Bijou Phillips will forever be announced following the phrase “former model turned singer/actress” which is unfortunate—not because her modelling career spanned roughly four months, but because as the daughter of Papa John Phillips, she has enough to deal with when trying to establish herself in the music industry.
Bijou released I’d Rather Eat Glass at the supple age of 19, and from its opening moments all expectations fall away. One would be forgiven for expecting to hear Bijou either raging against the machine, spitting about the perils of life in the spotlight, or perhaps jiving around to a synthed beat singing about “boys”. Instead she comes up with a multi-textured, purely personal record about a girl on the verge of womanhood detailing her efforts at realising her strengths while accepting her weaknesses.
“Hawaii” opens the album with a ripping guitar underneath a squeaky, yet lilting voice skillfully deliberating lyrics filled with unforced sarcasm and surprising detail. The song introduces the album perfectly by itself being experimental (rock star growling combined with the chatter of hula girls used throughout), impish and a whole lot of fun.
It’s as if she knows what people are going to expect from her when at the end of “Hawaii” Bijou finishes the song with a breathy “aloha” stating to the world that she’s here, and no, she’s not a bad as you wanted her to be.
It’s the pop/rock tracks speckled throughout that shine as the albums best. “Polite” follows “Hawaii” and is a completely different effort. The song is soothing and intelligent further allowing Bijou’s talent for cute, interesting lyrics to emerge (“willingly apt to fall for you . . . beginning to”). “I Am a Mountain”, “Stranded”, and “So Tired” join “Polite” as highlights, each being soft, natural and undeniable pretty. With a rock-rant midway through, “I Am a Mountain” accentuates her unsettledness, her ability to take responsibility for herself and step out of the shadows untainted (“and the picture I left, it doesn’t speak to highly of me, now I live with few regrets”). “Stranded” is an attempt to be recognised, not as a musician but as a human being. She is so in control of herself here yet begging to break free of somebody’s chains (“I’m not willing to deny I can’t control who I am / Hold me up and take me hand if you can stand it”). “So Tired” continues a similar theme (“I hear the phone out there somewhere, but I know you’ll never call”) retaining ample self-awareness while tripping over past successes and failures. These songs put a new spin on female angst rock retaining an achingly smooth quality delivering the message without resorting to taunts or bitchy sentiment, while her Ricki Lee Jones inspired voice remains at its butterfly best.
On “I Own You” and “Just Look Around”, she proves she is fully capable of delivering pumping rock songs, exchanging thoughts of being held back by something with an in your face “I rule” attitude. She goes from singing about being under the control of another in “Stranded” to spitting out “cause I own you, yes I made you, and I’d leave you if I wanted to”.
“I Never Shot the President” is an ironic, daring satiric rock effort full of sarcasm and scathing cognizance only a 19-year-old could get away with (“I swear, I could care, now I gotta go fix my hair”). Her voice leaps, grates and sneers throughout summing up her entire stance on the album with the line “what you don’t know is just how much you don’t know.”
“When I Hated Him (Don’t Tell Me)” is a brilliant song given far too much arrangement here. I first heard Bijou sing on an episode of Good News Week during her brief promo-tour of Australia when she sang this live backed primarily by a single piano. Here it’s given a hellish work-out complete with gospel singers finishing it up stretching its length to almost six minutes. Kept simple, this really is an extraordinary song, supposedly about Bijou’s father, and it’s admirable in its self-deprecating honesty. It’s loud and infectious with fabulous imagery bursting through creating what should have been a bigger hit.
On “Little Dipper”, Bijou goes all Joni Mitchell showing how easily she can ease from rock into folk music in this battle for understanding of her “mothers”. (“I could watch you all night long, drinking booze till the break of dawn.”) And “Breakfast”, which was written by Bijou at 14, furthers the folk feel being simply Bijou and her guitar.
The only real downfall to the album is the oddly realised “Mermaid and the Earthman”. Co-written by Jill Cunniff of Luscious Jackson, this song is just weird and out of place in amongst the flush of gems before it. Bijou tests the limits of what she can get away with yet doesn’t care one way or the other, and is quite obviously playing with the listener not expecting to be taken too seriously. After all, lyrics like “I will always be your mer-baby” are hard not to smirk at. Towards the end of the song, Bijou and Jill introduce themselves before re-introducing what they call “the spectacular part” of the song involving the two of them overlapping voices to sing “You’re not a man anymore, you’re one with the sea.” While it’s trying to be different, fancy and fun (and Bijou’s voice continues its graceful leaping and twisting), it ends up coming off as kind of annoying.
That said, written entirely by Bijou, produced by ex-Talking Heads Jerry Harrison and helped along by rock-stalwarts like Eric Bazilian, I’d Rather Eat Glass is a debut of spectacular proportions. Honestly. Full of seething human contradiction and self-obsession, it’s smart, sassy, confident and real. And most importantly it has a sense of humour.
// Notes from the Road
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