Susanna Hoffs

Susanna Hoffs

London Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Alicia St. Rose


Like Paul McCartney, she was the cute one, the half-pint, "front woman" for the quartet, The Bangles. Perhaps it was this uneven attention quotient that forced the members to dissolve the group. Who knows? But they were one heck of a great band.

Like all great bands you'd expect the parts which are no longer the sum to shine or attempt to shine on their own. And so it was with Susanna Hoffs, the most recognizable name from the group. (Go ahead name the others).

Miss Hoffs's first solo attempt When You're A Boy can be written off as the banal fluff that it was. After that flop, the pen was poised to write off Hoffs, herself. But then came the Tuesday Night Music Club to the rescue. You may remember these guys, Kevin Gilbert, David Baerwald and Brian Macleod. They sprinkled their talents throughout Sheryl Crow's smash debut.

Now these musicians would have been more than enough to create incredible sounds -- but wait there's more… Matthew Sweet and Jason Falkner (Jellyfish), Jon Brion (man with the Midas Touch - Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Macy Gray, The Mommyheads and on and on….), Mick Fleetwood. There is so much talent; so many musicians on this album you'd figure the Too Many Cooks in The Kitchen Rule would apply. Not even! Everyone comports themselves with restraint. This result is a pleasantly consistent and solid album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A dusty, jangly guitar pervades the atmosphere of Susanna Hoffs. Hoffs's voice falls through the chords like pearl drops with an edge of fine grain sandpaper. The writing in strong, eloquent and personal. Many of these songs are about relationships laced with dysfunction. The first song, "Beekeeper's Blues," paves the way, the opening lines being "You only call when you want money / And when I need you you're not there."

"King Of Tragedy" casts the singer as the "other woman": "She's a cross between / Emma Peel, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kathy Lee / She's got a boyfriend / He's 23 / She won't give him up / I can't set him free / And still he means the world to me."

An exception, "Eyes Of My Baby," is a moving song about a single woman meeting the man of her life. A topic that could have easily tipped the scale towards mawkishness is, instead, delivered with frankness, conveying the anxiety and bliss that accompanies such a transition in life: "Had an eight o'clock date with a man I never met / I hate to be late so I headed east on Sunset / thinking anything is better / Than being alone / Now I'm looking in the eyes of my baby / Now I'm looking in the eyes of my man / No one ever could be more surprise than me / Did you see him smile?"

"Weak With Love," a song about two people's response to the shooting death of John Lennon, is stark and poignant. It drives the loss home better than any other song I've heard on the tragedy. You will immediately relate and recall the moment you heard the distressing news. There's also an interesting cover of the Lightning Seeds' "All I Want" in which the lyrics have been altered. If you are familiar with the original you may find this a little unsettling but that's made up by Hoffs's superb vocals and the dash of rockabilly added to the arrangement.

I can't recall right now which reviewer on this panel has an allergic reaction to those secret tracks tacked on to the end of a disc. [Editor's note: Nice way not to piss off the boss, Alicia.] Usually, they are dross, not worthy of studio time. But let me tell you, the two surprise tracks at the end of Susanna Hoffs are pure gems! The first, a gorgeous cover of "To Sir With Love" rivals Lulu's version. The second, "Stuck In The Middle With You" completely out does the Steeler's Wheel original. It is downright funky!

This is by far Hoffs's most mature effort. And I mean with or without the Bangles. It's a crime that this album hasn't garnered the attention it deserves.

Rating: A-

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© 2000 Alicia St. Rose and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of London Records, and is used for informational purposes only.