CD Cover Lisa Loeb

Review by Darren Gawle

A few days ago I went out and bought the Love Story box set (available on Rhino records) and, man, what a great band! Love featured, in Bryan MacLean and Arthur Lee, two of the finest and most inventive songwriters of this century. And, unlike the latest effort by Lisa Loeb, none of their albums featured a cover that looked like a 'young adults' novel from the early sixties.

Actually, a line could be drawn between the two subjects: Bryan MacLean was an excellent songwriter, especially vis-à-vis his acoustic numbers such as "Alone Again Or," while Lisa Loeb is representative of how mediocre songwriting has become since the early seventies. Her songwriting isn't bad -- certainly she's improved since that song with a video directed by Ethan Hawke -- but it's not great, either. It's just kind of there.

At this point, enter one Juan Patino, producer and engineer of Firecracker. Maybe with some clever arrangements and innovative production he could have raised Ms. Loeb's work above the level of mediocrity endemic to most singer/songwriters today, but sadly that doesn't happen. The songs on Firecracker can't seem to decide whether they want to be stark acoustic ballads or lush pop gems.

Patino also lets two golden opportunities to make a great album slip through his fingers: "Truthfully" packs very little punch, considering there's a string section on it (no doubt some L.A. hack will probably counter this by telling me I need better stereo equipment), while "Furious Rose" is a giant step in the right direction, but upon closer inspection the string arrangement starts to wander aimlessly during the verses. The album builds to a somewhat clichéd climax with "Split Second," before ending with the album's title track. In a perfect world, "Firecracker" would pack the same wallop that "A Day in the Life" did on Sgt. Pepper's, but rather it sounds terminally contrived.

Yes, as a matter of fact if I knew a bit more about engineering I probably could do a better job of production than this. In the meantime, though, maybe Geffen should hire Steve Albini (oh, you bet I'm serious) or perhaps Stephen Street for Lisa Loeb's next album. Firecracker doesn't get a 'thumbs up' from me, but Love's albums Da Capo and Forever Changes do, in case you see them the next time you're out CD shopping.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on May 18, 1998

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