Sunday, June 26, 2011

album of the day: Nine Objects of Desire

The last year I spent in Pittsburgh I was in the habit of listening to Harry Shearer's weird weekly radio program, Le Show, every Sunday night on the local NPR station (which happened to be a unit of Duquesne). In between Shearer's bits of satire and tongue-in-cheek reading of bits from the LA Times "hot property" column and trade publications, there were delightful musical fills. Among other qualities, Shearer has excellent taste in music.

He started playing stuff that I didn't recognize as Suzanne Vega for some time. The songs were sharp, had an interesting sense of language, and often some good jazzy rhythm guitar. It turned out the songs were all from this album, which the All Music Guide has no patience for.

I dig their criticism, even if I don't agree with their overall judgment. There are some spiffy songs here. The best of them are probably "My Favorite Plum," "Head Shots," "Stockings" and the very nice "Caramel" - all of which Shearer introduced me to. Aside from "Head Shots," these all seem to describe states of desire - which has always suggested to me that the title of the album is hardly an accident, even if we can't quite call it a themed album. "Caramel" compares love to food, something I think we should always do. "My Favorite Plum" might do the same thing, and if so, it's subtly lascivious, and I approve, or else it really is just Suzanne Vega obsessing over a tree fruit, and I approve. "Stockings" would seem to be about very nearly falling into a lesbian crush, and once again, I approve (although almost none of my lesbian crushes have achieved very much).

"Head Shots" is just kinda creepy. I don't know what it's about, except seeing pictures of a boy's head all over the place. Vega does creepy so well, it's creepy. I don't think she's creepy, I just think she has a creepy ability to express being creeped out by creepy stuff. Maybe her ability being creepy, and the prevalence of creepy themes in her work, means she is in fact sorta creepy, but I'm not yet prepared to render that judgment.

Of the rest, I like "Lolita," "No Cheap Thrill" (which Shearer also played) and "Thin Man" a lot. Lauren really likes "Tombstone," which is about why tombstones are so great - namely, that they weather well. There's only one song on here I really could do without, "World Before Columbus," and even that has a nice guitar line.

A guitar line that is, unfortunately, obscured by the over-production and (AMG got this right) muddy engineering that mar the record. For my money, Vega's song-writing here is clever and smart and shines through despite the production, and that makes it worthwhile.

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