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Is that supposed to be a black eye that Alana Davis sports in the cover sketch of her debut album? If so, it’s by far the most disturbing thing about Blame It on Me. Sure, there are the screams and city noises the singer-songwriter keeps hearing in “Murder,” but they’re only the imaginings of someone who has read too much Sylvia Plath and thinks she’s, like, losing her mind. To a tasteful Latin-tinged beat, of course.
Blame sounds like the product of someone who has spent a lot of time absorbing her mom’s Phoebe Snow records. Couple Davis’ own rich, vaguely gospelish vocal presence with a ruminative yet reassuring pen (and an Ani DiFranco cover for a hedged-bet first single), marry them to Ed Tuton’s restaurant-ready production, and toss into the ring of triple-A female chirper-cleffers, andsurprise!it’s a multiformat sure thang. Er, thing.
And throw Edie Brickell into that description somewhere. “32 Flavors,” the DiFranco track that has brought Davis to prominence, recalls “What I Am” or “You Oughta Know,” instant hits that claimed for themselves more depth than they could possibly supply. DiFranco fanatics, worried about the perceived sullying of their heroine’s indie purity, are up in arms about what they view as Davis’ Peter, Paul and Maryization (Judy Collinsization?) of their girl’s song, but Ani herself ain’t exactly Dylan or Joni Mitchell. “32 Flavors” is part of a trend toward songs declaring their creator’s complexity rather than actually demonstrating it (see also Meredith Brooks). Naturally, these songs usually end up choking in the shallow water on their way through a few million CD collections to the used bins. Underscoring the similarity is the “32 Flavors” video, which pulls an Alanis, with several Alanas singing to each other’s faces.
Blame It on Me is certainly cringeworthy, but it’s also fitting for such a laid-back mindDavis never promotes the gnashing of teeth à la Morissette or Brooks. Instead, lines like “You conform to what society says/And I conform to me” are good in 1998 mostly for rolling one’s eyes to. Still, there hasn’t been a Sade album in a while, and the more progressive-thinking among her audience may well find a place in their lives, or their seduction rituals, for Davis.
If Blame It on Me wafts in on a whiff of hippie-chickness, Imani Coppola’s debut is drenched in patchouli. ChupacabraSpanish for “goat sucker,” she’ll inform anyone who missed the X-Files episodeyielded an early-winter radio hit with its first single, “Legend of a Cowgirl,” an alt-rap statement of purpose hooked on a generous loop from Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” If that sample alone weren’t enough to establish Coppola’s ’60s-fan credentials, the song also features a baroque-pop bridge that could’ve fit in on a minor post-Revolver album (or maybe Folk Implosion’s “Natural One,” which itself was built around a Left Banke template).
Organic like Neneh Cherry and contemporary like TLCalthough the “Creep” trio’s bios never invoked “the Gautama Buddha, locked in rapt contemplation of the infinite while resolutely waiting for enlightenment beneath a bodhi tree”Coppola at her best forges a wide-open meld of styles that keeps popping as it plays. It’s not just producer Michael Mangini (Digable Planets) who accounts for the very credible hiphop feel here; Coppola displays a rambunctious, youthful flow even as she delivers Dharma and Greg-isms like “Everything around you is just part of every other thing” in a song called “I’m a Tree.”
Coppola’s sound and stance are more indebted to Beck than to any female artist, but for all its surface iconoclasm, Chupacabra shows that Coppola has a way to go before she commands her marriage of styles on a level as high as that of Mellow Gold. Even when she’s not out-and-out biting riffs (like the “Moonlight Drive” organ lick on “I’m a Tree”), her sources are clear, not yet fully digested. “Naked City (Love to See U Shine),” for instance, brings back strong memories of the Rufus/Chaka Khan proto-quiet storm ballad “Sweet Thing.” Still and all, pretty melodious.
Often enough, Coppola’s spirit carries the day. In “Naked City,” she throws off her clothes in the middle of the street; in “Cowgirl,” she’s a badass gun-toter rambling from town to town for her next boy-fix; and in “Karma and the Blizzard,” she alternates between quoting “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and complaining that the bank won’t cash her checks. Unfortunately, in the second half of the record, the funky tunefulness dissolves into listless mood music, precious folkieisms, and, on an unlisted bonus track, some kind of bad pop-opera excerpt. For someone who’s just on the cusp of her 20s, though, Coppola’s problem isn’t that she might lose her sense of adventurous fun any time soon. She just needs to remember to trust the verities of her own thrift-shop mind.CP