Cristina, Doll In The Box

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

A woman both very much of her times and several years ahead of them, Cristina Monet did Madonna before Madonna had the chance. More an actress of aural dramas than an actual singer, there's rarely a note that Cristina doesn't miss. But her typically acidic delivery speaks clearly of her smarts (she's a Harvard grad), although her songwriting contributions on her debut album (originally titled Cristina upon its initial 1980 release) are minimal. This is essentially an August Darnell album replete with lavish, swing-influenced arrangements and Cristina functioning as a bizarre, Brechtian centerpiece.

Madonna — before Madonna existed.

Although its rhythmic foundation is unabashedly more disco than what Darnell would achieve in his actual dancefloor hits with both Dr. Buzzard and Kid Creole (DJ and remix pioneer Tom Savarese supplies a typically vibrant mix), there's plenty of his trademark subversion — “Jungle Love” nimbly takes on the topic of miscegenation (an implicit disco theme rarely made explicit by anyone besides Darnell, a mulatto), while “Blame It on Disco” brings together swooning big-band horns and a throbbing reggae bass line that points in the direction of Sly & Robbie's future productions with Grace Jones.

Although the album disappeared with nary a trace, the follow-up single “Is That All There Is” (included as a particularly welcome bonus track) generated unwanted heat: Cristina's lyrical adjustments to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Peggy Lee-sung classic of jaded existentialism so mortified its songwriters (typical line: “He'd beat me black and blue and I loved it!”) that they demanded the record be recalled, although not without both Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux championing it first.