Trouble In Shangri-la
Reprise Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: JB
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/04/2003
Don't you think Stevie Nicks tries a little too much? Look at all that witchy hair and the fantasy-paperback wardrobe and, c'mon -- Trouble in Shangri-la? It's one thing for Steve Vai to call an album that, but you're beginning to think Fleetwood Mac's most conspicuous lead vocalist is maybe laying on the Ethereal Living-in-a-Tree Artist schtick a little too thick.
But the MUSIC. Like Madonna's or Cher's, it forgives everything.
Trouble in Shangri-la is unlike most artsy rock albums in that it has potency. The overall sound, exemplified by tracks such as the title song and "Sorcerer" is lush and well-produced, except with a satisfying rock edge roughly drummed in with steel and snare, that prevents the sound from degenerating into innocuous New Age grooves. It's melodious as Enya, only with a history of cocaine and Lindsey Buckingham.
But perhaps the life of any really good song written by Stevie Nicks ("Edge of Seventeen," "Gold Dust Woman") is the power of the Shakespearean lyrics that evoke more than what they say. In "Fall From Grace," Nicks presents us with a narrator on a rant about someone she loves desperately but who would not save himself from his own destruction: "I chose to be his confidant and to keep him from the fire / I chose to be quietly discreet / if that is his desire, I touch with gossamer wings / to be quiet around you." You can feel the anger, frustration and love intermingled with the melody and the drums. Sometimes this woman can make a song fly.
Other standouts include "Planets of the Universe," where Nicks' plaintive delivery conveys pain across star-acres of echoing synth and guitar layers. "It's Only Love" strips down to almost just guitar, yet the substantial emotion that conveys testifies to her cutting-to-the-heart songwriting abilities. A track done with Macy Gray, "Bombay Sapphires," loses some of the rock edge but their voices complement each other well, as does Dixie Chick Natalie Maines' as she sings along in "Too Far from Texas." "Love Is" could've been one of the greatest love songs in the history of rock (someone sent me the demo version) but Pierre Marchand in the LP version destroys the subtleties of its message by inserting a drum section and, for no good reason other than obviously commercial ones, Sarah McLachlan doing backup (she kinda goes "doo, doo").
The music aside, the ethereal tree images Nicks evokes is (for me at least) fun and sensually satisfying. And while Nicks' presentation may be target practice fodder for music critics, the music itself is sound: one blow of the rocker "Fall From Grace" ought to forgive Nicks for the wardrobe, the album covers, and even for Street Angel, which you had to buy, but at least it came with a tour.