Does Wendy James really need any introduction? We knew her back in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the punky vixen of Transvision Vamp who had hits with I Want Your Love and Baby I Don’t Care. After splitting in the early 90s, not knowing what to do, she released her 1993 solo album Now Ain’t the Time for your Tears (written by Elvis Costello) which was received to mixed reviews.
She then decided to go back to basics moving to New York’s bohemian East Village near the legendary site of CBGBs nightclub which had spawned the likes of Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads to name but a few artists that she admired. Those influences are all here on the new album. Hardly surprising as it was recorded in New York and has an impressive line-up on it of Lenny Kaye on guitar (The Patti Smith Group), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) on bass, James Sclavunos on drums (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) and production from James Williamson and Steve Mackay, (Iggy and The Stooges).
Paloma’s Downs has that Blondie/Patti Smith vibe with great production (it reminded me of The Who in places) and is rock and roll with sharp and bittersweet vocals and a lovely piano. Indigent Blues has an immensely catchy hook with a lovely 60s girl band feel and there’s a great bit of acoustic guitar in it. King Rat’s intro definitely brought to mind Talking Heads and then became very early Blondie sounding but this album doesn’t just sound like a homage to James’ heroes, she has clearly got her own punk/rock n roll vibe written all over it. This song has some unexpected, quirky vocals on it that I love. It’s also got a spoken word throughout with the refrain “King Rat” that works really edgily.
By contrast, Love from the 9th begins with sweet vocals that recall again 60s girl bands but this song is not twee, it’s raw and honest as she sings “Listen you never made me happy, your voice, your thoughts are a big bore” also in such a pretty voice you think you misheard the lyrics. Bad Intentions and a Bit of Cruelty is dirty sounding and has an irresistible hook to it. Definitely a favourite! You’re a Dirtbomb, Lester is a great track that brings to mind the spirit of the Stooges with a great driving beat, James’ strident vocals and lyrics.
Screaming Back Washington rolls in gently with its subject of adoption as she herself was adopted. Apparently it was written from the mother’s angle, how she must have felt giving her baby away after carrying her for nine months. A reflective song. Why Oh Why Do You Hurt Me Still is bubblegum meets rock n roll and is tongue-in-cheek and Farewell to Love is another 60s girl band sound with a lilting reggae beat that evokes Blondie’s ‘The Tide is High’. I love the ebb and flow vocal of Cowboy Rhythm that is catchy and where a lot of the album sounds very “New York” this brings to mind England for some reason. It has that character to it.
Situation Normal at Surfrider has lovely production on it that sounds rich and for want of a better word very groovy! It’s infectiously laid-back like being in a convertible car with the sun blowing through your hair and has some great lyrics. “This kid he don’t need no-one, just the pure joy he knows, the swells are coming up from Mexico and the day is looking good” it’s so happy.
You’re So Great has a Transvision Vamp feel to it and is fun and with a guitar travelling at breakneck speed and the album comes to a close with a feisty cover version of Bob Dylan It’s Alright Ma that makes you want to get up and dance. Having just turned fifty (hard to believe) there’s a new maturity and poetry to Wendy James’ work that is evident and this lends itself well here as it combines perfectly with her still omnipresent spirit of rebelliousness.