Play It Again Sam
Music has been the life raft for Joan Wasser, under the name Joan As Police Woman. Her songs occupy a space in and around anything you might clutch to from Cat Power, Feist and St. Vincent. She can do what they do – in part. But what’s always been more pleasing is hearing her do what she does. Sometimes she’s nearly a soul singer, always she’s a soulful balladeer-ing type. There’s warmth in everything she does.
So it’s funny that on The Classic – her newest, her boldest assertion of the soul singer within – it sounds colder than her other records. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to bask in here, the title track with its played-for-kicks a capella rounds, the positively frightening sound that crushes and surges within Good Together, the subverted samba of Get Direct, the Jamie Lidell-like mini-Motown/isms of Shame and the deeply classy Stay.
Everything she touches turns a shade of the album cover’s dominant colour, with that background colour tingeing too – there’s always a darkness to her music, even when she’s feigning happiness, as would seem to be the case across most of The Classic.
I haven’t yet felt the connection to this album that I have across her wonderful back-catalogue, I still get lost up inside Real Life and To Survive and The Deep Field. I’m not sure that’s going to quite happen this time. But it’s still a very good album. I just can’t help but feel that the nearly-Billy Joel like crafted-ness/craftiness to that too-pleased-with-itself/too clever title track and even the closing Ask Me (an autumnal version of his River of Dreams almost) is a too-obvious bid to have a hit, to be taken at something more than a cult-league level. And hey, I like The Classic, every time I hear it. And then, only after it has passed, I figure I’ve been a bit ripped off in the phoned-in emotions stakes. It just doesn’t quite stick like the others.
And though I don’t begrudge an honest attempt at having a pop hit – heck, I reckon Wasser deserves an award of sorts, some sort of services-to-consistency at the very least, I don’t have to love the result quite as much as the profoundly beautiful music she has toiled away at making across the last decade. Or rather, I’m just not able to. That says more about the quality of what came before, of course. Can’t quite hear this one reaching that same level. But at any rate it’s like awarding a ‘B’ for effort to an obvious ‘A’ student. You know that next term/next album they’ll have you regretting the fact you ever – even slightly – doubted them. And you know that because you are already planning to follow them, to wait and see, to be proven wrong.