Not to be muddled with Aussie pop-rapper Iggy Azalea‘s upcoming debut The New Classic, The Classic is the new LP from Joan Wasser – AKA Joan As Police Woman – and her first since early 2011. Wasser, building a solid rep for herself with darkly beautiful explorations into death and grief (after some close losses, including partner Jeff Buckley and her mother), has had a music career as jagged as it is diamond-encrusted. Though Wasser’s had more than her fair share of strife, she’s always marched through, surviving to craft wondrous noise and music designed to contort aortas.
For The Classic, she’s favoured a blend of ’60s/’70s retro soul, R&B and motown. It slots nicely alongside the nostalgic resurgence of late; it’s above average in quality, but never leaps head and shoulders above the unwashed masses. That said, it’s not going to be lost in the undercurrent. However, there’s an element of toffee-nosed arrogance to slap a label like The Classic over a new LP – something you’d perhaps expect up-and-coming hip-hop braggarts to do. Maybe, in time, it will be revered as a classic album. To the diehard Joan As Police Woman cultists, this is more than likely the case, but at the offset, without that glut of chest-pumping grandstandery (that, quite simply, would be a ridiculous look for Wasser), it jars. It’s a very minor qualm though.
Throughout the record, she swoons and pirouettes through the sounds of 40 to 50 years ago, dipping into long-gone eras as if merely waltzing was a way to travel through time. It’s an elegant journey, and smoothly produced. Even when it’s frayed, disjointed, lo-fi, raw and skinless, there’s still an overt grace. In a way, it is a deeply classic sound. If you were just handed it in the street and told to listen without any extraneous info, you’d be hard-pressed to discern the true identity of the voice and musicians. Wasser apes history like a genuine pro.
Shame, stuffed with muted funk licks and gospel backing vox, disco brass and glorious pep, sounds like a supreme offcut from Disney’s Hercules. It’s charming, Top 40-baiting and effortlessly uplifting. There’s a faint cheddar whiff, but it’s endearing as opposed to nauseating. Similarly uplifting, though not in a ‘BAM, TAKE THAT’ way, is Ask Me. Light organs and tropical shuffles allude to a Hawaiian breeze; there’s a teensy gospel vibe again, but it’s like gospel on the beach. Doo-wop choon and title track, The Classic is an a cappella doozy. Beat-boxing, gorgeous baritones and lilting female harmonies underpin Wasser’s surprisingly belty vocals. She’s not always about the subtle; the lady has pipes like a boss.
And it’s not all lollipops and rainbows. What Would You Do is, again, rather Disneyish, but at the other end of the spectrum. It’s a jazzy, malicious, Dr Facilier-esque bout of menace. It slinks with sleaze, schmoozes with ease and undermines the optimism found elsewhere. It’s great; and the big band brass is sublimely filthy. Witness is the same – a motown-y barrage, but not the sassy cheer kind; this, rather, is the heartbroken Amy Winehouse at her moodiest kind. No doubt that Wasser’s got talent and chops here.
There’s a blend of mood, paces and themes on The Classic, and aside from the title – which may or may not be founded – it’s a pretty darn wonderful comeback from Wasser. There are hooks and tunes galore, and whether you’re looking for destructive enormity or a quaint Sunday morning soundtrack, you’ll find it in this album somewhere. It adds up to a pleasant directional change for Wasser; even if it’s not necessarily one she can ride off indefinitely, for now, it’s a sojourn worth taking note of.