A big part of the fun with dis­co music is the genre’s fre­quent embrace of melo­dra­ma and excess.  Gay dis­co is by far the best of all dis­co sub­gen­res at deliv­er­ing the­se ele­ments because it always goes for the most florid forms of expres­sion pos­si­ble.  It can take the love song for­mat, add a beat and pump­sit up to the kind of oper­at­ic heights that no dis­co devo­tee can deny.  Conversely, it can also strip out the emo­tion­al com­po­nent entire­ly to cre­ate an extrav­a­gan­za of frills and hooks that over­load the lis­ten­er with a kamikaze attack of pure kitsch.

Cruising The Beats, the final entry in the recent quar­tet of Disco Discharge com­pi­la­tions, explores all the­se extremes of the gay dis­co sound with the ears and cultish taste of a true obses­sive.  This two-disc set presents a wide cross-sec­tion of clas­sics that cov­er every­thing from the lav­ish­ly orches­trat­ed epics of the 1970’s to the syn­th extrav­a­gan­zas of the 1980’s.  As always, album ver­sions and sev­er­al 12-inch ver­sions are used in place of sin­gle edits.  Alan Jones com­pletes the pack­age with his wit­ty, breezy yet high­ly infor­ma­tive lin­er notes.

The glam­our gets rolling on disc with a one-two punch of clas­sics:  Boys Town Gang’s uptem­po cov­er of the Frankie Valli hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” switch­es back and forth between yearning strings and pseudo-Latin horn rave­ups with­out los­ing its rock steady beat while Dan Hartman’s “Vertigo/Relight My Fire” starts as a hyp­notic instru­men­tal with some killer vibe solos before giv­ing way to a piano-pound­ing dance epic with gospel-style vocal har­monies (guest vocalist/Salsoul diva Loleatta Holloway real­ly spurs Hartman on).

The remain­der of disc one main­tains the ener­gy of the­se cuts while explor­ing a vari­ety of moods along the way.  For exam­ple, Night Force’s “Dance” is pure­ly moti­vat­ed by the tit­u­lar activ­i­ty, for­sak­ing lyrics for chants accom­pa­nied by bright instru­men­tal tex­tures (look out for those caf­feinat­ed horn charts), while Noël’s “Dancing Is Dangerous” is a sophis­ti­cat­ed syn­th epic that mar­ries an ele­gant­ly craft­ed melody to lyrics that offer a fair­ly caus­tic com­men­tary on the dis­cothèque scene.  It’s worth not­ing the lat­ter track was penned and pro­duced by the Mael Brothers, who were devel­op­ing their own satir­i­cal take on dis­co with Giorgio Moroder for their day job, Sparks, around the same time.

The sec­ond disc plays up the Hi-NRG ele­ment of gay dis­co more than the first did but its choic­es are strong:  “Anything Like You” places the soar­ing vocals of Janet D’Eon over some of the warmest, most plush syn­the­siz­er sounds this side of a Giorgio Moroder pro­duc­tion while Bobby O’s cov­er of the Elvis favorite “Suspicious Minds” trans­forms it into a grandiose elec­tron­ic melo­dra­ma where gloomy syn­th-pop vocals float despon­dent­ly over a dense, relent­less­ly per­co­lat­ing back­drop that nev­er runs out of kitschy syn­th hooks.  There are also a few 1970’s-style epics near the end, the key exam­ple being Patrick Juvet’s “The Gay Paris/French Pillow Talk” med­ley, an impos­si­bly over-the-top blend of fey vocals, Cinemascope orches­tra­tions and a throb­bing kick-drum beat.

Howev­er, the afore­men­tioned high­lights are only part of the fun.  Other stand­outs here include “Sound Of My Heart” by Sleeping Lions, which updates the Motown girl-group for­mu­la for the elec­tron­ic-drum 1980’s (but thank­ful­ly retains the vio­lins) and Fantastique’s “Mama Told Me,” a relent­less­ly gid­dy slab of bub­blegum dis­co that whips up Spanish gui­tars and vocoder vocal-hooks into the musi­cal equiv­a­lent of cot­ton can­dy.  The untrained ear might dis­miss this stuff as chintzy dance­floor schlock but the dis­co fan will respond to its col­or, live­li­ness and irre­press­ible sense of fun.  In short, Cruising The Beats is a must for any­one who embraces the extremes of dis­co.