Luscious Jackson – Electric Honey Review by Robert A. Peate
July 1, 1999
All songs by Jill Cunniff except where listed.
“Nervous Breakthrough” opens with a beat that reminds me of something else, something else I�ll not remember today. It’s very funky and danceable, but soft and sweet too in that Luscious vein. It’s just amazing how they manage to be percussive without being violent. The chorus breaks in with a cheerful force, reminding us why we loved Luscious Jackson in the first place: their amazing changes and rhythms, coupled with beautiful melodies and soft vocals. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, because it doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not and it celebrates what it is! Security and self-confidence: what concepts. 😛 The refrain “Thanks to you” provides a solid backbone underneath relaxed vocal extemporising and even subtle horns.
“Ladyfingers”: the word that comes to mind ten seconds into this song is “intense”. It starts innocently enough, with vocals and guitars then drums, but when it begins in earnest between its tenth and eleventh second, one knows that Luscious Jackson have returned, and that “Nervous Breakthrough” was just a warm-up. It’s as funky as hell without sacrificing their trademark sweetness, and is the perfect mixture we’ve come to expect from these ladies. I love Ms. Cunniff’s lyrics: “I bet you didn’t know that I could treat you right, that underneath the armour there’s another girl,” and “I�m so tired of my guns and my vanity; I�d like to trade them in for some sanity.” They reveal the same sense of rhyme used to such great effect on the last album. This song is a rejection of hostility, and a return to love and trust, that I admire.
“Christine”: more funky smokiness–Luscious Jackson isn’t really a band; it’s one long song or mood, heavy and thick with beauty. Oh, my god–that percussive section in the middle is just . . . orgiastic. It makes me lose control of myself with delight. And then of course Ms. Cunniff comes back vocally and puts me down to Earth again. But it’s the chorus that’s the most lush and full, that makes one feel as if one is swimming underwater. It’s very lovely, truly. The variety in their music is what amazes me the most–it’s really a marvel.
“Alien Lover”: another funk-romp, about an extraterrestrial erotic encounter, or at least the wish for one. 😛 It sort of knocks David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” on his alien ass, because it goes boldly where no one has songwritten before. “Hear me now: I�m an alien lover,” Jill proclaims proudly, and we can only admire her boldness. At the end of the song, there’s a science-fiction-soundtrack section, that makes us feel as if we’ve been led on a ship into Outer Space. Fun!
“Summer Daze” (Glaser) is the first song on the album that recalls the Nineteen-Seventies, and makes me wonder if the other songs on Fever In, Fever Out that did so were also written by Gabrielle Glaser–because this is the first song on the album written by her rather than by Ms. Cunniff. It’s got a similar but not the same feeling, and I love it–it’s breathy, funky, hot, like its subject matter: “Such a long hot summer day–how I wish you’d come to play.” I think these women are truly great, not because they’re sexual, but because they’re honest, regardless of the subject matter. I truly love and admire them, to the extent that it is reasonable for me to say that. ;P
“Sexy Hypnotist”: there’s a flute line behind and between the lyrics “And I am looking for the slots” and “I am filing down my heart” that must be heard. This song seems more like Jill talking to us, and happening to have music in the background. By that I don’t mean she’s not singing, but that she seems to be confiding to us while the music plays behind her, as if it’s all an aside, or as if it’s all in her thoughts as the band plays an instrumental in a casino. Then, near the end, the music begins “stomping” toward us, but we are scooped to safety from being stomped by Jill’s voice lifting us up again.
“Friends” (Glaser): yes, I do recognise the Glaser style. She wrote this too, and it is obvious to me that those songs with the same feeling on Fever In, Fever Out must also be by her. Her feeling is good and spunky too. I�m happy that she and Jill work together, because they obviously complement each other perfectly–the miracle of their meeting seems as fortuitous as that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, though their music is very different. Perhaps Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would be better parallels, because they also wrote great soul and dance music–and by “soul” I mean music that is good for the spirit. Case in point: “Just call me when you’re blue.” Simple, pure, and good–nothing could be more fulfilling, right? It’s like Star Wars versus Star Trek: Star Trek has all the philosophical discussion, but Star Wars inspires emotion on a primal level, a much more satisfying level to one’s heart. I love them both, but I don’t get butter-flies in my stomach over Star Trek.
“Devotion”: castanets and power chords accentuate the mystique of this song, before a magnificent Indian-inspired bridge of the type we’ve heard one or two before, which then shoots us off our seats into a rockin’ keyboard solo. This song leaves us breathless with its perfect changes, all of which make sense, and then ends, leaving us wanting more. One cannot tell to what or to whom Ms. Cunniff is expressing devotion, perhaps a daughter (she sings “Long-lost daughter of mine, can you send me a sign?”), but there is another very significant lyric in this song otherwise, which sheds new light on all of Luscious Jacksondom: “I�m an underwater fraulein, all I know is my rhyme,” which speaks volumes for itself. I swear to God I wrote of swimming underwater above before reading this line.
“Fantastic Fabulous”: just when you thought it was safe to go back into that water, however, “Fantastic Fabulous” blew you out of it! This song has punch and fire, as well as groove. It starts with Ms. Harry’s classic vocal and lyric sneer, but then softens almost immediately after, in the trademark Luscious method. But then it builds to a compromise between the two, more powerfully than ever: bam! One feels knocked, socked, and rocked by this sonic assault. Ooh! “Fantastic fabulous–you look so wonderful–fantastic fabulous and completely out of your mind.” The ladies’ cheering almost sounds like that of the Go-Gos at their height (double entendre intended). 😛 It rocks! The highlight of the song is not even the next part, which is Ms. Harry herself recorded on an answering-machine, saying, “Hello, Tony [Mangurian]? This is Debbie Harry calling. I think you did say something about tonight, to sing or something for Luscious Jackson?”, as great as that is. No; the highlight is the immediately subsequent section, wherein the ladies’ singing sounds like an eerie chorus of cheering angels or demons, in that Debbie Harry style (I can only assume she influenced them here, although they do it their own way–beautiful). The song ends on a bang–great.
“Gypsy” (Glaser): then we get back into the Luscious brand of spacy rock and funk. What I love about them is that they manage to be deep and intense without sacrificing their sweetness. In fact, it is their sweetness that renders their deep intensity all the more desirable. “If you look into my gypsy eyes, I�m gonna take you away . . . oh, yeah, I�m gonna take you away.” It seems evident to me that this song is in response to Jimi Hendrix’ “Gypsy Eyes”, one of my favourites of his for ten years this summer, in which he sang, “Well, I realise that I�ve been hypnotised–I love your gypsy eyes.” Of course he was a master of sweet funk, and they are mistresses of it, so it should only seem natural that they’d be influenced by him, if this is indeed the case, although of course they take it to a new, Nineties level. It’s just beautiful and sweet, as all their songs are.
“Beloved”: the first hint of a non-dance or -funk song. This is a softer, sad ballad. Even the percussion is sombre, to fit the mood. That doesn’t mean the whole thing is a drag–it’s got its slightly more uptempo sections–, but overall the song conjures images of strolling on a beach alone, reminiscing about the past. I think the fact that Gabby doesn’t play any guitar on it also takes the mood down a notch–the only guitar is Jill’s rhythm guitar-playing.
“Country’s a Callin” (Glaser): my favourite Gabby song on this album, because it’s got even more flair and attitude than her usual amount. It’s playful and fun. This is the third song, by my count, to mention the summer-time, so I can only assume that the ladies were spending the winter longing for the summer, writing songs with which to warm themselves. I notice that Emmylou Harris sings backing vocals on this track as well.
“Space Diva”: another fascinating glimpse into Ms. Cunniff’s psyche, this rocker takes us into orbit around the Planet Funk as well. It’s got that pleasant drone of intensity that makes one wonder how they can keep it up, song after song, album after album. Intense, happy fun–all the divas are doing it.
“Fly” (Glaser) opens with the twangy guitar chords of a Sixties Western film, then adds percussion and upright bass, so smoothly and flowingly one doesn’t even notice their entrances under the soft groove. Vocals complete the picture. The theme of course is flying high (“Believe me when I say we can fly high,” Gabby sings, bringing to mind the Doors’ “Girl we couldn’t get much higher”), and the feeling is that of a Nineties version of psychedelia– psychedelia didn’t die; it just changed forms. The guitar blends so perfectly with the other instruments in this song that it’s remarkable. I love the softness of this song–it demonstrates and gives a side of Ms. Glaser heretofore not revealed.
“Lover’s Moon”: a plaintive plea for a lover’s return, very sad, despite the musical soothing the ladies provide, even with a lazy violin added by Petra Haden. The song has a Country feeling, but also a sleepy Jazz feeling. It’s very short, and ends abruptly; one can only conclude that Ms. Cunniff wanted us to feel the longing she does for its object, and we do. We leave her on “the Widow’s Walk”, looking out on the waves.
Reprinted without permission, if you want something taken down, just ask and i’ll oblige
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