12/07/2010 | Suzanne Vega – O2 Academy, Oxford

Lisa Ward

The cynic might ponder Suzanne’s motives. Back with a collection of old songs rerecorded, on paper it sounds like little more than a money making stint. Suzanne herself even suggests after tonight’s opener, Marlene On The Wall, that ‘journalists might like to argue with me and say it’s not a love song, it’s an angst song’ which makes it’s addition to Close Up Volume 1, Love Songs suspect to say the least. Like its latest album version, Marlene comes with a stripped back sound, but the distinction from the original is subtle, a shift which only discerning fans would notice.

Suzanne however seems wise to this and there’s a deliberate push to make the non album songs in tonight’s set beefier, When Heroes Go Down being given looming guitar riffs, and Blood Makes Noise having it’s already sinister feel pushed to the max. This in turn creates a chameleon effect in her presence, one minute strumming out acoustic ballads and the next clutching her microphone and prowling the stage rapper style. With this in mind, there’s high expectation when she drops a guitarist, attempting Left Of Centre with just a bass for backing. Whilst Suzanne’s vocals are punchier, this minimalistic approach seems to fall flat. The intricate harmonies which drive the original are too crucial to be dispensed with and the resulting sound becomes almost cumbersome.

Nevertheless, despite its flaws, it does quiet the scepticism regarding arrangements of the latest album. It seems clear that the likes of Some Journey and Gypsy cannot tolerate a heavy handed approach to rearrangement and Suzanne’s subtle yet distinctive alterations allow them to breathe, her mellowing vocals shining through, without the loss of their musical charm. Equally her addition of Dangermouse & Sparklehorse’s The Man Who Played God, which Suzanne penned, proves that the latest album is not a consequence of her song writing running out of steam, but it equally begs me to ask why Suzanne didn’t simply opt to release a new album.

Those who haven’t embraced Suzanne’s every offering were well rewarded, Luka, Solitude Standing and Tom’s Diner complete with the DNA remix style interludes, all being well received. But those who have lavished after Suzanne over the course of her 25 year career might be less reciprocal. Whilst her addition of early album tracks Small Blue Thing and Neighbourhood Girls highlight Suzanne’s ongoing power as a singer songwriter, like Caramel the end result is a desire for something which cannot be obtained.

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