Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - Teenage and Torture - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - Teenage and Torture

by Al Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2011-01-18

I like it when bands have real frontmen. People with obvious charisma, people with total belief in every single word they sing, in every semi-conscious movement they make. I like Patti Smith and Joey Ramone, and I don't like Brandon Flowers or Chris Martin, because they don't really believe in their art and neither do I. The whole frontman/woman thing isn't just about the live setting either, because when you're listening to a recording, you're picturing them in your head, and that picture is important. Maybe you have no idea what they look like, but, even if you're doing it subconsciously, you're piecing together their face, their mannerisms; checking the realness of their voice: are they trying too hard, or not enough? Or are they just some fucking soulless creep who doesn't even care about their own stupid songs? Popular music is never just about the music: it's about someone who you totally believe in saying something that makes your heart swell. The person saying it - what they look and sound like - is of paramount importance.

Shilpa Ray is someone to really believe in: she has a great voice, and it's easy to compare her to other singers but I want to resist thinking of her as a product of pop history, I'm so taken with her I feel like she deserves better than that. She does sound like Debbie Harry at times though; she's got that inscrutable New York cool, but she's looser and angrier. Opener 'Hookers' is a fiery comment on internet pornography, the main repeating hook of "Click on me boy/ Click on me" snarled over a mess of overdriven guitars and one sustained organ note. Just as things are getting a bit pummelling, the second repeating part comes (the verse, I guess), the guitars cut out and Ray sings seductively, "Come inside, I'll help you find my face (faith?)". The contrast between the two parts works really well: the angry, tiring tirade followed always by the blissful interludes.

'Heaven in Stereo' is melodic indie-rock, not particularly inspiring but Ray's voice, sometimes mellow, sometimes wailing, lifts it above the ordinary. 'Venus Shaver' is the jewel in the crown here: As soon as Ray's voice - assured, inscrutable, totally captivating - comes in over a lonely harmonium, there's this atmosphere that few songs ever come close to achieving. I have no idea what the lyrics are about - possibly perceptions of female beauty - but it's such a beautiful song, tired and longing, like the end of a night out when you realise your life is meaningless and want to cry.

Of course, the first lesson of music criticism (and, indeed life) is to prepare yourself for innumerable disappointments, so let's get on with it. The outro on the soporific 'Dames a Dime a Dozen' clocks in at two solid minutes. Its repetitive but subtly changing bass and guitar lines are the kind of thing one might enjoy while ripped to the tits on MDMA - sober, I could only marvel at such wanton self-indulgence. 'Liquidation Sale' is the kind of overcooked electric blues that Lenny Kravitz makes; obviously it's not as bad because it's not actually Lenny Kravitz, but it's pretty uninspiring all the same. Some of the other tracks have nice moments. The bridge of 'Stick It to the Woman' has a cool swing to it, but the angry, distorted vocals and guitars in the chorus kind of spoil it. 'Erotolepsy' has some beautiful, shimmering piano arpeggios that sit uneasily underneath aggressive guitars and throaty vocals.

The idea that you can 'get lost in' a piece of music is usually meant as a compliment, but with this album it is, at the very least, a double-edged sword. Getting lost here might mean swooning over the lush dynamics of 'Venus Shaver', or it might mean finding oneself in a forest of loud, unsubtle guitars and slightly empty melodrama. Like, say, Amanda Palmer, Ray's vocals rarely lack intensity but when all the music is so intense all the time the power is pretty much lost. 'Venus Shaver' is a beautiful, subtle, accessible pop song, but there's nothing subtle, and nothing memorable about the majority of these songs, even though most of them aren't actually bad.

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