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Movie Disaster Music

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Album Review

Josie Cotton suffers the curse of the one-hit wonder whose song wasn't that big a hit; "Johnny, Are You Queer?" might have been a smash on alternative radio if there had been such a thing in 1981, but outside of Los Angeles she was just another new wave novelty act whose act didn't play in the Midwest. Cotton is thankfully still making music 25 years later, and the results are intelligent, witty, and imaginative in ways her 15 minutes of sorta-fame would not lead you to expect. Built around darkly atmospheric keyboard patterns, echoing guitars, and off-kilter samples, Movie Disaster Music suggests a Jon Brion production gone film noir, and even the relatively upbeat numbers (like the banjo-infused "Looking for Elvis") carry a sinister undercurrent that's as troubling yet warming as a good shot of laudanum. While the production (which Cotton had a hand in on six of the 11 tracks) sets the mood of the album, Cotton's vocals put it over, and she's gained a wealth of skill and confidence in her years away from the spotlight; these performances use dynamics and nuance as much as sheer lung power to get their message across, and Cotton is a chanteuse of no small ability here. The title Movie Disaster Music fits these 11 songs like a velvet glove cast in iron; anxiety rarely sounded as inviting or as enjoyable as it does on this album, and like Aimee Mann's Whatever, it confirms Josie Cotton as a major talent who has far more to offer than her checkered past would suggest.


Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s

Josie Cotton's 1982 new wave hit "Johnny, Are You Queer?" is unquestionably in dubious taste (although its killer chorus is one of the more memorable of its era), but there's more to this underrated singer/songwriter than her one shock-value novelty hit. Not only are Cotton's two early-'80s albums underrated pop gems, she since resumed her career in a surprising fashion; rather than jump the lucrative '80s nostalgia bandwagon like so many of her Los Angeles contemporaries like Berlin and Dale Bozzio...
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