Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Sound of the City

Dandy Act

In perfect time to the Eurofunk thump of "Tears of Pearls"--not a hit, but with your album quadruple platinum no one cares--Savage Garden's Darren Hayes strode out at the Beacon last Tuesday dressed entirely in black: black shoes, black slacks, black body shirt, black shades, knee-length black leather coat, black hair lacquered to his rather flat skull. Before he'd begun "Love Can Move You," which isn't even on the album, he felt compelled to propel this choreographed snap higher by doffing his coat to reveal . . . the sleeves of his body shirt painted in red-and-orange flames. And before "To the Moon and Back," which was a hit, he pulled out another stop, doffing his shades to reveal . . . his true self.

I never saw Duran Duran or Roxette, and hear even Bauhaus are going for laughs now. So maybe I'm naive. But to me Hayes was Bryan Ferry's invented cabaret-rock dandy come to pop life, the long overdue heir to ABC's Martin Fry--outrageous, thrilling, hilarious. With arrangements by Brisbane keyb-partner Daniel Jones, Hayes applies his fruity electronic baritone and power-packed falsetto to slightly twisted, indubitably tuneful love songs that speak to slightly jaded late-teen females and their sometime boyfriends . . . without ever challenging them. Covering Madonna, Joan Osborne, Bonnie Raitt, interpolating "Here we are now, entertain us" and "Spice up your life," dangling a cluster of nine varisized mirrored balls to beam eccentrically over Hayes's domain, Savage Garden's show was a high-speed pageant of knowing poses.

One peak came with the sole costume change, Hayes in white Elton John drag and pastel specs contending campily for the spotlight with two female backup singers gotten up in white hooker miniskirts and knee-boots. That was topped by the official finale, the hit "I Want You." Which was topped in turn by the encore finale, the straight-over-the-top love paean and enormous hit "Truly Madly Deeply." Which could only be topped by Hayes flipping open his lacquered skull to reveal . . . a 10th mirrored ball! Dazzled, we filed out onto Broadway--happier, yet somehow no wiser.

Village Voice, 1998