[24 June 2011]
The youthful Eliza Doolittle doesn’t just have an old fashioned name, she performs old fashioned music. Or maybe it’s better to use the plural of old fashioned as in the British singer uses old fashioned language (such as moneyboxes instead of ATMs or cash registers), a variety of old fashioned styles (e.g., cha cha cha, ‘50s doo wop), and even incorporates old fashioned material (e.g. The Fleetwoods’ “Come Softly to Me”, the World War I marching tune, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile”) into new compositions. Doolittle sings of paperback novels instead of electronic readers, letters (licking stamps on envelopes) instead of emails, and when she goes “tweet, tweet, tweet,” she evokes Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin” instead of social media. I guess she’s just an old-fashioned girl.
By using the term old-fashioned so frequently, I’ve run the risk of making it sound as meaningless as the word “English” in Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, but that’s the overriding theme of her eponymously named debut disc. The 23 year old artist plays with the past to create some fun pop music for the present day. She mostly succeeds. The baker’s dozen worth of tracks here are delightfully sweet, if maybe a bit light in content. This is ear candy that’s meant to be pleasing rather than personal, and avoids political or controversial topics.
That does not make it boring. In fact, just the opposite is true. There are many charms to be found within. Just like when a child plays dress-up in her parents’ clothes, the juxtaposition between what the different elements presented reveals much about our attitudes toward youth and age, the present and the past. When Doolittle criticizes a peer repeatedly with the dis, “That’s so original” on the cut “A Smokey Room”, the implicit irony is Doolittle affronts in a borrowed style and even uses an insult from the past that makes the dig that much deeper. Doolittle may imply that it takes one to know one, but she can see right through the other girl’s pretensions. That makes the nastiness just a bit more delicious and catty.
And even a bit archaic, as in this age of mean girls, Doolittle is content to pick on someone for being a copycat (although the song does go on to address heavier concerns, such as raising children) seems as a return to youthful spitefulness. There are no skanks or whores on this album. Sexual innuendos are alluded to with whistled phrases rather than explicit language (re: “I like it when you ‘whistled tune’ can I have some please?”). The one time an inappropriate word can be heard is the seemingly unintended remarks from someone in the recording booth who utters “fucking beautiful” at the end of a song. It probably should have been cut from the CD. There are other references to sex, especially in the playful “Skinny Genes”, but they are so humorously made that part of the tune has been used in a television commercial for the Very clothes.
Doolittle may not be a groundbreaking artist who creates important work of dramatic import, but as Cyndi Lauper used to sing, “Girls just wanna have fun”. The album was released about a year ago in England and has already spawned two top-5 singles. It appears many Brits have become accustomed to this fair lady’s loverly talents.