It's hard finding musical peers for the Blue Nile, but if I had to catalog
them under pop, they would end
up on my shelves in the vicinity of Everything but the Girl, the Cardigans and the Beautiful South.
They aren't nearly as jazzy as EbtG, as retro as the Cardigans, or as acerbic as the Beautiful South, but
the four bands share a sonic clarity and an awareness that pop doesn't have to be overblown to be dramatic.
Briana Corrigan was a guest vocalist on the first Beautiful South record, and a full band member on Choke
and 0898, before being replaced by Jacqueline Abbott for their final album, Miaow. While she never seemed to
factor into whole Beautiful South albums as fully as I'd have liked, the songs on which she appeared were
almost invariably my favorites of theirs. Her elfin quaver and Paul Heaton's oddly flat voice complemented each
other nicely, and their pristine, contained duets were about as far as you could get from Joe Cocker and Jennifer
Warnes without leaving the audible spectrum entirely.
For her solo debut, though, she leaves behind both the balance of Heaton's voice and the emotional hooks
of his bitter lyrics. Beautiful South fans are the most obvious initial audience for this album, and its overall
musical style is generally compatible, but I can't help wondering if these songs' failures to take morbid twists is
going to leave them feeling unsatisfied. If these were Heaton's songs, the title phrase, in "Love Me Now",
would probably have turned out to be a loving description of a strangling. "Light a candle to my heart", in
"Fool", would have become "Light a candle to my drapes"; "Now You Talk" would probably have involved jail
somehow; the offer to cash in the narrator's jewellery in "I Put My Arms Out For You" would have been taken
more literally (I imagine Heaton itemizing her entire collection, pairing each tawdry bauble with an even more
worthless piece of the man's petty life, until it's clear that zirconium is a much better investment). His vitriol is
most powerfully missed on "The Back of My Hand", where a jab at "lies of the church" turns out to be little
more than a feint, and "Miss America", which sets an entire nation up on the target stand and then slinks away
to plead for an unremarkable unrequited love somewhere out of the carnival lights.
The music doesn't quite have the Beautiful South's crisp definition, either. Briana's host of collaborators
acquit themselves plausibly, but the Beautiful South had a nearly airtight ensemble dynamic that owed more
than a little of its efficacy to the hints of Housemartins hyperactivity that glittered occasionally through the
restrained facade, and here the playing is mostly as guileless as the lyrics. There are neither the breathtaking
flights of "I'll Sail This Ship Alone" and "Let Love Speak Up Itself", nor the impish pop glee of "From Under the
Covers" or "I've Come For My Award".
But this isn't intended to be a Beautiful South album, and it might fare better with people who don't even
know the connection. Briana is less waifish than Lisa Loeb or Juliana Hatfield, peppier than Eddi Reader or
Tracey Thorn, more musically adventurous than Natalie Merchant, less shrill than Dolores O'Riordan. Her
bouncy songs aren't as comprehensively anachronistic as the Cardigans', but they incorporate enough
gleaming Bakelite flourishes, like the trebly electric piano on "Love Me Now", the snappy drum shuffle on
"Some Big, Big Truth", some pedal-ish guitar on "Miss America" and "The Leave Taking", and stand-up bass,
wah-wah guitar throat-clearing and some scratchy strings on "Grounded", to support comparisons. Conversely,
other facets like the sturdy bass and open guitars of "Fool", the Bruce Hornsby-esque piano on "Come to Me",
mournful accordion on "I Put My Arms Out For You", quiet maracas and a muffled bass-drum heartbeat in
"Simply Beautiful", the whirring strings and wounded guitar of "Now You Talk", the legato cello of "Back of
My Hand", weird backing-vocal harmonies on "The Leave Taking", and the stark Nick Drake-like guitar and
voice arrangement of "The Man Is Dead", keep the album from ever becoming a mannerist exercise. The
Beautiful South were always a much bigger deal at home than here in the US, where two out of three people
polled think that "nuance" is a deodorant brand, and it's similarly hard to imagine that Briana Corrigan will be
the focus of a sudden public gestalt shift away from Alanis Morissette, Shirley Manson and No Doubt
(particularly if this album isn't actually released here), but if you wish to do your part towards fueling the
obscure cultural countertrend toward jazzy pop sophistication and earnest anti-Lollapalooza charm, your
shopping list needs every entry it can get.
Taken from the original site at http://www.furia.com/twas/twas0074.html