Audiophilia, Thoughts

I Can’t Quit You: Eddi Reader

I think the universe is playing a joke on you when a good soundtrack is attached to a movie that you think sucks. A most recent example would be the indie-centric playlists of the Twilight movies. The soundtrack to the first X-Files movie has aged far better than the film itself. And, unfortunately for me, I find the CD for Batman Forever is better than the film. I am so completely aware that the movie itself is a flashy blockbuster piece of crap intent on showing of what Val Kilmer’s body parts would look like replicated in body armor that I hide the soundtrack at the bottom of my CD pile.

But, a good soundtrack is not just one that sounds like an excellent mix tape, but also gives listeners new bands to try. One of the artists that interested me the most off the Batman Forever soundtrack was Eddi Reader. The song she’d contributed, “Nobody Lives Without Love,” was a moody, atmospheric, proto-electonica pleasure to listen to. So, when her CD Angels & Electricity came out in 1999, I was ready to see what other songs she had to offer.

Unfortunately, Angels & Electricity was the opposite of the song I had fallen for. The CD was folky, acoustic, simple &, well, just plain nice. None of these are bad traits; there are singer-songwriters I like for many of the same reasons. Lucy Kaplansky, for example, has simple songs but makes up for it with heartfelt singing.  I just wasn’t expecting the slow introspective playlist from Reader, with the tempo peaking at the upbeat second song “Prayer Wheel.”

After that, Angels & Electricity relaxes into quiet meditations on love, memory, and the quixotic impulses that play within a person’s mind. Reader’s lyrics are well-crafted & keep from falling into the trap of vague allusions that many songwriters fall into to stay relevant to a broad audience. She sings yearning lines like “I used to wish I was the cigarette inside your mouth/You’d roll me up and breathe me in/But then you’d blow me out,”  in a charming Scottish accent. (I particularly like the way she pronounces ‘January in California.’)

The problem is that every song sounds very safe & well-behaved. Songs like “Prayer Wheel” & “Postcard” which are meant to be about past relationships, have no bitterness or anger or any negative emotion on the other side of wistfulness. The song “Please Don’t Ask Me to Dance” sounds like it’s taken straight Heartbreak Central, but again is presented without much of the emotion that lyrics like “Skin remembers what the heart forgets” convey. Taken separately though, Reader’s songs would do best sprinkled through a mix CD or used as a backdrop for a particularly emotional scene. The producers of Charmed apparently also thought so when they used “Bell, Book and Candle” as the song for Prue’s funeral.  (Sorry, it’s a fan video.  Apparently the fan tributes clog YouTube so much you can’t find the actual scene from the show.)

I would recommend Angels & Electricity if you need a quiet wistful soundtrack after a hectic day.  Reader is talented & her voice is very expressive.  As for me, I’m not so easily satisfied.  I think I’ll just part company with Reader’s CD & enjoy the moody single I originally fell in love with.  That is, at least until someone asks me why that copy of the Batman Forever soundtrack looks so well-played.