In the wake of one of the ugliest break-ups in recent rock history, the two leading ladies from ‘90s alt-rock phenoms Veruca Salt headed in decidedly different directions. Louise Post doggedly carried on with the Veruca Salt name, the 2000’s Resolver lacking the charm of American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You, eschewing accessibility in favor of pure, unadulterated bile. Nina Gordon, on the other hand, took the high road, opting for a commercial-friendly, polite MOR pop rock sound on her solo debut, released the same year. Slickly produced by Bob Rock, it didn’t offer anything new (then again, neither did Veruca Salt), but buoyed by the ebullient “2003” and the flat-out gorgeous single “Tonight and the Rest of My Life”, the album, for its pedestrian approach, was an underrated gem that didn’t quite connect with the kind of mass audience Gordon’s record label had hoped for.
You don’t have to be an expert in the music business to know that waiting six years to put out a follow-up is hardly the best way to build on the momentum of a solo debut. Aside from some novelty acoustic covers, such as fun live renditions of ‘80s pop metal tunes and a brilliantly straight-faced rendition of NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” that generated a minor buzz on the music blogs last year, Gordon has been somewhat silent lately. That’s not to say the lady hasn’t been busy; in fact, her first attempt at a second album, produced by Ryan Adams collaborator Ethan Johns, was recorded in early 2004, but dissatisfied with its dour mood, Gordon scrapped it, choosing to return to Bob Rock again, re-recording the album in 2005. The end result, after all that work, is a record that’s decidedly more mature than Tonight, but perhaps a little too much so.
If there’s one thing Gordon has a knack for, it’s a catchy pop tune, as Veruca Salt songs “Seether”, “Number One Blind”, “Forsythia”, and “Volcano Girls” all attest, and much like “Tonight and the Rest of My Life”, Bleeding Heart Graffiti‘s first single “Kiss Me Til it Bleeds” ranks among her best work. A winsome, gentle rocker, Gordon’s vocal melodies sound effortless, her lyrics are typically smart (“He’s a Saturday night / And a Sunday morning rolled into one”), the chorus politely punctuated by electric guitars that sound a far cry from the bombast of the Rock-produced Eight Arms to Hold You.
In fact, along with “Kiss Me”, the album gets off to a very strong start. The piano-driven “Christmas Lights” contains a sly reference to Joni Mitchell’s “Blonde in the Bleachers”, during which Gordon answers Joni’s declaration that, “You can’t hold the hand of a rock ‘n’ roll man,” with a rosy-hued, “What if I can?” “Suffragette”, meanwhile, is a refreshing slice of ‘70s glam rock, built around a snappy, distorted riff, complemented nicely by Gordon’s playful vocals.
After that, though, the momentum starts to dissipate, the pace of the album slowing like the disheartening fwupfwupfwup of a flat tire on a braking car. We get a ballad. And a ballad. And another ballad. And yet another ballad… 10 slow songs, in fact. Gordon is a talented enough songwriter to pull off a few melancholy nuggets, such as the Aimee Mann-like “Pure”, the stately “Watercolors”, and the sympathetic character sketch “Bones and a Name” (which already has fans abuzz, speculating about its possible connection to Gordon’s former bandmate), but with no respite from the forlorn piano, gently strummed acoustic guitar, and plodding drum beats, it becomes a rather monotonous half hour that leaves us wishing for a return to more spirited fare like “Kiss Me” and “Suffragette”.
Rock’s production is a pleasant surprise, as he and Gordon opt for a more understated, simple approach, and Gordon does show periodic flashes of inspiration. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those moments over the entire CD. Bleeding Heart Graffiti is intended to be a concept album about a relationship, from its beginning to its ultimate destruction, but despite the fact that the arc from optimism to desolation is mirrored by the music quite well, the concept ends up being detrimental to the album, leaving us wishing for more of Gordon the rocker and a little less of Gordon the artiste.
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