Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 9

The better of the two covers, whatever the hell Chan's doing in it

There's only so far you can go with a stripped back, knowingly ragged lo-fi-does-hi-fi style, and while there were suggestions with the use of a couple of famous friends on previous album You Are Free that Chan Marshall was feeling slightly ghettoised by her loose cannon reputation, hiring assorted Memphis soul luminaries was a sign that it was time for her to properly extend herself and see how it worked out. In another sense it seems an attempt to reconnect the long dark nights of her particular soul with her backwoods folky foundation blocks, attempting to feed her style through a different prism. She's not the first American alternative icon to go all Hi Records at an impasse, but rare is the occasion where an increase in scale retains the intimacy of doomed romance tales, in many senses of the term. She almost sounds happy.

Recasting the arrangements of songs as earthy and vulnerable at heart as ever for full band turns out to be less a necessary evil than a refraction of these little pieces of introspection, giving them room to gather around her. And Chan is in gorgeous voice from the title track off, swelling strings complementing her warm, seductive tones still with that ever present hint of The Fear, and while there's a place for her previous fragility she's being pushed into a wider palette of vocal cadences. There's still a darkness at the edge, her alcohol-related hospitalisation just after the album's release putting new shade on "there's nothing like living in a bottle/and nothing like ending it all for the world" from Lived In Bars, which starts as a cautious swoon and just over halfway through breaking into a soul swing even if her vocal doesn't. While Hate, the most You Are Free-like moment here, features the chorus line "do you believe she said that/I said I hate myself and I want to die" she still sees the chink of light, notable here in skipping, perspective shifting Willie. Love And Communication's starry-eyed reflections, staccato string stabs and buzzing organ proves instructive at the death that this isn't really the great commercial push but someone pushing their undoubted but unrefracted talent out of their self-regarding comfort zone not so much to show 'realness', because it's a bit late for Marshall to start doing that, but towards letting others shape where it's going and reaping the rewards texturally, if maybe not so much personally.

LISTEN ON: Lived In Bars
WATCH ON: The Greatest on Jools; covering War Pigs with the Flaming Lips
READ ON: Spin gets out of her details of her next two albums, her Saturday Night Live ambitions and assorted Bad Things


Ben said...

Brilliant, brilliant album.

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