It’s best to listen to the Lisa Marr Experiment while wearing important shoes; it’s mood music for the inner-schizophrenic in us all, and I find that the right shoes make all the difference in the world. Maybe something silver with lots of straps and buckles. Cuz in Lisa Marr’s world, it’s a bumpy and twisted ride, and a girl needs a way to hang on.
The Lisa Marr Experiment sounds a lot like what it is: a bizarre combination of people, sounds, and influences. Boasting former members of Buck (Lisa Marr), Frank Black & The Catholics (David Philips), The Murmurs (Sherri Solinger), and Breech (über-musician Mike Flanagan), it’s no wonder that 4AM is wildly, deliciously inconsistent. In fact, it’s not unlike Blur’s Parklife in the way it challenges its listeners to predict the next song, the next style. Combining country, bluegrass, pop, campfire sing-alongs, and sprinkles of pseudo-jazzy bass, it’s an album that boldly taunts: “Go ahead—I dare ya!”
4AM starts with the title track, a devilishly good song that sounds like what would happen if Joan Jett and all three of the Dixie Chicks had a torrid affair, spent a weekend drinking Boone’s Farm wine on a rooftop and listening to Alanis Morrisette and Tanya Tucker, and then climbed a bell tower with a rifle and a packet of twinkies. It’s snarky and bitchy and close to perfect. It’s a tough act to follow, but the rest of the album goes a long way toward establishing The Lisa Marr Experiment as an interesting and talented, if mismashed, group of musicians and vocalists.
Then there are songs like “Little Sugar”, which manages to be straight-up pop but still interesting and strangely innovative. And this is the real gift Lisa Marr has managed to exploit: making perfectly normal, otherwise average songs that sound, for reasons I still can’t quite figure out, really fucking cool. There’s nothing about “Little Sugar” that should set it apart from anything else being rejected by MTV in favor of Britney Spears, but somehow, it grabs something in me, maybe even by my silver straps. It’s just an adorable song, in an album filled with fabulous ear candy.
But the real stand out track is “You Let Me Down”, the classic Billie Holiday song. Normally I would curse out any fool lame enough to tackle such a once-in-a-lifetime song like this one, but Lisa Marr handles it beautifully, actually adding to the original (if not surpassing it). Lisa Marr’s treatment of the song, complete with gorgeously-understated horns and Mike Flanagan’s plaintiff clarinet, sounds eerily similar to Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame”, from the 1946 film Gilda. It’s seductive and rich and simply haunting.
4AM‘s country and bluegrass songs are perhaps the best, most consistent of its tracks, and “Beer & Whiskey”, with it’s back and forth boy/girl duet, is reminiscent of Paul Westerberg and Joan Jett’s contribution to the Tank Girl soundtrack, Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It”. And while the pop songs like “The Rain” and “Another Light” are a bit more forgettable, they are still sarcastic and punchy and well worth the price of admission.
In a climate of over-rated artists trying to make important achievement records, The Lisa Marr Experiment has made a fun record, one that is far from artistically static and altogether enjoyable. This is an album that goes perfectly with sawdust, pin ball machines, pull tabs, and frothy glasses of whatever is on tap. And okay, so maybe it’s less about silver straps and more about black cowboy boots with flames on the toes—they’re still important shoes.