Focused and accessible album of love and anger
hyperbolium | Earth, USA | 05/27/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After the artistic bonanza of 2005's CD triple-shot (the eclectic Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Disney covers Got No Strings and the Latin-influenced Mexican Standoff), Michelle Shocked returns with a passionate album of rock, folk and a touch of soul. Aside from her theme albums, the mood here is among the most focused of her catalog, nicely summed by the quote in her album's press: "I think the meditation these past several years, ever since I stopped drinking, really, has been to jettison rage without losing the ability to feel strong feelings." Her lyrics are deeply emotional, bitter and angry at the lasting effects of the Bush administration, and tender and loving towards the "official love of her life," artist David Willardson.
Luckily, it's not all sappy love songs and angry denunciations, as Shocked mixes folk, soul and punkishly loud rock amidst her twin topical inspirations. Her sunny relationship gets the larger share, including the meta-love lead-off that offers the well-worn just-in-love realization that love songs aren't necessarily for everyone else. The more intimate "Heart to Heart" and "True Story" may be overly sincere for some listeners; the well-worn "two hearts beating as one," for example, doesn't live up to Shocked's typical craft. More original is the salacious "Paperboy," sung from the perspective of a newspaper's lusty recipient, and a trio of songs that eye American society.
First among the jeremiads is "Ballad of the Battle of the Ballot and the Bullet," which excoriates Americans for hiding in denials and asking "are we reaping a harvest of grief?" Shocked's obviously not ready to move past the misdeeds of the Bush administration and finds the national character in need of repair. She pictures herself as David taking shots at political and corporate Goliaths on the punk-rock "Giant Killer," and likens the eruption of Vesuvius to the destruction spewed by corporate America on "Pompeii." The social critiques are sharp, but the love songs keep the album from turning into one long diatribe. Shocked's fans will enjoy the passion and musical focus; those drawn in by Kaiser Permanente's commercials will find this a good entry point to her catalog. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]"