While k.d. lang’s never made a bad record in her 27-year-plus career, it’d be fair to say that in the past decade she’d settled comfortably into musical middle age.
Since 2001 she’s released two cover albums, two career-spanning compilations, and just one sterling, if somewhat sedate, collection of original songs (2008’s Watershed).
But on her newest offering, the appropriately titled Sing It Loud, backed by a band of her own (the Siss Boom Bang) for the first time since the ’80s, a now 49-year-old lang seems to have rediscovered her youthful verve.
Listen to the soaring melodies of album opener I Confess, with its knowing couplet “I confess I need you badly/ I confess I’ll be your daddy,” and you can hear the same cheeky, playful lang who rocked up to the 1985 Juno awards to accept the award for Most Promising Female Vocalist in a bridal gown.
Meeting a relaxed, frequently hilarious lang in her hotel room on a sunny Sydney Friday last week, the Star Observer found that after spending much of the past 10 years crooning ballads, she’d found herself itching to rock out again.
“I seem to go in seven to 10-year cycles — there was country cowpunk in the ’80s, then the pop thing in the ’90s, then the crooner albums.
“To be honest, I think the performance of Hallelujah at the [2010 Vancouver Winter] Olympics was as far as I could take the crooner thing — that was the zenith.”
Sing It Loud is released in Australia, far and away her biggest market, this week. Number one albums (which have so far evaded her even in her home country) are a regularity for lang here, and her first top 20 Australian single came only last year, with Hallelujah.
Even for those who’d closely followed lang’s recent Antipodean success, it was slightly bizarre to see her so high on the singles charts, sandwiched between the Britneys and Gagas of the world.
“Now, that sentence could be taken out of context!” she winked, before pointing out that the appreciation went both ways.
“I think the love for Australia happened the very first time I came here, with the All You Can Eat tour. There was just some sort of special energy here. The sense of humour, the openness — we’re so similar, Canadians and Australians.”
We do both look down our noses at Americans.
“Well, we kind of do on one side, but then the other side of us desperately wants to be American!” she laughed.
Lang admitted to a particularly special connection with Melbourne, a city she often daydreams about moving to.
“I feel like Melbourne is a really young New York. I can feel a lot of artists there. I can feel it on the street — the vibe, the cafes, the way people dress. It’s not as sexy as Sydney, but it’s deeper in a way. I love both, though.”
A very diplomatic answer. But then, diplomacy seems to befit lang, as age and Buddhism have mellowed the militant activism of her earlier days.
Even her attitude toward her much-publicised vegetarianism, something that troubled the folk back in her hometown in Alberta’s cattle ranching industry far more than her lesbianism, has softened.
“I think when you say you’re vegetarian, it hits a button in people. Somewhere deep inside them, they go ‘Ooh. That makes me feel weird. I have to think about what I’m eating. That’s hard!’
“But vegetarians can be painfully self-righteous. I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years and I’ve certainly gone through militant phases where Chrissie Hynde and I have been like, ‘Fuck you, meat eaters!’ ”
In retrospect, it seems odd that lang’s own 1992 coming out — confirming what anyone with a half-decent gaydar would’ve known from the minute they first clapped eyes on her — caused such little stir, particularly given that it came five years before Ellen DeGeneres’ 1997, temporarily career-destroying outing.
“It started with the fact that I have a very secure family. Three out of four siblings are gay, and I came out to my mom when I was 17. So I think my relaxed approach to coming out dissipated much of the negative reaction,” she suggested.
And her songwriting’s never shied away from issues of sexuality, even as her own audience has grown more traditional.
“I do well with the moms, because I’m a gentleman. I’m the perfect man.
“But that’s what show business is; you have to have a kind of crush to really get into someone. You either want to be them or sleep with them. We’re just vehicles of fantasy — that’s what entertainment is.”
And what of today’s ‘vehicles of fantasy’? Does she ever roll her eyes at the current crop of pop starlets co-opting lesbian sexuality as a way to sell records?
“I cringe sometimes, if I smell a rat. But for the most part I think it’s great. Sexuality is so complex and individual. I have fantasies about men, and the moms who buy my records probably have fantasies about me.
“All things that are evolving go through a period of exploitation, but we’re getting there. Gay marriage is legal in so many places — England, Canada, Spain…”
“I know. I heard [Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s] an atheist and apparently against gay marriage. I think that as an atheist, she has to remember there should be separation of church and state,” lang said pointedly, before letting out another chuckle.
“You know, I’d probably sell a lot more records if I played the game right, but it’s more rewarding to plough this road.”
info: Sing It Loud (Nonesuch/Warner) out now. K.d. lang tours Australia in November, with tickets on sale on April 18. Visit www.dcegroup.com