Peace, Capricorn Records CD 42052-2a
From the opening power chords and the lyric
"Im not the toughest girl in the world," you
realize that Syd Straws out to prove something on her
second disc. And for the most part she delivers, with a
sound that is alternately soft and tough, laden with
irresistible hooks. You may have already heard
"Howl" from the soundtrack to Sleep With
Me, but the album is much stronger than that tune.
Make no mistake about it, were talking pop candy
here, nothing more but certainly nothing less. The wise
consumer grows suspicious when a candy is touted as
"indescribably delicious," and the same caveats
hold for Straw. The album is a heavily produced, structured
piece of work, but it delivers almost everything promised.
Syd Straw forsakes the all-star cast featured on debut Surprise, this time around relying on the
Skeletons, a "legendary" Missouri bar band. At
their best, they lay down a compelling groove midway between
power pop and so-called alternative, never extravagant and
right on target.
Straw herself has been kicking around for quite a while.
Shes a former member of the Golden Palominos, whose
alumni also include Michael Stipe, Matthew Sweet and Johnny
Lydon. And she had a leading role in the PBS production of
Armistead Maupins Tales of the City, as
well as the Nickelodeon series The Adventures of
Pete & Pete. Her early days are reflected in the
albums strongest cut, "CBGBs."
Somewhat reminiscent of early Blondie, I was playing this
one back in my head all day after the first listening. The
second time, it stuck for a week. Its a good-natured
tale about meeting a friend from times gone by and
discovering how lives diverge, always remembering those
glory days back in CBGBs.
As the slightly twangy "Toughest Girl" lays
out the territory, Straw admits to "staining my shirt
front just like some old drunk" in a rhyme that sounds
funnier than it reads. "Love, and the Lack of It"
nearly has the bitterness of Marianne
Faithfulparticularly when the line about a woman
"Explaining her scars to another stupid man" is
emphasized by a biting, distorted guitar attack out of
nowhere. "Million Miles" is little piece of pure
pop pleasure, with Straws throaty voice propelling the
quietly driving tune from hook to hook. Throughout, Straw is
often double-tracked in harmony, a gimmick I admit Im
a sucker for.
The opening cuts are so good, its disappointing
when the disk gets away from her with a glut of slower,
simpler, and less interesting songs towards the end. While
theres nothing really wrong with these cuts, they just
dont measure up to the high craft of the first half,
in ways that remind me of several other albums I really
enjoy. On both the Pretenders and the Steve
Forberts debut LPs, all the noteworthy songs were
crammed onto the first sidehere theyre all on
the first half. This technique works great on an LP, where
you never have to play the second side. Surprisingly, it
also works on CD, as Im far more often to hear the
first 6 songs on any CD than the last 6. And the successful
songs share the weaknesses of Oasis Whats the Story, Morning Glory, a
thoroughly enjoyable piece of work that somehow still falls
just short of its promise.
Still, theres an awful lot thats right about
this disk, especially when compared with the rather dismal
level of so many recent releases. And unlike many artists,
Im looking forward to her next work, which I expect
will take her higher, when a taste of commercial success
will focus here considerable energies on her recording
career. For now, Ill sit back and enjoy the
fun. Bill Kuhn