The past couple of years cannot have been easy ones for Johnette Napolitano. The supremely talented singer-songwriter had seen her band, Concrete Blonde, grow from obscure L.A. punks to Top 40 hitmakers with the single "Joey" from the 1990 Blonde album, Bloodletting. Now she is flirting creatively and fiscally with the one thing her streetwise attitude seemed to abhor most: success.
The pressure was on for a follow-up release that progressed musically yet would not upset the fans who had already discovered the band. Rather than bow to those demands, she has taken the angst and channeled it into the intense rock on this, the group's fourth record.
Napolitano is Iggy Pop after a sex change, her strained shrieks making every desperate lyric sound like it may be her last. Hers seems to be a cruel world, where lovers are just emotional muggers. The throbbing guitars on dark, edgy rockers like "City Screaming" and "Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man" add to the tension.
What makes Walking in London a step forward from the sinister Bloodletting, though, are the lighter moments. "Someday?" is a surprisingly low-key, bittersweet tune that has even more Top 40 potential than "Joey." And in the album closer, a cover of James Brown's "It's a Man's World," the band goes bluesy as Napolitano turns the tune's macho swagger into a feminist lament.
It surely wasn't easy to do, but with Walking in London, Napolitano has given listeners what they wanted. And then given them a little more. (I.R.S.)