Saturday, March 24, 2012

Yes, It's True, I'm Loving The Sugarpop Of Susanna Hoffs!

The Good: Some decent lyrics, Good sound, Nice vocals
The Bad: Some truly inane lyrics, Shorter than I'd like
The Basics: Surprisingly good, Susanna Hoffs is unfortunately hampered by a style that is not as good as she seems to have the lyrical potential to be.

Ever hear an album that you enjoy and it makes you feel good, but when you stop to analyze it, you find yourself cringing more and more? From my first listen to Susanna Hoffs, the solo album by the oft-credited "lead singer" of The Bangles, I felt that way. The first song opened with such a great opening with a woman who treated poorly by her love interest and the song worked until the very moment the musical protagonist goes back to him. I almost got lockjaw from grinding my teeth so hard from that.

But the truth is, I remember hearing the lead single from Susanna Hoffs a lot when I was working at a department store in college and when "All I Want" (reviewed here!) came on, I always loved it. I would do a little rocking out dance in the toy department where I worked and I loved the sugary, pop quality to the song. In fact, it's almost surprising that the only other works by Hoffs that I've tracked down since was The Bangles Different Light and her cover of a song by The Bangles on the Lilith Fair album, as well as her sophomore album When You’re A Boy (reviewed here!). So, when I picked up Susanna Hoffs I was very ready for it. And overall, I was very happy with it, but the objective reviewer in me forced me to hold it to the same standards as every other c.d. I listen to.

With thirteen songs, clocking in at 52:53, Susanna Hoffs is hardly indicative of the talents and vision of singer and songwriter Susanna Hoffs. First, Hoffs did not write all of the songs; far from it. At best, she co-wrote nine of the songs and at least one ("Stuck In The Middle With You") is a cover song. The other "hidden" track is "To Sir With Love," which was from a 1967 movie by the same title. Hoffs does provide the lead vocals on all of the songs and plays guitar on most of the songs. She is credited, as well, with co-producing most of the songs on the album. But still, it is unclear how much of this work is actually Hoffs's musical vision.

That said, there is a certain consistency between the work Hoffs did with The Bangles and this solo project. This is bubbly, generally happy-sounding pop-rock music. It is largely guitar-driven and has a pretty basic pop sound with percussion making a notable appearance on tracks like "King Of Tragedy." The songs tend to be characterized by Hoffs's lilting, melodic alto and soprano voice as she provided on "All I Want." And at worst, it is feel-good music, though some of the lyrics are irritating.

Fortunately, Hoffs gets the worst of the lines out of the way on the first track. "Beekeeper's Blues" starts out with such a beautifully-defined musical tragedy with the lines "You only call when you want money / And when I need you you're not there / Everybody else has written you right off / You make it hard to care / You're pretty hard to bear" that it becomes unforgivable that Hoffs resorts to a resolution of ". . . these boots are made for walking / They're walking back to you / What else can I do." Hey, Susanna, you can walk away! What kind of message does it send your listeners when you write ad nauseam about how terrible a guy is only to walk right back to him?! It's unbearable. What's worse is that there are some truly decent lines in the song. Someday, someone will do a cover of this and change the idea of walking back to the jerk and it will be great.

That said, there is a great song or two on the album and the primary single from Susanna Hoffs is pretty impressive. "All I Want," ironically not even co-written by Hoffs has a beautiful little bit of simplistic poetry. When Hoffs sings "All I want, all I want to do / Is make you listen from now on / Sleeping in the dark, dreaming of the stars / Keep one to wish on from now on / It makes me want to give you everything / Pick you up and take you home again / Hold you tight and think that now is then" ("All I Want") she does it with a frustrated, longing quality that beautifully shows what she is saying with the words and it comes out beautifully. They may not be Hoffs's lines, but she owns them and makes them sound great, despite the singsong sound of some of the rhymes.

In fact, if there is any real lyrical weakness to Susanna Hoffs, it is in the predictability of the rhyme scheme. Even the album's best track co-written by Hoffs, "Grand Adventure" has terribly predictable rhymes like "I'm on a grand adventure / With my friend the great pretender / We can do anything we want . . . You hide how much you really care / You drink your irish whiskey / Through lips I wish would kiss me." It's not the most sophisticated level of diction ever presented by a musical artists.

But what Susanna Hoffs is real good at is making her songs sound good. The cover of "Stuck In The Middle With You" is lighthearted and fun, without any of the moody intensity that might make one think of it playing in the background of "Reservoir Dogs." She takes the song and makes it into bubblegum pop and it's fun. This is not to say she does not have the ability to emote more seriously in her works. On "Those Days Are Over," she goes to the lowest portion of her range and creates a slow, solemn track that is almost dark. At least it is moody and emotional and her presentation fits the lyrics well.

Instrumentally, this album is largely one woman and her guitar and it sounds exactly like what it is. The guitars are cleaned up and the bass noticeably improves some of the later tracks on the album. And even though the drums break in on tracks like "Weak With Love" in a noticeable way, most of the tracks are guitar-dominated and they work for that kind of sound.

Susanna Hoffs is a good album and it's fun, but people looking for more serious rock and roll will be disappointed. And for those of us who like a good pop rock album from time to time, this certainly does that well. Objectively, though, it does not do much more than that.

For other female artists, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Little Bird (single) – Annie Lennox
Boys For Pele - Tori Amos
21 - Adele


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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