M.J. Fine does it again
Sophie B. Hawkins did time on the road with Bryan Ferry, so she didn't exactly come out of nowhere with 1992's Tongues and Tails. And her first record didn't spawn her highest-charting hit that would be "As I Lay Me Down," from 1994's Whaler. But you couldn't be blamed for thinking her career began and ended with "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover."
Sophie B. Hawkins
Tongues and Tails
Sophie B. Hawkins
Bad Kitty Board Mix
Bad Kitty Board Mix, Hawkins' recent live double album, is bookended by runs of songs from Tongues, and her debut is better represented than her three subsequent studio records. The liner notes claim she recorded concerts for posterity rather than their commercial potential, and it shows. The songs rearranged to accommodate a scaled-down band are mixed much louder than the copious between-song banter. In that sense, the home-listening experience is just as interactive as a performance: Fans have to ride the volume control to laugh at Hawkins' rambling preambles without going deaf when the music kicks in.
But her solo career didn't start out with much levity. Consider "California Here I Come," a slick, dark slice of ambition, guilt and maudlin synth: "How come some people got it all/ Some people got none," Hawkins sings, "I been banging my head against the writing on the wall/ But now I just wanna have fun." Not long after that, she lightens the mood by reciting the Lord's Prayer.
And that's far less twisted than the intimations of incest that surface throughout the album. "Carry Me" put Hawkins' mommy issues on display well before Gigi Gaston's 1998 documentary The Cream Will Rise sent the duo to therapy, while the percussive "Live and Let Love" can be read as a precocious kid's claim that she seduced her abuser. And there's nothing subtle about the spoken-word coda of "Don't Stop Swaying," which ends Tongues with star-crossed siblings Hansel and Gretel alone in the forest, "making love, making peace, making music ... making sense."
Through it all, Hawkins gets over with sensuality and sincerity. "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" wouldn't work if she didn't completely buy into what she's selling. "Give you something sweet each time you come inside my jungle book"? A first-grader would cringe at the innuendo. But Hawkins wastes no time thinking before pushing the chorus up against the wall. She doesn't crack even a little, so there's no room to laugh it off. She's in such control right there, and all you can do is let in the lines that resonate and rationalize the rest.
Sophie B. Hawkins plays the Tin Angel on Nov. 18.