Sleeping in the Nothing
elly Osbourne’s greatest contribution to Sleeping in the Nothing isn’t even credited.
More essential to the record’s success than her singing or even co-writing four songs is Kelly offering up the fascinating pliability of her fame. It’s the kind of instrument that can become virtuosic in the hands of someone like Linda Perry.
Having already wrenched pathos and heart-stopping pop-rock product out of Pink, Courtney Love, Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani, Perry’s finally found her perfect combination of blank slate and 48-font tabloid headline in metal’s faithless, famous-for-being-famous princess.
For starters, Kelly submits to Perry’s synth-happy New Wave makeover, a thrillingly careless repudiation not only of Osbourne’s mall-punk debut, but the dropped-D legacy of her paterfamilias as well.
Retro-trendy computer love in place, Perry goes about inventing a Kelly Osbourne that lies somewhere beneath the bold-type allusions to her public-domain past, filling in the blanks from her televised boy troubles and battles with drugs and drawing from Kelly’s proudly snotty persona in general, giving birth to a tragic three-dimensional figure brave enough to get back up every time she’s knocked down. In the best distillation of Perry’s methodology to date, the producer/songwriter drafts Osbourne a Faustian bargain whereby Kelly trades her built-in fame (the only way you get anyone to care in the first place) to transform addiction cliché into sleekly satisfying drama.
Because of her heiress’ paucity of any real credibility, Osbourne presents Perry with an endless number of possibilities (though Perry’s not really a svengali since she is working with the raw materials of Osbourne’s actual life), and so she extends Kelly further than any of her previous projects. Love could have never believably pulled off the deliciously soft ballad “I Can’t Wait,” but since Osbourne offers context without individual voice she never overshadows the (consistently terrific) tunes.
Which is not to say Kelly’s nowhere to be found either, and Perry knows how to play to Osbourne’s perceived strengths too, getting her to tunelessly (and thereby charmingly) yelp the spiteful chorus to “Secret Lover,” or turning loose her legendary fury on the date-rape revenge fantasy “Don’t Touch Me While I’m Sleeping,” the kind of danceably democratic but polemically potent riposte you keep expecting Le Tigre to make.
It all sounds thematically grave, but then again Perry’s made her name dressing private celebrity heartache in communally restorative duds. Sleeping in the Nothing’s no exception, Osbourne’s discontent cresting on the guilelessly insistent “Red Light,” falling to the world-weary strains of first single “One Word” (its melody, if not melancholy, bitten from Visage’s “Fade to Grey”).
It’s enough to make you pity all the poor girls out there aspiring to be famously glorious fuckups—how can they even compete with Perry, a woman who won’t return your calls until you’ve already been besmirched by Access Hollywood? And how can they expect us to care about their anonymous demons? Somewhere out there, a celebrity is crying.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JUNE 20 – JUNE 27, 2005