Joan As Police Woman’s debut record came out 10 years ago. Rather than pummel the seemingly endless ability she has to craft classy intensely emotional torch songs Joan Wasser has constantly side-stepped the obvious route, and Let It Be You is no exception. This time she has teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis of Okkervil River, Cuddle Magic and Bridget Kearney. In addition to new found company for this latest outing, the direction and sound of the record is perhaps her biggest departure to date.
The opening bars of the first track, Broke Me In Two, are something of a red herring. The keyboard line would happily sit on any Joan As Police Woman recording, but the song soon opens up with her bright falsetto and a groove that is far removed from the melancholy of her first two records at least. Davis steps to the fore of the second track Overloaded, which roots itself even deeper into R&B/pop territory with a big hook of a chorus. Lyrically, Overloaded lacks some of the more nuanced writing Wasser usually employs. “Don’t want to talk about it/just want to scream and shout it/Don’t want to wake up in the morning over and over it automatic,” Davis sings on the chorus, and given some of Wasser’s past odes to the complexities of relationships these professions feel comparatively rudimentary. Nevertheless it’s a catchy number.
More than any other record Wasser has produced, this one feels like it’s purposefully going for accessibility. This is not at the expense of creativity for the most part. Let it Be You’s jaunty handclap driven beat for instance is instantly engrossing without relying on the obvious and familiar. Equally the deep bass, minimalism and unusual approach to melody on Motorway suggest Wasser isn’t ready to hand over all of her ‘alternative’ credentials in the name of pure pop. Magic Lamp is one of the rare moments on the record that some of the more delicate, and satisfying character of Wasser’s voice are allowed to shine.
The only other really quiet moment on the record is the ever-so-slightly proggy closer Station. After all the slick and shinny pop driven tracks it’s a refreshing conclusion to the record, for despite its many successes it’s not without fault; tracks like the dirge of Hurt So Bad and Satellite hit the pace, and Easy Money is marred by an unremarkable melody.
The 10-year-old Real Life remains something of a blessing and a curse for Wasser. None of her follow-up records, from To Survive through The Deep Field to the brassy soul of The Classic, despite all sporting exquisite moments, have been received with quite the same reverie, and it’s likely that Let It Be You will be dealt a similar hand. Listening back to the title track of Real Life and Eternal Flame, the yearning for some sort of repetition from this artist is understandable, and her emotional elegance remain undiminished. Yet Wasser sounds brighter on this record – like a weight has been lifted. If the cost is peaks and troughs rather than reaching the very high bar she set with her debut, then so be it. She remains one of the more interesting and rewarding artists of this century.