Sunday, September 4

Angel Adrift

Barbie: The Singles cover photo. It's one of the very rare things I appreciate in this album. Note the eyes gazing upward. Barbie assuming the classic xkg pose. Hehehe.

When Barbie Almalbis announced a couple of months back that she was leaving Barbie's Cradle, the buzz was that she was leaving behind the music business to devote more time to preaching--something that wasn't totally unfounded since the last BC outing, Playing in the Fields, featured songs whose lines proclaimed that "inside of [her] heart was an army of angels" and that "all [she] need[s] is God." It came as a surprise to a lot of people, who assumed that she was "in utter content with [her] two boys." One then thinks that the disbandment and her now solo pursuit was almost like an afterthought, a momentary flight of fancy by someone who "didn't mind if [she'd] still be six."

Later, it was clarified that the move was a career one: that Barbie wanted to pursue a solo career, hence the decision to change managers and that there was no ill will between her and bandmates Rommel de la Cruz and Wendell Garcia.
With that out of the way, one would think that her first move would be to come up with an album to showcase her original work as a solo artist. It'd be necessary to create an identity separate from the band and all other previous associations thereof. Thus, it is puzzling that her first project is a sort of "Best of" album that rehashes all of her previous work. A compilation album is usually done by a performer already past mid-career, a nod to the brilliance of things past but also with an eye out for the future.

Traditionally, a good best of album should have all the important singles, but with the additional attraction of a previously unreleased track. (Similar best of albums had to have a bonus track aside from the old reliables. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking along the lines of the the Eraserheads Anthology which had "Sa Toll Booth" and even Britney had to include (her) "My Prerogative.") But a quick look at the track listing of Barbie: The Singles reveals that the new Close-Up jingle "Just a Smile" is the only new song previously unconnected with previous Barbie Almalbis ventures. Some argued that Barbie: The Singles is a tribute to all her fans, who presumably have all her previous releases, as all decent fans should, and would not mind buying an album where some songs are already thrice recycled. Yes, there is a bonus VCD featuring music videos, but again, there's nothing there that we haven't seen before. Unless, of course, if the goal is to feed the mania for collecting everything Barbie-- Hungry Young Poet Barbie, Bumbera Barbie, Cradle Dweller Barbie, Gypsy Skirt Barbie, Prayer Warrior Barbie, Recently Single, er, Solo Artist Barbie--then you can totally forget about getting this.

If B:TS is meant to herald the arrival of Barbie as a solo artist, I still don't see the necessity to anchor this campaign on nostalgia. "Remember when" was never a good tactic to begin with, unless you're Cyndi Lauper who seems to be eternally stuck in the '80s, with hair and all. A good break and better packaging is more like it.

Which brings me to the now inevitable face off of The Dolls: Barbie Na Doll vs. Kitchie Nadal. (Yes, it has come to this. I know this sucks, but I can't help myself.) Kitchie Nadal took up the cudgels for Ricci Gurango after the HYP split that begat both Mojofly and Barbie's Cradle. Kitchie Nadal and Barbie Almalbis both sing in the great tradition of what I call the Society of Girls Against Tonsils, or SOGAT. Kitchie Nadal fronted Mojofly, quit the band to finish school, and then decided she didn't want early retirement from the music business. If you'd look at the cover art of her debut album, what we get is Kitchie Nadal with eyes wide open. She's beckoning us: Stare into these deep dark pools and drown. She then inflicted her newly repackaged self upon us. Her "Wag na Wag Mong Sasabihin" was the earworm of late 2004 to early 2005, thanks to its association with a popular Koreanovela, and we even see her hawking stuff on television. Kitchie Nadal has reinvented herself as a pop ingenue and it works.

On the other hand, the cover art for Barbie: The Singles has Barbie in a white, faux-fur jacket, a cascading beady necklace effacing the soldier tattoo behind it, and she is cross-sitting on the floor, her eyes gazing up to the sky, a great deluge of white feathers around her. This image--of white feathers drifting--is repeated in the CD art. Meanwhile, the inside photos have Barbie jumping up (or down?) and hair tossed in guitar-fuelled ecstasy, or else she's smiling, still cradling the guitar, but also floating or perhaps in limbo. There aren't really any liner notes to speak of, just a list of acknowlegements, track listings, and the back cover art taken from Playing in the Fields.

So what to make of it then? Is Barbie--note the change in appellation: is this how she differentiates herself now from her past?--an angel drifting in limbo? She keeps her affairs in a book, proclaimed that it's dark and she's lonely, and worries about not having enough money for food. She plays at being the ingenue, but hers is not a sharp sophistication but a wistfulness that treads the dangerously thin line between resonance and navel gazing.

In the BC video for "Limang Dipang Tao," Barbie twirls in a burst of color and a kind of manic energy and playfulness that somehow affects even her bandmates. Where Kitchie Nadal succeeds in entrancing everyone with lusciousness, Barbie garbs herself in pajamas and invites us to play in Barbieland. When she finally dishes the pjs and turns up in an orange short dress in the "Good Day" video, she cannot resist the urge to up and down and prance in that elevator party. But there are moments when the bouncing and throwing up her arms work as enticement, a sensuous invitation. One actually misses of having Barbie as your own personal bumbera, when she wanted "to put out your fire, drown your desire." Those moments are too few, and they're still injected with a kind of innocence that it won't quite work as seduction.

But more than anything, throughout all her incarnations, Barbie was never the
sensuous vixen. The wink may have been an invitation, but an invitation to play
in Barbieland has always been--and perhaps will always be--about mischief and mirth.

One thing is definite though, the ingenue present in B:TS has to grow up and make a stand that won't be her last. It'll interesting to see what Barbie will grow up to be. Unless Barbie: The Singles is but a lament for her former bandmates: "Independence day is not for me. When I'm bound to you, I feel so free."

Many thanks to Gwen for providing my latest ear candy.

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