Jill Cunniff – City Beach

Jill Cunniff
City Beach

City Beach is the solo debut of Luscious Jackson’s leading lady, Jill Cunniff. As the first of the crew to go out on her own, she has made a decent attempt here but she needs to learn to stick to her strengths. With a distinct voice that lends itself well to breezy, summertime grooves, it is these points within the album that have the most promise. But unfortunately, this only makes up about half the collection and even the better tracks fall a little flat.

Opening the material with “Lazy Girls” is a step in the right direction for Cunniff. It caters to her strengths with her luscious voice floating alongside samples and a smooth, laid-back groove. The lyrics are simple and there are certainly no complicated twists to figure out here. It’s all about “eating orange popsicles”, having fun and just chillin’. “Happy Warriors” follows in the same groove with a Brazilian jazz influence featuring snappy samples backed by horns and high-pitched harmonies. This is certainly one of the more standout tracks of the album. “NYC Boy” is another song that lends itself well to Cunniff’s vocals and falls in line with the same style as the first couple tracks. There is even a hint of her old label mate’s influence with the Beastie-style flute swirling around in the background.

The album continues on in a pleasant manner, layered with mixed-up samples and various funky grooves that constantly have you thinking “where have I heard this before?” The style has a definite dated feel as though it should’ve arrived on the store shelves about a decade ago. “Eye Candy” picks up the tempo and starts in on the move towards the more pop side of the album that doesn’t blend well with Cunniff’s vocals. The piano is a nice addition here but the effort towards more of a pop style pushes it closer to cheesy than anything else. And then “Apartment 3” follows with an adult soft pop sound that could easily find heavy rotation on one of those ‘work friendly’ radio stations.

There are tracks like “Love Is A Luxury”, “Exclusive” and “Future Call” that just about take the whole album down altogether. With her normally smooth, breathy voice trying to keep up with the yelling style of “Future Call” and lyrics like “I hear you’re out with chicks/ your tellin’ me your working late / so when you say your all mine / I must admit I hesitate / this town is full of women out there huntin’ down a man / but I told you right from the beginning that I’m a one-man band” in “Exclusive”, it just becomes painful to listen to. But if those songs don’t do you in, the ending of “Exclusive” where she repeats “Why can’t we be exclusive?” will certainly do it. This isn’t a deep examination into relationships here, it just sounds pathetic.

The last two tracks on the album “Calling Me” and “Disconnection” return to the slow, sensual style of the earlier portion of the album. The latter features Emmylou Harris within the vocal harmonies but it doesn’t add anything to the track at all. And honestly, I have to wonder how many people would even make it to those last couple tracks. They come a little too late and cannot undo the mess of the previous tracks.

While some serious Luscious Jackson fans might find this album interesting, others might get halfway through the album and call it quits, or perhaps fall asleep during “Apartment 3”. Either way, while Jill Cunniff has a beautiful set of pipes without the complimentary musical environment even her rich, sensual vocals can’t help turn the bland lyrics into something that anyone would want to listen to on their next drive to the beach or anywhere else.