Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Notes on the Decade's Greatest Albums: A Girl Called Eddy

Recorded at Sheffield’s Yellow Arch Studios in the early part of 2004, the self titled album from a A Girl Called Eddy is one of the great under the radar LPs of the decade, and stands as one of the best debut records in recent memory. The brainchild of New Jersey born singer-songwriter Erin Moran, the achingly triumphant A Girl Called Eddy recalls the best of Bacharach and David while successfully alluding to everyone from The Carpenters to My Bloody Valentine.

Released on the independent label Anti Records, an offshoot of Epitaph, in August of 2004, the meticulously moody and at times miraculous A Girl Called Eddy is made up of eleven masterful compositions all from the pen of Moran. Essaying heartbreak, loneliness, frustration and finally redemption, Moran and producers Richard Hawley (Pulp’s brilliant guitarist) and Colin Elliot’s collaboration is simply put the Dusty in Memphis for this decade but for some reason the album, despite no small amount of acclaim, failed to catch on in the fall of 2004, and Moran’s project remains sadly unknown by the majority of modern music fans.

Armed with kudos from everyone from Robert Smith of The Cure to Nina Persson of The Cardigans (not to mention Burt Bacharach himself), as well as four and five star reviews from nearly every British music publication that reviewed it in 2004, A Girl Called Eddy should have fit nicely among the big selling sixties pop revivalists who have carved such a niche for themselves this decade, but Erin Moran’s charms perhaps proved a bit too subtle for most modern music fans.

Opening with the gorgeous and heartbreaking “Tears All Over Town”, a song worthy of the best Brill Building classics you care to name, A Girl Called Eddy never makes a wrong move in it’s classic L.P. running time. “Tears All Over Town” sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly, with Moran’s unforgettable vocals being balanced perfectly with Hawley and Elliot’s wonderfully effective production and side playing. The song, climaxing with the slyly bruising, “I know that I loved you, but I loved you in vain.”, is a classic opening and the perfect introduction to Moran’s musical landscape. It is no coincidence that it was this song that introduced A Girl Called Eddy to the music community (Moran had previously only played and sang background briefly for Francis Dunnery) when it was released as the title track on a 2001 E.P.

“Kathleen”, the first of half a dozen tracks offering up an exquisite string backing, reminds me a bit of one of Francoise Hardy’s startling creations from her early seventies period. Thoughtfully morose and slyly provocative, “Kathleen” is a masterfully moody track punctuated by a distant horn in the background and Hawley and Elliot’s wonderfully skilled and inventive production chops.

The lyrically striking “Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside” recalls the savageness of Costello’s Imperial Bedroom period, and it’s relatively relaxed musical backing gives it an added layer of subtext and emotion…like a Sunday walk in the park with your lover just before you break their heart. The strings are again used incredibly well and Colin Elliot’s late use of the mellotron is just lovely.

The title of “The Long Goodbye” will no doubt bring a smile to both literature and film fans, but instead of a moody film noir sound, the track proves to be one of the noisiest on the album, recalling the shoegaze glory of both My Bloody Valentine and Lush. The Beach Boys like harmonizing offers up a perfect counterpoint to Hawley’s tough and at times savage electric guitar fills. The song also includes one of Moran’s best lyrical moments on the album with the great, “Take your records, leave me mine. You’re the one who said we lived it all on borrowed time.”

After the quiet and at times chilling “Somebody Hurt You”, the album’s longest and perhaps most stunning moment follows with the jaw dropping “People Used to Dream About the Future”, one of the great songs of the decade. Here Moran’s voice shows surprising explosiveness, with the stunning mid song question of “Where did it all go?” offering up the kind of go for broke moment young artists rarely have the skills to achieve. Recalling Karen Carpenter in her prime (with a nice nod to vintage Streisand as well) Moran’s vocal work on “People Used to Dream About the Future” is simply stunning, and the soaring string section is wonderfully orchestrated. It’s the kind of perfectly crafted pop song that artists sadly just don’t attempt anymore.

Opening with a snippet of Bacharach’s “Close to You” on Moran’s piano, “Heartache” is one of the most minimal tracks on the record, with Elliot particularly shining on vibes. “Heartache” is lovely stuff and probably could have been some sort of torch song standard had it been written forty or fifty years ago.

Sounding like a German Cabaret number played by The Bee-Gees circa Odessa, the eerie and oddly majestic “Life Thru The Same Lens” is the album’s strangest creation. It’s also one of the best, with Andy Cook’s drums providing a solid backing to one of Moran’s most off-kilter compositions. Moran’s own backing vocal flourishes are particularly well placed, and Simon Stafford’s closing horn playing is perfectly fitting for such a strangely moving off the wall song.

Things get quiet again on “Did You See The Moon Tonight”, one of the album’s most mysterious sounding tracks. With a wide-awake narcotic feel punctuated by Hawley's wonderfully dreamy Hawaiian Steel guitar playing and Moran's drenched in echo vocals, "Did You See The Moon Tonight" is simply mesmerizing.

“Little Bird” seemingly offers up a hope of escape from the heartbreak and isolation Moran has been essaying on the album’s first ten tracks, but lines like “I am trapped under the sea trying to understand what life wants me to be” shows that Moran will probably never run in any kind of top forty crowd. The song also contains one of the album’s most outward tributes, with the Brian Wilson nod, “Heroes and villains and old lovers walk by, they tip their hats but they never answer why.”

A Girl Called Eddy’s final track is its most hopeful. Clocking in at a near epic six minutes, “Golden” finds Moran reminding herself that she doesn’t “need to die just to see” that life is already quiet wonderful. Alternating between near silence and the band playing at full force with Hawley’s shimmering electric guitar out front, the song is an ambitious and masterful closing to an equally ambitious and masterful debut LP.

The album would be greeted by universal acclaim when it was released in Britain in 2004. Mojo’s four star review called Moran a remarkable songwriter and noted that the entire album was “steeped in 60s classicism.” Q applauded Moran’s “sweetly painful love songs” in their four-star review and Uncut noted that Moran exhibited “gorgeously gauged soul and shrewdness” in her singing and writing. The album was mostly ignored in its stateside release though and was unfairly lost in the shuffle, the fate of many great albums from the past by uncompromising and individualistic artists.

A Girl Called Eddy is still thankfully in print and Moran is reportedly at work on the follow-up. Whether she can top her debut remains to be seen but I can’t wait to listen to what she delivers next. In the meantime, search out the sublime and moving A Girl Called Eddy. Once heard, its best moments will rarely leave your waking thoughts and Moran’s voice will haunt your dreams.

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