1999: The Man From B.E.T.T.Y. BTY4

  1. It Girl
  2. Kissing You
  3. A Perfect Day
  4. Dolls and Bennies
  5. Hercules
  6. Wave
  7. Underworld
  8. Naughty Nadia
  9. Nowheresville
  10. Together
  11. Greedy
  12. You Don’t Know
  13. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Of the BETTY discography as of mid-2006, BETTY3 was the last to join my collection…thanks to a backorder status, anyway. I’d had Hello, BETTY!, Kiss My Sticky, and Limboland for some years but had found myself uncompelled by what I’d heard of BETTY3 as BETTY were releasing it. I don’t recall what track it was I heard bits of that turned me off, but I do remember feeling that what I heard indicated they were losing their signature “sound” amid heavier production. And I let the thread drop for a long time.

But in 2006 on a tangential whim I checked out BETTY RULES (from 2002) and said “holy SHIT, they’ve GOT it, they’ve GOT IT!!” Which of course led me back down the timeline to see how they got there after all despite the grim outlook seen from Limboland and what I’d heard of BETTY3. Now that I’ve heard all there is of BETTY currently available on CD, I have a much better understanding of the overall picture and what eventually clicked for the realization of their sound: tempo, in a nutshell. “It Girl,” here, is a nifty song that never really grabs you; on BETTY RULES, it’s performed almost exactly 20% faster and ROCKS…because instead of the lyrics being sung at almost-ballad pace they’re delivered at nearly normal speaking speed, and “singing is extended speech” as the best voice teacher I ever knew always said. When BETTY sped up their performances of these already-good songs, the songs were clearer in both melody and lyrical impact.

That’s not to say that all songs should be sped up—“Underworld” here certainly moves at *exactly* the right drunken speed for its scenario, for example. Amy Ziff seems to have a knack for this maudlin realm, a really GOOD knack, as was shown most recently on Snowbiz’s “Holiday Office Party Blues” (and to a less-literally depraved degree on “Miracles Can Happen”). That BETTY deliver such dark stuff in stride with their cover of “Windy” and the explosively exuberant “It Girl” (I have the BETTY RULES version in mind, there) adds to my esteem for them; that they make even the garishly debauched tableau so beautiful, as they do with “Underworld’s” closing, is a thrilling and disturbing gift I wish more people could experience.

There’s no denying that the addition of a serious drums/guitar band presence beefed the equation up tremendously, I suppose, and that calculation adjustment seemed to have worked, as they’ve stuck with it and continued to improve both the instrumental and the vocal aspects of the group over time with that in place. I like it…and I like the fact that BETTY can still bring forth excellent songs and fascinating performance independent of the full-band context.

As far as songcraft goes, BETTY3 is abundant and diverse—more so than I’d expected. So much of the album is so groovy and compelling that I find myself in the unhappy position of having to name exceptions to the excellences rather than spotlight the stars. So, for example, I don’t care much for “Kissing You” here as a song or as a performance (nor on BETTY RULES), although it’s witty; “Dolls and Bennies” isn’t especially gripping but has a catchy chorus; “Nowheresville” is nearly as dead-end as its subject but still has tantalizing bits here and there, and “Together” sounds like a rocked-up combination of Limboland’s “Two Cherries” and “A Typical Love.” Standout tracks include the fascinating “Hercules” (well worth repeated listenings to augment the impressions and allusions, plus which Amy Ziff’s cello muscles things up significantly and gorgeously), the dark-edged lust-celebration of “Greedy,” and the exquisite living-well-is-the-best-revenge testimonial “A Perfect Day” (which is possibly the album’s finest track, but it’s among stiff competition). “You Don’t Know” isn’t particularly BETTY-specific territory, but it’s solid and clear and abundantly applicable.

And then there’s “Naughty Nadia,” which is in a class by itself. What can I say? It has a primly judgemental lyric (with the occasional less-prim line such as “so bugger off, my dear”) sung almost nannily amid increasingly censorius and strident strings. It’s a goofily dark delight.

As for their cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” well, I’m not qualified to call that shot. I like it, mostly, although I’ll need to play its ending sequence through several hundred times to identify all of the bits of referenced songs. But consider this: I played this album at my office during a long day shortly after receiving it, and a colleague there who was working that long day with me heard it and was quite captivated…as he had been by BETTY RULES several weeks earlier. So whaddya know, I may have added one more fan to BETTY’s tally without even trying.

One other thing BETTY3 has which is worth listening for: Elizabeth, Amy, and Alyson mix up their vocal positions on some tracks, so that instead of the arrangement being Alyson-Elizabeth-Amy from bottom to top as is usual “A Perfect Day” has Amy providing the bottom of the chord rather than the top…and other tracks similarly rearrange the expected, achieving very nice results which keep things lively and intriguing.