Stop. Freeze. Don’t you dare close this window. I know the primal urge to flee and survive is a strong one, encoded in your very DNA, but you must resist. This is gonna be a like getting a vaccination – it’ll hurt for a quick moment, but the benefits are worth it. Besides, no one’s proven the Village People cause autism. Yet.
Things weren’t looking good for the Village People in 1981, despite the sunny optimism of their last (minor) hit a couple years prior with “Ready for the ’80s.” The band’s cinematic debut, the absolutely brain-melting and essential Can’t Stop the Music (Bruce Jenner! Bath house dance sequences! Nancy “Quicker Picker Upper” Fucking Walker!) laid a big stinky at theaters, and the accompanying soundtrack album failed to chart any Top 40 hits. The winking “are they or aren’t they” disco camp sensibility of the group was quickly being replaced by the pop equivalent of pinkeye, a crusty virus no one in their right mind wants. The Village People needed a revamp, fast. So, what bandwagon to jump on when the disco gravy train ended? Why, the next trendy movement associated with vaguely gay music stars — the New Romantic movement!
Yes, that’s your cowboy, Indian, construction worker, Naval officer, leather guy and cop under all that pancake, mascara and hair gel, looking like they came late for the Spandau Ballet auditions. While the new image was complete, next came the music. Since my long-treasured copy of Renaissance was wiped out in the Great Mom Vinyl Purge of 1989 (I was in the Army, so my mother took the opportunity to put my entire vinyl collection — albums, 12″ singles and 45s I had been collecting since 1973 — in a garage sale for 50Á‚¢ each. Thanks, mom!), I had to turn to fellow ‘Doser Will, who provided the goods like some filthy crack dealer. So what exactly does New Romantic Village People sound like? Not too different than disco Village People, really.
“Do You Wanna Spend the Night” (download) was the first single from Renaissance, and for such a supposedly huge departure it’s really just a slowed-down version of Village People Mark I, just without the disco strings and off-beat high hat. Strangely, “Do You Wanna Spend the Night” sounds more like Exile or Toto than Visage or Classix Nouveaux, completely at odds with the People’s new image. No matter, since neither Top 40 radio nor the dance clubs wanted anything to do with it and the single sank quickly.
Casablanca had plenty of eggs in the Village People’s ample baskets (ahem), so another single was proffered up, one a tiny bit more in line with the New Romantic image. “5 O’Clock In The Morning” (download) is a dark, mid-tempo, almost AOR-ish song, if you can imagine such a thing from a band best known for extolling the virtues of the Y.M.C.A. It’s also probably the best song on the album, but that didn’t help matters since no one was quite sure how to take this new Village People. Was it still a joke? Was it supposed to be taken seriously now? It’s enough to give one musical whiplash.
You may hear the two singles and think to yourself, “Gee, those weren’t too bad. Is Renaissance really as epically awful as its reputation?” Yes, you fool. But we can forgive your naivete, since you’ve obviously never heard side two, the “wacky New Wave” side of the album. Composed by your dad imitating Devo, it features a triptych of food songs called “Big Mac,” “Diet,” and “Food Fight” (download), which are about eating a Big Mac, going on a diet and having a food fight, respectively. Suddenly it was all a big joke again. I’m sharing “Food Fight” with you only to give you a sample of the brutality. Trust me when I tell you I’m sparing you the pain of the other two, honest.
It’s no surprise Renaissance was met by nothing but confused shrugs and one short year later, the boys were back in their regular work uniforms for a retreat back to dance and disco with the slightly less execrable Fox On The Box. The Village People were once more campy disco icons and the universe made sense again as thousands of clueless straight people celebrated gay sex in the showers by making those cute little Y.M.C.A. arm motions at sporting events worldwide.
Oh, have I said too much?
Neither of the singles charted.
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