“Results” – Liza Minnelli

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ResultsNow this one’s going to be a surprise. Unusually for a Closet Classic, it charted fairly high on its release (six in the UK) and was certified gold but “Results” is one of those albums that seems to have been unfairly dismissed as a product of its time. To many people it seemed like a bit of a strange combination; Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were at the peak of their popularity and Liza Minnelli (who had recorded a few albums) was much better known as a nightclub and Broadway singer and the actress who gave a stunning performance as Sally Bowles in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret”, adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s short novel, “Goodbye to Berlin”. So far, so good.

The album’s lead single, “Losing my Mind”, was being played to death on the radio and that, as well as a recommendation from a musician friend who was a huge Pet Shop Boys fan made me go out and buy the album. It’s no exaggeration to say that I played it solidly in the car and at work (the advantages of working in a music bar) for a month and I can still quite happily listen to it from start to finish now. So what’s so special apart from the fact that it’s Liza Minnelli and the Pet Shop Boys?

The album opens in the way you might expect with an uptempo Tennant-Lowe song, “I Want You Now” followed by “Losing my Mind”, a Stephen Sondheim song from the musical “Follies”. You can’t accuse the team of sticking to the original arrangement too closely; it’s a 119bpm monster with Fairlights on steroids and Liza Minnelli belting out the vocal. The original is wistfully obsessive, but Liza sounds like she’s delighted to be losing her mind; bring it on and double helpings please.

The following three songs are Tennant-Lowe originals, but that’s about the only common factor. It’s a tough call, but “If There was Love” is probably the most audacious song on the album, with paranoid and prescient lyrics (‘Men of affairs, women with power, satellites talking to clutter our lives’), sax from Courtney Pine and a recitation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 during the coda. “So Sorry I Said” is played at a very un-PSB tempo of 70bpm with a breathy Liza vocal and a bit of programming help from C J Mackintosh. “Don’t Drop Bombs” is back to house tempo again with a spoken verse/sung chorus structure and a completely mad programmed cowbell percussion track.

Twist in My Sobriety” takes the Tanita Tikaram original, gives it hip-hop beats, a rap intro taken from “Liza With a Z” (Ebb and Kander again), creating a truly original take on a classic song (and, yes, Tanita loves it). “Rent” reverses the process of “Losing my Mind” by taking an uptempo PSB original and slowing it down to ballad speed while using a string arrangement by Angelo Badalamenti to create drama and pathos underneath a close-miked and perfectly-controlled vocal.

The album’s final cover (also released as a single) is “Love Pains”, which was a hit for Yvonne Elliman ten years earlier and was also covered in 1989 by Viola Wills and the evergreen Hazell Dean. It’s a house stomper, which also received the the obligatory remix treatment from Steve “Silk” Hurley, and features some real guitar from British session player JJ Belle. The verse and pre-chorus feature Liza’s voice solo and upfront in the mix, while in the chorus she has to compete with Katie Kissoon, Carole Kenyon and Tessa Niles, wringing out every last bit of emotion. You even get a trucker’s gear change thrown in for good measure.

Tonight is Forever” feels like the second act of “Rent” with similar lyrical themes, and strings arranged and conducted by Anne Dudley sounding more lush and less overtly dramatic than Angelo Badalamenti’s work. Like “Rent”, this would be perfectly at home in a Sondheim show. The final track, “I Can’t Say Goodnight” is the joker in the pack; it’s the only song which relies mainly on traditional rock and pop instruments and sounds like an updated 60s American pop song with a breathy vocal and guitar and sax courtesy of JJ Belle and Courtney Pine again. Lyrically, it’s not a bad way to end an album.

So, what it is about this album that really got under my skin? Well, it’s the only time that Liza Minnelli has really stepped out of the chanteuse comfort zone, and what a way to do it; forget that acoustic piano and complicated orchestral arrangements and let’s have full-on programmed beats and wall-to-wall Fairlights. You could be cynical and say that it was a marketing ploy to get even further into the gay market, but “Results” is too full of joy and the sound of musicians having fun and doing everything to excess to be a clinical exercise. It’s the sound of two great songwriters and arrangers giving a wonderful singer a contemporary sound and pushing their own boundaries a little at the same time. There may only be ten songs, but they’re all highly-polished little gems.