Make It Beautiful

Sara Lee

2000: Sara Lee/Righteous Babe RBR021-D>

  1. Make It Beautiful
  2. Grace
  3. Traffic
  4. My Way
  5. I’ll Wait for You
  6. Gone
  7. Hood over Hood
  8. Thin Ice
  9. Come Round
  10. All Cried Out

I had Lee’s bass-playing history (specifically for the B-52’s) in mind when I bought this CD from Goldenrod Music in November 2006, willing to listen to the voice of that bassist, but what I heard upon receiving the CD was incongruously gentle. For one thing, it was soon clear that she was British, which was a surprising thing to belatedly discover about a rock’n’roll bass player.

After that disorientation it took me several listenings to even hear what was going on here…Lee’s voice on these tracks has an emotional range of about one step, everything getting either breathy gentleness or detached wistfulness and really not much more. The songs…they might be good, it’s hard to tell as presented here because the vocals are both passionless and unforced, and the match of lyric to melody is sometimes almost-painfully unnatural and forced. Where things do work, and hook, are on “Gone” and, to a lesser extent, “Hood Over Hood.” Where they don’t, we get for example “Traffic,” which has a good lyric (including the superb chorus “The traffic in my head / competes with what a passing stranger said / the trouble with my mind / is it’s a place a stranger’s bound to find”) and melody but is strung out far too long with far too little development. (And it’s interesting that I didn’t recognize BETTY’s vocal contribution to “Come Round” until after the album’s liner notes alterted me to it…it’s a bit vague, I’m afraid.)

I’ll keep this one in my collection out of a combination of curiosity and patient optimism: I know there’s a waft of magic and “the gift” here, although it doesn’t quite reach the point of achievement either in the lyrics or the musical performance. But I would love to hear the result of Lee finding her angriest or most rapturous voice—that voice which makes the song’s structure and production secondary but also amply powerful.

The odd one out on this disc is her cover of Dusty Springfield’s “All Cried Out” (by Buddy Kaye and Philip Springer), which is largely a sampling/programming dark grind by Harvey Jones; that it’s a dark chugging/shuffling thing doesn’t hurt it at all—in fact I rather like it, even with Lee’s vocal bordering on disconnected. It certainly gives Make It Beautiful a tastily chewy closing.

p.s. kudos to Righteous Babe Records for their excellent copyright line: “unauthroized duplication, while sometimes necessary, is never a good as the real thing.”