en: Beauty & Crime [info]
This album is one of BBC 6 Music's albums of the day, this week.
'I am asking you if you might still want me', sings Suzanne Vega on "Bound", the track that forms the centerpiece of her new album Beauty And Crime, to which the answer has to be an indefinite 'maybe'. While the song appears to refer to a lover, it also has resonance for Vega's audience; it's been six years since her last album, 2001's post-divorce Songs In Red And Gray, and an awful lot longer since her startling, sparse and intensely blank 1985 debut paved the way for a new crop of female singer-songwriters. In fact, the ghost of the past hangs heavy over this album, which serves as something of a memorial to both the New York of the old millennium (particularly on the opening "Zephyr") and Vega's own past (on the sensitive and affecting "Ludlow Street").
If the international success of the 1990 remix of "Tom's Diner" miscast her as the high priestess of coffee-shop yuppiedom, then her 1990s releases 99.9F *and *9 Objects Of Desire proved she could rock as well as strum. This album is pitched somewhere between the sparse acoustics of her earliest releases (on the closing "Anniversary", for instance) and the tricksier arrangements of her later work. The playing (by both Vega's regular collaborators and guests such as Lee Ranaldo and KT Tunstall, as well as background vocals from Vega's own daughter, Ruby Froom) and production (by Jimmy Hogarth) is excellent throughout, providing clarity and consistency to a fairly eclectic batch of songs that move from stripped-down to rock through electronica to full-blown orchestration.
If there is a problem here, it is with Vega's own songwriting. While some songs, such as "Edith Wharton's Figurines" are intricate and thoughtful, others, such as "New York is a Woman", seem somewhat underwritten, with a too-obvious metaphor. Similarly, the album's title is rather less interesting than it first appears. This is not quite the paean to Vega's New York past that we might have hoped for.