Pretty Little Head
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9
Written by John Metzger
Fri September 21, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Considering the wonderfully scattered eclecticism of her debut Get Away from Me, it would have been impossible for Nellie McKay to turn her follow-up Pretty Little Head into a more ambitious affair. Rather than allow her to try, her now-former label forcibly tightened her approach by compressing her sophomore set from a 23-track, two-disc endeavor into a 16-song, single-CD collection. She fought back and won her freedom, which gave her the option of doing things her way. In the end, however, the suits at Columbia may have had a point. Even in its smaller incarnation, Pretty Little Head was a flawed affair, and the full-length rendition that McKay eventually released proves that having too much of a good thing is a very real possibility.
Where sophomore efforts typically find artists growing more conservative, McKay, to her credit, continues to employ the successful strategy of simply being herself. Once again, she disregards any notion that music is meant to fit within clearly defined categories, and throughout Pretty Little Head, she effortlessly mashes together another dizzying array of styles. The opening Cupcake, for example, undoubtedly owes a debt to Carole King, but within it, she also tips her hat to The Beatles, new wave, and Broadway musicals. Elsewhere, she underscores the breathy, Latin-tinged jazz of Pink Chandelier with a hint of Eastern mysticism, and she dabbles in Eminem-style hip-hop on The Big One. Her lyrics, too, contain an array of twists and turns that seem designed solely to subvert the status quo as she takes jabs at the White House during Real Life and gives a voice to the animals who are brutally tortured in med school labs on Columbia Is Bleeding.
Nevertheless, not all of McKay’s songs on Pretty Little Head work as well as those on Get Away from Me did. Her duet with Cyndi Lauper on Beecharmer is particularly clunky, and those who had difficulty digesting the restlessness of Get Away from Me likely won’t find Pretty Little Head to be any more enjoyable. Despite her missteps, however, McKay at least has the courage to experiment with her approach. In the end, she further develops a solid foundation upon which she can transform her newcomer status into a lengthy and fulfilling career.
Pretty Little Head is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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