Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jane Siberry - "When I Was a Boy" (LP Review)

I first learned of Jane Siberry from the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack, which was released in 1991 and featured the exquisite duet with k.d. lang,"Calling All Angels". Two years later, it appeared on Siberry's LP, "When I Was a Boy". But as good as "Calling All Angels" is, it isn't even close to being the best song on this LP. This is an extraordinary, complex and mature LP. It is not quite perfect, but even the flaws are admirable: experiments and directions that just don't quite work. She sings beautifully, but has spoken word parts that remind me of Laurie Anderson. Ultimately, this LP delivers intelligent, unpretentious art-pop for adults.

The first five songs on the LP are the strongest and form a perfect sequence, covering multiple genres while retaining a sensual, spiritual feel: "Temple", "Calling All Angels", "Love is Everything", "Sail Across the Water", "All the Candles in the World". "Temple" and "Sail Across the Water" are produced by Brian Eno and are thus the strongest tracks on the LP. "Temple" and "All the Candles in the World" experiment with a dance / electronica beat, but do so without pandering.

Unfortunately, the flow is interrupted with "Sweet Incarnadine", which is the only song to skip on the entire LP. Things pick back up with "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)", but unfortunately that is the last excellent song on the LP. The remaining songs aren't bad ("The Vigil (The Sea)" is pretty good), but they fail to sustain the excellence of tracks 1-5 & 7. The LP closes with a "Harmony Version" of "Love is Everything", but the difference between the two versions is slight (and the non-harmony version is more intimate).

Speaking of different versions, there are apparently many different versions of "Temple". The discography is incomplete, but there is a 5" promo CD lists three different versions ("Single Mix", "Alternate Single Mix", "Body and Soul Radio Remix", in addition to the LP version), and searching on the web uncovers references to an "Ambient", "Sanctuary", and "Orinoco" mixes. It is not clear if this adds up to 7 different versions or 4, but more importantly what's the point in all the different versions? Once Brian Eno has produced your song, everyone else can just go home because you're not going to do better than his version. I don't know which version is used in the video linked below, but it is greatly inferior to the stripped down, hard-hitting LP version.

Fortunately, you can download the entire LP, including the good version of "Temple", from Siberry's website. In 2006, she changed her name to Issa, sold nearly all of her possessions, and released her back catalog as MP3s. In 2009, she changed her name back but has retained the free downloads. You have to respect that, and now you have no reason to not listen to this LP.

Standout songs: "Temple" (not the good LP version!), "Calling All Angels" (live solo, studio w/o k.d. lang), "Love is Everything" (excerpt, live with band, live solo), "Sail Across the Water", "All the Candles in the World" (also not the good LP version), "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)".

Skip 'em songs: "Sweet Incarnadine".

Final score: 9/10. If Eno had stuck around for a few more tracks, this would have been an easy 10/10.

Bonus Link #1: Additional videos are on her YouTube channel, sheebatv.

Bonus Link #2: "Calling All Angels" sung by the cast of "Six Feet Under".

Bonus Link #3: "Love is Everything" cover by k.d. lang.

Bonus Link #4: Did you catch the nod to The Beatles "The End" at ~2:37 in "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)"?

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