Tracy Bonham made her name in 1996 with "Mother Mother," her wry phone home after leaving the nest. The alternately acoustic and punkish rock Burdens of Being Upright was just as wry throughout, making as much of a trademark of Bonham's peculiar twists of phrase and witty titles than the unusual addition of her electric violin to the blend.
It has been ten years since "Mother Mother," and aside from a mostly-ignored second release in 2000 and a guest spot on a Blue Man Group album and subsequent tour, I was beginning to wonder if Tracy Bonham was gone for good. Had VH1 claimed another one hit wonder for its retrospective glances at the 90s?
As it turns out, not at all. On Blink the Brightest Tracy ditches the crashing rock crescendos but keeps the scathing wit, and adds some of the best hooks of her career. The result is a disc that is disarmingly pretty and predictably witty, if almost alarming mature.
Opener "Something Beautiful" is the sort of pop song that should be taught to aspiring musicians - downtempo, but still a head-nodder due to its simply beautiful arrangement. Every line of the song is a monster-sized hook, especially when Tracy trades in her "Mother Mother" scream for a gentle soprano to glide into its chorus.
On a first pass some of Bonham's lyrics lie a little flat, but often it's just because their theme isn't always immediately obvious. Especially after "Something Beautiful," a few of the early tracks seem a little artless or sparse on sense, but even a trio of listens will reveal each track has its requisite depth to be appreciated. Particularly, "Dumbo Sun" sounds Aimee Mannish with its steady throb of B3 organ (blooming into slightly incongruous bluesy piano later in the song), but its lyrics take a touch of untangling before they hit home.
Though her vocal range seems slightly expanded and surer, Bonham's edgy deadpan delivery is as on the mark as ever. For a sample, try "Eyes," its thumping acoustic guitar recalling her first album as well as newer unplugged rockers like Green Day's "Warning."
What might be her prettiest vocal to date is underscored by the simple piano chords of "Whether You Fall." Some of the melodic leaps and cadences lend the song an almost R&B-hit sheen, but without the eventual entrance of the other subtle instruments that seem to be foreshadowed (think Aguilera's "Beautiful") it's a little too plain-jane for its own good - like an early demo of an eventually huge hit.
"All Thumbs" and "Naked" are two more surely crafted hits, both so unassumingly catchy that they seems destined to underscore scenes on television dramas. Still, the Bonham oddness shines through on the bridge of "Naked" with a swirling bed of slightly clashing violins. "Did I Sleep Through It All" makes for a pretty closer that could easily serve an act three lament in a Sleeping Beauty revival if not for the peculiar lyrics about getting drunk at Sunday School parties.
Blink The Brightest is catchy, though perhaps a little too familiarly derivative of other cloying melodies to cement itself as all-time classic. However, what it may lack in being memorable it makes up for in being a joy to listen to (often repeatedly) - not only proof that Tracy hasn't fallen off the map, but that she is as catchy and charmingly off-beat as ever.