Posted by: Nick Walters | February 27, 2014

Suzanne Vega: Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles

So it’s tunes you want, is it, asshole? FUCK YOU!

Since the triumph of 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees waaaay back in 1992, Suzanne Vega has seemed to struggle to find a vernacular for her delicate, considered song-stories. Nine Objects of Desire was a watered-down version of 99.9, and 2000’s Songs In Red And Gray seemed lost under a sheen of production, with only a few songs (Penitent, Widow’s Walk and I’ll Never Be Your Maggie May) breaking through the bland. 2007’s slight, thoughtful Beauty and Crime almost seemed an admission of defeat; pleasant enough, but not essential. Now, seven years later, has SV managed to find her mojo again? Well, sort of. Tales From The Realm of the Queen of Pentacles is clearly her best album since 99.9, but it does seem to lack somewhat in the tune department. Now, tunes aren’t the be all and end all, but SV has penned some corkers in her time; do I need to remind anyone of Luka, Tom’s Diner, Marlene on the Wall etc etc. If you can get over that, there is much to enjoy here, and the more you listen the better it gets. SV sounds like she is enjoying herself, from the preposterous prog-tastic title (a shocking mash-up of Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans and the legendary prog nightmare of The Pentateuch of the Cosmonogony) to the clever wordplay and intricate tunes which she is renowned for. Lyrically, there seems to be a tarot thing going on, though I have yet to study the lyrics in any depth. This gives the album a strange, olde-worlde character, a trope SV has used before e.g The Queen and the Soldier from her first album. It’s a clever idea and suits SV well, giving the album an identity lacking her more recent works.  Stylistically it’s all over the place, from the familiar folky leanings of opener Crack In The Wall to the grunge rock of I Never Wear White to the impish 50 Cent sampling (so I’m told) of Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain. The production is solid, satisfying and extremely pleasing to the ear, though the cheesy trumpet (or whatever it is) on closing track Horizon (There Is  A Road) ruins what is otherwise an excellent song, making the plaintive mawkish. Vocally, SV is in fine voice, sounding much as she ever has, except that the edge evident on early songs such as Marlene On The Wall is perhaps understandably absent. This, like the relative lack of pop tunes, matters not one jot. Recommended.

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