Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Finally "Get" The Indigo Girls

The Good: Excellent lyrics, voice, decent enough musical elements
The Bad: Somewhat musically limited/unimaginative, SHORT!
The Basics: With a solid debut, Indigo Girls makes it clear they had ability to create more albums, but stymie the listener with how they were not a huge mainstream success.

My listening to and reviewing albums by the Indigo Girls has been pretty rocky. One of the last albums I listened to that I liked of theirs was their successful Swamp Ophelia. But even that did not take the sting out of some of their other albums I did not enjoy, like Shaming Of The Sun. To date, I've continued giving them a chance and when I picked up their 1989 album Indigo Girls I was glad that I had.

With only ten tracks, the eponymous album clocks in at just under 44 minutes and is a fairly solid debut album. I tend to like albums, even the first one from an artist, to be a bit longer, but I was happy enough with the substance of this outing to not let the length detract too much from what is presented.

For those who do not know the Indigo Girls, they are a duo consisting of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Ray and Saliers write all of their own music, though never together, and they sing their songs and play acoustic guitars on all ten tracks. While they do not receive any form of producer credit on this album, it's hard to argue that this is not their vision of music. On Indigo Girls, they are producing solidly folk-rock and pop-rock tracks and it's a surprise that with this as their debut, Indigo Girls were not more of a mainstream hit in the marketplace.

That said, the reason for their lack of success also strikes the listener right in the ears the moment they start listening to the music. Do I think that a duo of women can have success in this day in age? Absolutely. Do I think a female Simon and Garfunkel could make it in the mainstream? Sure. Do I think that the U.S. can handle two women backed mostly only by acoustic guitars? Without a doubt. So, why aren't the Indigo Girls huge and why didn't Indigo Girls tear up the charts?

It's too smart for the mainstream. Yup, the problem with Indigo Girls is that Saliers and Ray are lyricists of a higher order and they simply could not compete with Milli Vanilli, who was tearing up the charts when this album was released. After all, how could they think they could compete with the sheer sugary ear candy of "Baby I've Got Your Number" with lyrics like "Rain soaked and voice choked like silent screaming in a dream / I search for our absolute distinction / Not content to bow and bend / To the whims of culture that swoops like vultures / Eating us away, eating us away / Eating us away to our extinction . . ." ("Love's Recovery")?

No, when pop music is focused on synthesizers and idiocy, it's hard to sell intelligent, emotive lyrics, even when they sing the essential teenage struggle. Indigo Girls opens with "Closer To Fine," a rebellious anthem that recalls, "I went to see the doctor of philosophy / . . . He graded my performance, he said he could see through me / I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper / And I was free." So, it's not like the Indigo Girls are singing something the key demographics do not want to hear.

As for their vocals, they range from rock-pop on tracks like "Closer To Fine" to the slow, sad ballad of "History of Us." The tracks include guest vocals by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe on "Kid Fears" and that was a pleasant surprise for me as a listener! In fact, this album is more traditionally pop-rock in the presentation of the guitars and some of the drums than on some of the later albums.

So, I'm going to stick by the concept that this album was simply too smart for U.S. audiences when it was released. Its themes range from protesting society's expectations to love to loneliness ("Blood and Fire") and they present each theme with an adult tenor that allows them to deal with those concepts with maturity. This is an adult album in terms of diction and, I suppose, performance. Maybe more mature ears are required to appreciate the musical sophistication that comes from wonderful and articulate vocals that one may understand as opposed to the dazzle of production elements. Indigo Girls is utterly lacking in production elements. And that is a strength for these two talented women.

The best track (hard for me to nail down!) is "Love's Recovery," and I think the doubts of "Tried To Be True" hold up least well for me over multiple listens.

For other albums by The Indigo Girls works, check out my reviews of:
Swamp Ophelia
1200 Curfews
Shaming Of The Sun
Come On Now Social


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the albums and singles are organized from best to worst!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment