by Ryan Meehan
I had meant to do this write-up several years back, to be more specific in October of 2010 which would mark the 10th anniversary of this record’s release. But then I realized that waiting for a classic album’s release anniversary isn’t always the key point of these pieces, and by doing a retrospective on the album’s impact I would essentially be promoting some of these ridiculous anniversary collections that make the record company money while paying the artist jack shit. (That being said, I will completely contradict myself here in about a month and a half, so stay tuned) If you’re really inspired by something, you should be able to acknowledge its presence at any point in time and that’s why I’ve decided to write this entry.
I first came across Madison Avenue when I started really getting into club music. The first single off of this record jumped out of the speakers, and I was almost sure that these guys would be the biggest thing to come out of Australia since INXS.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. But their short-lived international success did prove to be a true example of a formula that is very effective when it comes to dance music: You have one DJ (Andy Van) who seriously knows his stuff…and one singer who fits that same description (Cheyne Coates). A lot of people criticize dance and club music for being simple and repetitive, but I’ll always have respect for anyone who sticks to a formula that works and Madison Avenue was just that.
Andy probably got his share of backlash from music critics (even though he’s one of the best DJs south of the equator) mostly because he spins records. If you know anything about the way the music media treats DJs, you’ll recognize the standard criticisms: That they don’t “actually play an instrument”, that it’s “a lot of bobbing your head while holding one headphone up to your ear” and the like. DJs get shit on. If you feel this way – the next time you’re around a DJ setup, ask if the person who owns it will let you match beats. It’s much harder than it looks…and you have to know every last nook and cranny of the records you use. Long story short, it’s not easy. Andy Van is more of a musician than a lot of people who claim to hate electronic dance music ever will be, and he deserves mad props. And you deserve the right to hate me for typing “Mad Props”.
Coates also fell victim to a lot of stereotypical criticism because of her position as a vocalist in the group. She drew a lot of comparisons to Kylie Minogue, and for good reason. She was in crazy physical shape, had a rich choreographic background, wrote poppy hooks, and of course was Australian as well as a huge part of its club scene. When Minogue’s 2001 release “Fever” came out, it spawned the lead single “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and unintentionally drowned out any of the steam MA had coming off of this record. “Fever” went on to sell several million copies, while “The Polyester Embassy” only reached #4 on the Australian charts. Such is the game of pop music, and it was hard to argue because this article could easily be about Minogue’s album instead. At some point, I’ll probably write one…
But it’s not, and the reason I chose to write about this disc is because it’s full of a little something for everybody who likes to get all Young MC and bust a move all up in this bitch. The singles and videos that followed its release were key in making this record one to remember for EDM fans, so let’s go through that for a moment and see why.
“Don’t Call Me Baby” – 3:46 / 1 November 1999
This of course was the big dog daddy that got everybody’s attention. I probably would have no idea who the hell Madison Avenue was (see what I did there? If not, you will in a second…) if this single hadn’t ended up on every dance radio station in America months after its initial release. This track features a great sample, it’s full of hooks at every turn (every vocal section is pretty much a hook for the most part) and is a cut that is clean as the day is long. So crisp, and so fucking unbelievably good. This song is certified triple platinum, as very well it should be because it was easily one of the best American singles in the year 2000.
“Who the Hell Are You?” – 3:35 / 18 July 2000
While I usually hate a lot of the “diva”-based lyrics that have wrecked modern R&B as of late (not that it was in that great of shape anyway, but that’s an entirely different piece altogether) I don’t seem to have much of a problem with the words to this song. And most of the time, it’s a great question to pose in many different situations. While modern Redundant & Boring stars such as Destiny’s Child ask prying questions about how you are going to pay their bills (all the while reminding you that they are independent women…never quite been able to figure out how those two go together) this one seems much more playful, suggesting “You won’t be smiling by the time I’m through with you…”. Great follow-up single.
“Everything You Need” – 3:43 / 12 October 2000
This track has a very disco-type feel to it, and uses a technique made famous by the Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack…A very orchestral sample. Almost like a cross between “A Fifth of Beethoven” from Saturday Night Fever and Rick James’ “Mary Jane”. It has a great club sensibility, and once again features crystal clear production. The end of it also makes it very simple for a DJ to mix it into the beginning of another club track, always a plus. If you can get through watching this entire video without masturbating several times…well, you don’t win anything but you have a whole shitload of a lot more self-control than I do.
“Reminiscing” (Little River Band Cover) – 3:37 / 5 March 2001
I don’t know who came up with the idea to turn a Little River Band song into a dance single, but whoever it was deserves the Nobel Peace prize. The beat has almost a hip-hop flavor to it, and with a noticeably slower beat than the rest of the tracks on the disc, you’re able to hear just how good of a singer Coates really is. It really shows how sometimes the best covers to do are the ones which are totally unexpected, and no one outside of the artist’s camp probably could have predicted this one in a million years.
Critics weren’t big fans of the record, but as the old saying goes…”Critics don’t buy records, fans do”. Madison Avenue broke up shortly after the singles were exhausted from this album, but for an artist that only released one record this was pretty impressive. Originally intended to be a collective dance music outfit such as C & C Music Factory, it was pretty obvious by the time all of the videos had been shot that the artist’s marketability was centered around Coates’ vocals. This led to the discussion that she could do just as well without Van, and eventually led to her becoming a solo artist altogether. It’s the nature of the beast that is the music industry, and I’m sure it didn’t help that Cheyne was (and I’m sure probably still is) smoking hot. Also, this might have had something to do with it as well…
I guess I could be wrong, I just don’t understand why a high energy dance performance needs that glass of water needs to be there…
Now “Don’t Call Me Baby” is a lead track right smack in the middle of a late-night commercial for one of those “Total Dance Party” CDs with Sonique and a lot of very passable acts. It would be very easy to write them off as a one-hit wonder and miss a lot of the other great work that they put in motion. But it’s undeniable the effect that this record has had on modern dance music. Any time that you can get any genre to crossover with pop, there is money to be made and asses to be shaken. Club music may not be for everybody, but international dance music is still the most popular genre in the entire world and there’s a reason for that. I still jam out to this record every once in a great while and last weekend was one of those moments. Anytime you’re having a rough stretch, tunes like this can put a spring in your step and help you get through difficult times. I know that’s what it did for me, and that’s exactly why I’m grateful for records like The Polyester Embassy. If you’re into EDM, check it out. If you’re not, you might hate it – but it’s still undeniably infectious.
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