Picks and Pans Review: Lost in the Stars—the Music of Kurt Weill

updated 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

Various artists

It was a moment of singular inspiration for producer Hal Willner to match the music of Weill, the German composer who died in 1950, with the performing talents of such modern entertainers as Sting and Lou Reed. Willner, who produced the similar 1984 album of music by Thelonius Monk, obviously perceived that Weill's music, while alien in time and often in place, shares a cynicism and darkness with many of today's popular songs. The tough-voiced, edgy Sting, for instance, seems just the right person to perform The Ballad of Mac the Knife, which he sings beer hall style, in a new translation that is even more menacing than the one Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong used. ("See the shark has teeth like razors/All can read his open face/And Macheath has a knife/But not in such an obvious place.") Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, singer-composer Ellen Shipley and the supremely quirky lounge singer Bob Dorough join to do Alabama Song and Marianne Faithfull, backed by guitarist Chris Spedding, does a mournful version of Ballad of the Soldier's Wife. Reed's September Song, hardly anything Walter Huston would even recognize, seems too souped up—"I haven't got time for any waiting game" becomes "I'm not quite equipped...." It also is a shame to do an instrumental version of Speak Low (Charlie Haden on bass), one of the few pure romantic Weill songs and a lovely tune at that, or the title song (performed by Carla Bley's band with jazz saxophonist Phil Woods), which came from a musical about South African apartheid. This is nonetheless an arresting album. Weill composed, as author Terry Southern says in his liner notes, "harsh, defiant, dissonant" music. The wonder is that it coalesces into a perverse kind of beauty. (A&M)

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