Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman


5.0
classic

Review

by Conor USER (12 Reviews)
July 27th, 2014 | 29 replies


Release Date: 1988 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Simple yet utterly effective and hard-hitting, Tracy Chapman's eponymous debut is a socially-conscious effort that evokes the political zeitgeist of 1970s America but remains relevant even today.

Upon first listening to Tracy Chapman's seminal, eponymous debut, one can perhaps be a little too quick to speculate upon its influences. Whilst it is undeniable that the record is a shining example of classic contemporary (excuse the oxymoron) folk- and is indeed deservedly held in such high regard- classifying this as simply a folk album would be selling Chapman, her background and her resultant musical efforts woefully short. There is no doubt that the socio-politically charged lyrics are reminiscent of the heyday of revered legends such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, one should take into account of Tracy Chapman's upbringing; while the aforementioned artists were making their waves, Chapman was growing up in a working-class African-American neighbourhood, nigh unreachable by white folk artists despite the sympathetic lyrical content of their works. Despite the thematic similarities, closer examination of the music, particularly that of her 1988 debut, reveals more in common with country, 70's R&B and soul.

The album kicks off with the famous, energetic number 'Talkin' Bout a Revolution', which begins with a simple but catchy acoustic guitar rhythm and Chapman's idiosyncratic, husky crooning, with percussion being gradually added as the song builds momentum. The lyrics are powerful and evocative, conjuring images of the proletariat on their welfare lines, with “whispers” of rising up. Indeed, the song is a typical but wonderful example of Chapman's talent for creating thought-provoking yet uncomplicated songs, a style of 'depth through simplicity', if you will. Though it would be famously covered by Living Color, Chapman's version remains a signature song both for her and in the mindset of the lower social classes. Indeed, despite being a definitive contemporary folk number, one can hear influences of the more socially-conscious works of Stevie Wonder and James Brown rather than Dylan.

Another highlight of the album is the second track, which almost anyone who listens to music outside of the pop charts should know. 'Fast Car' is a more sombre cut, telling the story of a young woman who wishes to break free from her troubled life, having dropped out of school to look after her ailing father abandoned by his wife for his drinking and unemployment, wanting “more from life than he could give”. The narrator describes her life in stages through each gentle verse over the distinctive guitar melody, leaving with her partner in his titular car hoping for a better life but finding herself stuck in the same rut, all the while harkening back in the more uplifting refrains to the excitement and hope she had felt when driving in her man's fast car. Whilst a hit single, the song is also aware of similar stories that befell many a young person in hard times, leaving a bitter aftertaste when one realizes that sometimes they just can't escape.

Other tracks that convey the consciousness of the societal-challenged include the brief yet memorably haunting a capella 'Behind The Wall', describing the social injustices of her brethren, 'Across The Lines' which explicitly details acts of violence against citizens considered second-class and how they are ignored in favour of the lesser strife of the dominant whites. 'Mountain O' Things' further explores the disparities between the wealthy and the poverty stricken, all the while keeping in line with her simplistic but methodical approach to songwriting.

However, there are also tracks that delve deeper into Chapman's own personal psyche. The introspective, soulful 'Baby Can I Hold You' is another famous track off the record, which no amount of covers from forgettable boy bands of the 90s could ever destroy. Similarly, songs like 'For My Lover' and 'For You' continue to examine personal feelings of love and the effects it has on life, but also the effects life has on love. This is not an album split thematically down the middle, with one half being socio-politcal and the other a collection of love ballads, but rather they are interwoven beautifully and memorably, resonating deeply with any listener who can form any sort of connection to the soulful and at times mournful lyrics.

It would be doing the album an immense disservice to simply call it folk and consign it to the ages as such. Indeed, many of the tracks are relevant to society even today, especially when one casts thoughts to the dreadful conflict in Gaza, but also to the world as a whole, still in various stages of recovery from the worst economic downturn in many decades. Chapman's insistence of maintaining the integrity of her songs as she originally intended has led to her first album becoming a truly timeless work. Sure, the simplistic approach to each song won't sit well with everyone but it is through the simplicity that Chapman effectively conveys her message. With her range of influences outside of the obvious, Chapman was able to make the work of a single black woman from Cleveland relevant to a myriad peoples the world over, evidenced by the massive sales of the record. At a time when popular music was saturated with cheesy synthesizer lines over electronic dance beats and generic party lyrics, Chapman's effort and success is made all the more commendable.



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user ratings (94)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
(5)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Commenting in a LepreCon review, my first in about four years. Wanted to try something a little different, hope I haven't gotten too rusty!

danielcardoso
July 27th 2014


2253 Comments


Nice review for a comeback, pos'd.

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks man! Time will tell if this is truly a LepreCon comeback, I've had some false starts before! Also hoping it will get some of the Sputnik crowd who haven't heard this to check it out!

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments


Cool album, cool review pos!

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks very much!

Jethro42
July 27th 2014


12456 Comments


Album is very enjoyable. Nice to see you back in writing. Posd.

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks Jethro! Yeah, I'll be making a conscious effort to get back into Sputnik, I might even have another review soon!

Jethro42
July 27th 2014


12456 Comments


You'd have at least one reader, if ever I see it coming.

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Haha I had about five dedicated readers last time around so I'll be happy with one!

Jethro42
July 27th 2014


12456 Comments


Since you write quality reviews, I'd say I'm probably late at your reviews, the last one I've seen was probably Rory Gallagher's.
Edit. Oh wait, it's one of your last to date.

beefshoes
July 27th 2014


4030 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice. I haven't listened to this in ages.
Fast Car is a classic.

Digging: Ulver - Blood Inside

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Haha thanks, I find it very hard to believe I wrote that review 3.5 years ago! I would hope the quality of my writing has improved or at least has not diminished!

@beefshoes Yarp, timeless classic of a song!

NorthernSkylark
July 27th 2014


3518 Comments


drivin in a fast car, yeah


Digging: Tiger Trap - Tiger Trap

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

AND AI-EE-AIII
HAD A FEELIN I COULD BE SOME ONE
BE SOME ONE
BE SOME ONE

NorthernSkylark
July 27th 2014


3518 Comments


every day I'm psychoanalyzed
For my lover, for my lover

NorthernSkylark
July 27th 2014


3518 Comments


wow, give me a reason is really neat too

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I could have blabbed more about this album and all the songs on it as well as every song and album she's ever done.

But I chose not to.

NorthernSkylark
July 27th 2014


3518 Comments


you chose wisely young lad

LepreCon
July 27th 2014


4106 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Perhaps I'll review her next one some day.

But that is not this day.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
July 27th 2014


1627 Comments


Great choice of review and great review.



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