George Starostin's Reviews



Become a Certified Commentator today by following this link!

!!Before adding new comments, please check the GUIDELINES. Don't say I didn't warn you!!


No reader comments yet.


Tagbo Munonyedi <> (21.03.2006)

Joni Mitchell looms large over the female singer songwriter genre in the same way the Beatles do and back in the day, if you were female and you played guitar and you wrote your own songs, whether you liked it or not, comparisons were as inevitable as any new reggae artist being compared to Bob Marley or any young president being compared to Kennedy or whatever. I respect Joni and I dig her intelligence but I've never gotten into her music. Suzanne Vega was much more my bedfellow { if you'll pardon the expression }. This is actually one of the most attractive debuts I've heard. I don't think she came from nowhere, but it felt that way in the mid 80s. I had a mate who turned me on to her but it was very gradual, ie every time I was at his flat or in his car that's virtually all he played and as we worked very closely together, i sort of imbibed them songs by osmosis before I really started to listen for myself ( in turn, I turned him on to Bruce Cockburn ). For a long time this was my preferred album of hers and I still like it though it's follow up just shades it nowadays. I have fitted her first 3 on one tape so they all get an equal listen.

And what of the songs ? It's an interesting blend of guitar pushed and semi band songs, nothing flashy, but some great lyrics, even though I haven't a clue what she's on about most of the time. I'm not a fan of poetry, I just can't sit there and read the stuff - unless it's set to music, in other words, songs. Then suddenly poetry takes on a life that all but wraps me up in it. And this album is full of lovely poetry. In UNDERTOW she knocks out all these neat lines to good music, it sounds a little cannibalistic to start with, but it's just good imagery, I guess it's about getting to know the real person. I like the sparseness of KNIGHT MOVES, and the clever chess metaphors in the opening. It's quite a bitter song with some really violent images and a demanding attitude from the jealous protagonist. Lovely jerky guitar playing and a delicious bass line. Coz I was working on an adventure playground at the time, FREEZE TAG always resonated with me, the winters were cold in those days and we were outside much of the time and central to the ethos of playing was the ability to immerse oneself in different characters (" We play that we're actors on a movie screen / I will be Dietrich and you can be Dean...".) But of course this had nothing to do with the song, but I don't care; one of the strengths of good art is that we can project our own associations onto it, especially in the absence of any information....Lovely guitars again with thin, wispy, light synthy touches. I always recall my mate hating NEIGHBOURHOOD GIRLS, but I always thought it was a blast. I love that half spoken, half sung style. It's a pretty funky bass here and snappy drums - an instrument that rarely has more than a decorative role within Vega's songs on this debut. Once again the guitars shine, with a wicked interplay. Stylistically it's ahead of it's time, tailor made for the " Totally Spies " generation; lyrically I've known many like her. It's interesting that it 's titled 'girls' but it's about a person, singular. STRAIGHT LINES, were it about a fella could almost be about Syd Barrett. It's a bit close to the bone for me because it so eerilly describes the mental breakdown that a loved one is going through at present. It's probably not like that at all ! When I first used to hear it, I thought it described a stabbing. But it's deeper than that and there's nothing cheery about the music either . It's lovely, but some of it is harsh. It's a solid performance though. SOME JOURNEY is a great track, at once jerky and energetic, while also atmospheric. I love the violin on it. It's got this really funny line in it about passing on an eastbound train through some black sleeping town, whatever that is. Bethnal Green ? Interesting though, it does touch on the fact that in every day and every encounter, there is the possibility of so much history being enacted....There is something about THE QUEEN AND THE SOLDIER that sometimes has me fighting back tears. I'm not sure if it's the story or the exquisite music, but it sure touches a chord. There's a lovely mix of guitar, bass, piano and organ and the yearning quality of the song is so tangible. The last three verses are an explosive climax for such a gently played number. Probably the most effective opening is in the opener, CRACKING. What a way to set out your stall. A couple of guitars, that lovely mix of acoustic and electric that she manages so well, a bass that plops in just the right notes, a very underwhelming synth, voice speaking, sometimes singing lyrics dripping with fantastic imagery and an overall mystical sound. This is one of her great songs. It makes me feel so warm and dare I say it, full of elation. And it ain't even that kind of song ! MARLENE ON THE WALL is a delightful song, seemingly about human weakness but couched in rather clever clothes, tastefully executed, melodically strong { not that her other songs aren't. I think she's very powerful in that area } and lyrically to the point. This is another one where the drums serve as little more than decoration, whereas the bass is foundational. I could listen to SMALL BLUE THING all day. It's lovely and sparse, two guitars and a bass and Ms Vega singing lyrics that probably resonate from her Buddhistic leanings. They sound to me like a description of an acid trip going slightly freaky. Oh well.

Overall this seems a confident debut but for some reason I get this nagging feeling that she sometimes looks at it and isn't happy with it. I don't know why, but it feels like something is being held back. I can't put my finger on it but then, what do I know ?! I happen to dig the album either way.


<> (28.01.2003)

Great site! The rating scale is definately beyond my grasp but the reviews are very detailed. Anyway, I absolutely agree with your review of Solitude Standing. It has been a full decade since I listened to this on my walkman in junior high, but every now and then I'll play a couple tracks. I think it has aged relatively well (unlike some of her later albums).

Robert Jurczyk <> (09.08.2005)

I remember an album that Suzanne Vega put together called Tom’s Album which was a compilation of various versions of 'Tom’s Diner' from the famous acapella version to a German version, to a rap version. I purchased this on cassette and no longerhave it. I looked for this on CD and have been unsuccessful at locating same.

I believe that the outside of the actual Tom’s diner in Manhattan was used on ”Seinfeld” for Monk’s.

Tagbo Munonyedi <> (13.03.2006)

For many years I much preferred her debut album but this one really has hidden strength in reserve. If you're the kind of person that can afford to give albums a chance over a period of years, this may turn out to be a pleasant surprize if it didn't catch you by both ears initially. I always kind of liked it but it wasn't something that demanded repeated listens. Well, maybe one or two of the songs did, but now the whole album does. Nearly 20 years after it's release, it has aged really well; there's not too many albums from the 80s IMHO that have. What really stands out for me on this recording is the simplicity of it all.....the band line up is sparse and predictable, a couple of guitars, keyboards, bass and drums and Vega herself, a total absence of backing vocals, just a bit of double tracking here and there, barely. There are no screams or wails, no flashy, lengthy solos, not much energy.......but this is rather deceptive because this album is both laid back and intense at the same time. The entire band plays attractive little pieces and what I call ' rifflets ', sort of subtly repeated phrases that aren't particularly complex, not exactly riffs. Yet they interlock in the most fantastic way and are truly inventive. There is so much going on within the songs, no notes are wasted or lost but it took me a long time to appreciate this. Some of the songs have this mystical air to them and this mysteriousness pervades the entire LP.

TOM'S DINER was possibly the first or certainly one of the first accapellas that I ever liked. It's saving grace is that the melody is memorable and it is short and snappy, doesn't waffle on and unlike some of Suzanne's lyrics, is easy to understand. If you've ever been in a cafe, you've been in Tom's diner ! LUKA is one of only two here that show that there was a rocker somewhere in Ms Vega's being. It's fairly upbeat if not energetic and it's beautifully played. The way the keyboards and guitars create waves of atmosphere is thrilling. But a listen to the lyrics, I mean a real close listen to the lyrics is damned uncomfortable, especially if you've been in the position of the kid talking in the song or have known such. Because it's such a lovely tune and hangs together well, it's easy to gloss over the words. There really are many " Luka's " this world over in jails, mental institutions and care homes - but most of them ain't. What's really creepy about the song's narrative is actually what's implied and hidden as opposed to what 's stated; lines like " I walked into the door AGAIN " are chilling to the extreme......IRONBOUND MARKET has a mystical feel about it and if it were sung in a language that I didn't understand and someone told me it was describing an encounter with God or an LSD trip or an out of the body brush with death type thingy, I'd believe it. As it is, it really does what it says on the tin ! That a market place could be described so thoughtfully is remarkable. Love that song ! IN THE EYE blasts along in more rocking vein than LUKA does yet musically, vocally and lyrically there is that air of mystery. It's like she was a purveyor of spiritual pop, whatever that means coz I don't have a clue, it just sounds accurate ! And NIGHT VISION has all the ingredients for mystery, beautiful shadowy guitars, a hoarsely controlled vocal, wise impenetrable words, synth atmospherics that are clever and mood evoking.......but somehow it's all less so than IN THE EYE. That said though, it's a beauty. SOLITUDE STANDING has this brilliant deceptive beginning and it launches into one of the best of a wicked bunch. The drums are simply brilliant, keeping up the tension, the guitars and bass all lock together in deference to one another, yet they all retain an individual voice and I haven't got a clue what she's talking about but I don't care, the words scan so well, the overall sound is glorious and the arpeggio in the run out at the end makes me wish it went on for another 3 minutes. I have to rewind this track ! CALYPSO is another super number, built around this fantastic rifflet on the guitar and excellent atmospheric drumming and a synth wash that just makes me wanna cry. As mystical as it sounds musically though, it sounds like hi - jinks on a beach, lyrically ! LANGUAGE follows hard on it's mystical sounding heels....I know that word keeps coming up but there is [ in my hearing at least ] this otherworldly feel seeping throughout the record. Yet, such a good writer is she that her songs here are totally accessible, singable and lovable, which is not an easy thing to do, especially when you can't necessarilly grasp where she's coming from. LANGUAGE is so musically gorgeous and I just love the lyrics, kind of carrying on the thread first aired in the Beatles' I WANT TO TELL YOU. I just adore the " I'd like to meet you in a { I can never work out the next 4 words, so since THE PHANTOM MENACE I just say 'place that's Qui Gon Jinn' } / somewhere out of context / and beyond all consequences ". Man, what poetry ! And classic when put to this tune. GYPSY, while being a good song with some entrancing lines { Oh ! Hold me like a baby / that will not fall asleep - it's currently so reminiscent of my 15 month old son } is the slight dip for me. And guess what ? That odd air that has it's fingerprints all over the album is temporarilly gone. Actually, it's like a sigh of momentary relief, a chance to breathe out, because WOODEN HORSE with it's dark brooding feel, emphasized by wonderfully inventive drums and a cautious lyric and foreboding vocal brings it all back. If funerals weren't such sad affairs, if it was accepted that they are indeed thought provoking, then this is the kind of song that should be the funeral march - if indeed one could march to this ! The final track is a major surprize, an instrumental version of TOM'S DINER. For me it's one of the best on the album; done in a kind of Western attempt at an Arabic / bellydancing style, it takes the album out in a neat way as it fades into the ether. Food for thought; I wonder if Suzanne was aware of the work of the Canadian singer - songwriter, Bruce Cockburn in her formative years coz her stuff really reminds me of his stuff circa '73 - 84. Which is not to say she was derivative in a negative way, because I think this still holds up as one of the more original offerings of that decade.

Return to the main index page