By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
"I long to be your handsome woman," Sophie sings, and two lines later, apparently apropos of nothing, "I long to free Medusa's stallion." Trying to make sense of this has given me days of pleasure. Perhaps "Medusa's stallion" is just a slang phrase the meaning of which I'm not privy to (a Web search comes up with this, attributed to Freud: "If Medusa's head takes the place of the representation of the female genitals, or rather if it isolates their horrifying effects from the pleasure-giving ones..."). Or maybe it's an odd and inexplicable reference to Pegasus, the winged horse who sprang from Medusa's blood after Perseus had lopped off her headbut I wasn't aware that Pegasus needed freeing. I think Sophie just wanted to throw Medusa in with stallion, to cross female deadliness with wild male sexshe wants to unleash both, maybe wants to be both. As my girlfriend said, just listening, not seeing Sophie's picture: "I'll bet she has flowing, wanton hair." Like the snake-haired Medusa.
Typically, the rest of the song doesn't have much to do with this image; you've got "I find your lips, they give me peace" (sappy), "I need to die in your embrace" (no thank you), all mixed in, sex and death and horses.
But then, as I've been saying, her sound is better than her sense. And the range of instruments and styles is important: she isn't just using synths and steel drums, jazz moods and rock guitar, for the sake of variety, she needs the extra colorswell, timbresto give the sound the depth she wants. Even the couple of songs I don't particularly like on herethe high-voiced, gentle, sentimental oneshave a solidity that prevents them from being utter piffle.
My favorite song on the LP is "Your Tongue Like the Sun in My Mouth," a slow build on a base of acoustic Celtic guitar plinks, with dense electric drones working their way into the background. It compares favorably with anything I've heard by the Fairport Convention. And when Sophie gets to the chorus/climax, she lets go in a pop diva way, which gives an emotional payoff I've never gotten from Richard Thompson or Sandy Denny. The guitars and strings do a wonderful romantic-agony riff into the fade-out. It's quite thrilling, honestly. The words are provocative, elusive, silly: the usual Sophie mixture. It's about sex, first woman-to-woman, then woman-to-man. "I was young in his eyes, I was sweet on his thighs, I was profound." "Your tongue like the sun in my mouth" is a risky image, it sits there glittering and potentially absurd, promising more about sun and heat and tongue than the song actually delivers. And later on the inscrutable simile, "He fit my body like a one-horse town," again, potentially meaningful but only if decipherable.
My friend Rob says, "Sophie B. lyrics (by which I mean vocalsshe only writes to give her voice something to make a mess about) are sexy...scary/creepy, but creepy in a light and sexy and decorous way."
But she doesn't simply write to give her voice something to make a mess about. She not only means her lyrics to be taken seriously, she puts them forward in such a way that you have to take them onespecially in "Darkest Childe," which is more like declamations and incantations than regular singing. The "e" in "childe" (which I find unbearably precious) invokes a time when life was darker and more demonic, when it held earthy mysteries: a time of emotion, shadow, romance. "You fly through the night into the dreams of ancient ruins and make them sing." If her creepiness lacks genuine menace, this isn't due to decorum but to laziness. She's too lazy to give evil, darkness, wildernessthe demon "e" in "childe"much in the way of vividness and specificity. In any event, frighteningly or not, she puts violence into her sensuality: "fucked the man immobile" is not a rape by legal definition, but she calls it a rape and makes it feel like one, as if the wild girl has the knife to the man's throat. It's not just moist sex in the warm female gulch, this time; now she's the handsome lover too, and the stallion and the aggressive Medusa terror face.