on 21 June 2007
Depsite often being accused of "experimenting", and changing direction etc. Suzanne Vega in reality has actually been stylisticly consistent throughout her long career.
Her deceptively simple songs, guitar plucking and voice can seem to fit into many different kinds of landscapes and genres (folk, latino, pop/rock etc. As such, she has always been very vulnerable to the talents and imagination of her producers. Her "techno-fok" period with producer/husband Mitchell Froom in the 90s was seen as a hugs leap, when in fact Froom was just shedding an unusual light on Suzanne.
Beauty and Crime is not really a huge departure for her. The structure of her songs, her guitar playing, it's all very consistent with her early work. It's certainly better than her last offering - the mawkish "divorce" album "Songs in Red and Gray".
It's the production that occasionally lets her down. However the songs I feel are some of her best. "Aniversary" is simply beautiful.
I would recommend this album completely. It would not have the production edge of previous work, but ultimately Suzanne has always been about her, her voice and her guitar - and for me this proves she is still in the game.
on 19 June 2007
Suzanne Vega's seventh album is intended as a loving testimony to her hometown, New York. The record opens with a tale of a New York Graffiti artist on West End Avenue and rambles through Ludlow Street, where Vega's deceased brother used to live, to the 27th floor of a skyscraper. Bettie Page and Edith Wharton appear, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner passionately fight and Olivia Goldsmith (a writer on natural beauty) lies under anesthesia on an operating table. There are some references to 9/11 ("smoke and ash still rising to the sky" in New York as a Woman and "the dust and the dirt and destruction" of Angel's Doorway). However, crime isn't allowed to crush the atmosphere of love and nostalgia here.
Although her music has long lacked the bite and edge of the 1985 album that made her famous, favouring instead the unfailingly polite style that she has developed since, her voice is as warm as ever and she is still a reliable live performer. Shafts of her songwriting brilliance shine through: Ludlow Street is "painted in nicotine"; "words / like darling and angel and dear / crowd my mouth / in a path to your ear" on Bound.
In spite of Vega saying she pushed herself out of her comfort zone in the making of the record - she does sing higher than usual - her sound will still be too run-of-the-mill for some. The two dangers of Suzanne Vega's music - excessive solipsism and an overly safe production style - can still be heard here. In the middle, where the New York concept is abandoned in favour of tracks which teeter close to sentimentality (As You Are Now, addressed to her teenage daughter) or which throb with out-of-place beat programming (Unbound), the album sags a bit. In interviews Vega has said that she intended to make a modern classic with 'Beauty & Crime'. This album falls short of that, but her faithful following and fans of coffee-shop literateness won't be disappointed.
Standouts: Edith Wharton's Figurines, New York is a Woman, Anniversary, Ludlow Street
on 8 July 2007
It's been about six years since Suzanne Vega released her last (underrrated) album "Songs in Red and Grey". Now she has recorded and released 11 fine new songs. In the meantime we've experienced 9/11 and Suzanne has lost her younger brother Tim; two events which play a role on "Beauty and Crime", which has New York as some kind of overall theme in the lyrics.
She has changed label to Blue Note (EMI) and has a new producer Jimmy Hogarth. Still musically it's mostly her well-known approach based on her acoustic guitar and arrangements that have a great diversity in style and instrumentation.
On this album I generally find the songs with the acoustic guitar as the dominating instrument the most successful. "New York is a Woman", "Edith Wharton's Figurines" and "Anniversary" are all stand-outs, the latter has some extraordinary great harmony vocals - all classic Vega.
Also great are the song for her brother Tim, "Ludlow Street" which has a nice catchy chorus. Amongh the more up-beat songs "Frank and Ava" and "Unbound" should be mentioned; and the erotic lyrics to the bossa-nova styled "Pornographer's Dream" make the song one of the most sophisticated and charming.
As usual it's always a great pleasure to read Vega's clever and observant lyrics, so though the album may not contain immediate "hits" like "Luka", "When Heroes Go Down" or "I'll Never Be Your Maggie May", it's very rewarding listening and an album that can be returned to again and again.
on 19 June 2007
After a long wait Suzanne Vega is back with her new album "Beauty&Crime" and without hesitation I can say that it was worth waiting for. This time Vega is sharing her city, New York, with us. And although we can say that the main theme of the album is NYC (something very specific) the lyrics are personal and universal at the same time. The highlights of the album (imho) are Ludlow Street (one of the best Vega songs ever in my opinion), Pornographer's Dream, Unbound, New York is a Woman and Anniversary. The only drawback of the record is it's shortness but as we all know quality is a lot more important than quantity.
It seems almost strange that Beauty & Crime is Vega's first album since 2001's Songs Of Red & Gray (she has kept busy in the mean-time with touring, and playing virtual gigs in the online world of Second Life) but almost immediately you realise that that makes it her first album since 9/11 had it's permanent effect on the place that Vega calls home, New York.
The spectre undoubtedly hangs over the album. Anniversary is the most obvious and explicit statement about the tragedy, but there are strong echoes in the likes of Zephyr And I (which includes dreamy backing vocals from KT Tunstall) and Angel's Doorway (which sees Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo providing some guitar riffs).
I will admit that it's nothing particularly new, but then Suzanne Vega has no need to change. Always a class act, this album is no different.
The literate lyrics are as punchy and relevant as ever and most of all the feeling as a listener is one of realising just how pleased you are she is back and the realisation that we've been missing something for the past six years. Here's hoping we don't have to wait that long for the next one.
on 24 July 2007
Trying to objectively assess any record a matter of weeks after its release is difficult, particularly when it's from such a complex artist as Suzanne Vega - as her previous albums show, her inherently "catchy" songs need time register for their underlying strength and hidden depths to be revealed... but, with time, it's quite possible that this could well prove to be the best release from this supremely gifted artist.
Why? Well, first off, "Beauty & Crime" once again confirms that for sheer songwriting skills she's extremely hard to beat. As with most of her previous output it's infused with great tunes, disarmingly sincere lyrics and clever production, all of which combine to make it not only instantly "likeable" but a record that just grows on you with every repeat playing. Few, if any, artists have delivered this type of eclectic combination with such consistency and now, over 20 years from her debut, it further establishes her status as the most under-rated female singer/songwriter out there.
And, compared to her previous albums? Well the bad news is that, as with her last release, "Songs in Red and Gray", there's not much innovation here... bad news because as she showed on her 90's recordings her style is perfectly suited for more adventurous production, taking her out from the comfort of folk/rock into more challenging areas. But that's clearly not where she wants to be... "Beauty & Crime" is what she wants us to hear and the good news is that it's not only a stunning return to form but a quite beautiful record that's packed full of hauntingly memorable songs. Sure, the edginess of standout tracks on her early albums such as "Left of Centre", "Neighbourhood Girls", Luka" & "Solitude Standing" may be missing but it's been replaced with something equally good: the maturity & reflection that comes with age - check out "Zephyr And I" and "Ludlow Street" to see how good this can be.
Time will tell where this stands in her already brilliant discography but, in the meantime, sit back and enjoy another pure 5 star outing.
on 25 June 2007
While Suzanne Vega's songs have always demonstrated a strong narrative and have shown her to be a gifted observer and lyricist, how they have sounded has changed considerably over the years - from the simple and yet often over-stark songs of her first two albums, to the dream-like feel of the under-rated Days of Open Hand and then to the fuller and more edgy Mitchell Froom-produced albums 99.9ºF and Nine Objects of Desire. For my money, Vega's sound was getting more interesting and satisfying with each successive album, so 2001's Songs in Red and Gray came as something of a disappointment, suffering from too-safe production from Rupert Hine and some songs where Vega seemed to have lost her lyrical incisiveness. As such, it's heartening to find that Beauty and Crime is a definite improvement on that, if still falling somewhat short of the standard of her "Froom era". The album is short and the production, this time helmed by Jimmy Hogarth, could again be more crisper at times. The one major problem is the song sequencing, meaning that it's not until you get halfway to the CD to "Bound" that there's a real jolt in tempo, which means the songs run together a bit too much and don't stand out as much as they could, but that said, it's an enjoyable listen. The writing is generally more focussed, perhaps helped by the loose uniting factor of New York city as the album's inspiration (although it's much more obvious on some songs than others) and it's good to see that she hasn't retreated to the basic guitar and vocal style of her first albums, as I feel her lyrics often benefit from a larger soundscape. Best tracks are "New York is a Woman", featuring some gorgeous instrumentation, "Pornographer's Dream", a gentle bossa nova song with a characteristically perceptive Vega lyric, and the closer "Anniversary", which manages to sound both mournful and hopeful simultaneously. Not all tracks are as successful - "Frank and Ava", whilst having inviting instrumentation, suffers from an unengaging story and clunky rhyming - but the positives outweigh the negatives. Let's hope this new association with Blue Note Records encourages this artistic regrowth.
on 13 July 2007
Much like fellow singers such as Aimee Mann,Heather Nova and Natalie Merchant, singers who I feel get left on the shelf who really possess stellar work. Suzanne Vega's seventh album "Beauty & Crime" the follow-up to her underrated (as always) gem "Songs In Red And Gray", A love letter to New York City with all its faults Suzanne finds the beauty in this mysterious city.
1.Zephyr & I - The opener is great, a song about Suzanne and her artist friend Zephyr having a conversation and reminiscing about the past and the familiarity yet the change of the city,as it once was, in this case the 70's.The guitars keep a rhythmic flow throughout the song with great backing vocal harmonies very nice song to get the album started. 10/10
2.Ludlow Street - My favourite song on the album,Now this song is about her Brother Tim who used to live on said street who had wild parties and generally good times, its a very atmospheric song almost melancholic, again we see Suzanne reminiscing about the good times, she sings "each stoop and doorway seems incomplete without you there" I actually find this song really sweet, whenever she visits this place she can't help but smile 10/10
3.New York As A Woman - Now, people usually refer to New York as a women probably due to the fact of the statue of liberty,The city represents hope and promise, the song plays a role of a woman who is a bit of a maneater if your not smart and strong you will be swallowed up, I love the imagery Suzanne conjures up she is a fantastic story teller, so people never been there before beware although it seems beautiful, it's a dangerous place lol 10/10
4.Pornographer's Dream - A very continental cafe sounding song, can imagine Suzanne singing this song to a small group in a cozy coffee shop, The song is about possibly a woman or women who come into the said characters life as an 'actress' and feels incomplete,he doesn't really know why he does this,to him things are fake and plastic, it's a very good song it works on alot of different levels a very mature and somewhat sad song, again 10/10
5.Frank & Ava - Has a sort of Bonnie and Clyde (but inspired by Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra)thing going on, a couple who constantly fight but when the lights go down and they get intimate things change "not enough to be in love" they're relationship seems shallow and actually reminds me of an Aimee Mann song, great guitars in this one and also as always stellar vocal harmonies. 9/10
6.Edith Wharton's Figurine - Originally just called 'Figurines' Now, this song is a very beautiful song it applies to every woman who has to compete with each other to be beautiful always comparing each other to whoever, Suzanne sings about women getting surgery and she asks "why isn't our beauty not enough?" I think girls under the age of 13 should be made to listen to this song they might not have such low self-esteem 10/10
7.Bound - This is a song dedicated to Suzanne's husband one of the more up-beat songs with frantic sounding strings and a hand baseline, with a beautiful piano loop, A song about her worrying if he still loves her, and the insecurities she feels, I guess anyone would very beautiful song, haunting even (I think it might be the vocals) 9/10
8.Unbound - I didn't like this song at first it just didn't fit in with the rest of the albums low-keep approach, this one is more electronic and modern, I love the way she sings about a plant it's pretty cute and I mean, if Kate Bush can sing about her washing machine then why not,pretty cool song although it's a bit of a 'stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb' song 7/10
9.As You Are Now - Beautiful song about Suzanne's daughter,In the booklet there is a picture of her daughter, I just think it was a sweet song for her to do, usually I don't like when artists sing songs about their kids 'coz it's usually quite sickly but this is a very pretty understated song 9/10
10.Angel's Doorway - The song is about A cop is stationed at Ground Zero and his wife wants him to leave his clothes at the door. Also about troops returning home.I love this song although it sounds like a happy song is has a eerie and unsettling feel, seemingly about 9/11 great song, not on of the standouts though 9/10
11.Anniversary - Dedicated to the people of New York, a song about the one year anniversary of 9/11,very sweet song and a great way to end the album I can't really say much about it, you just need to listen to the lyrics, nice relaxing,reflective song with a slight gospel feel to it. 10/10
3.Edith Wharton's Figurine
4.New York As A Woman
5.Zephyr & I
A beautiful reflective album,It will probably overlooked as usual, for a mature,adult perspective on life then turn to this.
on 5 October 2013
Suzanne Vega returns with a relatively short album, more often than not inspired by New York City, her home town.
Now, it is a short album, but this is certainly no snack. It's a dense affair, for want of a better word, and a demanding listening experience.
Highlights: Opener 'Zephyr & I' is a great track, one that sounds a bit 'off' in just the right way. 'Ludlow Street', a very emotional song, is perhaps the best track on the album. You don't have to be on Ludlow Street to be touched, although it helps. 'A Pornographer's Dream' and 'Frank and Ava' are two very different tracks, the first a slow beautiful ballad, the second an appropriately up-tempo account of the stormy love life of Frank (Sinatra) and Ava (Gardner). 'Anniversary', the last track nicely rounds up the package.
As for the rest it's all very good, with perhaps only 'Unbound' taking a back seat compared to the rest of the material. A very strong and mature album, one of Suzanne Vega's best and one of my favourite releases of 2007.
on 3 April 2008
I have listened to a lot of Suzanne Vegas hits and they are great and this latest album is just great. The sound of it leaves you wanting to listen again and again. It's a bit short but the quality of the music makes up for it.
Best albums of 2007 were to me: Kaiser Chiefs - Yours Truly, Angry mob
Amy Winehouse - Back to black
KT Tunstall - Drastic fantastic
Amy Macdonald - This is the life
But I have to say Suzanne Vegas is the best and its the least famous, it just goes to show that the mora famous you are doesn't mean your better. I couldn't care less about the likes of Leona Lewis even if she had a huge hit I think she is crap compared to real artists like Suzanne Vega.
Best songs on Beauty and Crime:
New York is a woman
Frank and Eva
A must have for music fans.