Anita Lane: The female Leonard Cohen. Who knew? While Cohen's writing has always been revered, his song styling and vocal timbre require a very distinct taste. Like chopped liver. Or liver in the frying pan, like Mom used to make. You either love it or start to gag. Like Ani DeFranco, Amy Correira or Macy Gray's voice, there is an edge, a force that beckons, but will you go?
Spoken word songs have been around since the days of cabaret, but the spoken word songstress that has yet to find any fierce competition is Vanessa Daou. With the sexiness, but not raunchiness of Madonna, Daou embodies the perfect mix of words over song. Anita's not quite there yet.
Anita Lane's spoken word style brings to mind sophisticated urban couples having a martinis at a dinner party where architecture is discussed at length and even after lethal aperitifs, no one ever dares to confess having watched (or more accurately become addicted to) Melrose Place or owning a pair of Mark's Work Warehouse pants in the '80s. A style that reeks of upper class meets bohemian. But again, it is very distinct.
The sheer manliness of Anita Lane's voice is a little startling. Her low voice is hard to match to the bright-eyed, red-lipsticked smiling, "I could be Vanna White or Suzanne Somers if you'll only let me" mug on the back CD cover. It is also hard to listen to from beginning to end without wanting to throw on shuffle so that the very female sounds of Amiel Larrieux and Esthero ease you into a much-needed break.
However, Lane's lyrics are poetic, intriguing and sometimes amusing. The '50s housewife who, on the outside, looks the epitome of prim and proper, but behind closed doors, drinks scotch, neat, and listens to Patsy Cline ooze stories of love lost and time gone by. Witness these lines from "Do the Kamasutra": "I'm feeling like a bad woman in a small town / My body said to me, in a dying voice / I think my soul's in exile. I need to go wandering for a while." Or these from "Do That Thing": "Call me up on the erogenous zone / On the kundalini telephone."
The sexuality percolating throughout this CD is what Madonna strived for with "Justify My Love", written by affair meister Lenny Kravitz. It is a sexuality that is all woman and not at all what Britney Spears' latest talks about ("I'm a Slave for You"). It is also not of the ilk that hop-hop ladies today talking about "No Scrubs" and "Whatta Man". This is the sexuality that Mae West made famous and what allowed Marilyn Monroe to be smart and funny while wearing a dress that she had to be stitched into and making eyes at the then president, John F. Kennedy. It is about the allure of lurex, the slow wiggle of a woman's hips and the coy smile as she puts "Erotic potion in my Soup du Jour".
In an age where Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Erika Badu are lauded for their ability to take on new subjects, create new spaces for honesty, and revisiting the "sisters doin' it for themselves" theme, Anita has found a sorority in which no pledge is needed. Membership approved for creative sisters.
The use of loops in music today is practically a given, and Lane is no different. While Mariah is blaming J. Lo for stealing her Japanese loop (heard in "Real"), no one will be looking to take credit for these. Former Bad Seed member, Mick Harvey, Lane's "long-standing mercurial musical collaborator/producer" has readily given up sole ownership of mid-'90s jam session loops for this album.
Violin strings, keyboards and a sometimes slightly R&B beat ("Do That Thing") are exquisite on their own, but get lost in the chaos of her songs. She needs to decide -- spoken word/song style or multi-layered sound? With her very '90s sound, it must be one or the other. With flickers of French throughout, and a very serious sound with pockets of humour ("And say grace with Linda Lovelace"), it can be too much to have to listen to, pay attention to. The exceptions are "A Light Possession", which lyrically isn't the most textured, but the composition of word over trumpet and strings is like the caramel winding out of a chocolate -- slow, easy and oh so bad; "I Love You, I Am No More"; and the bluesy organ in "Like Caesar Needs a Brutus" is a great addition to the ambient, translucent sounds of backing vocals by Jayney Klimek and gitchy-gitchy-ya-ya lyrics.
If your preference is streamlined sound like stainless-steel countertops, this isn't the CD for you. However, if you are looking for something different, that can take you from late morning coffee and croissants to serving dinner to your closest friends, this might just be the thing. Just remember to ask if they like liver or not first. You'll save yourself a lot of time and trouble.