Ute Lemper Punishing Kiss (Decca)
Punishing Kiss (Decca)
Reviewed by Christopher Gray, Fri., June 16, 2000
Punishing Kiss (Decca)In the mood for a mystery? Try figuring out why MGM hired Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, and Shirley Manson to sing the last three 007 themes and not Ute Lemper. Or why the Propellorheads picked Shirley Bassey for "History Repeating" on 1998's Decksanddrumsandrockandroll over this throaty Teutonic siren who makes Blazing Saddles' Lily von Shtupp sound like Betty Boop. With Punishing Kiss, those questions may take a while to roll around in your head, but it's easy to deduce why Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Philip Glass queued up to supply her with material. Lemper is the epitome of Euro-bred world-weariness, as tired of romance and relationships as Colette was her endless string of unfulfilling lovers. Exuding the same leather-pants cattiness as Portishead's Beth Gibbons, but substituting ghostly accordion flutters for trip-hop tracks, Lemper sulks through a pair of Waits' disheveled cafe still-lifes and joins the Divine Comedy's Neal Hannon to fondly reminisce about "that whorehouse where we used to live" on Kurt Weill's "Tango Ballad." Glass' "Streets of Berlin" is a foreboding "search for a bar on the cobblestone streets" set to factory-synchronized synthesizers, and her smoky cabaret castings of Costello's trio of songs -- particularly the torchy title track -- show the onetime brutal youth is becoming quite the accomplished pop composer. The 11-minute closer "Scope J" may be a bit nerve-taxing, but even at her most avant and inaccessible, Lemper would make a much better Sex and the City guest diva than Diamanda Galas.