Joan As Police Woman
Play It Again Sam
I don’t remember when I first heard Joan As Police Woman – or heard about her – but it was right near the start. So that’s over a decade ago now, 2006 in fact. The album Real Life was almost instantly a revelation – I remember skipping straight to the second track, Eternal Flame? Was it a cover of one of my favourite Bangles songs? No. It was something else. I’ve always loved hearing a brand new song with a hugely familiar title. Eternal Flame, the Joan As Police Woman song, hit instantly at me. Here was a soul-singer, a total soul singer. And the way the song starts, repeated use of the word “Yes”, it’s as if we’re already deep in the song; she’s chosen to start this one in the middle. I’m a fan of that ‘kind’ of songwriting too.
But there were covers. Don’t worry. And more on that later (I remember being shipped a deluxe-edition album of the debut which had her singing Bowie’s Sweet Thing on a bonus disc, beautiful).
I played Real Life a lot and absorbed the back-story, I knew the name Joan Wasser, her actual name. I knew that Wasser/Police Woman had worked with the artist Anohni when they were then-known as Antony & The Johnson/Antony Hegarty (I Defy, from Real Life, was a duet with Anohni’s incredible voice helping to frame the storytelling). Wasser was turning up on albums and shows by other artists (as a versatile singer/violinist/guitarist/pianist) and her own songs were swirling in my heard. Christobel! What the fuck is that? I love that song so much – and cannot begin to explain it. Which is the best kind of song. Again, it seems to just start, we’re rushed deep into the scene, these are slice-of-life short-stories but they’re suitably, beautifully opaque.
Flash forward less than a couple of years – and To Survive arrives in my letterbox and it was more of the same, but different. Opener, Honor Wishes featured David Sylvian. And just this sophisticated pop music (Hard White Wall) and beguiling balladry (Start of My Heart). Also another duet with a musician she’d worked with previously (Rufus Wainwright on To America).
And if I haven’t flat out loved every album I’ve certainly found something to love on each new release. The Deep Field’s opening cut, The Magic, for example. Again, that soul-singer singing charmed pop songs.
Your Song, another “famous title” – but not the Elton John staple. No, this is a haunting piece of piano and vocal by and from Joan. From 2014’s The Classic. Another favourite. And not just for the trick I love of taking a title and deciding it has further life in it. There’s a stoicism at the heart of Joan’s music; these are stories of a survivor, stories from a music fan, adapting and moving, never attaching to one genre, sprinkling ideas from various eras and energies from many disparate musical styles.
So here, across two discs, finally we have a career-(to-date)-spanning compilation that features every song I’ve named – and many others. Including a couple of covers (Joan regularly plays covers live and even released a limited ed. album called Cover which features her singing widely across the canon, from the aforementioned Bowie gem to Jimi Hendrix, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, Iggy Pop, Nina Simone and Britney Spears).
So for this “Joanthology” there’s an elongated dramatic lurch through Talk Talk’s myrrhman and there’s a sultry glide over Prince’s Kiss.
This is in and around the non-hits but career highlights framed on a double disc. And that’s another example of the stoicism I find central to the character of Joan Wasser and in her character as Joan As Police Woman: No big chart hits? Who cares, here’s a double album of my career strong points, a sampler to get you started with enough in the rarities-department to be of interest to album-collecting fans. Actually, you know what? Make it a triple! There’s a third disc that showcases a BBC Live session. Here you’ll hear some of the same songs but in all new settings (Human Condition) and even the actual proof that she can totally cover-the-fuck out of Public Enemy (She Watch Channel Zero).
I’ve been a fan from that first album. I haven’t loved every single album. But I already know I need to go back and revisit a couple because there’s nothing inessential on this diverse and impressive compilation.
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