The Good: Diverse sound, Wonderful voice, Great lyrics, Intriguing instrumentals
The Bad: None, for a second time in her career!
The Basics: South is the salvation for those tired of the stupidity on today's airwaves. Intelligent, emotive and amazingly sung, this is a perfect album.
In 1998, Heather Nova's album Siren (reviewed here!) was released and the artist had achieved a perfect album. It was quite a feat. A perfect album, the type one might fantasize about being held captive and having only one album to listen to and being subjected to it over and over again for the rest of your life and not minding, is a truly rare thing. Most albums have a weak track, an annoyingly overplayed anthem or lines that stick out as predictable or banal.
Since 1998, Heather Nova fans have been eagerly awaiting her studio follow-up to Siren. Heather released a live album, Wonderlust some years back, but there was nothing new on it, save live reimaginings of her known songs. Now, South has been released and the first note of praise I may garner is that it was worth the wait.
When I turn on the radio and I hear crappy, misogynistic Nelly songs hitting #1, I wonder why Heather Nova isn't at the top of the charts. The truth is, she's too intelligent. She's singing with passion, with lyrics that are both poetic and intellectual. She is the voice of love and reason, longing and doubt. And on South, she steps out of all her molds.
South succeeds because Heather Nova's strengths are being played upon. Her voice is at its peak luster on "If I Saw You In A Movie" which reminds us that Heather Nova is a truly great singer. She has a voice and she knows how to use that voice in a wonderful alto and soprano range. She's got range, she's got tone.
The third track, "Talk To Me" reminds us - and informs those just discovering Heather - that Heather can write. The lyrics are soulful, expressing an abyss of love and detachment, the longing that comes from settling into a relationship after the romance has past.
And while the soulful ache of "It's Only Love" might be familiar to Heather Nova fans, the lyrics are new and for those just discovering this amazing artist, it is something different. Indeed, South is a very different Heather Nova experience. Gone is the classical definition of Heather Nova's music as "pop rock." Instead, South treats the listener to a musical experiment much in the same fashion of Sophie B. Hawkins' Timbre (reviewed here!). That is, this is a piece filled with musical diversity. Heather is branching out in several directions.
"Welcome" opens with a very in your face, direct, almost bawdy sound to introduce this new experiment. It's unlike anything we've heard from Heather thus far and while the instant reaction might be, "Oh no! Heather's gone pop!," she quickly dispels that with the up tempo, straight rockin' "Heaven Sent." "Like Lover's Do" has more of a vocal-orchestral feel to it than any of Heather's previous tracks and "I'm No Angel" definitely is the most she's ever delved into pop. Heather even tries her fist at folk with the toe tappin', story-song "Virus Of The Mind." The diversity of sound continues with the penultimate "Gloomy Sunday."
But is it accessible to any audience? Yes. This is definitely a work that may be appreciated by all audiences, anyone who likes well written music. It's not loud, it's not annoying, it's actual music. And what a refreshing change that is!
This album has a preponderance of angels; the show up on at least two tracks. That's fine. In fact, the only thing on the entire album that doesn't work is a mistake in the order of some of the lyrics on the liner notes. And Heather wasn't responsible for that.
It seems amusing to me now to be writing about a perfect album and get to the end of my review to realize I didn't mention two of my favorite tracks on the work. "Help Me Be Good To You" is a ballad of desire that reminds those of us who have loved Heather Nova's works for years why we fell in love with her; it's a sound, a line, a feeling Heather evokes. And "Waste The Day" is a slow dance song I find myself humming whenever I find myself home alone these days.
In short, Heather Nova has done it again and if you're a fan of my reviews, you know my allegiance to an artist does not leave me with hero worship such that one great album buys them a second great review. No, Heather Nova has deserved this praise of South as a perfect album. And if she doesn't have it yet, she deserves your attention. Like Siren, this is a perfect album and well worth your time and money. Perhaps if more people discovered her, we would not be bombarded on the radio with such idiotic, mechanically-delivered lines as "I am getting so hot, I will take my clothes off." I can only hope.
For other Heather Nova album reviews, please be sure to check out:
Live From The Milky Way
The Jasmine Flower
For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.