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It’s not hard to figure how her label might see Emma Townshend as an irresistible combination of brand name—yes, she’s Pete’s daughter—and Sarah McLachlan/Alanis/Tori Amos tics. But Winterland, her debut album, does little for the idea of genetics determining genius. It seems mainly to fill a current market niche and will likely be forgotten as everything but a curiosity this time next year. The disc begins with a studiedly tender, harp-accompanied “Better Than Music” (some kind of a bad joke, given Winterland’s complete tunelessness), which segues into “The Last Time I Saw Sadie,” which features the kind of tortured enunciation (“jaaalousy”) that Jagged Little Pill and the Cranberries’ oeuvre made an unfortunate hallmark of ’90s rock. From there, we get more vocals that rely alternately on mannered soaring and mannered muttering for communication that the “poetic” lyrics can’t deliver. While evincing little apparent familiarity with her dad’s directness of expression, Emma does seem to have heard Van Morrison, though she misapplies his lessons, repeating cliches like “I’m choking again” and “I’m seeing darkness” like someone who’s just heard Astral Weeks for the first time, playing in the apartment next door as her own stereo spews “Linger.” “Science cannot understand my art!” she blusters for some
interminable period after invoking metaphoric burglars, smugglers, and hunters. True enough—and still Winterland’s not as inimitably insufferable
as Amos’ self-examinations. Now that’s saying something.