Out There

Coming up short

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Original Cast Recording
Atlantic Records

Hedwig Schmidt's ill-fated pecker is the biggest thing off Broadway in years. Apparently nothing gets the culturatti in the seats quicker than rock operas about botched sex changes, especially when the star of the show's a guy pretending to be a girl who used to be a guy reduced to keeping in his pants an inch-long "mound of flesh with a scar running down it," to quote from the lyrics. Never mind the music--and seriously, never mind the music--because this is pop-culture fodder the likes of which keeps The Village Voice filled for months. Better a rock opera about a Barbie-crotched rock star than another Victor, Victoria revival, at least.

For almost a year, major labels wet themselves trying to secure this little nugget of a record, convinced here for the first time ever was a soundtrack to a musical that had plenty of singles and worked without the visuals--or what they used to call a "concept album" back before Pete Townshend went deaf, dumb, and blind writing about pinball wizards. And it works too, if your idea of "rock and roll" is over-the-top show tunes played on electric guitar and piano being sung by a guy pretending to be an East German boy-turned-war-bride abandoned by her GI husband in a Kansas trailer park who sings like David Bowie imitating Marianne Faithfull...or something. Actually, Hedwig (as voiced on the disc by co-author John Cameron Mitchell) isn't even a star, just a failed freak abandoned by both of the men s/he loves, including Tommy Gnosis, the musician Hedwig made a star till he, too, ran off and left her to rot. (Or maybe Hedwig is Tommy Gnosis--hard to tell.) Now, all Hedwig has left is off-Broadway, where s/he goes to sing his/her sad tale for the appreciative masses who love to laugh over good sob stories. It's very post-modern, you know.

And it's a good joke for a while, if your idea of ha-ha-funny is a song about a feller who's "bleeding from the gash between my legs" (how you say?...brilliant!). Or if you can follow the song about how there used to be three sexes before the gods split men and women in half...or something. (Apparently, that's based on Plato's theory that sex is how we reattach the two halves of the perfect entity--which is, like, a very rock subject.) But the music, written by Cheater's Steven Trask, doesn't stand up to repeated listenings: At best, it's the 1990s version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; at worst, it's a modern-rock sampler (producer Brad Wood turns the rock songs into Smashing Pumpkins-doing-Pearl Jam B-sides, especially "Exquisite Corpse") doing battle with a show-tune compilation. And for some reason, it's not hard to imagine Sandra Bernhard in the lead role--never a good sign.

--Robert Wilonsky


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