A subtle delight.
Jaime Gill 2002-11-20
It's one of pop's little ironies that the gentlest, simplest music can be the most difficult to craft. Without volume or attitude to hide behind, songwriters are often left cruelly exposed - for every delight like The Sundays there are a dozen dreary Didos. Throwing Muses into the plush indiepop of Belly and ending here, with her third and finest solo album.
Wistful and almost whisper quiet, Whiskey Tango Ghosts is the shy girl at pop's party. It's never going to force itself upon you, but if you take the time to notice it you may fall in love with its depths and delicacies. Composed with little more than a piano, an acoustic guitar and Donelly's wonderful whipped cream vocals, these eleven tracks are stripped down to two essentials: melody and emotion.
By necessity, this is not an album of thrills or surprises in the way that Belly's Star was. Occasionally songs do meander and merge into one another, lost in the acoustic haze. But when Whiskey Tango Ghosts works best, it is as lovely and lulling as a summer's day, the perfect soundtrack to doing nothing. "Whiskey Tango" ducks and dives around its piano motif, the sweetness of the melody lifting it above its melancholic words, while "Just In Case You Quit Me" has the husky grace of Mazzy Star.
There are two surpassingly beautiful moments. Opener "Divine Sweet Divide" has a heartbreaking frailty, and includes one of the most gorgeously held high notes to be found outside a Jane Siberry album. The countrified "The Center" is more playful, boldly mixing a Gerard Manley Hopkins reference with deliberate cliché - "You are the love of my life". Its gorgeous tune rescues it from clever cleverness.
Whiskey Tango Ghosts isn't designed to change your life, and it won't, but its very modesty reveals a songwriter confident enough to keep quiet about it. A subtle delight.