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SUZANNE VEGA Close Up Vol 1, Love Songs
Cooking Vinyl COOKCD521P (2010)

Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega is not the first artist of note to reinterpret her back catalogue, but she might just be the first to split up the songs into conceptual blocks.

And given that some of her very best work over the last 25 year is to do with love and personal relationships, the thematic content of 'Close Up, Vol,1' should come as no surprise.

While much will be made of stripping down the songs to their basic form - particularly the post 1992 bigger produced albums onwards - we should rejoice in the fact that her unique mixture of word play, sensual phrasing and not least her stories regain their primacy.

No amount of analysis can detract from the sheer lyrical inventiveness, the rich imagery and the sensual enunciation of songs such as 'Marlene On The Wall', '(If You Were) In My Movie', 'Gypsy' and 'Song In Red And Grey'.

You could argue that over the course of her seven albums she developed as an artist and organically grew into different musical fields - albeit with a sharp push from her ex hubbie/producer Mitchell Froom - but given her song writing abilities that would be to overlook her restless creativity.

'Close-Up Vol1, Love Songs' focuses squarely on strength of the material that provides the thematic inner core. The wry detailed lyrical observations and the thoughtful sequencing of the collection allows the listener to gently meander their way through love's many articulations from the temptations of 'Caramel' and the experienced narrator on 'Gypsy', to the detached irony of 'Marlene' and the post feminist independence of 'Maggie May'.

The fantasy role play of 'Movie', the seeming erotic fixation of 'Stockings' and the potential indiscretions of 'Some Journey' can be set against the mini thematic coupling of 'Song In Red And Grey' and 'Bound'. Both illustrate a downside to Love's possibilities as viewed through a retrospective wistfulness that borders on disillusionment.

The re-recordings themselves work well by simply focussing our attention on both the lyrics and Suzanne's deliberate phrasing. So while there's no getting away from the Latin rhythm of 'Caramel' and the Eastern flavouring of '(If You Were) In My Movie', there's a distinct sense of clarity and purpose to the re-recordings.

The benchmark for a project such as this has to be the way you approach a career highlight such as 'Marlene On The Wall'. The sparse arrangement brings us back to Vega's detached observational lyrics while 'Movie' eschews the industrial drums and brings forth the delivery of her voice.

Similarly 'Gypsy' sounds more of a folk song without the additional percussion and wall of sound production. 'Headshots' also sounds much more potent without the annoying crashing cymbals and ponderous rhythm section, while 'Song In Red And Grey' also benefits from its deconstructed form. The orchestration and piano arrangement may have sonically embellished the original version but possibly so at the expense of the lyrical message.

But you pay your money and you make your choice. What is clear is that Suzanne's songs have stood the test of time and are infused with a fresh spirit in their thematic context.

She continues to bring her own wry observations and lyrical twists to a subject matter that is as timeless as it is complex. And while Suzanne may finish with a divorce song 'Bound', the strength of 'Close Up' lies in her unwavering description of love in all its forms. And it's via a successful return to her minimalist folk roots that best provides her with the way of doing that.


Review by Pete Feenstra



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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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