posted on November 09, 2008 18:00
A review of the album 'To Survive' by Joan as Police Woman
Review Snapshot: Joan Wasser has musical smarts to die for but they're not that evident on "To survive". Never was the phrase "difficult second album" more appropriate.
The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10
Joan as Policewoman – she’s got impeccable credentials. Joan Wasser’s top of the table material. She’s in with the In Crowd, she goes where the In Crowd go. She has the look too, the kooky side of well groomed, the hooded noughties eye and a vague sense of mystery. She’s multi instrumental – as my departed old man would say, she plays everything but the linoleum. God’s sakes, BBC even asked her to contribute to a radio documentary about Shostakovich.
The artwork on “To survive”, her second solo album, sees Joan in monochrome, staring into some self absorbed middle distance. She’s bare shouldered and mysterious. The face that launched a thousand iPods. In keeping with that the album itself opens with “follow your wishes” – it’s musical drizzle – the piano is mixed right up to the point where you feel you’re being mugged by the bass notes, and the mood and melody are sulky. Joan’s crooning is mannered and as she sings
"Will we ever meet again
in the house where we started?
Will I feel the suede of your skin
as you move to turn off the light?
Would you honor my wishes?"
I’m thinking, take a chill pill Joany. It’s an absolutely dreadful choice as an album opener, there’s no sense of warmth or invitation - the opposite, in fact. It’s so self involved you lose sight of your own existence but then there’s "holiday", a little bossa nova thing. After the initial reverse of the opening track you‘re hoping she might drag this one back. Initially it’s cute, Joan loosens up a little and even sounds a little kinky -
"little did I know
you're my holiday
the place where I escape
to forget about how I don't see you enough"
but instead of letting the song breathe and giving it some space Joan instead swoons
"at the bridge to your eyes
at the path to your scars
at the sway of your diamond black ocean"
It’s a case of ruining something by saying it – "holiday" should be a jaunty little summery slip of a thing, an ice breaker, but instead it’s a lyrical own goal.
Again, the next track, “To be loved” is light on the surface –there’s a dinky little melody, and once you get past the over mixed piano sound, a decent arrangement. And then Joan sings:
"How on earth could you have found me
huddled under grapes of wrath
I will never know but forever I ask
how I got so lucky
all this time proceeding
silent in processional
the words, they escape me through my singing cage of how I love you too."
Why use one word when you can use a thousand? It’s the same all the way down the line – there’s musical nous in abundance, though at times you feel that the arrangements on “to survive” are musical exercises rather than something that embellish the songs and enhance their qualities. She has all of the gifts that music can give her but she’s no wordsmith. Pretty much every time she opens her mouth she’s damned from her own lips. By the time you’ve got to “hard white wall” your head is spinning:
"...man, don't you want to dance
to the swing of the bach courante
to the sway of the leaving trains
to the swish of your lash, I cry."
Too earnest, too indulgent, too wordy, too precious. With the best will in the world “to survive” should have illuminated, provoked, even enlightened, but instead it irritates, it patronises, it condescends.
Joan of Arc. Had a heart. Joan as Policewoman? I’m not so sure.