Washington Post Review of 1984 Album
One of the more refreshing currents in rock 'n' roll over the past few years has been the emergence of strong female singers and songwriters. Performers like the Go-Go's, the underappreciated Robin Lane and especially Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders have chipped away with intelligence and irony at rock's male-dominated view of women as victimizers or objects of desire.
To a certain extent, the bracing new release of M+M (formerly Martha and the Muffins) follows this invigorating pattern. But just when you think rock 'n' roll is ready to accept a new, egalitarian sensibility, along come two other albums--by Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie and by newcomer Rosemary Butler--that do little but rehash musical and emotional conceits that wore out years ago.
In the mid-1970s, Christine McVie's languid, reedy voice helped define Fleetwood Mac's distinctive pop style: the music was so laid-back and California cool you could practically see the ferns growing against the exposed-brick wall. The trouble is that this comfortable, unchallenging style has become a cliche'. The 10 songs on "Christine McVie" (Warner Bros. 250559-1) sound tired. The lyrics go no deeper than "I don't mind it if you make a martyr out of me/ But there's one thing you got to know/ I'm the one, I'm the one, yeah."
Only occasionally does the music rise above the banality of the lyrics. Eric Clapton's understated guitar solo salvages the otherwise drab "The Challenge." "So Excited" motors along with a bubbly but watered-down rockabilly beat, and "The Smile I Live For" is a smooth ballad. The best work on the album comes in "One in a Million," in which ex-Traffic controller Steve Winwood teams with McVie for a spirited vocal duet. McVie hasn't shown such bluesy urgency since her only other solo album, recorded in 1969 under her maiden name, Christine Perfect.
The rest of the songs are one long soporific muddle. By album's end, you get the strange sense that the lyrics and melodies of any of the songs could be interchanged, and no one, not even the performers, would notice the difference. McVie will perform at Constitution Hall on May 24.
Rosemary Butler's debut, "Rose" (Capitol ST-12320), also draws from modern pop with similarly static results. A former backup singer for several big names, Butler has a nice, full voice that sounds something like a husky Cyndi Lauper, which is almost enough to make some of the album's slower pieces work. The best of these, "Just Can't Let Go," suggests one of Linda Ronstadt's country-rock laments (not to be confused with Ronstadt's rocker called "Can't Let Go"). Ronstadt even makes an inconspicuous appearance with Nicolette Larson on backup vocals.
But nearly all the 10 songs are lightweights. Except for adding heavy layers of synthesizers, the uninspired L.A. studio musicians supporting Butler haven't learned a musical trick since around 1972. This record isn't so bad it makes you cringe. It's just insignificant.
After scoring a minor hit in 1980 with the infectious good-time anthem "Echo Beach," Toronto's Martha and the Muffins fell apart, with only lead singer Martha Johnson and head Muffin Mark Gane remaining from the original lineup. The group's early guitar-based attack has been more or less scrapped, too. Synthesizers, keyboards, loads of percussion and Johnson's dark-toned mezzo-soprano dominate the lush sound of "Mystery Walk" (RCA/Wave 3).
On the record's first song, "Black Stations/White Stations," the "Mystery Walk" becomes a swagger as swinging horns, twanging guitar and tightly packed percussion come together in a rousing funk rhythm. It's a great dance tune and is already something of a hit among devotees of new music.
But for all the liveliness, the message carries the strongest impact. Johnson sings of "a song of love they would not play" on the radio. Then comes the refrain, with its plea for interracial harmony through music: "Black stations/ white stations/ Break down the doors/ Stand up and face the music/ This is 1984!"
M+M takes a lot of musical risks on "Mystery Walk," not all of which succeed. There is a little too much doodling on the synthesizer, and the two songs in which Gane takes over the vocals are murky and obscure. Mostly, though, the album is thoughtful and accomplished. "I Start to Stop" is filled with tension and confessional anxiety, "Garden in the Sky" is a dreamlike atmospheric set piece, and "Rhythm of Life" contains a buoyant affirmation of social change above a pounding, dead-ahead Big Country-like march.
The bright lyrics will make you think, but the adventurous music will let you know that it's all right to get up and dance, too. The satisfying thing about groups like M+M is that they remind us how much intelligence--much of it expressed through a feminine sensibility--is at work in rock 'n' roll today.
1984-03-19 Number of views: