[23 April 2003]
Already praised by the like of Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, and Neil Finn, Lisa Germano should be one of the many artists whose career should be in full bloom. Unfortunately though, the musical ability of most traditional singer-songwriters doesn’t determine the career path. More often than not, the huge conglomerate mergers and business dealings results in them being reshuffled or losing the deal entirely. Such was the case with Germano. Working part-time in Book Soup, a Hollywood book shop, the isolation Germano felt resulting in some very real songs about addictions—sex, drugs, alcohol, and heroin. Not that she has had any experience with these addictions. But the end result is some of her finest work to date.
Beginning the album with a string-tinged opening, “Nobody’s Playing” is a piano-based lullaby that would comfort possibly only the down and out. “Circles and circles / Places to drown / All that you feel / Is you’re going down”, Germano sings with a breathy delivery in the vein of Liz Phair or Sheryl Crow. It is somber and quite beautiful all at once, much like songs from Paul Westerberg’s overlooked Suicaine Gratification. “Paper Doll”, a song which Germano previously performed on Neil Finn’s latest live album Seven Worlds Collide, is given a solid performance, but there is more emphasis on the instrumental spaces within. The backing harmonies result in the track sounding lusher. Battling with demons is also another integral part to the collection of songs, especially on the melancholic “Liquid Pig”. More upbeat in tempo and with Germano’s vocals being accented with various effects, the tune possesses an industrial music quality to it.
Germano’s sparse use of words is another asset as she paints various mental pictures with an overtly economical precision. “Pearls”, again retelling a battle with demons such as alcohol, is piano based but the guitar parts and strings give it a larger, orchestral feeling. “Hate will grow / With your alcohol glow / You get used to the show”, she sings before the songs fades into a lengthy instrumental. “Candy”, which again speaks of the bottle, builds into the first quasi-pop song. Backed by drums that fail to dominate the song, the verses build into a quirky Beatles-like “Strawberry Fields” aura. “Dream Glasses Off” relies on Germano’s vocals more than the actual music to carry the track. Sounding weary but in an alluring jazz-like manner, the track isn’t a “pick me up”.
“Dream Glasses Off” moves seamlessly into “From a Shell”, the high point of this obviously downtrodden record. Coming across as a cross between Aimee Mann and Tori Amos, Germano speaks about “the buzz” with a hope for something better. It sounds like she’s caught in a hurricane though. Thankfully, “It’s Party Time” is upbeat in comparison to the rest of the album. A simple backbeat while Germano plays off her own vocals and a piano, the track has a pedal or lap steel element that adds some color. If there’s one drawback, the song ends a tad too quickly. The title track, running parallel to “Liquid Pig”, is perhaps the most brutally honest and stark performance within. Featuring a mandolin and some ambient Eno-like effects, Germano sings “Well if I do stop / Or if I don’t stop / It doesn’t matter / I probably won’t stop”. It’s the sort of song Lou Reed would do a press junket for in exchange for recording it. So dark yet so lovely.
Rounding off the record is the waltz arrangement of “Into the Night”, which has more of a melody to it. The string section gives it a dream pop quality, something not found often here. The strumming of a guitar is also used sparingly but is important to the song. Closing with “....To Dream”, Germano has given listeners and fans a brief snippet of hope with the finale. “Don’t give up your dream / It’s really all you have / And I don’t want to see you die”, she sings. It’s beautifully depressing, like an unending Cure concert.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/germanolisa-lullaby/