Our recurring column ‘Lest We Forget’ is devoted to revisiting albums that have been unfairly overlooked or marginalized within the broader critical and commercial context of our favorite artists’ discographies. We hope that our recollections shine a newfound light on these underappreciated gems from the past, and as always, we encourage you, our readers, to weigh in with your own perspectives and memories in the comments below.
History has not been as kind as it should be to the criminally underappreciated trio Deee-Lite. The selective memory-driven preoccupation with the massively successful single “Groove Is In the Heart” has unfortunately—and incredulously—obscured the group’s true musical legacy. Listen beyond their biggest hit and you’ll soon discover the undeniable power of their message, the vivacity of their spirit, their integral role in making New York City club culture palpable to a wider global audience, and the brilliance of their recorded repertoire.
Granted, the buoyant “Groove Is In the Heart” is a universally beloved classic, and understandably so. But Deee-Lite’s story and music do not begin and end with their most recognizable song. There’s so much more to love and revere about this genre-bending trio, and those who lazily pigeonhole them as a one-hit-wonder need to have their ears, hearts, and souls checked for signs of life.
Formed in the “original global village” of New York City in the mid-1980s, Deee-Lite was the brainchild of Kierin “Lady Miss Kier” Kirby and “Super DJ Dmitry” Brill, who a short time thereafter welcomed DJ Towa Towa (a.k.a. Towa Tei) to the group. The trio’s genesis was inspired by the dancefloor hedonism and devoted community that defined the city’s vibrant club culture, of which its founders were (and presumably, still are) avid participants and devoted purveyors.
A more uninhibited counterweight to the generally taciturn Dmitry and Towa Tei, Lady Miss Kier emerged as one of the most charismatic frontwomen in music during the early 1990s, with the soulful vocal chops and penchant for magnetic performance to match her commanding personality. Not simply the beautiful face, arresting voice, and FIT-educated fashion maven of the group, Lady Miss Kier was arguably the de facto leader of Deee-Lite, integral to the development of the trio’s career, from the studio to the stage to the media spotlight and beyond.
While Deee-Lite cultivated an embellished, unmistakably retro-inspired aesthetic, the group’s hyper-stylized flamboyance and effervescence never compromised the substance of their more contemporary and accessible—yet credible—brand of dance music. From their inception with debut album World Clique in the summer of 1990, the trio was always able to balance style and sound quite effectively, which helped them sustain their appeal among both underground club heads and mainstream pop aficionados alike. In the process, and certainly by calculated design, the group transcended musical and cultural barriers to create a loyal global following, predicated upon a shared joie de vivre.
Deee-Lite’s recording career was regrettably an ephemeral one, allegedly due to irreconcilable creative and contractual differences, both within the group and with their label Elektra Records. Despite their short-lived time spent in the limelight, the group’s three proper studio albums—including 1992’s Infinity Within and 1994’s Dewdrops in the Garden—form one of the most rewarding and uplifting 1-2-3 album punches you’ll ever hear.
The latter album, in particular, remains the unfairly neglected third child of Deee-Lite’s studio discography. Which is lamentable, considering that from beginning to end, it is their strongest effort of the three. I still vividly recall laying my ears upon Dewdrops In the Garden for the first time shortly after its release back in July 1994, courtesy of the listening station at my local Tower Records in Berkeley, California. It took just one cursory listen for my ears to register that this album was special and reinforce why I had been so smitten with Deee-Lite in the first place. Handing over fifteen bucks for the privilege of taking the disc home with me that day was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
Except for his contributions to one track (the infectious “Call Me”), original group member Towa Tei had flown solo by the time recording began, replaced by DJ Ani. But the slightly new-look trio proved none the worse for wear in his absence, musically speaking. An invigorating, vibrant homage to the dynamism of the dancefloor and arguably the greatest showcase for Lady Miss Kier’s undeniable vocal prowess, Dewdrops should be prescribed as the mood-enhancing drug of choice for those deficient in musical stimulation.
Standouts abound across the album, including the euphoric house of the soaring “Bittersweet Loving,” the propulsive “River of Freedom,” the spaced-out “Bring Me Your Love,” and the hypnotic electro-psychedelica of “Music Selector is the Soul Reflector.” Their ongoing connection to hip-hop persists here, as manifested on the beat-heavy “When You Told Me You Loved Me,” which finds Lady Miss Kier throwing lyrical darts toward a wayward lower. The back-to-back, sun-kissed soul-pop of “Picnic In the Summertime” and “Apple Juice Kissing” are unequivocal highlights, bolstered by the juxtaposition of her seductive spoken word musings and entrancing vocals.
Though admittedly beloved among Deee-Lite’s most loyal devotees, the group’s effervescent, soul-redeeming swan song of an album still warrants so much more shine than it has received to date. Not to mention that it’s begging for a vinyl reissue treatment. Hint hint. Wink wink. If you’re reading, Lady Miss Kier.