Dita Von Teese Joins Forces With Sébastien Tellier for a Seductive Set of Songs
Celebrity burlesque revivalist and vedette Dita Von Teese makes her musical debut with an eponymous album of sultry, frivolous songs. Those familiar with Von Teese’s famous Martini glass routine and other stage acts might be slightly surprised by the sonic output, as the musical numbers here are decidedly less ‘20s swing and more ‘70s and ‘80s lounge. When one considers, however, that the music was written by French singer and multi-instrumentalist Sébastien Tellier, who released his first album with instructions to listen only by candlelight, and titled his third album, “Sexuality,” it all sounds just about right.
Tellier reportedly surprised Von Teese by writing an album for her. Von Teese, a long-term fan and former collaborator, found herself obliged, although she warned, “I’m not a professional singer. In fact, I’m quite uneasy about recording my voice” Vocal amateurism is indeed manifest throughout the record, but unease is markedly absent. From her opening lines on “Sparkling Rain,” it is clear that Von Teese is not a natural singer. Somehow, however, this turns out to be something of an attribute. There is a rich history of music that owes much of its emotive resonance to “bad” singing — think The Human League or any legitimate punk rock band. Deviation from key and awkwardness of timbre or phrasing can function as a subtle, playfully ironic disclaimer, of sorts, as if to say, “In case you thought we took this very seriously, we (probably) don’t.” Rather than betraying a sense of inadequacy, such singing demonstrates a brazenness born out of exceptional confidence. For a bona fide provocateur like Von Teese, this seems an apt channeling of creative energy. Disavowal of professionalism imparts the music with a certain levity and effortless cool. The colorful, cartoonish instrumentation and production creates a seamless backdrop. There are moments, particularly on “Fevers and Candies,” when the strident delivery can be a bit much to take. Generally, however, the album finds Dita Von Teese owning her awkwardness.
Von Teese achieves her effect by being creatively expressive — on stage with her body, and here with her voice. Actual singing often takes a backseat to sensuous speaking, breathing, and moaning. This makes for some of the record’s most memorable moments. In “Saticula,” Von Teese pants and sighs seductively over keyboards and ambiance. In “La vie est un jeu,” she gasps and giggles over sweeping pads and cheeky, meandering whistles. Such passages encapsulate the mood of the album. The musical styling and overt sexuality follow in the tradition of Serge Gainsbourg, whose inclusion of vaguely orgasmic female vocals in “Je t’aime… moi non plus” once managed to offend American radio stations and provoke the official censure of the Vatican. In today’s relatively desensitized world, such antics might scarcely make one bat an eye. Nevertheless, they make for a quite enjoyable, steamy listening experience.
Tellier’s airy, misty musical treatment complements the breathy quality of Von Teese’s voice. The languid synthesizers, twinkling keys, and dim-lit atmospherics create a vibe totally consistent with the album’s cover art. It’s all off-white, all silk and lace, frisky and lighthearted. Dub reggae elements, subdued funk, and goofy sound design again conjure the feel of Serge Gainsbourg. Percussively-driven standout track “Dangerous Guy” harkens back to Tellier’s early collaboration with Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen. Von Teese’s sexy spoken vocals here capture her at her most distinctly comfortable. Elsewhere, the album abounds with lush, layered harmonies — part sung, part whispered — which impart a particularly sultry feel.
The song titles — “Rendez-vous,” “My Lips on Your Lips,” “Fevers and Candies” — effectively sum up the prevailing subject matter. This is a well-timed release in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. The musical palette, vocal performance, and emergent aura fit a palpable, unified aesthetic, and create for a thoroughly realized, if frothy, artistic statement. While unlikely to blow minds or provoke revelations, this album is quite certain to entertain, amuse, and entice.
“Dita Von Teese” is available Feb. 16 on Apple Music.