Joan as Police Woman puts the cool back into soul music
Joan Wasser's latest might finally gain her recognition for something besides being the only woman named 'Joan' in rock and roll besides Joan Armatrading and having once dated a (now) deceased rock star.
th solo album, where she largely foregoes the jazzy leanings of yore for a more 'alternative' sound that touches on everything from indie to Motown, IDM, progressive rock and everything in-between. Instrumentally this is by far Wassers most diverse of songs, with everything from sparse sub-bass to elegiac string arrangements popping up over the course of 10 eclectic but oddly cohesive songs. Lyrically these are songs mostly focused on matters of the heart, a subject that it could be argued has been mined a little too vigorously to provide any fresh insights, Wasser though is an exceptional songwriter who has honed her craft over 20 years and the words here resonate with real personality. That personality is one of pure sexual energy and music dexterity. 'Get Direct ' for example is a sultry little number in which our protagonist invites us to “get experimental” over a beat that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Marvin Gaye number and an arrangement that borrows it's low-key atmosphere from James Blake. That she can so effortlessly and deftly blend the traditional with the modern without it coming across as contrived or calculated is testament to her talents. 'New Year's Day' meanwhile sees her exhuming the jazzy cool of her former flame, the late, great Jeff Buckley (that afore-mentioned dead rock star boyfriend), with heavily reverberated guitars, shuffling drums and a crisp, supple vocal. The yawning strings that close out the piece lend the song a sense of dramatic sadness of which Mr Buckley would have no doubt been most proud. That it's sequenced directly before the perfectly measured pop of 'Shame' is something of a minor masterstroke as it serves to further highlight the constant push and pull that keeps the album fresh. There's also the return to her laid-back, lounge-jazz roots on the desperately yearning 'Stay' and a full-on post-rock crescendo on the 7 minute 'Good Together' but it never feels like she's testing us or herself, she's simply letting the music work through her in the most natural way possible. The lyrics are similarly effortless. There's little in the way of chin-stroking wordplay here, it's all emotionally direct stuff and it's all the better for it. On 'Stay' for example, Wasser paints an incredibly vivid picture of a desperate lover with the simple repeated refrain of 'why don't you stay?” and manages to make it sound like less of a plea and more of a prayer. Only time will tell if 'The Classic' ends up being just that, but for now it's the best record I've heard in 2014. A backhanded compliment maybe, but one I'm almost certain won't be rectified anytime soon.