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Thursday, 10 September 2009

JULIETTE ( LEWIS ) & THE NEW ROMANTIQUES: TERRA INCOGNITA

For those of you who were pleasantly surprised by Juliette Lewis (JL)’ debut LP and the overall quality that suppressed the yank-rock element enough for us to hear past it, well, she’s at it again... possibly!  This is now her 4th album and to date, I couldn’t help but feel that the standards have been slipping with each release.  However, now she’s delving into sonic contrast and life derived emotion to shape her sound and depth... apparently!

JL opens the proceedings sounding like a dishevelled hobo who’s begging for change,  having lost all will to play ball, pretty much like she does up to track 4, a casual but adrift affair.  Along with its predecessors, ‘Hard Lovin’ Woman’ barely offers any optimism and struggles to illustrate any spirit.  What’s served up is slack-assed & mumbled singing accompanied by a well produced jam session and although the title track sits amidst the dirge, all hope is lost early on. 

Moving onto some basic blues based guitar, JL drawls with every vocal which clumsily falls from her mouth, annoyingly dragging its heels as it goes.  It’s probably all that ‘emotion’ that’s being vented that’s weighing down our kickass songstress.  Not found a lot to like as yet have I?  It’s all so average and all so far removed from the unhinged and unpredictable JL we all fell for back in 2004.

‘Fantasy bar’ thankfully strays from the dirge and onto more upbeat and clear cut sounds.  JL finally injects some urgency into the mix & despite her tendency to meld with the lacklustre backing vocal; we at last have some sense of optimism for this album.  ‘Ghosts’ (#7) reinforces our hopes with its diverse sounding, well composed and Breeders-emulating self, enough to its repetitious, untimely and anticlimactic finish.

Well, ultimately, I’m massively disappointed so far!  The song-writing has clearly taken a dive, with meandering lyrics and the smallest glimpses of commendable crooning from JL.  Almost every track idly fades out too, perhaps illustrating the recurrent weakness of composition and or structure that’s not done this LP any favours. 

The unpredictable ‘All is for Good’ brings a sense of depth, with a stronger bass line adding some much needed intrigue, making us listen with ever drawn ears.  As the next track unwinds, it’s almost impossible to tell it apart other than the fact that...no, wait, is there any difference at all?  Have to wait and see as ‘Uh Huh’ (not PJ Harvey) keeps up the reluctant momentum.  Ooh, it seems JL is actually singing for real, we can hear what she’s on about as her voice is carried through the backdrop of sound.  It’s still nothing special but hey, it might be as close as we’re going to get on this outing.

Penultimate track ‘Junkyard Heart’ does little to ignite inspiration in anyone involved and the ever present sense that the track’s about to finish doesn’t fade, so at least the LPs coherent if nothing else.  The same could be said for the instrumentation on the album too, the guitar’s all too unadventurous whilst the drums and bass amble along unnoticed, sparking no real interest beyond the midway point. 

Closing on a flashback to what we hoped for from the 1st LP, ‘Suicide Dive Bombers’ adds an as yet missing element or 2.  Real emotion lurks beneath a gentle, well paced vocal that carries the accompanying music far beyond the simple backing track it’s predominantly proved to be so far.

Typical ‘close on the best track and they’ll forget the rest’ mentality’ really.  Admittedly, the lead guitar sound is original (for JL); it just refuses to shake it up a little.  Helped along by a ‘play by numbers’ rhythm section, it gets a little monotonous and dare I say arduous?  You can hear JLs efforts at delivering the aforementioned emotion and despite its visceral undertones; it comes across as being more a cop-out more than anything else.   Guess it's a good job she's so hoochy then!

Sorry JL, but you started it... Unknown land indeed!

Ant Standring