Sunday, 15 July 2007

Top 100 Albums - #93: Ingénue (1992)

At number 93 is the first and only entry for pop-country singer k. d. lang. Ingénue is the album that broke her outside the closed market of country music and against which all her subsequent efforts have been compared.

Before Ingénue came out, k. d. lang had achieved success in her native Canada with her country outfit k. d. lang and the Reclines; their debut album, A Truly Western Experience (1984), received critical acclaim and in 1985 lang won her first of eight Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) for Most Promising Female Vocalist. In between the second and third recordings of the group, lang began her solo career with the equally-acclaimed Shadowlands (1988), which began her leaning towards more pop-oriented country that was more accensible to those outside North America. By the endof the 1980s she had earned herself a rising reputation thanks to her work with producer Dave Edmunds and the late pop vocalist Roy Orbison.

The album gently opens with 'Save Me'. Beginning with some unimposing pedal steel guitar, it soon matures into the perfect vehicle for lang's soulful and yearning voice. The song slowly unwinds with some gentle brushes on the drums and perfectly double-tracked harmonies. It never gets boring, because it is so casual-sounding that to appreciate it to you have to listen rather intently.

But just as it starts well, the next two tracks - 'The Mind Of Love' and 'Miss Chatelaine' - cause a loss of focus. 'The Mind Of Love', as with a lot of country music, is repetitive without being catchy, and is rather aimless and lacklustre. The presence of violins don't add anything to the already formula sound, let alone lift it. The sombre 'Miss Chatelaine' doesn't learn from its predecessor's mistakes completely, though here the violins have a clear purpose and act as a great scene-setter. It's just a shame that the remainder of what is, in the end, an over-long song doesn't live up to the romantic promise of the opening seconds.

Things get back on track soon, though. 'Wash Me Clean' strips the production right back to almost Gabriel-esque levels of introspection. It's a tender piece with an innocent yet lovelorn feel to it. As on the opener the sheer lack of volume compels you to listen intently - and as on the opener, you are rewarded, on this occasion with acoustic guitar work which compliments lang's voice perfectly. With confidence renewed, lang steps things up just a little on 'So It Shall Be'. Adding a muted hi-hat and reusing the complimentary guitar, lang also uses this song to balance out the violins again, achieving a generally good result.

Having got it all-but-spot on with the last tracks, lang again throws everything away on 'Still Thrives This Love'. The strings at the start are too loud, too garish and make the whole thing sound like a desperate attempt at against-the-grain pop - which, in an era dominated by grunge, was just not going to work. Her voice is wasted on (comparatively) vacuous vocals, which I will address in the sum-up, and overall it is the track that you are most likely to skip on this album.

Both 'Season Of Hollow Soul' and 'Outside Myself' redress the balance amicably. The former is a yearning ballad-esque song in which lang sings sorrowfully - and, again, is temporarily on top of the arranging side of things. The latter is a much better attempt at the introspective, easy listening pop song, and while the lyrics aren't exactly compelling, the instrumental side keeps things ticking over nicely, and so you have little temptation to skip this track as you might have done with previous numbers. But no sooner has she got it right, then lang loses focus again in the dull-sounding 'Tears Of Love's Recall'. It adds nothing to the album as a whole, and while it doesn't sound out of place, this factor on this occassion is to the detriment of the whole record.

After all this to-ing and fro-ing, lang at least has the common decency to finish on a high note. The closer, 'Constant Craving', was an international hit, and it's easy to see why. The interesting use of an accordian edges towards a European feel, creating a sad, tragic-romantic feel to this. Lang elongates her voice around her best lyrics to date, producing a track that is both heartfelt and catchy. It is a masterpiece of its genre - and considering that this is country, that's extremely hard to come by.

Overall, then, this is at best an uneven effort from lang, and at worst an erratic product of messing around with an exhausted and clichéd genre. None of the lyrics on the first nine songs are remotely compelling or captivating, as was the case with many of the artists reviewed thus far. The album stakes itself on the strength of the music backing the vocals, and like with Iona's Joanne Hogg, lang's voice blends seemlessly into the soundscape - if there had been no vocals, this would have made an interesting ambient record. The problem is that the quality of the music is not sustained throughout, resulting in an album that is neither compelling or consistent.

3.70 out of 5

No comments: