Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Suzanne Vega 8: Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles

After nearly thirty years and eight albums, Suzanne Vega still has the same clear alto. Clean living is most likely the reason, but taking lengthy breaks between releases most likely helps. Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles follows a seven-year absence of new material, finding her in familiar territory, parables and medieval imagery, with several songs hinting at a Tarot influence.
The album starts strong and stays strong, if brief. “Crack In The Wall” is loaded with poetic metaphors, while the poppier “Fool’s Complaint” is of a musical piece with “When Heroes Go Down” and “(I’ll Never Be) Your Maggie May”. “I Never Wear White” melds a bold statement with a punk riff lifted from “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”. Things finally go quiet for “Portrait Of The Knight Of Wands”, its delicate finger-picking turning to waltz-time in the bridge but not repeating it over the coda. The one everybody talks about is “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain”, thanks to its 50 Cent sample, nod to Macklamore and hip-hop rhythm. We can excuse the Arabian strings, but hearing Our Heroine bust rhymes and exclaim “for real” is just plain jarring.
Syncopated handclaps make “Jacob And The Angel” a continuation of the Eastern theme, but only for a couple of minutes. “Silver Bridge” would appear to be an elegy for her father-in-law, though that’s only an assumption from the dedication and a Google search for the name. (A better, more universal tribute ends in the album in the form of “Horizon (There Is A Road)”, written for Vaclev Havel.) Two songs about stoicism appear back to back; “Song Of The Stoic” is called out as an update of “Luka”, being a monologue by a now-adult victim of abuse, while “Laying On Of Hands” ponders the healing power of Mother Teresa, switching neatly into a faster “Stoic 2” section.
For the first time in a long time, she’s gone back to letting the songs speak for themselves. For the most part, they steer clear of gimmicks, keeping the arrangements simple and clear. Her main collaborator is Gerry Leonard, who brought with him a few other alumni of David Bowie sessions. That’s not to say the album sounds like Bowie, but that Leonard does know a thing or two about sonics, and Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles will not disappoint fans.

Suzanne Vega Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles (2014)—

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