Suzanne Vega - Close-up, Vol. 1, Love Songs
After an absence of nearly three years Suzanne Vega returns to us with Close-up, Vol. 1, Love Songs, the first of a four-album acoustic series of all her best-loved songs. Listening to the timeless quality of these songs and the ageless beauty of her voice, it is hard to believe that the first of these songs, ‘Small Blue Thing’ was recorded 25 years ago, yet the song has lost none of it’s potency: “Today I am a small blue thing / like a marble or an eye / With my knees against my mouth / I am perfectly round / I am watching you.”
Like her hero Leonard Cohen, Vega is a master of creating images and feelings through her lyrics. Deceptively simple, like her beautiful fragile voice, these songs explore the complicated song and dance of relationships in all its angles: love found, love lived, and love lost. Take the jazzy ‘Caramel.’ Here love is described as a guilty pleasure, and one that should be resisted: ‘It won't do to dream of caramel / to think of cinnamon /and long for you / but I don't know how I would live with myself / what I'd forgive of myself / if you don't go.”
As with Joni Mitchell, who re-recorded two of her songs, ‘A Case Of You’ and ‘Both Sides Now’ for her 2000 album Both Sides Now, these up-dated versions feel like Vega looking over old diary entries, or re-visiting old haunts. As a result the songs have lost some of their youthful quality. Instead she has re-invested them with a maturity that only age and experience can bring. The elegant arrangements, coupled with her cool delivery, bring her insightful lyrics into clearer focus.
Many of the songs are improved by the sparser arrangements, like the edgy ‘(If You Were) In My Movie’ from her 1992 album 99.9F°. Here the lyrics are the main focus and not drowned out by unnecessary over-production. Vega’s voice is more confident as well, giving the sharp lyrics the emphases they deserve. And ‘Gypsy’, from her breakthrough album Solitude Standing (1987) sounds even lovelier with just a guitar and lulling voice: ‘Oh, hold me like a baby that will not fall asleep / curl me up inside you /and let me hear you through the heat.’
Suzanne Vega was never one to stray from difficult topics, and this collection of "love songs"s also contain those dealing with the ending of a relationship. ‘Songs In Red And Gray’ and ‘Harbor Song’ both from 2001’s Songs In Red And Gray were recorded at the time of her divorce and her straightforward, almost resigned delivery, combined with the simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar perfectly convey the songs’ sadness and loneliness. In ‘Harbor Song’ you sense both her bitterness and regret, made even more apparent by the two acoustic guitars playing off each other.
‘Some Journey’ from her first album, sits nicely at the close of the album. Though written over 25 years ago it is perhaps even more relevant now. ‘If I had met you on some journey / where would we be now?’ she asks. Listening to these 12 songs which chronicle the extraordinarily rich and influential career of one of our most revered artists one can witness the remarkable journey she has made. With Close-up, Vol. 1, Love Songs Suzanne Vega has delivered a top-notch collection from her impressive back-catalogue, injecting them with new life and vitality. We can now only eagerly await the next installment.