Top critical review
Karin come back! (he was wrong to let you go)
on September 7, 2001
Okay- please bear with me, 'cause I'm gonna start with the criticisms...
The main problem I have with this record is that it is successful neither as a straight R&B album nor as a His Name Is Alive album, which leaves us in something of a nebulous zone. I have much respect for Warn Defever's skills, but the beats tend to get in the way. I think the basic problem is in trying to force an R&B structure onto songs which are so clearly not of that realm. Just listen to the version of "One Year" on Warn's solo release "I Want You to Live One Hundred Years," compare it to this recording (with Lovetta's syrupy croon replacing Warn's anguished crack), and you'll see what I mean. And while I'm sure Warn is really happy with this new version of "Are We Still Married," I don't think it stands up to any of HNIA's earlier renditions. Which brings me to the next big issue: the absence of Karin Oliver. While I knew this was going to be a Lovetta spectacular, the song title "Karin's Blues" (listed on the 4AD web site well before the actual album release) gave me a sliver of hope that she'd make an appearance. Instead it is the song that I most wish had been left off this album, seeming like a suburban high school band's rendition of the blues more than anything. HNIA has always flirted with disparate styles and survived, making the process that much more impressive (look at the shift from old time-y folk to surf-rock on "Stars on ESP"). Here, however, the experiments fail more often than succeed, proving nothing more than Warn's fallibility, which he needn't be crucified for. He's still an amazingly talented, adventurous musician.
Keep this in mind when you first put this CD on, for you will be greeted by the kind of magic that I have come to expect from His Name Is Alive, and I suppose that's what really counts. "Nothing Special" sounds a little like "No Hiding Place Down Her" from "Ft. Lake," which should give you a good idea of what to expect. "Write My Name In The Groove" is about the most upbeat this album gets, which is mostly full of slower, introspective songs (and not too much guitar wankery). Warn digs out his ancient wire recorder once again for a brief (and very effective) foray into Duke Ellington's "Solitude," but elsewhere there are hi-fi flourishes of strings and piano. The focus of this album is supposed to be Lovetta's voice, and it is impressive. I still miss the ethereal Karin, though, and hope that Defever's love affair will eventually give way to some amazing new songs.
Compared to HNIA's other releases, this one is flawed. I got my hopes up pretty high since it was delayed so long, and I do expect this release will grow on me, but I was counting on something more immediately mind-blowing. As it is, it stands as a fine record, just not one of Warn's best. He's working on an instrumental album (with much of the same cast) for time stereo, and I wonder if much of this could've been released as one of his many side projects rather than the "big" new HNIA album. Buy it, enjoy it, check out timestereo.com for more obscure Warn releases and other fun stuff.
Fans of Ida please note: Dan Littleton plays on a few tracks here (and co-wrote "Happy Blues"). Violinist Ida Pearle appears, as well.