Picks and Pans Review: Matters of the Heart
Last year, Fox's In Living Color featured a skit sending up Chapman, the dour folkie who stunned the music world with her platinum-plus 1988 debut. Playing Chapman, Kim Wayans poked fun at her somber songwriting by looking out a window and describing every depressing thing she saw on the street below.
On Chapman's third album, the singer gives In Living Color only more fuel. It's not her spartan arrangements that deserve satire. Nor her candid and frequently poetic dissections of American life, which she views as focused on greed and exploitation. The problem is that this time she fails to leaven her relentlessly downbeat lyrics with her usual deft melodies. Chapman, sadly, doesn't distinguish herself enough from the battalion of coffeehouse troubadours inspired by her success.
Too often, Chapman weakens potentially challenging ideas by couching them in platitudes and clichés. On "Dreaming on a World" she sings, "No matter how unrealistic or naive it may seem/ Always keep dreaming." Better is "Bang Bang Bang," about the disturbing availability of guns, especially in poorer neighborhoods, and about white tolerance of the violence as long as it stays within those boundaries: "If he preys on his neighbors, brothers, sisters and friends/ We'll consider it a favor/ We'll consider justice done."
The gently rocking "I Used to Be a Sailor" is a pleasant reminder of Chapman's first two albums. Unfortunately she keeps coming back to such woefully depressing material—and presenting it in such a woefully depressing manner—that all but her most committed fans are going to want to jump ship. (Elektra)