Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Suzanne Vega

  • Suzanne Vega [A&M, 1985] B-
  • Solitude Standing [A&M, 1987] C+
  • Days of Open Hand [A&M, 1990] B-
  • Songs in Red and Gray [A&M, 2001] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Suzanne Vega [A&M, 1985]
If I walked into a folk club and came upon this woman strumming her songs, I'd be impressed too--she picks her words with evident care and conversationalizes her chosen vocal tradition with evident savvy. But that's not good enough: great lyricists either dazzle you utterly or sneak the imagery on by, and no folk-based vocal tradition ought to require conversationalizing. Despite her considerable talent, Vega is self-consciously Artistic like so many folkies before her, which means that while a rock and roll production might power her over her affectations, more likely it just wouldn't mesh--the slightly prissy precision of these arrangements is precisely what the songs demand. As for that ersatz medieval ballad (which ain't bad, actually)--it's no anomaly. B-

Solitude Standing [A&M, 1987]
I bet "Luka" is a grand fluke like "You're So Vain" rather than a dawning of the light like "Mrs. Robinson." Better her closely observed recent songs than a tale of brave Ulysses or a lover with "hands of raining water" (wet yes, hot no). But close observation is still Creative Writing, and if Vega eventually graduates to, say, the flat command of Ann Beattie, she'll still be precisely nowhere. Real pop lyrics ignore such strictly literary alternatives altogether. C+

Days of Open Hand [A&M, 1990]
Right off she declares for the new realism: "Oh mom/The dreams are not so bad/It's just that there's so much to do/And I'm tired of sleeping." About time, too--only she can't take it. She's politically alienated and not too thrilled about that abortion. She throws up her hands at the future. She's decorous, tuneful, art-directed. And she gets her title, whatever it means, from the one called "Book of Dreams." B-

Songs in Red and Gray [A&M, 2001] Dud