ROLLING STONE REVIEW 1984 + TIME OUT NEW YORK
If you loved the Pulitzer divorce trial, you'll love this record. Cristina's Sleep It Off is a graduate course--corse may be more like it--in upscale decadence, a grimly hilarious gavotte through the titled apocalypso, powered by producer Don Was' incisive musical settings and Cristina's ravaged, yowling vocals. The effect is somewhere between Marianne Faithfull and the Flying Lizards, and the music is more enjoyable than either.
As on the most recent Was (Not Was) LP, Don Was conjures a plethora of musical styles to complement Cristina (whose vocal abilities, admittedly, will not have Linda Thompson pacing the floor). The Sex Pistols-style roar of « Dont Mutilate My Mink, » for instance, adds just the crunch necessary to fill out her, ah, unsentimental account: « My night dress is expensive/I don't want to see it soiled. » No less naive is « Ticket to the Tropics, » whose chipper hooks can't obliterate lines like, « You said, 'Wouldn't it be very hot if we did this in the sun?'/You said, « My cash flow's very low, but you know it can be done. » Even the covers are sizzlers, from a winkingly lyrical version of Van Morrison's « Blue Money » to an outright brilliant rendition of « Ballad of Immoral Earnings » from Threepenny Opera. (Cristina could make a pretty good living just singing Brecht-Weill compositions).
Was' superb production doesn't candy coat Cristina's caustic vocals, but it does place them in sympathetic and occasionally ironic settings. Perhaps the pair's finest work is on « He Dines Out on Death, » wherein a busker's acoustic guitar provides an ironic complement to Cristina's savage account of a wealthy playboy whose wife's suicide evokes pity in his other escorts: "He lends such distinction to her self-extinction/Let's throw him a party, he must be in hell..." Hoo, boy.
Sleep It Off is not for the MTV crowd, but so what? "My life is in a turmoil/My thighs are black and blue/My sheets are stained, so is my brain/What's a girl to do? » Buy this record, I'd advise. Class is in session –
TIME OUT NEW YORK: By Elisabeth Vincentelli. November 2004
In his 2002 memoir, Strange: Punks and Drunks, Flicks and Kicks, British perfor-mer Richard Strange describes early-'80s new- wave singer Cristina as « elegant, intelligent, beautiful and the wittiest girl I have ever met. In a sassier, zestier, brighter, funnier world, Cristina would have been Madonna. » Unfortunately, our world is desperately lacking in the sass department, and it didn't know what the hell to make of Cristina Monet. Far from becoming a threat to the similarly mono-named Madonna, she achieved merely cult status, retiring from music in 1984 after two brilliant, eccentric albums (an eponymous debut and Sleep It Off) in which she daringly juxtaposed disco and Kurt Weill, Van Morrison and Latin rhythms at a time when her New York peers thought punk-funk was bold. It has taken 20 years for these discs to come back into print, but thanks to the efforts of ZE Records, we can bask in Cristina's glory once again.
Now 45, Cristina remembers that her career got off to an inauspicious start, to say the least. On a year off from Harvard, she was a cub theater writer for The Village Voice when she started dating Oxford grad Michael Zilkha, who later became her husband. A wealthy heir to England's Mothercare retail empire, Zilkha was just starting ZE with Frenchman Michel Esteban. « One of the first things Michael wanted to do was a song called 'Disco Clone, » Cristina recalls. « This being 1978, he thought he would cash in on disco, but I thought it was so bad that it could be a Brechtian pastiche. It turned out to be an eccentric and funny record-insane, enthusiastic, impassioned, amateurish. » The single, which included guest vocalist Kevin Kline trying to seduce the breathy Cristina, was a modest success and encouraged ZE to forge ahead and release a full-length album by its first marquee name. The new reissue, retitled Doll in the Box, also includes the three singles that predated the album: « Disco Clone » plus poker-faced covers of the Beatles' « Drive My Car » and Peggy Lee's « Is That All There Is? » (Cristina improvised fittingly cutting new lyrics to the latter, leading its authors, Leiber and Stoller, to sue and get it withdrawn; the song became mythically unavailable-until now).
For the album, Zilkha paired his girlfriend with August Darnell, a brilliant songwriter and arranger who would go on to (mostly European) fame as Kid Creole. "I had all these ideas about using Latin beats, which I preferred to the lugubrious disco rhythm," Cristina explains. "I wanted to mix them with cinematic imagery to put a bit of histrionic pizzazz in disco, which I found very anodyne". Thanks to Zilkha's trust fund, Darnell and Cristina actually had a budget to match their Technicolor imagination, and even after a quarter century, the music on Doll in the Box continues to sparkle with humor and imagination. Cristina gleefully admits that « my singing is hopeless. One has to sympathize with the review that said, "If Jackie Kennedy had made a record, it would sound like this". But the flat, posh diction actually gives the record a wonderful deb-on-a-rampage edge. Overall, it's hard to disagree with the singer's description of the album as "a soap bubble all about Marilyn Monroe, nostalgic glamour and joie de vivre."
As good as that debut is, it pales in comparison to 1984's Sleep It Off. Produced by Don Was, it's a masterpiece, at once detached and engaging, witty and prickly. A certain acerbic stylization permeates the proceedings, as Cristina's lyrics dryly detail a world of urban decadence. « The cornerstone of what I do musically and lyrically is irony, » she says. « A really depressing lyric has a lot more power if it fights off a jaunty melody. » In « What's a Girl to Do, » which she holds up as her anthem, Cristina sings, « My life is in a turmoil / My thighs are black and blue / My sheets are stained, so is my brain / What's a girl to do? » with a low-throated mock peppiness that's equal parts Lotte Lenya and washed-out ingenue. « She could flip from sex kitten to a punky tone, » New York DJ-producer (and recent Cristina collaborator) Ursula 1000 gushes. "She did a singing-nonsinging thing that's almost like John Lydon's".
"I don't think Sleep It Off sounds dated, because it's so out there, » Cristina says. « It never fit in any frame, and it still doesn't." Unfortunately, the record was so ahead of its time that it flopped; defeated, the singer retired. "I believed the idea that Michael had bought me a career to such an extent that I felt sheepish and guilty, which I shouldn't have been," she says. « By that point I was a wife and a mother, and then we moved to Texas; I felt like Madame Bovary of the freeway." The following two decades were low-key. Cristina divorced Zilkha in 1990 and returned to New York, where she still lives. A nimble writer, she's contributed learned essays and reviews to publications such as London's Times Literary Supplement. She's also made demos for books on tape; these recordings marked the only times she had been in a studio between Sleep It Off and an October 2004 session in which she sang on a track called « Urgent Anxious" for a forthcoming Ursula 1000 album. Despite battling an MS-like ailment for the past three years, Cristina feels the time is ripe for her to resurface. « It's hard to plan a new album when you don't know if you will make it down to the end of the street from one day to the next", she says, then breaks into a wicked laugh. "But now that I am an old trout, it would be easier for me to make an appropriate record-you may have noticed that my lyrics don't exactly exude youthful optimism!"
Originally published in Time Out New York, Issue 476, November 11–17, 2004.
01 • What's a Girl To Do • 3:28
Written by Cristina / Don Was & Barry Reynolds
02 • Ticket To The Tropics • 4:12
Written by Cristina & Doug Feiger
03 • The Lie of Love • 4:27
Written by Cristina & Barry Reynolds
04 • Quicksand Lovers • 3:17
Written by Cristina / Don Was & Bruce Nazarian
05 • Rage & Fascination • 4:28
Written by Cristina / J.Mavety & Ben Brierley
06 • Ballad of Immoral Earnings • 4:14
Written by Bertolt Brecht & Kurt Weil
Arranged by Ben Brierley
Male vocals Ben Brierley
Produced by Cristina
07 • She Can't Say That Anymore • 3:03
Written by S.Throckmorton08 • Blue Money • 4:11
Written by Van Morrison
09 • Don't Mutilate My Mink • 3:10
Written by Cristina & Don Was
10 • He Dines Out On Death • 2:33
Written by Cristina & Ben Brierley
11 • Smile • 3:45
Written by David Was / Don Was
Demo from the “Sleep it off" album sessions
Produced in Detroit By Don Was
12 • Deb Behind Bars • 4:26
Written by Cristina & Ben Brierley
Demo from the “Sleep it off” a
Produced in Detroit By Don Was
13 • Things Fall Apart • 4:30
Written by Cristina / David Was & Don Was
Produced in Detoit by Don Was
Taken from "A Christmas Records" ©1981
14 • When You Were Mine • 3:06
Written by Prince
Demo from the Compass Point sessions
Recorded Nassau Bahamas 1981
All instruments played & produced by Robert Palmer1
5 • Deb Behind Bars alternate version • 4:19
Written by Cristina & Ben Brierley
Demo from the “Sleep it off” album sessions
Produced in Detroit By Don Was
16 • You Rented a Space • 3:25
Written by Cristina & Robert Palmer
Demo from the Compass Point sessions
Recorded Nassau Bahamas 1981
All instruments played & produced by Robert Palmer
Produced in Detroit by Don Was
Recorded 1984 at Soundsuite studios
Engineered by Don Was & Pete Thea
Mixed by Michael Frondelli & Don Was
N.Y.C Overdubs recorded by Andy Hoffman at Mediasound.
Originaly Mastered by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk. N.Y.C
Remastered 2004 by Charlus de la Salle at South Factory
Original Production coordinator Andrew Fuhrmann
Thanks to Jack Tann, John Lewis and David Was and special thanks to Andy for all his support, to Sue and Debbie,
and to Ben for all his extra input, and for staying in Detroit so long
Original sound recording made by ZE Records ©1981 / 1984
This selection (p) & © ZE records 2004
Reissue co-ordinated by Michel Esteban
Executive Producer Michael Zilkha
"Things Fall Apart" is dedicated to the late LIZZY MERCIER, my chere copine in adversity... In loving memory of her talent, her courage, and her kindness. Cristina.
Special Thanks to Cristina & Michael Zilkha
Marcus Belgrave: Trumpet on « Ticket To The Tropics »
Ben Brierley: Guitar, harmony vocals
James Chance: Saxophone on « Blue Money »
Chris Ewen: Roland synthesizer on « Rage and Fascination »
Doug Feiger: Bass, lead guitar on « Blue Money », « Sugar-Coated »
Andy Hernandez: Marimba on « Ticket To The Tropics »
Kathy Kosins: Harmony vocals
David McMurray: Saxophones
Bruce Nazarian: Guitar, slide guitar
Luis Resto: Moog, oberheim obxa, vocoroer, piano
Barry Reynolds: Guitar
Susan Schmidt: Harmony vocals
Kevin Tschirhart: Percussion
David Was: Saxophone on "Blue money"
Don Was: Linn drums, oberheim obsx, percussion, guitar, bass guitar, casio organ
Howie Wyeth: Drums
Original Art Cover: Jean Paul Goude
Back cover photo: Chuck Sillery
Digipack & Booklet art direction Michel Esteban
IS THAT ALL THERE IS? : The Maddeningly Brief Career od Cristina
"In a sassier, zestier, brighter, funnier world, Cristina would have been Madonna." Richard Strange
She had a keen mind, biting wit, and a model's beauty. Her career barely lasted a half-decade, yet she worked with movie star Kevin Klein, Grammy Award-winner Don Was (Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time), The Knack's Doug Fieger, sax radical James Chance, and August Darnell, a k a Kid Creole. Her legacy? Some brilliant singles, two albums, praise from Siouxsie, Blondie, and the fifth estate… and now, these reissues: Doll In A Box and Sleep It Off.
Cristina Monet was destined for greatness before she ever cut a record. She attended Harvard (where she won the History and Literature prize in her sophomore year) and London's Central School of Drama. While working as an apprentice theater critic at the Village Voice, she met her future husband, fellow writer – and heir to the Mothercare fortune – Michael Zilkha.
In 1978, Zilkha was keen on starting a record label that married punk with disco. Towards this end, he had purchased the publishing to « Disco Clone, » a ditty by a fellow Harvard undergrad thespian of Cristina's, Ronald Melrose. « When Michael bought 'Disco Clone,' I said, 'That is, without doubt, the worst song I have ever heard, » recalls Cristina. « It is so bad that the only way you could record it would be as Brechtian pastiche. » And Michael said, « Do you want to give it a shot? »
With her dramatic training, Cristina – multi-tracked into a chorus of cooing clones – easily assumed the role of a Halston-clad disco bimbo. Finding a leering lothario to narrate the tale proved harder. « All the boys turned into pussycats in front of the microphone. » Finally, she approached Kevin Kline then on Broadway in On The Twentieth Century. « I nipped backstage and said, « How would you like to make some money ? ». He agreed.
John Cale produced the track. (It would later be re-recorded by Cristina, Zilkha, and Bob Blank.) Island Records head honcho Chris Blackwell dug it. « Suddenly, I was a solo recording artist, on the newly-formed ZE Records/Island, » gasps Cristina. Surprise! « Disco Clone » would go through several incarnations (including « The Ballad of Immoral Manufacture »), prompting Blackwell to dub it « Island's most expensive failure, » but its charms didn't escape notice. Melody Maker called the disc « artfully dumb, » anointing it Single of the Week.
For an encore, the chanteuse sunk her teeth into Peggy Lee's 1969 hit « Is That All There Is? » Arranged by Darnell, Cristina's rendition reflected her penchant for dark lyrics juxtaposed with jaunty music. When Blondie gave it the thumbs up on a BBC record-rating show, it seems poised to hit the charts… until songwriters Leiber and Stoller stepped in.
Today, Cristina contends that her update, with its reflections on nightclubs full of « bored-looking bankers dancing with beautiful models » – « because nobody in the 1980s could get disillusioned by the circus at the age of twelve » – hewed closer to the Brechtian spirit of the original song than any straight cover. Still, the authors forced ZE to recall all unsold copies. « If I had been richer, I would have fought them on the basis that it was a parody, » says Zilkha. « But we didn't have the money, and they were threatening a lawsuit. » (Despite its scarcity, « Is That All There Is? » become a favorite of Siouxsie Sioux, who used it as exit music on The Creatures 1999 tour. It was also the most requested single on BBC1 for two years, and cited as one of the funniest records ever made by comedy team Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore).
Darnell wrote and produced Cristina's eponymous 1980 LP, featuring the West Coast cult hit « Jungle Love. » Although she concedes that Darnell used Cristina's sophisticated disco-cum-big band arrangements, so well-suited to the budding Kid Creole and the Coconuts, as a platform to showcase his own strengths, she retains affection for it. It was the first cinematic, theatrical, nostalgic disco record, at a time when there wasn't a lot of humor in disco. In a similar vein, the team also conjured up a swing rendition of the Beatles' « Drive My Car » (arranged by Darnell's brother, Stony Browder, alias Dr. Buzzard), with Cristina mimicking Marilyn Monroe to the last gasp.
Before starting her next album, Cristina ventured to the Bahamas, for sessions with singer Robert Palmer acting as producer/arranger. « I spent most of my time at Compass Point cooking, cluttering up the studio with casserole dishes, » she cracks. Of the surviving recordings, which include « You Rented A Space, » she is especially fond of her deadpan reading of Prince's « When You Were Mine. » « It's got this decadent, Gidget-goes-trisexual vibe. »
The singer fared better with her next collaborator, Don Was. « It's completely in keeping with the ZE philosophy to put two extremely disparate elements together, and see what happens, » says the producer. A 1981 Christmas single, « Things Fall Apart, » proved they clicked. It also revealed Cristina as a razor-sharp wordsmith. « I'd always written little, Dorothy Parker-esque pastiches, but at that point, I started to keep a notebook of lyrics. » Thus armed, she set out for the Motor City, to make her second album.
ristina liked Was (Not Was): « Their music was extraordinary. » But were Was (Not Was) ready for Cristina? « We didn't have girls like her in Detroit, » recalls Was. « I went to dinner with her, and I remember feeling intellectually dwarfed. » They were assisted by an all-star cast, including Chance, Fieger, guitarist Barry Reynolds, and bassist Ben Brierley, who proved the ideal vocal foil on another duet: « The Ballard of Immoral Earnings » from Threepenny Opera.
« Adapting that song to something connected to rock and roll was not easy, » recalls Was. « I remember everyone really considering every note that was played, every single line. » Sleep It Off was months in the making. « I didn't work that hard with Bob Dylan, and he's my hero, » he adds proudly. Along with the ten tracks of the final album, the team also recorded « Smile » (later to resurface, sung by Fieger, on the Was (Not Was) LP, Born To Laugh At Tornadoes) and « Deb Behind Bars. » « That title is a bit camp, » says Cristina, « but I like it, because alliteratively, all those B's, jabbing at the ear, sound like bullets. »
Sleep It Off was a masterpiece, from its unsettling Jean Paul Goude cover, to the haunting acoustic ballad « He Dines Out on Death. » In between, Cristina snarled the Sex Pistols-ish « Don't Mutilate My Mink » (« We should've given John Lydon a writing credit, » says Was), the electro-funk of « Ticket to the Tropics, » and a raucous romp through Van Morrison's « Blue Money. » Her rendition of « She Can't Say That Anymore » proved so sublime, hardly anyone realized it was a reinterpretation of 1980 country hit; « I found the song very evocative of screen doors, mosquitoes and sweat, Deep South depravity. »
Zilkha thought « Mink » an ideal single; Cristina favored « What's A Girl To Do. » But Mercury Records, Cristina's new U.S. distributor, opted for « Tropics, » since it was a co-write with Fieger, who had scored a #1 with « My Sharona. » Alas, it didn't ignite the airwaves. « I still think that song is a hit, » contends Fieger; he recently submitted it to No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, as a candidate for inclusion on her solo album.
« The one thing that pop music has lost lately is its sense of irony, » Cristina lamented when Sleep It Off dropped in 1984. « People either write dumb-funny novelty songs or dead-earnest serious songs. There's nothing around that combines elements of both. There's none of the real wit and self-humor of anyone from a Bertolt Brecht to a Cole Porter or an early Dylan. » On Sleep It Off, Cristina did. Yet while Rolling Stone gave the album a glowing, three-and-a-half star review, and The Face cited it in their year-end Top 20, it barely saw U.S. release.
And then? Nothing. « I always had this guilt complex, that I was just a dilettante who'd fallen into music because of Michael's trust fund, » she confesses. « Then, at a point when I was very insecure, that point was driven home to me. » So she retired. Michael and Cristina divorced in 1990. Today, she divides her time between New York, London, and Paris. But recently, contemporary artists, including Ursula 1000 and Ladytron (who included « What's A Girl To Do » on their 2003 mix CD, Softcore Jukebox), have expressed interest in collaborations. "Yesterday's kitsch is tomorrow's antique," jokes Cristina, but the possibility of new recordings, she hints, is no laughing matter.
20 years later, Sleep It Off's producer, Don Was, still holds Cristina in the highest esteem. "I didn't fully realize it at the time, but she achieved a certain artistic ideal. Sleep It Off is an incredibly honest representation of what she was about. Twenty years later, I've learned that that's what you want to do when you produce an album: Take a snapshot of somebody. Certainly, there were exaggerations – everyone is more complex than they can express in a three-minute song – but Sleep It Off is as accurate a portrait as Nick of Time".
By Kurt B. Reighley