After a seven year hiatus, Suzanne Vega returns with a mouthful of a title for her new album, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Penatacles, catchy eh? Just like the name, the album manages to intrigue, and shows that Suzanne still has a lot left in her locker.
She’s been around for ages, and definitely has her musical stamps of approval with hits like the 1987 pop master class of Luka, or the dance tinged classic that is Toms Diner, which still sounds fresh today. Sultry and sometimes devastating lyrically, Suzanne is clever with not over-cooking songs but keeping them at a level that will impress, but not intrude.
Since Vega’s last album, the music industry and its mish-mash of styles has really taken hold, and the new record seems to realise this. Although borrowing here and there from other types of music and artists, it still managing to sound distinctly Vega. And why shouldn’t she find inspiration in others? Many musicians have borrowed from her over the years so it’s time the music industry paid her back.
Album opener Crack in the Wall is simple but effective and leads you gently into the record. With soothing vocal tones and clever use of guitar, it gives Laura Marling a run for her money. And from Laura Marling, the album jumps around finding influences from other artists. I never wear White sounds like Sheryl Crow, but darker and with more layers. Silver Bridge manages to be more like Haim, than Haim themselves, and Portrait of the Knight of Wands bears resemblances to Led Zeppelin acoustic tracks, but adding her own spin by including hooks that turn the song inside out by the time the song finishes.
That’s where Vega shines, out-doing what artists have done before, whilst taking the old and making it new and fresh sounding. This is most apparent on track Don’t uncork what you can’t Contain, going so far as to use a sample of 50 Cents Candy Shop to create a track with looping, repetitive, but seductive lyrics.
Speaking of lyrics, Vega hasn’t lost her touch there either. “I faced my father down inside the hall of our home, 18 years of pain upon my body to the bone”, sings Suzanne, showing she can still draw on the darkness to release herself musically. On top of this, minimalist track Jacob and the Angels shows originality with addictive vocals and lyrics set over haunting hand claps.
The album draws from and effervesces a knowing of musical trends and originality. Suzanne Vega mixes this altogether in a melting pot of sounds and releases an album heavy in beauty and high in quality. Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Penatacles is a triumph of not just Vega, but of the influences that helped her create it.