When it comes to pure artifice, it's hard to think of a more thorough practitioner than Chris Isaak. From his retro 50s look to his retro 50s sounds, Isaak couldn't be more fake if he were a Las Vegas act. Yet despite his all-consuming obsession with looking like a pinup guy from the past--this former boxer has been in his fair share of movies too--the immaculate, sometimes gorgeous gloss of his stupid music exudes an undeniable charm. At the root of his success is his amazing voice, which combines the fragile, quavery vulnerability of Roy Orbison and a touch of bluesy, muscular grit. On his biggest hit, "Wicked Game," and on "Forever Blue," the title track of his latest album, Isaak displays the rare ability to convey lovesick sadness with ephemeral grace. Almost all of his tunes are devoid of substance, apart from the beautiful moods they cast so effectively. His music is like pretty wrapping paper surrounding an empty box. If you can cough up the $175 needed to attend Isaak's little New Year's Eve celebration, you probably know something more about artifice than the rest of us. Next Sunday, December 31, 7 PM, Imperial Ballroom, Fairmont Hotel, 200 N. Columbus; 565-6665.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Adolfo Franzo.