April 26, 1995
Kirsty MacColl, Galore (I.R.S. Records 1995) -- British singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl is now 15 years, four albums, and two children into her career. Though widely popular in the U.K. (having charted a No. 2 single at the tender age of 18), Kirsty has been largely ignored in the U.S. Hopefully, this 18-track greatest hits set, which showcases her exquisite songwriting and captivating vocals, will help earn the stateside attention she deserves.
Kirsty has worked with many different musicians, including the Talking Heads, the Pogues, the Smiths, and husband Steve Lillywhite. In assessing Kirsty, Bono (of U2) says "Red hair, sharp tongue, she should be Irish...The Noel Coward of her generation!" Or, as described by David Byrne, "The voice of an angel from a mind & heart inflamed by Thatcher's England."
Material from all four of Kirsty's studio records (Desperate Character, Kite, Electric Ladyland, and Titanic Days) is represented on Galore, including the countryish "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop, Swears He's Elvis," Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" (which originally appeared on the Red Hot & Blue collection), and the jazzy "Walking Down Madison."
Also included are several songs which have not been previously released in the U.S., including the Abba-influenced "They Don't Know" (a former No. 2 hit in England), and two new tracks, including a cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" performed with Evan Dando of the Lemonheads.
My favorite cuts are those from the wonderful and moody Titanic Days (1994), including the title track and "Can't Stop Killing You," a song Kirsty says is about an abusive relationship written "from the point of view of the abused and the abuser...You can run, but you can't hide." Though Kirsty claims Titanic Days was made during "a particularly dark period of my life, like 'never-ending night,'" the album works on many levels, and these cuts are gems.
In some ways, Kirsty exposes all of the weaknesses in Basia. Though both have charming voices, Basia remains mired in forgettable, lightweight dance-hall material. On the other hand, Kirsty's songs are individual and insightful, and she has a penchant for well-produced tracks, such as the Carmen Miranda/mariachi-influenced "My Affair" and the country-tinged punster, "Don't Come the Cowboy with me Sonny Jim."
My one problem with this album is its packaging. For unknown reasons, I.R.S. is trying to sell Kirsty as a sex symbol -- which she is not. This offends me, particularly after watching RCA Records flame out the talented Marti Jones by trying to cast her as a torch singer (when in reality Marti is a folk & pop singer). Kirsty's a pop rocker with a decidedly British political bent; she's no Belinda Carlisle.
Other than the packaging, Galore is a terrific disc (and actually I like her glamour photos; I just think they convey the wrong initial impression). Get past the sexism and look for the music. For densely-textured and thoroughly intelligent British pop, try Galore.
Jann Arden, Living Under June (A&M Records 1995) -- Canadian native Jann Arden goes for the gold on her second release, Living Under June. Featuring several singles that have already reached number one in the Great White North, the album matches the singer/songwriter's talents against a smooth pop background to produce a warm and comfortable disc.
Arden was raised in Calgary, Alberta and has been earning her keep as a singer for 17 years. Arden grew up listening to the Carpenters and Abba, but says she started her career "singing rock 'n roll in the interior of British Columbia for God knows how many years, doing Led Zeppelin and Tina Turner covers." Arden later became a lounge singer before developing her own pop style.
Arden favors a rich vocal background, and most of the cuts on Living Under June feature a backing chorus supplied by Ed Cherney and Dillon O'Brian (whose new release, Scenes From My Last Confession, is also a fine disc).
On Living Under June, Arden says she doesn't "want to be anything but a good human being. I want to look after my folks, enjoy my friendships, and figure out what I am doing on this planet." That attention to human nature is part of the attraction of Living Under June.
Like fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan, Arden pokes and prods deep into relationships and human motivations. Thus, on songs like "Could I Be Your Girl?" and "Insensitive" (both of which have reached number 1 in Canada), Arden gently searches through our psyche to try to find out what makes people tick.
Also featured is "Unloved," a duet with Jackson Browne. While Arden holds Browne in high regard, the duet doesn't gel; the album has such a feminine feel that the injection of Browne's voice is a distraction.
Unlike McLachlan, the production on Living Under June is conventional pop. With help from Ed Cherney and steady drumming from Kenny Aranoff (who has been the drummer with John Mellencamp for many years), Living Under June moves along in a seamless path.
Living Under June has a gentle, translucent quality that will wash over you: it's almost as if you're intruding upon Arden's private thoughts. That's where the beauty of it lies. Envelope yourself in this sound.
-- Randy Krbechek
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