Not exactly nose to the grindstone, Dutch/Israeli (and wholly Parisian) chanteuse Keren Ann Zeidel returns with her first solo album in four years. It’s her sixth in all, and fourth in English, and suggests the years haven’t been idled away. 101 marks a shift from the stark balladry of 2007’s eponymous collection, plumping up the sonic cushions and finding a wry lyrical touch – she sounds relaxed, witty and assured, and ready to deliver a great record.
Last time around, Zeidel risked fading into the ranks of female singer-songwriters; the album was strong but preferred to beguile with delicate arrangements and her tremulous voice. On 101, she finds a new niche. In many ways, the album’s a counterpart to John Grant’s Queen of Denmark, sharing its grounding in sturdy 70s pop-rock production and familiar melodies, and in the sense of humour that made Grant’s opus seem such an anachronism. Neither record’s particularly fashionable, but each is timeless, even classic. Basically, there’s a lot of Fleetwood Mac in there.
That kind of radio-friendly sheen is most prominent on My Name Is Trouble, which sashays over wiggly synths and pulsing bass, delivering a straight-to-the-heart hook. It’s also on the lush, mid-paced You Were on Fire, a drifting paean to one of love’s refugees – "I don’t know why you were so threatened by the entire universe," she coos silkily to the poor soul. This is a common thread; her gorgeous voice is a comfort blanket to a succession of troubled men, from the husk of a husband at the heart of the party on the tinkling All the Beautiful Girls, to the flighty lover on the Lennon-haunted Strange Weather.
But it’s not all about life’s damaged flotsam, as Zeidel breaks free on the Squeeze-y Sugar Mama, bringing us a kooky chorus, and annihilates the audience – literally… well, figuratively – on Blood on My Hands. "He pulled out a Winchester 364 / And said, ‘Are you ready to kill?’" she narrates over urgent drum rolls and piano vamps, before there’s "blood on my microphone". It feels like a party piece and is all the more fun for it.
More striking still is the title-track, a countdown from, naturally, 101 – "90 stable isotopes... 83 writers called Nancy... 79 Star Trek episodes... 37 years since birth... One... God" – that closes the album over doomy minor keys. It’s quite compelling. Through this and the likes of My Name Is Trouble and Blood on My Hands, 101 blends the quirky, the audacious and the touching to confident effect, emerging as a fine listen for all seasons.
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"101 has clear-eyed descriptive songs like All The Beautiful Girls, cute yé-yé pop like Sugar Mama, and poker-faced disco-lite like My Name Is Trouble. Running through it all is a hypnotic continuity of mood and every now and then, a delicious shiver. The thing that makes Keren Ann's records special is that you put them on and leave them on. I know no higher compliment." -- Word Magazine
"Spectacularly produced art-pop. As agile and aesthetic as Talking Heads or Laurie Anderson, My Name Is Trouble is the obviously hooky stand-out with depth to match it's wit." -- Uncut