Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not A Promising Debut For Donna Lewis With Now In A Minute

The Good: A few decent lyrics, Generally sounds all right
The Bad: Some breathy vocals that are annoying, Short!
The Basics: The more I wrote about this album, the more I realized I didn't like it and I ultimately tossed a coin (it ended up being best 5 out of 10) for the rating.

For quite some time, I did not know my mother that well. I grew up without her in my life and when I was in high school, we started to see one another more and interact. While we were getting to know one another, my mother learned quickly of the things I liked and one of the few artists she knew impressed me was Sophie B. Hawkins. So, whenever a new song would come on that she thought was by Sophie B. Hawkins, she would tell me about it, convinced it was Sophie. The only one that I actually took a strange level of offense to (my mother was trying, after all and I had to give her credit for that!) was the Donna Lewis smash hit "I Love You Always Forever." From the first time I heard that song, I loathed the wispy vocals and could not see how my mother would mistake Lewis for Hawkins.

To be fair to her, now years later as I finally picked up a copy of Donna Lewis's debut album Now In A Minute, there are a number of tracks on the album that sound like some of Sophie's work on Tongues And Tails (reviewed here!). Actually, it is easy to imagine that Donna Lewis sounds like Sophie might have if Hawkins had been producing music in the mid-1980s. There is an overly-produced quality to much of Now In A Minute that turns me off some, but seems to be quite popular with mainstream pop-rock artists or performers.

It is fair to call Donna Lewis an artist, though. With eleven tracks, clocking in at 45:54, Now In A Minute is distinctly Donna Lewis. All of the lyrics were written by Lewis, save the first two singles where the lyrics were co-written by Lewis and written by someone else entirely. Still, this is not bad for a debut and that Donna Lewis is credited with writing all of the music, performing all of the vocals and taking a co-producer credit tells one that she was intimately involved in the creation of this album. This does appear to be largely what Lewis wants to say and the way she wants to say it. Checking out the individual credits for the songs, it appears she plays keyboards on nine of the tracks and piano on the tenth! She plays other instruments, like the Omnichord and is credited with programming on the majority of the songs as well.

So, what's the problem?

After nine listens to the album, the only songs that have truly stuck with me are the opening song, "Without Love" and the remix version of "I Love You Always Forever," which is far more aurally interesting than the original release. The nine tracks in between leave virtually no impression. I hear them, I listen and . . . when the disc ends, it's like waking up from hypnosis. And this is not from not giving the album the attention it deserves; my first listen was one of my classic, laying-in-the-dark,-all-attention-on-it-first-listen. And yet, this is a pretty unmemorable album overall.

For example, as I write this, the fourth track, "Nothing Ever Changes" is on and the only line I know is the title. Why? Even as she sings it, the song is instantly forgettable with her breathy presentation and the overproduced instrumentals. Moreover, as she hypnotically sings the title over and over again, I feel compelled to look up what the rest of the song (which I've heard ten times now but hasn't stuck) actually says. Perhaps the reason the song has not stuck - which is odd for a track that is over four minutes long! - is that its lyrics are essentially "Standing in isolation roadless wilderness faded and discarded the last leaves gone, gone and let me tell you nothing every changes . . . farewell to my first love farewell for all time pleasure for the loving there they lie eye to eye . . . lay down let it break down the hidden tortures to an end . . ." ("Nothing Ever Changes"). Those ellipses, all they are omitting are more repetitions of the title. Four and a half minutes with only three short stanzas and the rest is filler repetition of the title. No wonder it is forgettable.

Add to that, the sound of many of the songs is a vague, light pop keyboard sound that (I thought) died an early death in the mid-1990s when that type of soundtrack love song fell out of popularity. Perhaps Donna Lewis thought she would bring it back, as she seems to try on "Simone." There, the breezy keyboards she plays meld flawlessly with her wispy vocals to completely overwhelm her repeating "Don't look back now . . . you have to let your childhood go and then you'll find a peace within" ("Simone"). She produces over her own lines, making it almost impossible to hear whatever statement she wants to make.

Maybe Donna Lewis would be a good instrumental artist; especially if she's producing over her own lyrics and vocals. Without the pressure to create lyrics, perhaps she would not write songs that were so boring and repetitive (and even fans of "I Love You Always Forever" have to admit that it is terribly repetitive and if one were to keep it on a continuous loop for a day, it might well cause the listener to go insane). Then again, she might just produce boring instrumental songs. "Agenais" might as well be a boring instrumental song as she repeats "floating" an obscene number of times and the music sounds like a slow descent of a feather. She is good at melding the form and the words, the problem that Now In A Minute has is that both are largely boring and simple.

The only place that simplicity truly works is on "Without Love." There, Donna Lewis has a very simple message and she makes it sound good. While "I Love you Always Forever" is essentially a wispy chant in its refrain, "Without Love" is musical and it expresses a fundamental desire to connect. Lewis connects with anyone who has ever felt their lover has lost interest in them with lines like ". . . am I so far away in your thoughts not there forget what you told me it's what didn't get said it's not much to ask come down off your cloud and with your feet on the ground say something out loud. Without love I mean nothing to you without love broken in two . . ." ("Without Love"). The rhyme scheme may be a bit obvious for me, but at least Lewis has something to say and one can understand what she is singing without it being repeated a hundred times over.

What isn't musically boring on Now In A Minute seems terribly derivative. "Fools Paradise" sounds like the theme song to Mannequin and if the 1980s ever return, perhaps Donna Lewis will get work again. "Lights Of Love" sounds a lot like "Don't Stop Swaying" by Sophie B. Hawkins. But where Hawkins has something to say and insists her listeners hear her carefully crafted lines, Lewis seems to want to mumble through her own songs.

Moreover, the vocals are almost all high pitched and presented in a wispy quality that makes the listener want to hand Lewis an inhaler. Perhaps that is cruel, but Donna Lewis presents her vocals so meekly one thinks she either is severely limited in her range or just too timid to break loose.

As a result, Now In A Minute is largely forgettable, mostly because it blends together in a way that . . . yeah, just blends together as dull-pop whitenoise. Wow, if the 1980s ever comes back, maybe I'll head a Donna Lewis cover band called Dullpop Whitenoise. Yeah . . .

The best song is "Without Love," the only other memorable song is the up-tempo remix of "I Love You Always Forever" that closes the album. Everything in between is fairly dull.

For other female music artists, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow
300 Days At Sea - Heather Nova
Bomb In A Birdcage - A Fine Frenzy


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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