Friday, June 8, 2012

"Heh! Chick Thinks She Can Rock!" Lisa Loeb Does, With Tails!

The Good: Decent lyrics, Good vocals, Some decent moments of musical invention
The Bad: Short, Some simplistic tracks.
The Basics: A fairly solid debut, Tails justifies Lisa Loeb's mainstream success and implies there are even better things coming for those who stick with her.

Every month I immerse myself in a few new (to me) artists and I do my best to select a pretty diverse range of artists and albums in order to experience as much of what is out there as possible. This month, I am starting with Lisa Loeb, whose work I have only had a passing familiarity with. I was fortunate enough to be able to start with her mainstream debut, Tails.

Tails, credited to Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, is the album that came out of having the number one smash hit "Stay," which originally appeared on a soundtrack. Interesting nugget I learned while looking into Loeb to choose her as one of my artists to become obsessed with for a few days; she is the first singer-songwriter to have a single top the Billboard Hot 100 without having a recording contract. She might not be the only one now, but she was the first and that is impressive in its own right. Given that Tails was nowhere near as successful as "Stay" was in terms of staying on the charts, Lisa Loeb might appear to simply be a bit of mid-90's trivia, alongside such acts as Savage Garden and the Spin Doctors. Listening to Tails now, I would have to argue that her status as a one-hit wonder is one of the more unfortunate examples of the label.

With thirteen tracks, clocking in at 43:55, Tails is an auspicious debut for Lisa Loeb. Loeb wrote all of the songs, which is always impressive for a young singer-songwriter's debut. As well, she provides all of the lead vocals, does most of her own harmony vocals and plays acoustic and electric guitar on the album. As well, she receives a co-producing credit for twelve of the thirteen songs, which is pretty impressive as well. In other words, this certainly seems to be the musical vision of Lisa Loeb.

It is a decent collection, as well. Loeb is a decent writer and she has a good sensibility for both expressing emotions and telling stories. In many ways, Loeb seems to have the writing sensibilities of a folk-rock artist in terms of the way she literally tells stories in her songs. Almost half the songs have characters with dialogue, which is a rather rare thing for a pop-rock performance. The songs that are not packed with characters tend to be emotive poems with a fairly direct theme.

Loeb has the ability to make such themes hit home well. First, she has excellent vocabulary and diction to express poetically precise emotions. For example, on the opening track, "It's Over," she expresses a real sense of disenchantment and loss when she sings "Don't stultify. / Don't hold me high. / Too many things held precious, / Too many things held dear; / That's what I hate, / That's what I fear. / Too much to ask for / May leave me feeling lonely. / Too little leaves me nothing . . ." As can be seen, in addition to having something to say and an impressive level of diction to express it (she uses semicolons!), she has universal emotions she is singing about. Even on songs that do not necessarily grab me, like "Lisa Listen," which is another track overcome with lonely lyrics, she writes poignant lines.

The nice thing about Tails is that the album is not limited to the well-known tracks for decent lines. It is somewhat surprising that her questioning song "Do You Sleep?" did not do better on the charts. After all, the sentiments of longing and second-guessing are fairly universal. In that song, Loeb articulately asks, "Do you eat, sleep, do you breathe me anymore? / Do you sleep, do you count sheep anymore? / . . . Do you take plight on my tongue like lead? / Do you fall gracefully into bed anymore? / I saw you as you walked across my room, / You looked out the window, you looked at the moon. . . ." ("Do You Sleep?"). And while Loeb's rhymes may be somewhat simple, that sense of being abandoned and struggling to wrench away from the other person is rather universal. Loeb expresses powerfully with the questions that undertone many people who have been left feel in regard to wondering how the person who left gets on and how their new partners treat them relative to the one left. "Do You Sleep?" is direct and yet open to interpretations, which makes for a powerfully worthwhile track.

This is not to neglect the musical stories Loeb tells on Tails. The emotive songs might initially appear more universal, but the sentiments expressed through the story songs. "Hurricane," which might well be the best of them, is painful because it is not so much dialogue as a prophecy to the musical protagonist and her reaction. It is harsh and poetic and listening to it, one gets the sense that Loeb is a woman who has been hurt in a number of ways and uses her art as catharsis.

And in general, the musical stories and the poems mix well to make a fairly decent album. Part of the problem, though, is that Loeb is a somewhat erratic writer on Tails. While she is remarkably expressive, she resorts to some lame rhymes and dull repetitions. For example, on "Waiting For Wednesday," she repeats "show you good-bye" ten times in the 3:09 song and the title eleven times. It falls flat and is irksome to listen to as it replays poorly.

That said, songs like that are generally the exception on this short album. For the most part, the writing is decent and Loeb does not resort to excessive repetitions in order to fill time.

Loeb has a good voice and despite some of the more electric instrumentals, she manages to be heard and articulate well throughout the entire album. Instead of presenting vocals that are as demure and declarative as she did on "Stay," she mixes it up. She has an angry tone that is well backed with electric guitars on "Taffy. On that song, she manages to do some somewhat primal vocalizing and it works far better than other musical expressions without words that I have heard recently.

Instrumentally, Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories mix it up with the guitars so that track to track there is a decent amount of diversity within the confines of a guitar, bass, drums ensemble. The songs range from the more folk-rock sound of "Stay" and "Hurricane" to more pop-rock, flat-out rock of "Taffy" and "When All The Stars Were Falling."

Tails is not the greatest debut of all time, but there is enough in the album to illustrate that Loeb has some serious talent and potential for what she lacks in experience. Anyone who likes pop-rock singer-songwriters will likely find something to enjoy on Tails.

The best track is "Hurricane," the low point is "Waiting For Wednesday."

For other works by Lisa Loeb, check out my reviews of:
Catch The Moon with Elizabeth Mitchell
The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page!

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

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