Suzanne Vega - Beauty and Crime

Suzanne Vega
Beauty & Crime

(Blue Note)

John Metzger's #2 album for 2007

First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7

Written by John Metzger

Fri July 13, 2007, 05:45 AM CDT


Like Sam Phillips, Suzanne Vega takes a while between albums. Her latest outing Beauty & Crime, for example, is only her third effort in 11 years. As always, however, it was well worth the wait.

Produced by Jimmy Hogarth and mixed by Tchad Blake, Beauty & Crime seamlessly fuses quiet, ruminative folk songs to contemporary, electronic grooves; it merges melancholy-drenched orchestrations with psychedelically tinged pop; and none of it is ever quite what it initially appears to be. Opening cut Zephyr & I is laced with an elastic rhythm over which glides the feathery backing vocals of KT Tunstall, while dance beats anchor Unboundís jittery melody. Elsewhere, Pornographerís Dream shades its seductive, Brazilian motif with darker undertones, and Sonic Youthís Lee Ranaldo adds an array of ethereal effects to Ludlow Street and Angelís Doorway. The music is remarkably easy to absorb, but the more time that is spent with Beauty & Crime, the more the arrangements begin to act like a prism, through which filters the complexity of Vegaís emotional outpouring. Itís the lyrics, however, that push everything along its path; they are what matter most.

A lot can happen in six years ó the length of time that has separated Beauty & Crime from its predecessor Songs in Red and Gray. When the latter album was recorded, Vega was grappling with her divorce from Mitchell Froom, and the events of 9/11 were the nightmarish concepts of government reports and memos that few were able or willing to envision as possible realities. Since then, she married longtime suitor Paul Mills; terrorists used airplanes to wipe out New York Cityís Twin Towers; and Vegaís brother Tim lost his life. Already struggling to beat his dependence upon alcohol, he was killed by his disease less than a year after the attack, and thus he became another uncounted victim whose world came crashing down in the wake of the unfathomable act of violence that had been perpetrated upon the city in which he lived.

Beauty & Crime is a loosely-knit concept album that attempts to make sense of these events. Its 11 tracks were born on the streets of New York City, and they drift back and forth across the years, remembering the way things once were and outlining the way things are now. Unlike most artists who have dealt with the repercussions of 9/11, Vega avoids delving into the political implications that have manifested themselves since. Instead, she tells tales about people and their emotions. Her most overt references to the catastrophe occur within Angelís Doorway, a haunted song about a policeman stationed at Ground Zero, and Anniversary, a tune that reflects upon the tragedy a year after it happened. Nevertheless, everything on Beauty & Crime is touched by malfeasance. Even when sheís not dealing directly with her urban surroundings, her lyrics poetically paint portraits of people and places who, like New York, have suffered for their beauty.

"Love is the only thing that matters/Love is the only thing thatís real," Vega sings on Ludlow Street, a eulogy for her brother. Later, on Frank and Ava, she resigns herself to the notion that "itís not enough to be in love." Throughout Beauty & Crime, she provides few answers; the only thing she does offer is a series of reflections upon specific moments. Still, her memories, like her emotions, are fleeting, and they often are carried away on the wisps of her surrounding musical arrangements.

When she looks at her daughter in As You Are Now, her glance is filled with adoration. Yet, a sense of sadness simultaneously pours through her music. It adds a bittersweet air to her words, one which stems from the unspoken parental quandary of desiring to keep the pain of life away from oneís child and of knowing that such a feat would be utterly impossible. Beauty and crime, it seems, are fully intertwined. Like Frank and Ava, one canít possibly exist without the other. Consequently, within the devastation and wreckage of fallen skyscrapers and broken relationships, Vega also discovers the magnificent ways in which communities, families, and lives can be reshaped and rebuilt. starstarstarstar Ĺ


50th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical


Of Further Interest...

Norah Jones - The Fall

Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Beth Orton - Trailer Park: Legacy Edition


Beauty & Crime is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2007 The Music Box