Delicate 1970s songwriting lends indie blandness time-warp appeal.
Edith Frost's new album is certainly pleasant. The melodies are smooth and soft, and Frost's voice sounds like Aimee Mann would if she smiled a little more. The liner notes are pleasant, too, and feature a close-up shot of a carousel horse, a blurry candid of an apple-cheeked Frost on a city street, and the numerous flowery doodles which so often plague indie lyrics sheets. It's a Game, Frost's fourth album and follow-up to 2001's equally pleasant Wonder Wonder, obviously aspires to be simple, timeless, and down-to-earth. Unfortunately, Frost's seeming desire to be Joni Mitchell makes this album more of a 1970s throwback than anything, and there can only be one Joni.
My most recent pop music frustration is artists who wear their influences on their sleeves. Some artists who release albums these days would make killer cover bands, but instead I get a mediocre album by a Joni Mitchell sound-alike and live sets by women with matted hair singing Jewel songs. I would love to see Edith Frost cover Joni Mitchell; she would be breathtaking. The best moments on It's a Game are Joni-channeling ones, and the rest of the album is drowsy filler. The only exception is the last song, "Lovin' You Goodbye," where Frost inexplicably wakes up with verve and originality. It only took 13 tries. "Emergency" stands up with Mitchell's "A Case of You," while "It's a Game" and "Lucky Charm" continue in the Blue vein. Frost could create something of her own here, and she's got the chops for it; she just won't quite take the risk.
This safeness is the most frustrating thing about It's a Game. Frost never lets go and has fun, a trait that pushes her away from Joni and more toward Judy Collins. Her lyrics are vague and exist in old-timey cliché (in "It's a Game" she sings, "It's a beautiful day for launching/Your love beams/Out into the atmosphere"). She sings of "superstition", "pavilions", and "lovers", and we as listeners yearn for the thrill of something specific and fresh. But we won't find thrills here.
Though the album begins and ends with ear-catching melodies, the middle of the album feels tired and lazy, like a long and rainy school year. Frost has the potential to step it up and become someone worth talking about, she just needs let loose and stop playing it safe. The problem with aping your influences is that if you fall short, you become an imitation of an imitation. And I can see that in my local coffee house.