[11 August 2005]
Vivian Green’s new album features a photo of the beautiful young songstress dressed in a skimpy leopard skin print bikini with a come hither look on her face. Despite this, the disc seems directed to a primarily female audience. The primary subject of the self-penned songs on the 25-year-old Philadelphia Neo-Soul chanteuse’s disc is the men in her life who have done her wrong. Listening to the record is like eavesdropping in a public place to a group of female friends dishing the dirt. The juicy details are too difficult to ignore. One can almost here the exclamations of “You go, girl!” or “He’s a dog” fill in the silences between the tracks.
Green does have enormous talent. She has an expressive voice rooted in R&B and Gospel traditions that can convincingly convey an inner strength or an aching heart. Her vocals never lack passion, and her songwriting skills reveal a dedicated craftsmanship. The women narrators may not have much different to say from cut to cut, but even the weakest tunes have genuine musical and lyrical rewards. Consider the stock story song of a love gone wrong, “Damn”, Green begins, “You know I really loved you baby / But you had to go and ruin everything”, which is the track’s main message. Green frequently repeats this couplet throughout the three and a half minute cut. She layers and interweaves the two lines between the other lyrics, which gives the sonic impression that this love affair has been a continual disappointment. She’s had enough of the lies. It’s over. And the single word title says it all, “Damn”, as in it’s a damn shame, and damn we could have been good together, and damn I wasted my time, ad infinitum. Green implies that it’s not worth looking back and analyzing the details. That man did her wrong too often and love has left her heart.
“Damn” is not the only one word song title. There’s also “Selfish”, “Mad”, and “Frustrated” (not to mention the one-word album title). These high concept songs have limited intellectual depth, but Green knows how to wring out the maximum emotional value through her expressive voice. The more satisfying cuts have longer titles and slightly more complex concerns. For example, the song “Gotta Go Gotta Leave” is narrated by a woman parting from her mate. At first she blames him (“Never knew I could be so mean / But that’s just how far you pushed me (yeah)”), but then realizes she bears some of the blame for the failure of the relationship. She used to think a woman could only be complete by being with a mate, but now acknowledges that no person can be the savior of another. A person has to be responsible for one’s own happiness. She’s leaving to find her own identity. This may be a clichéd sentiment, but the Neo-Soul singer’s defiant delivery convincingly conveys her assertion of independence.
The upbeat “I Like It (But I Don’t Need It)” shares a similar theme of a woman’s need for autonomy, but in this case Green does not cast aspersions on her mate. The song is more effective as a result. “I don’t want to be your girlfriend / I just want to be single and fabulous / An independent woman it’s my time / The last thing on my mind is committing to one guy”, the Philadelphia songstress coos to her lover. Her smooth delivery reinforces the message in the best sense. She’s happy with her life.
While Vivian has many merits, the disc does suffer from too much of the same thing. Not only are the lyrics repetitive in nature, but the basic instrumentation and static beats get tiresome. This was not true of her debut release, A Love Story, on which Green adventurously traversed along a wider range of musical styles. Her first album worked best heard as a whole, while the new one seems more like a collection of singles. Vivian may be more radio friendly as a result and sell more copies. Perhaps that’s also the reason for the cheesecake cover of the sexy babe in a bikini. No one begrudges Green the money. The music business is a hard way to make a living. It’s just a shame, that’s all.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/greenvivian-vivian/