Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New York City is Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega's 2007 album, "Beauty & Crime" was dedicated to the memory of her brother, Tim Vega who lived on Ludlow Street." You can't help but feel the emotional impact and melancholy of this magical collection of songs. Produced for Bluenote Records, Vega's album comes as an unexpected surprise.

A devoted fan since god knows when, I kind of lost touch with Suzanne's work after the Mitchell Froome produced 1996 album "Nine Objects of Desire". I loved the song 'No Cheap Thrill', but more importantly, I loved the sound of the entire album and it's nod towards electronic experimentation.

In 1991 she returned with 'Songs in Red and Gray' which saw her move back to her acoustic guitar-based folk roots. The album was cool, but "Beauty & Crime" is so much better.

Somehow, 2007's "Beauty & Crime" seems to have struck something of a sentimental note with a lot of her devoted fans, including me.

On this album, Suzanne seems to be looking back into her past as she reminisces about her old friends and haunts, and her brother Tim. The opening track, 'Zephyr & I' seems to be an old friend of hers in the 1970s (and also a grafitti artist friend of her brother, Tim). The area was West End Avenue by the Hudson River. It's a simple track embellished by Vega's signature whispery vocals.

What's also cool about the 'Zepher & I' is that the opening riff is a direct steal from Lou Reed's "Vicious". The Reed riffs repeats several times before Vega digs into so doo-wop backing chorus. Suzanne's clever. but what's more, this is her New York Lou Reed album but from a very different perspective.

She follows this with the autobiographical 'Ludlow Street' where her brother Tim used to live. "This time," sings Suzanne, "when I go back to Ludlow Steet, I find each stoop and doorway's incomplete without you there." This is a far cry from the recent hype of irritating female singer/songwriters like Feist (I couldn't get past track two on Feist's new album - it's soooo irritating to listen to).

Which brings us to track three (my favourite song on the album) - 'New York Is A Woman'. Clocking in at 2 minutes and 54 seconds, for me, this song represents the mindset of the album.

Suzanne Vega's always been about New York City, and although she hooked a lot of people with the mindbending 'Luka' back in the eighties (about a kid being beaten up by her parents), the Big Apple becomes the ultimate metaphor for the woman you can't help but fall in love with. It's a one-sided affair of the mind. It's a teaze.

"New York city spread herslef before you, with her bangles and spangles and her stars. You were impressed with the city so undressed, you had to go out cruising all the bars."

Vega follows the song with the delightful 'Pornographer's Dream' - another gem of a song with some beautiful orchestration.

The album flows effortlessley with 'Frank & Ava', 'Edith Wharton's Figurines', 'Bound' and 'Unbound'. The album was recorded at Sear Sound, NYC, Jimmy Hogarth's Studio in London, and at Olympic Studios in London. The London Studio Orchestra contributed strings and horns, while the album includes guest appearances from Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and singer KT Tunstall.

This is a passionate, if not understated, intitmate, beautiful collection of songs from one of America's greatest modern day folk singers. I'll be playing this for many more days and nights to come. Sounds particularly good when you play it in your car and is a great alternative to the rubbish that is currently being played on most radio stations.

The final track, 'Anniversary' is obviously about 911 and every family that survived the tragedy of the Twin Towers. It's a fitting way to end the album with the ultimate aftermath of New Yorkers trying to pick up the pieces. 'Beauty & Crime' is clearly the work of a genius singer/songwriter.