Album Reviews

Jill Cunniff – City Beach

(Rykodisc) UK release date: 3 September 2007

Luscious Jackson really should have been bigger – how could an independent stylish girl group with hip hop beats and the backing of The Beastie Boys possibly fail? But they remain an under-achieving cult band almost universally remembered with affection. Following their split in 2000, lead singer Jill Cunniff is back with a debut solo album dedicated to the city beach of Coney Island, New York.

The immediate reaction to this album is to wonder what happened to the Cunniff of Luscious Jackson. She claims that the songs were “envisioned as a soundtrack for driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in a white convertible” and the whole vibe is a world away from her former band’s effortlessly cool beats of Naked Eye or the enchanting pop of Ladyfingers.

Opener Lazy Girls, dedicated to lazy girls and laidback boys, sums it all up nicely. Most of the album stays on that smooth laidback vibe, making this album one designed for hot sweaty afternoons in a New York apartment with no air conditioning and just cold beer and ice cubes to cool yourself down with. With the casual beats of Warm Sound and Apartment 3, you’ve really got to be in the right mood for this album. In fact it’s the more mid-tempo tracks NYC Boy with its horns and flute and Eye Candy that stand out from all the slow grooves, but that’s probably because they’ve got a bit of life in them.

The album’s a bit of a grower. Tracks that are inoffensive and quite forgettable at first do seep under your skin with repeated listens, and as such it does have its appeal. The only song that really jars is Exclusive, where Cunniff’s lyrics are just embarrassing to listen to as she tries to convince a philandering boyfriend that she’s the only one he needs – “I don’t believe in open scenes. They camouflage broken dreams. But you don’t have to suffocate. Because you’ve got a steady mate.” Eugh!

The one really upbeat song is Future Call and by the time it comes round it’s actually a bit of a shock to the system as the listener’s become so acclimatised to the drowsy lullabies that have preceded it. But Future Call and its shout out to wide boys and west end girls demonstrates that she’s still got a flair for a good pop song. It’s also worth mentioning Last Summer, one of the two bonus tracks, which is a wonderful laidback affair with warm layered vocals and a backing track reminiscent of Everything But The Girl.

Having taken such a long time to finally produce this album, you’d think that it must have been a labour of love for Cunniff. And maybe what she’s come up with demonstrates what happens when the coolest girl on the block grows up, gets married and has children. There is still some evidence of that edgy fun girl with the hip hop beats but ultimately too many of the songs just don’t quite cut it.

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Jill Cunniff – City Beach