Nick Hornby has a line about how something, a new book or movie or album, wasn’t just up his alley, it was standing outside his front door yelling his name in through the letter slot. I felt the same way when I heard advance word of this CD. I’m a big fan of girl groups, a big fan of a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound. Darlene Love has this amazing backstory, ripped off by Phil Spector when she was young, backup singer to the stars, working as a maid, Letterman show Christmas appearances. Production by Steve Van Zandt, whose pirate garb I’ve spent many hours staring at as he played searing guitar for the E Street Band, and whose songwriting and production on the early Southside Johnny albums I love. (I even bought Steve’s solo album–good songs, weedy voice.) New material by Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Webb.
And? Well, I like it. But I can’t say it’s the play-it-five-times-in-a-row, blast-it-every-day-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-work homerun I was hoping for. Partially it’s the songs, which seem either too ponderous (the Jimmy Webb) or too lightweight (“Painkiller,” ouch). The production has the wall of sound thing going on, but it’s a little antiseptic, unspontaneous. Darlene’s voice sounds great, but sometimes generic, lacking the weight of that amazing backstory.
This song does work for me. It’s written by Elvis Costello in his best genre-flexing mood, a girl group pastiche about a love that should be resisted but is too strong to be resisted, and how when you’re in that kinda mood pretty much the whole universe conspires to force you into action:
Why did you kiss me with all of your might?
Why did the stars shine oh so bright?
Why did you have to baby look so fine…
The lovers part by the end of the song, left with the memories of their forbidden nights, but secure that one day they will stand tall and love will overcome it all.
Darlene’s voice sounds freer here, less straining after a big statement. I love how she speaks the “my soul was finally satisfied” line. The big production works too: I’m a sucker for “sha la la” choruses. Elvis’s lyrics are kitschy–it’s hard to accept that the guy who told us “there’s no such thing as an original sin” really thinks anything is forbidden–but everyone seems in on the joke. Love does make you revert to your adolescent self. It does feel like the music you first loved sounded.
Teen anthems knowingly inflected with a lifetime of experience–that’s what I was looking for more of on this CD. Maybe she should have covered some David Johansen songs.