Joan Wasser’s credits indicate a lady exalted as the queen of all fag hags. She’s played violin for Scissor Sisters and has cropped up in the bands of both Rufus Wainwright and Antony Hegarty. She’s even worked with über-queen Elton John. Now she’s solo. Sort of.
“As Police Woman” seems merely to mean that she now has her own band – and a keen sense of humour. But Real Life as an album is really all about Joan. The New York City lady follows Rufus and Antony into a quiet, torch-song place to be visited with glasses of vino and candles at the ready. Her music emanates from her whispery, sugary voice – a breathy instrument that never threatens to belt out notes but instead suggests them. Far from fragile, her voice is instead understated and imbues her music with intimacy.
The atmospherics produced make for an album that, it must be said, won’t be to the taste of anyone impatient for a singalong chorus. There are moments when it’s all a bit too bereft of hooks, tempo and purpose – Feed The Light, Flushed Chest, We Don’t Own It and Anyone – to appeal to, for instance, radio tastes.
But there are plenty of memorable moments too. The title track reminds most of Rufus, while Eternal Flame – nothing to do with The Bangles song of the same name – is a starkly beautiful duet of simple piano and Joan’s melancholy voice. Christobel, one of the strongest tracks here, introduces guitar into the otherwise laid back, piano-led orchestral mix to enlivening effect. Old pal Antony is called in for torch song I Defy, where his distinctive, otherworldly warble almost wrests away centre stage from Joan.
As with the music of Antony and Rufus, much of this record’s charm lies in its musical arrangement and use of a whole gamut of instruments – as befits the multi-instrumentalist at its helm. On subsequent listens Real Life reveals more of itself, a careful brush stroke of a cymbal adding atmosphere here, an echo of strings there.
As debuts go, they don’t come much more convincing than this. Following her tour support slot with the fantabulously talented Guillemots, it’s just possible that queens young and old will have to seek out new band members if Real Life brings Joan Wasser the level of solo success she deserves.