Picks and Pans Review: I Enjoy Being a Girl
Phranc, née Susie Gottlieb, likes to call herself an "average all-American Jewish lesbian folksinger." Given this, well, phrankness, it's no surprise that sexuality is a top topic on the singer's second album.
The lesbian themes alone would make this an unlikely prospect for mass appeal—even if Phranc's other selections weren't devoted to such topics as Toys "R" Us, Wee Gee the parakeet and polar bears. Her masculinity—androgyny is not a strong enough word—might belay any plans for pop stardom too.
For young audiences with a subtle sense of humor, though, Phranc brings novelty, self-conscious sensitivity and self-referential sarcasm to the neo-folk genre made popular again by such women as Tracy Chapman and Michelle Shocked. Sometimes, Phranc seems embarrassed by the current glut of guitar-strumming, politically correct types; on "Folksinger" she almost apologizes for being just one of the gang: "They want to be hip and trendy/ They want to wear black turtle-necks/ They want to make sensitive videos/ And sing about politics cuz now everybody wants to be a folksinger."
But few of her colleagues have Phranc's wit. She takes the title track—from the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song—and mocks the boy-crazy Seventeen stereotype (and all things heterosexual). The tune becomes a send-up of romance, not an ode to it, as Phranc coos: "I Hip when a fellow sends me flowers/ I drool overdresses made of lace/ I talk on the telephone for hours/ With a pound and a half of cream upon my face." She also salutes "M-A-R-T-l-N-A" (as in Navratilova): "Now Steffi she's worked hard/ And she's earned my respect/ But when it comes to the game of tennis/ It's Martina who's the best."
Phranc shows a nice-Jewish-girl side on a ballad about her grandmothers, "Myriam and Esther," and in telling young punks to "Take Off Your Swastika." In more standard forms of protest, as in "Bloodbath," a bloated, self-righteous song about South Africa, she tends to the so-sincere triteness she usually derides. Phranc is at her best on her je suis comme je suis songs, which are often so revealing and so much fun they strike a fine, difficult note between pain and parody. (Island)