Album Reviews

Suzzy & Maggie Roche – Why The Long Face

(Cooking Vinyl) UK release date: 20 March 2006

For the unfamiliar, The Roches were the boho-scenesters of the New York Greenwich Village folk scene in the late ’70s, serving up lush harmony folk-pop from the three sisters, Maggie, Terre and Suzzy.

They were the cowgirl kooks singing sweet (verging on saccharine for some) whose skewed, naive vignettes about crushes, inadequacies and politics won them many fans wowed by their freshness. True, they are an acquired taste with their left of centre take on the world and all its little idiosyncrasies, but they are charmingly curious rather than achingly oddball.

Now just down to a pairing, Suzzy and Maggie still seem as fresh as ever in their close-knit harmonies, even if their naivety has worn off somewhat with age. These then are the troublings of aching hearts and minds composed over the years with their many collaborators including some work with community projects. See, you can never kill a hippy…just give them a bath.

Falling roughly into three sections – the good, the bland and the arty – this is an uneven album that needed some clearer guidance to steer it away from being just another good Roches album (in all but name) into something more special.

So with suds behind its ears I Don’t Have You starts things off in the good bracket, as a gentle stroll of shuffling acoustic loveliness, which, while never attempting to reinvent the wheel tickles and shimmers with its bubbling harmonies. Never has heartbreak sounded so happy, in all it’s �ba-ba-baing’ middle eight. Carrying the heartbreak further, the more plaintive Broken Pieces is a down-tempo dip into introspection, “searching for myself in strangers faces”, in a very grown-up way.

Who Cares pulls on its political hat, but this being The Roches (in all but name) it’s human, confused and ultimately on a small approachable soapbox. Of all the post 9/11 chest-beating patriotic songs the human “If you live in New York City, keep your eye on the sky, wondering about the next time” strikes a chord that flags and peace signs doesn’t come close to.

Unfortunately The Warwick Flag underneath its intertwining lyrics and dripping harmonies, is a bit of hippy whimsy about “creature spirits” in a pointless and lets the side down. As they once sang it’s a bit “pretty and high”. La Vie C’est La Vie on the other hand is a Negro poem from the early 20th century, of yearning that crosses time to spark a common human emotion couched in suitably love-plucked (sic) strings.

From here on in things take a dip in quality control, and begin to disappear from accessible to wilfully obscure. Don’t Be Afraid, with its shades of Coca-Cola positivity, conjures up the greetings card emotions of James Blunt or other inhabitants of the middle of the road. Similarly The Long Lonely Road To Nowhere tries to revisit the kooky-ness of their youth with tales of self-help book addiction, but is so laboured and the music is equally turgid (perhaps deliberately).

Likewise For Those Whose Work is Invisible does pretty much what it says on the title, but is stumbling, slight and untethered. They even revisit One Season from their 1980 album gets in a pointless like-for-like ‘we-used-to-be-this-good’ kind of way.

The sparse backing allows the voices room to swoop and coo like two doves of love and peace, but without a bit of dove poo now and again it can become an over-sweet affair lacking in bite. A shame because there are flashes of what made them special. Perhaps it’s time to rope in the missing in action Terre to complete the picture?

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Suzzy & Maggie Roche – Why The Long Face