When Lauryn Hill came out with her solo album we were all so impressed! She wrote every song, played nearly every instrument and produced the album herself and she wasn't yet 24 years old. And the most important thing: the album was damn good!
Well, Lauryn is not alone in the category of female, musical whiz kid. New Zealand has one of their own in Bic Runga, who at the age of 20 had already written, played and produced her own dreamy album Drive.
A native of Christchurch, Runga grew up in a family where music was as constant as breathing (her sister Boh is in group Stellar). By the time she was 18, she was fairly proficient on drums, guitar and keyboards. She released two singles and later included them on her debut album.
That album, Drive, is a warm, intimate and delicate album employing the use of sparse arrangements and highlighting Runga's crystalline voice and writing talent. It starts out with the title track which consists of Runga's vocals weaving through a single guitar accompaniment. It's a poignant song about breaking up. She is riding in the car with her lover knowing that once she is dropped off it will be their last good-bye.
The second cut, her big hit "Sway", is a wonderfully melodic song reminiscent of Crowded House (She gets a little help from former Crowdie, Nick Seymour, in the arrangements department.) She sings about the ambivalent emotions experienced when approaching a love interest for the first time: "And there's no cure, no way to be sure / Why everything's turned inside out/Instilling so much doubt / It makes me so tired-I feel so uninspired / My head is battling with my heart / My logic has been torn apart."
"Sway" is buttressed by another breakup song, "Hey," which still has the quiet quality of the other songs except it's punctuated by a guitar-heavy bridge and a sharper edge to Runga's vocals. "Swim" and "Sorry" are also rockers, but with all the guitars and drums they still manage to sound quiet, adding more intimacy.
"Roll Into One" is a rockabilly flavored tune that reminds me of Sam Phillips on her Indescribable Wow album. The song reveals the singer's annoyance at a fellow who is waffling about the idea of spending time with her: "We could sit in the sun/Let the days roll into one / How could you take so long to decide? / How would you know until you tried?"
The vocal performance on "Suddenly Strange" is dripping with so much feeling it's hard to believe that this song is anything but autobiographical. "Delight" is a dark song about a lover who's closed off and delight is something the singer reminisces about. The arrangement is so sparse that it seems that the instruments are simply accents for Runga's vocals. It's a striking effect.
There's not a bad cut on this album. One might argue that it is a bit over-saturated with despair and gloominess, but that is not a criteria I use to judge great music. And if you think Runga is some kind of pessimistic, despondent waif sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, then pop the disc into your CD-ROM drive and check out her 10-minute interview. She's simply ebullient. Music as therapy? Who knows. Why don't you give yourself a dose?