Sunday, November 06, 2005

Now Playing: Kirsty MacColl, From Croydon to Cuba

It's generally not a great idea to buy an overpriced box set for one song, but there are a handful of songs over the years that are pretty damn hard to put a price tag on... and one of them is most definitely Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know," a slice of perfect pre-New Wave pop from 1979 that holds up today as one of the catchiest songs ever. Though probably better known through the Tracey Ullman cover (and it's been covered a million times since), Kirsty's original remains definitive; you can hate yourself all you want for liking such a simple Motown-ish rip-off, and damn if the chorus isn't inane as all get-out ("But they don't know about us, and they've never heard of love"), but anyone who doesn't hit the replay button and sing along every time this comes on is clinically dead.

Alas, in her tragically brief life (cut short by a fatal speedboat accident in 2000), Kirsty never again wrote a song quite so perfect, but she did leave behind a sufficiently intriguing body of work to make her 2005 posthumous anthology, From Croydon To Cuba, a worthwhile investment. Stylistically, MacColl was all over the map. Her early work, which I prefer, was a mix between retro Motown/50s stylings and faux country (best exemplified by the mock honky tonk of "There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis," her second best song and one of my favorite country songs ever). Unfortunately, she then delved into a more mainstream-ish new wave sound, plagued by annoying 80s production and intrusive synth beats, though even there her full-bodied vocal stylings kept things somewhat on track. She followed this up with assorted forays into pop and country, what might dismissively be considered adult contemporary, vocal jazz, and Latin music. A few standout tracks aside, her best work may have been her fine way with a cover, from a fantastic take on Billy Bragg's "A New England" to the Kinks' oft-covered "Days"; also noteworthy are her stellar duets, including "Fairytale of New York" (with the Pogues) and a cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" (with Evan Dando of the Lemonheads).

The Croydon box may be a bit too much of an investment just to check Kirsty out; unfortunately, the more concise Galore single-cd compilation is out-of-print.


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