Make It Beautiful
2000: Sara Lee/Righteous Babe RBR021-D>
I had Lees bass-playing history (specifically for the B-52s) 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 rocknroll bass player.
After that disorientation it took me several listenings to even hear what was going on here Lees 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, its 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 dont, 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 its a place a strangers bound to find) and melody but is strung out far too long with far too little development. (And its interesting that I didnt recognize BETTYs vocal contribution to Come Round until after the albums liner notes alterted me to it its a bit vague, Im afraid.)
Ill keep this one in my collection out of a combination of curiosity and patient optimism: I know theres a waft of magic and the gift here, although it doesnt 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 voicethat voice which makes the songs structure and production secondary but also amply powerful.
The odd one out on this disc is her cover of Dusty Springfields All Cried Out (by Buddy Kaye and Philip Springer), which is largely a sampling/programming dark grind by Harvey Jones; that its a dark chugging/shuffling thing doesnt hurt it at allin fact I rather like it, even with Lees 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.
Comments © 2006 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.