Picks and Pans Review: London Warsaw New York
If you're not careful, you won't recognize the picture of Basia on the cover of her second album. Someone seems to have decided that Ms. Trzetrzelewska lacked glamour and remedied it by giving her a photographic nose job—at least that's the effect conveyed by the LP cover, the liner picture and her new publicity shots. They all show her with vivid eyes, vivid lips and an all but invisible nose. What is this? Basia is a substantial singer who shouldn't waste her time on such considerations (not to mention the fact that she was perfectly attractive in nosed mode).
The nose business is annoying because the album could have used more musical grooming. Basia still sounds as complex, melodic and versatile as she did on her 1987 debut. She and co-producer Danny White co-wrote nine of the album's 10 songs, and most of them are nondescript.
What is descript is often out-of-kilter, like badly translated instructions in foreign-made cameras: "Time to understand/ Where we went wrong/ 'Cause I feel so strong/ We are cruising for bruising/ My baby." We are also getting too much bounce to the ounce, with over-synthesized arrangements that are dominated by White's keyboards even when there are other musicians on hand.
The contrast is striking when Basia has a real song to work with, the Stevie Wonder-Clarence Paul-Morris Broadnax tune "Until You Come Back to Me"; on that track her voice turns and drives, exploring the melody instead of trying to compensate for its weaknesses. And Ronnie Ross's saxophone enlivens "Copernicus" enough so that you don't notice the strange lyrics, in which Basia pays homage to some of her fellow international celebrities of Polish descent, including the person who invented Esperanto and Madame Curie but not including Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa or Cincinnati Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski.
Basia has a number of things in common with another talented singer, Sade. Both were born outside the U.S. but have incorporated American pop idioms into their music. Both could benefit from a more enterprising approach to song selection. (What's wrong with some Ellington or Gershwin or Jobim or Joni Mitchell?) Both have cool, jazz-based styles and play off a certain distance in their delivery.
When last seen, however, Sade still had her nose. (Epic)
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