Friday, August 7, 2009

Audio Neurotic Fixation: "Beauty & Crime" by Suzanne Vega

"Beauty & Crime" by Suzanne Vega

  1. "Zephyr & I": I like the upbeat, reflective lyrics, but the generic up-tempo musical accompaniment irritates me. The breakdown seems pointless, and this generally feels like a bland opener.

  2. "Ludlow Street": This one has the exact opposite problem. The arrangement is both subdued and propulsive, a solid combination, with a nice breakdown. Unfortunately, the inane and repetitive lyrics, especially the saccharine chorus, fouls things up.

  3. "New York Is A Woman": Now there's the incisive songwriter I love. The lyrics paint a vivid picture, and the instruments don't get in her way. I especially liked the horns that open the song, highlight the odd section, and serve as the breakdown.

  4. "Pornographer's Dream": This one sounds like it could have come off one of my favorite Vega albums, the jazzy Nine Objects of Desire. So much so, if I had a time machine, I'd recommend swapping out one of the few weak cuts. It's easy to love a tune that evokes Bettie Page by both name and feel.

  5. "Frank & Ava": As in Sinatra and Gardner, continuing the '50s theme. Vega is more verbally playful than usual, making me wish the verbal callback in the chorus had been given more punch. Almost a cynical reply to "Ludlow Street."

  6. "Edith Wharton's Figurines": As usual, Vega is at her best while telling a story, but this one is detailed to the point you really get the sense of poetry that incidentally has been set to music. Not that the instrumentation is in any way flawed, especially the bass drum accent.

  7. "Bound": The first song to recall the Mitchell Froom years, my best loved period. Dark lyrics with symphonic accompaniment and electronic touches. Strong, searching number.

  8. "Unbound": Continuing from the previous, this one keeps the strings, but with greater techno noodling, heavy guitar, and quicksilver tempo.

  9. "As You Are Now": At this point, the album begins to feel like a retrospective, working backward from the too-precious moments of Songs in Red and Gray to the folk-pop of her early albums. A heartfelt dedication to Vega's daughter, with a strong orchestral swell in between more intimate guitars.

  10. "Angel's Doorway": Intriguing lyrics let down by entirely inappropriate, misleading music. This one is about a police officer working at ground zero being asked by his wife to leave his sullied uniform outside.

  11. "Anniversary": Another 9/11 song, closing out the album somewhere around Days of Open Hand. It's perhaps a bit too soft, but perhaps the gentility is itself a response to the circumstance. Strong lyrics, and I love the choral hum.

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