[/i]Rolling Stones Top 500 Albums, #261
Tracy Chapman helped restore singer/songwriters to the spotlight in the '80s. The multi-platinum success of Chapman's eponymous 1988 debut was unexpected, and it had lasting impact. At the time of her first album, there were only a handful of artists performing such a style successfully, and her success ushered in a new era of singer/songwriters that lasted well into the '90s.
Chapman recorded her debut album with David Kershenbaum, and the resulting eponymous record was released in the spring of 1988. Tracy Chapman was greeted with enthusiastic reviews.
Info provided by allmusic.com.
Track by track Review:
Talkin' About A Revolution (2:39)
A pretty simple song, just Tracy singing with the addition of a simple guitar rhythm and percussion. The simple background fits nicely with Tracy's vocals and does well to emphasise the powerful lyrics. "While they're standing in the welfare lines .Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation. Wasting time in unemployment lines." It was one of the singles off of the album, and you can see why. It is easily accessible to the mainstream audience, keeping it simple and 'mainstream' while maintaining its message. One of the best tracks on the album.
At first listen this is just a simple Alternative Pop song, but after further listens (especially to the lyrics) the complexity of this song really shines through. The hit single off of the album that helped bring Chapman into the spotlight. It peaked at #6 in the Billboard Top 100 Singles List and won her a grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and it is clearly evident why she won that award. A beautiful track that talks more about love than one of her many political messages. Chapman manages to keep the song simple like all of her others. It manages to stay interesting the whole way through and keep the listener engaged in her thoughtful lyrics and beautiful voice. The song, despite being a love song helps describe a few of the struggles of modern day life and the emotions we feel experiencing these challenges. The lyrical intricacies of this track are amazing, portraying so many messages in just one love song. 5/5
Across The Lines(3:21)
Unlike Fast Car this songs message is much more straight foward, however still very powerful. The song is like almost every other one of Chapman's, simple rhythm accoustic guitar, a simple drum beat and Tracy's vocals which work so well time and time again. Across The Lines talks about gang warfare and how racism is still clearly evident in our society no matter how much we try to pretend its not there. "Tonight the riots begin, On the back streets of America, They kill the dream of America." Even in such a straightforward song, still lies many different more subtle messages woven into the lyrics. She also shows her uncanny ability to portray messages that are timeless and still relevant today 17 years later. Another top-notch lyrical performance with a beautiful sound to accompany it. 4.5
Behind The Wall(1:46)
More of a political message than a song. Behind The Wall is just Tracy singing with no instruments to accompany her. Not one of my favourites, but still rich in lyrical content.Behind The Wall is based on her violent childhood, and how it affected her whole family, harming them for the rest of their lives. She once again manages to incorporate other messages into the song, especially questioning the Police's integrity. Not having any back up instruments helps and harms this song, emphasising her message in some ways, yet making it less powerful at the same time. 3.5/5
Baby Can I Hold You(3:13)
The third single off of the album Baby Can I Hold You goes back to the simple stylings of the first 3 songs. It is a love song through and through, and unlike Fast Car does not have the same lyrical depth. Thats not to say it does not have lyrical depth, it does. Just not the same, it incorporates many ideas of love. Not her usual deep and thought-provoking political ideas and ideas about life. For most the ideas in this song will be easier to grab hold of and enjoy, allowing easy access for the mainstream audience. Comparing it with Fast Car however is unfair as they are both vastly different stylings and songs. Chapman's vocals work especially well in this one, helping to add depth and warmth to the song, and bringing out the lyrics. 4.5/5
Mountains O' Things(4:38)
I'll be working for somebody else until I'm in my grave. I'll be dreaming of a life of ease. And mountains, oh mountains o' things"
Mountains O' Things clearly touches on ideas of poverty, wealth and the rich keeping the money for themselves. It also touches on the age old idea of material goods cannot replace friends and family. Yet still manages to do it in a subtle but powerful way that does not seem old and rehashed. Chapman cleverly switches between both sides of poverty and rich yet maintains her message throughout. Another song that is deep and rich in lyrical content, using subtle messages that only become apparent after tons of thorough listens to the song. 4.5/5
She's Got Her Ticket(3:55)
One of her most complex songs, instrument wise. Although thats not really saying anything. The music and Tracy's vocals help provide a relaxed mood but with a over-whelming sense of sorrow. Upon first listen this does not suit the lyrics which sound like they're revisiting Tracy Chapman's past and her leaving home. Which does not suit the music. As you listen to it more the message becomes clearer and much more suited to the mood of the song. The song talks touches more on how cruel the world it is and how it can chew you up, spit you out and "leave you with nothing." However the song still seems to be missing something (Or maybe I am) and thus prevents it from a 5/5 or 4.5/5. 4/5
A nice track with a nice catchy guitar riff that repeats itself that fits well into the rhythm of Tracy's vocals. The song contains many messages, and fits the title perfectly. Why? The song asks many questions that make you think and wonder why does it have to be like that? All of the questions she raises are still very appropriate for todays society. All of the questions are still being asked today. She uses oxymorons thoughtfully, with the last line fitting perfectly into the verse.
"Love is hate
War is peace
No is yes
And we're all free"
As mentioned earlier, she once again shows her uncanny ability to show ideas that are still very relevant in society today. "Why are the missiles called peace keepers" 5/5
For My Lover(3:12)
A nice sounding song, with beautiful laid back country styled guitars and harmonica used to perfection. The song talks about the depths she would go to for her lover, and how in modern day life love can be a fickle thing. The songs messages seem more subtle and complex than her other ideas and messages about love in her other songs. The song works well to get you listening to it over and over again to explore the song and its ideas. The song itself is one of my favourites, exquisitely crafted, showing Chapman at her best. 4.5/5
If Not Now...(3:01)
Then when? This song is a welcome break from the more depressing songs before it (Why?, For My Lover). Another well-formed song that fits the pieces together amazingly well. With the guitar and piano working together, inter-woven together and complimenting Chapman's vocals to perfection. The songs message is pretty simple. Live life by the fullest and never take love or life for granted. "You can wait and lose this heart, you can wait and soon be sorry" 4.5/5
A nice accoustic guitar apeggio starts the song off and sets the tone for the first half of the song. The first half is mainly filled with the guitar apeggio and Tracy repeating "Deep in my heart." The song take a turn though, and her lyrics describe herself more as losing control of her emotions and her life. Being overpowered by the feeling of love. A nice pick for the last track of the album, slow, calm and peaceful. 4/5
Tracy Chapman's debut CD is a brilliant one. It starts on a high and never lets that standard slip. A great album that can be listened to with ease from start to finish, rarely letting the listeners attention slip. Some may not like Chapman's simplistic approach to designing the tracks, this CD certainly isn't for everyone. Chapman's music may scare off some, however the people that stick with it will find an labyrinthine of thought-provoking ideas that keep coming out with every listen. This album also started a trend of many other singers and songwriters following in her footsteps. A C.D that changed the face of music.