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Hedwig And The Angry Inch - Original Cast Recording
(Atlantic)

On paper, this story of a rock and roll star whose sex-change operation just, well, didn't go quite as planned might not sound like the basic plot line for the greatest rock opera of all time. But was it not Aristotle, or perhaps Chuck Berry, who once said, "You never can tell."

New York musician Stephen Trask developed the songs for Hedwig with the show's creator, John Cameron Mitchell, some time before the show opened off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theatre in the West Village in February, 1998. As the gripping one-man (plus one band) production now enjoys its second successful year on stage, the original cast recording brings to life the poignantly funny story of a transsexual who saw the wrong surgeon at the wrong time. Rendered a virtual sexual non-entity, Hedwig's music employs a cool glam sensibility as the character searches for self-identity—and Jeez, a psychobabbly term like "self-identity" sounds so clinical and unappealing that the mere use of it ought to be actionable; but as the band's background singer Yitzhak (played by Miriam Shor) points out, Hedwig's lack of functioning genitalia has made him feel as out of touch with himself as Berliners felt after the wall was removed. Like, what used to be there shouldn't have been there, but now that it's gone, how do we define ourselves?

It's a good thing the show's plot and dialogue are so good; this music is far too good to waste on an ordinary rock opera. "Tear Me Down" deftly straddles about 10 different subgenres from glam-stomp to anthem to bar-band. "Angry Inch" rocks out with an abandon akin to the best moments of Iggy Pop and the New York Dolls. Sounding and feeling much more like Ziggy Stardust than Tommy, all these songs work startlingly well individually. This may be a serious study of a lost soul, but a healthy sense of humor steers it all clear of melodrama, the great downfall of very previous rock opera. Contextually speaking, this is groundbreaking stuff. check your gender identity at the door.

YEAH YEAH YEAH, 1999