Wendy James: I Came Here to Blow Minds

[10 July 2011]

By Jedd Beaudoin

Recorded largely in Paris, this latest offering from former Transvision Vamp vocalist Wendy James more often recalls New York City and the dusty, desolate outback of the American West. In its way, the 13-track release is also a throwback, sounding more akin to a record from, say, 1993 than 2011. That’s not a bad thing. There’s nary a trace of the production hallmarks of this decade or the last. The record sounds like it might have been recorded live in the studio during a few hot-burnt sessions in the French summertime all those years ago. It’s an easy, breezy, devil-may-care affair that comes incredibly close to working from end to end.

The opening “The Moon Is Dead in the River” calls to mind the Church at their peak and finds James delivering some of her best understated vocals. She never overemotes, nor does she strain to impress. Instead, she inhabits the song with well-worn comfort and an undeniable coolness. It’s the same for the attitudinal “Don’t Shoot––I Ain’t Dillinger” and the decidedly vintage New Wave vibe of “Speedball”, a track that would easily make both Richard Hell and Black Francis proud.

It’s those tougher-than-tough moments that are James’ real strength. Those strengths are most audible when the rock is of the straight-ahead, raw, four-on-the-floor variety. When a New Orleans-like beat enters the picture on “No Dice”, the tune doesn’t carry the same impact as its sisters. The dance-y, pop-ish “Municipal Blues” still has lyrical bite but lacks musical punch, leaving James sounding a bit out of place. The penultimate track “You’re A Fucking Mess, But You Sure Is Pretty” never lives up to the promise inherent in its title, although it is an impressive cross of loft party punk and Brechtian bomp.

These shortcomings suggest not so much a problem with quality control as with ambition. Variety is the spice of some but not all things, and perhaps a more concise, controlled statement from this storied veteran would have been in order. Her forays into other styles under the moniker Racine, although proof positive that James is nothing if not adventurous, remain flawed and searching affairs. So, if I Came Here to Blow Minds isn’t a wall-to-wall classic, it is a fun and furious romp from a woman who, after more than a few years in the business, is finally starting to find her artistic footing. This is evidenced on “New Wave Flowered Up Main Street Acid Baby” and the sassy, sexy “You Tell Me”, which, in an ideal world, would be a club and radio staple.

I Came Here To Blow Minds is a worthy addition to the artist’s canon and is surely inspiring––in the sense that it’s always a good reminder that rock ‘n’ roll is largely about the right attitude. With the right snarl, growl and quiver of words, one can still make art that matters, even if it comes up short. So, your mind may be blown by this release even if it’s not entirely shattered.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/142649-wendy-james-i-came-here-to-blow-minds/