This Week: Shelby Lynne sells out, the Clairvoyants set new moping boundaries, and the Eyeliners tread familiar ground
Love, Shelby (Island)
At first I thought the cover photo might be a joke. But after listening to the CD within, I can only conclude that our Ms. Lynne decided she wanted to shift millions of units and someone convinced her the best way to do so was to wear tight denim cut-offs and pose pouty-lipped on her knees on a shag carpet.
Lynne's been through makeovers before. Her last release, I Am Shelby Lynne, was just outré enough to earn the adoration of lonely-boy music critics everywhere, but it didn't really make the singer rich or famous. So on Love, Shelby, she's trying to have it both ways. She holds on to the sultry stylings, the touches of techno and Dusty Springfield R&B vamps, that made I Am such a departure from the Nashville mainstream. But she broadens the sound. Where the last album was cool and atmospheric, with songs that took some listening to find your way through, most of the slick, booming tracks on Love, Shelby are right at home in the Top 40/VH-1/Americana niche already occupied by Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and co.
Problem is, Lynne doesn't really do anything better than anyone else in that arena. She's not entirely convincing as either a songwriter or a sassy soul sister. Her particular gift is narrower, a kind of bluesy detachmentshe does alienation well. Teamed with power producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morrisette), she's forced into more conventional settings that call for warmth and connection, where she often sounds uncomfortable. There's nothing unpleasant hereshe's still a likable singer with mostly respectable taste. But it's telling that the most biting track, the anti-Music Row jeremiad "Star Broker," was available on promo discs but dropped from the final album. The sell-out might work, but I have a feeling Lynne would be doing herself and the rest of us a favor by getting up off her knees.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Your New Boundaries (Badman Recording Company)
Brian Dunn's voice is so precious and delicate that at first blush it's hard to believe he could sustain your interest for a full-length LP. Surely, this mopey sensitivity will grow thin after a few tracks, it seems. But somehow, Dunn manages to keep my interest on the Clairvoyants' debut. It's not an album that will have you jumping around a living room or a bar. But given the chance, its ghostly melodies will find their way underneath your skin (most likely as you lay in a stupor on the couch).
The reason is that the forlorn nature of these tunes is only superficial. Dunn's guitar playing is echo-y and somber, dominating the album. This allows other elements in the music to rise out of such barren foundations. "Yes, I Waited a Year" starts out in that brooding mode, but when Barry Reise enters on trumpet, it's reminiscent of classic pop from the '40s and '50s, a joyful memory come to call you home.
Dunn also has the good sense to experiment with arrangements, and thus Your New Boundaries never bogs down in a single groove. "New Name" offers a whiff of salsa; "The Hungry Ghosts" abandons the guitar for a downright ghostly horn and keyboard arrangement; the driving percussion on "To Harm" (relatively tame outside this recording) gives needed catharsis.
There are various kinds of depressing music. Most predominant is the self-indulgent brand that embraces misery. Your New Boundaries is not of this ilk. It strikes a moody pose but is ultimately too vast to cave under the weight of its own sorrow. A willing listener will find much more lurking inside it.
Sealed With A Kiss (Lookout/Panic Button Records)
With the release of their third album, Sealed With A Kiss, Albuquerque's The Eyeliners seems to have locked into the pop punk continuum created by bands like Screeching Weasel and The Queers and later continued by the Teen Idols. Sure, it's a likable enough formula: Ramones-style power chords matched with comic book lyrics about teenage problems. This musical approach might have seemed a refreshing change from the alienation and self-loathing of grunge in the mid '90sbut it's really worn out.
Sealed With A Kiss finds The Eyeliners repeating the same girl meets boy clichés on each song. As singles, almost any of the songs would work just fine. But once you've heard two or three tunes, The Eyeliners seem more repetitive than Philip Glass. This kind of bubblegum tastes great for a second and then loses its flavor almost instantly.
The punk rock greaser imagery adopted by the band has no inherent menacehaving a lot more in common with Happy Days than Rebel Without A Cause.
Ryan Greene's immaculate production totally erases the exuberance of The Eyeliners' manic live show. Instead, we're left with competently played, simplistic pop that is lacking in the piss and vinegar or the just-plain-dumb factor to make this kind of music work. Sealed With A Kiss is too much Connie Francis and not enough Joan Jett. And I wanted to like it.
November 15, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 46
© 2001 Metro Pulse