Earlier this year New York musical manager Peter Mensch played a guessing game with a round-up of recording executives in London. He travelled across the ocean with an enigmatic white-labelled compact disc, and invited the assembled bosses of Universal Music to identify an anonymous performer in cover versions of songs by Leonard Cohen, Band of Horses, Jefferson Airplane and others. The bands Mensch represents include Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, so the sagacious suits were expecting to hear primal howls or rapped invective. Instead they puzzled over a voice of bewildering versatility which punched out the seditious protests of Willy Mason’s “Oxygen”, sounded raw and sexually avid in Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, then turned crazed and curdled in a demonic reverie composed by the Mars Volta, an American group based in Mexico whose sound is classified by those who know as post-hardcore krautrock.
Mensch paused the playback to enjoy the stupefaction in the room. “Could it be Annie Lennox?” someone weakly volunteered.
“Guys,” said the burly and exuberant Mensch, “don’t you have a classical division? Maybe in the basement somewhere? OK, here’s a clue. She’s signed to your label already!”
Bemused glances were exchanged. Mensch tormented them for a while longer, then quietly announced: “It’s Renée Fleming.”