Enigma. The truth, though, is that the two records were released at the same time. Device isn’t getting much radio play; after all, how many religious-sounding dance records can radio promote?
Dance Now!! winds down with a fluid song called ”Infinity,” recorded by the same Guru Josh who’s on the RCA compilation, and an anthem of sorts at last year’s infamous British ”rave” parties (huge underground gatherings that featured endless hours of frenetic dancing). Guru Josh’s fast, flickering strobes of hypnotic rhythm make a perfect ending for Arista’s collection — the warmest and most accessible of these three introductions to the sound of today’s underground clubs. Jam Harder: B+ Decoded: B+ Dance Now!!: A-