[5 September 2005]
Amy Rigby has a great sense of humor and a biting wit. Her songs have frequently expressed an appreciation of the absurdities of everyday life with a literate ability to illuminate the madness of the mundane. Best of all, the ballsy chick refused to grow old gently or accept the society-imposed limitations of acceptable behavior. She wore her torn stockings and black leather miniskirt with pride and would not accept aging gracefully, even when she sang about the drudgery of her middle class existence. Rigby managed to be enraged and a responsible realist at the same time—a tough balancing act.
Well the good news for Rigby is that she seems to have found contentment in life. She sings of true romance without irony. She describes a man so devoted to her that he loves her when she’s sad, when she’s happy, when she’s sweet, when she’s evil, when she’s useless, when she’s clever, and blah blah blah. That’s great, Amy, but so what? It’s like that famous Chekhov quote about all happy families have the same story, but it’s the miserable one’s that are most interesting. Rigby may be joyful, but this leaves her with little to say. She’s reduced to whining and complaining about nothing in particular.
For example, the newly married lady sings about “The Trouble with Jeannie”, her husband’s ex-wife. Jeannie’s problem is “that she’s alright” so Rigby can’t hate her. Oh, the messiness of modern life. And there’s “Needy Men”, who do what—are “always calling on the phone”. These guys are such a bore. Or the East Coast songstress knows “It’s Not Safe” to go outside. No, the problem is not urban crime or international terrorists. The dilemma is that she might see something that reminds her of a former lover. How cliché! As these song titles indicate, Rigby doesn’t really have much to say. She knows this as the title of another song, “I Don’t Want to Talk About Love”, indicates. But what does she want to sing about? The litany offered in the lyrics of that tune indicates she doesn’t really know, either (“Let’s discuss the hybrid car / Let’s eulogize the mason jar / Let’s analyze roofing tar / And A Bridge Too Far”). The rhyming scheme doesn’t hide the paucity of her imagination.
Unfortunately, this is true of many of the other songs, even when Rigby tries to be outrageous. On “Year of the Fling”, she sings of leather and metal restraints, but manages to make perversion sound boring. On another she compares herself to the Russian mystic Rasputin in the song from which the album presumably gets its name, but the lyrics get lame (“He gave some folks high hope / Others wanted him to choke”) and say little. Even her stab at a feminist anthem, “Girls Got it Bad”, has a chorus that seems more of a parody than a sincere protest (“Girls got it bad / Got it bad all over the world /Girls got it bad / Got it bad”).
Little Fugitives’ dullness is exacerbated by the fact that most of the songs don’t really rock. Sure there are electric guitars, played by Rigby and her longtime accompanist Jon Graboff, but they mostly play them at slow and midtempo speeds. They rarely play them loud or with gusto, and in addition, the two musicians perform leads on acoustic instruments on several songs. The backing band members on keyboards, bass, drums, and other pieces of equipment function mostly as a way to fill out the musical spaces and rarely stand out.
However, the one track where Rigby does kinda rock out is the best one on the disc. “Dancing with Joey Ramone” tells of a dream she had about a party where the punk rocker walked up to her and asked her to dance, without saying a word. Rigby appropriately recites the titles of classic tunes they bopped to—ones that the late Joey surely loved—like the Coasters’ “Charlie Brown”, the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad all Over”, the Crystals’ “He Hit Me, and it Felt Like a Kiss”, and many others. Rigby sings the lyrics over a classic 4/4 rock beat as she describes how cool Joey looked “in his leather jacket / and his little dark shades” before she woke up. The tempo then changes on a dime to the high velocity rhythm made famous by the Ramones (think “Blitzkrieg Bop”). Rigby ends the song going on hyperspeed rather than slowing down. Joey would have liked that.