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Punishing Kiss, Ute Lemper
Punishing Kiss
Ute Lemper
Punishing Kiss, Ute Lemper

Despite her roles in mainstream musicals such as Cats and Chicago, Ute Lemper has never been a typical Broadway baby. Her long association with the works of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, as well as her one-woman shows based on the repertoires of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich, has always marked her as a maverick in a world overpopulated by bland belters and cute ingénues. Lemper's distinctive voice isn't an instrument for easy listening. At full tilt, it's dangerous and edgy. In subdued mode, it's dark, ironic, and despairing. The cruelty that runs through many of her interpretations is taken on the chin. Lemper deals in defiance rather than submission. With just one, edgily updated Weill song ("Tango Ballad") and a host of contributions from Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Philip Glass, and the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, Punishing Kiss is a modern, bleak look at love in the 21st century. At times the tone is murderous, even apocalyptic ("The Case Continues"). The duet "Split," sung with Hannon, is a grimly humorous riot of punches and counterpunches in a disintegrating relationship. There's fleeting, poignant beauty too, in tracks like Waits's "Purple Avenue." Essential listening for anyone who likes their torch songs blood-stained, not just dampened by a few tears.

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