Gonna go ahead and throw my two cents into this perennial debate: I think Lady Gaga’s music is all style, no substance. No doubt she’s a brilliant performer, but her rote brand of pop music doesn’t even come close to matching her, to put it mildly, intriguing personality.
But when I first heard Charlene Kaye, for the first time I heard the sound of a pop musician whose music’s excellence matches her theatrical personality. A classically trained musician, Kaye excels in a diverse brand of pop; throughout Animal Love, she goes from radio-friendly fare to a capella to blues, all without sounding like she’s forcing it. The one-two punch that is the album’s first two tracks, the eighties synth-backed “Animal Love I” and the insanely catchy “Forever is a Long Time”, are powerful evidence to Kaye’s songcraft. There are plenty of pop hooks here, but they’re rarely ever superficial. (The one misstep is the cheesy “Woman Up”.) Animal Love also benefits from some particularly strong lyrics. Kaye is excellent with tactile imagery (“Stomach scrapes the rusty pavement”) and making sad-sack, unrequited love lyrics poignant (“One will wait for me / And time’s the only lonely curtain in between”). The album’s 37 minute length is well used; the time allows Kaye plenty of free reign to play around without lapsing into dragged-out experimentation. While Animal Love may not be a game-changing pop record, it’s an especially good one, and unlike the musicians who keep topping the Billboard charts nowadays, it’s got class to match its eccentricities.