Singles File

White Town

"Your Woman"

EMI/Chrysalis

Space

"Female of the Species"

Universal

"I GUESS WHAT you say is true... I could never be your woman" go the lyrics to White Town's "Your Woman," currently ebbing in Billboard's Modern Rock and "Hot 100" Airplay charts. Pretty ordinary words--except that a man sings them. That being the case, there's at least three ways you could take it, so to speak. My bi roommate automatically assumed it was about gay culture. Perhaps the song is simply written by or from the perspective of a woman, and sung by a dude. I prefer the interpretation that the proudly effeminate singer is saying if he were a woman, he sure wouldn't go with a bloke like you. In the tradition of so many great pop songs, the final meaning is whatever you want it to be.

The only thing for certain is that "Your Woman" is one of the sexiest genderfucks to scourge the Box, Danceteria, and at least three local radio stations in ages. The way that the band name (White Town) and its album title (Women in Technology) screw with your preconceptions of race and gender--this is actually a one-man project from Jyoti Mishra, hailing from the Indian community in London that brought us great Anglo-Asian rockers like Cornershop--is plenty seductive, with an immaculate high-pitched horn loop, silent-film organ, and a propulsive dance beat that goes straight back to classic, early-'80s synthpop. It's a post-hip hop "Puttin' on the Ritz."

Like White Town's hit, Space's slow-burning "Female of the Species" has an '83 id and a progressive ego, and features a Brit boy singer approaching gender in ways you wouldn't expect. The orchestral flare-up at the bridge lands me somewhere between The Love Boat and the glamorous Gothic ballroom of a Falco video. But "Female" first transports one to the landscape of an old Mexican-cowboy B-flick, with singer Tommy Scott delivering such doozies as "the female of the species is more deadly than the male," "shock shock horror horror shock shock horror," and my fave couplet, "Frankenstein and Dracula have nothing on you/Jekyll and Hyde join the back of the cue," with a cocky, sombrero-topped sleaze.

What's this misogyny all about? "This boy is supposedly in love with a girl, but he's probably just in like with her," postulated my pal Liz. "For some reason he decides that she's evil, and then he projects it onto all females." She adds: "But I like it anyway." Actually, when you get to the refrain "How could heaven hold a place for me/When a girl like you has cast a spell on me?" the mood transforms from ambivalence to clear satire. When you start talking fire and brimstone in such a kitschy tone, either you're a psycho or you're making a point. Then again, I never met the guy.

In a rare reversal, these two boy bands are actually making more relevant pop statements about sex than the female voices currently ruling the charts, or at least more interesting ones. The Spice Girls' nonsensical "Wannabe" (#6 on Billboard's "Hot 100" Airplay) is an amazing enough case of Brit marketing genius gone haywire, but the connection between their vapidity, their professed right politics and their stated drive for "girl power!" has had me scratching my head since Christmas. (Liz calls it "elementary, feel good feminism that misses the point.") Meanwhile, it's always a joy to hear the Cardigans on the radio, yet the comic inferiority complex of "Lovefool" (#2) is, as even they admit, one of their least great songs, Blondie's disco-biscuit "Heart of Glass" inverted. And No Doubt's inescapable power-ballad "Don't Speak" (#1) and its video are far too much of a throwback to Madonna's cheesy "La Isla Bonita" phase. Sorry Gwen, you're pilfering the wrong era for me. I guess I could never be your woman.

 
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