Suzanne Vega – Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs

Suzanne Vega - Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs

It’s hard not feel deep stirrings of cynicism when approaching this ostensibly ‘new’ Suzanne Vega album.  Given that she’s only put out a relatively slender catalogue of seven studio LPs over the last 25 or so years, it does somewhat smack of chronic creative stagnation to find that Vega plans to revisit all corners of her back catalogue in stripped-down form, across no less than four volumes of a so-christened Close-Up series.  Whilst it’s not unusual or always unwanted for a long-established artist to re-record lauded and not-so-lauded works to appeal largely to the ears of long-serving fans, a four-part thematic revisitation process seems like overkill.  However, putting such qualms aside, Vega’s unevenly spaced-out back story does perhaps need some affectionate and uncluttered reappraisal, to let her songs breathe again.

With the possible exception of 1992’s eclectic, well-balanced and underrated 99.9F°, Vega’s past studio wares have too often been over-coated in fussy, faddy and badly-ageing sheen, especially those with 1980s period costumes.  Consequently, this inaugurating Love Songs chapter of the Close-Up re-storytelling does a pretty sound job of just putting Vega’s songwriting and voice to the fore.  Accompanied by largely muted acoustic and electric guitars, low-protruding bass and unobtrusive percussion, the album feels like a very intimate coffee house gig to a respectfully quiet crowd or maybe a well-recorded live radio session without DJ interruptions.  With up-close vocals taking the leading role, Vega shows that that less-is-more arrangements and aesthetics serve her material well.

Initially, past hits and standards appear like they’ve been too top-heavily sequenced, leaving the second half weighted with lesser known and loved songs.  But it could be a cunning and successful ruse to draw less committed Vega-followers to listen harder to songs once lost to comparative indifference.  Whilst the fresh versions of the vaguely Hispanic “Caramel” and the still achingly pretty “Gypsy” in the opening part of the album radiate nicely, sparse re-takes of “(If You Were) In My Movie,” “Small Blue Thing” and “Marlene On The Wall” feel a little forced and makeweight.  Thus then, the latter seven of twelve pieces in fact provide the most convincing and enduring justifications for this record’s conception.  Three songs from 2001’s post-divorce Songs In Red And Gray long-player command an especially strong presence, particularly the evocative near-medley of “(I’ll Never Be Your) Maggie May” and “Harbor Song.”  Elsewhere, “Headshots” and “Stockings” have hints of the best groovy tracts of 99.9F°, and the beatific “Bound” makes for a breathlessly naked closer.

Admittedly, it’s still tough to believe that another three retro-revisionist selections of this nature will be quite so patience-earning, yet on its own Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs should gently and unpretentiously rekindle affection for Suzanne Vega, as a singer-songstress too often and too harshly dismissed for past fashion mistakes not always of her own making.

Cooking Vinyl/Razor & Tie