Release Date: Mar 11, 2014
Record label: Relativity
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Songwriters and musicians have long used emotional turmoil as a source of inspiration, but on The Classic -- which nods to '60s and '70s soul with its sound and title -- Joan Wasser proves that happiness can make for smart, relatable songs too. Even though this is easily her most joyous album, it isn't completely new territory. Joan as Police Woman's previous albums showed that Wasser can set loss, grief, and acceptance to song like few others and also had uplifting moments that broke through like sunbeams.
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.
Joan As Police Woman's The Classic is built on foundations of a mid-sixties soul vibe that smacks of adidas holdalls, brogues, Wigan Casino and the 1970s. 'Holy City' and 'Shame' in particular are embedded with a heavy beat and fast tempo synonymous with the Tamla Motown records played at clubs like Wigan Casino or The Twisted Wheel, during the Northern Soul movement of the late sixties and early seventies. The low-key piano chops which develop into a rousing feel good chorus in 'Holy City' and the breakdown of Joan's vocal, stuttered drum beat and the staccato singing-scatting towards the end of the track, has a distinct Curtis Mayfield feel.
Despite her personal history and contribution to the work of artists such as Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright, Joan Wasser, under the moniker Joan As Police Woman, has forged through four albums a fanbase built on merit and appreciation for her unique alternative sensibilities and seeming enthusiasm for variation. Her fifth album, ‘The Classic’, continues in this vein. Taking in a number of musical styles and emotional highs and lows, it’s is another hit for an oft-overlooked but important figure.‘The Classic’ is intentionally a mixed bag, designed to cover the spectrum of Wasser’s repertoire rather than attempt to appeal to one specific style.
While not quite the classic its title might insinuate, the fifth solo album from Brooklyn’s Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Policewoman, sees the critically-acclaimed, indie singer-songwriter renouncing the overly-cerebral despondency she’s built her career upon. This time around, she’s fighting tooth and nail to be happy and damned if she won’t succeed. The retro-tinged, adult-contemporary vibe of 2011‘s The Deep Field hinted at the direction she might take next, but The Classic regrettably succumbs to the hackneyed trend of resurrecting obsolete musical genres to give an artist a bit of a facelift.
Joan Wasser’s fifth album might have a slightly presumptuous title, but it certainly has the stuff of greatness in it. From the moment the cavorting orchestral waves of opener ‘The Witness’ are let loose, the record’s acrobatics are almost overwhelming and never let up. Even the title track’s take on ’50s/’60s girl group is complex and intricate beneath its melody’s simple waltz.
After emerging as a dark indie torch singer – with powerful albums inspired by the deaths of her mother, and her lover Jeff Buckley – Joan Wasser has made an unlikely leap aboard the already overcrowded retro-soul train. As its title suggests, her fifth album is full of the kind of stylish, brassy fare that made huge stars of Amy Winehouse and Plan B. However, it often sounds more like a calculated stab at broader appeal, rather than coming from anywhere deep emotionally.
Joan Wasser’s work as Joan as Police Woman has always been soulful, but her fifth album, The Classic, is her biggest step into soul as a genre. While the album hops across a jukebox-full of styles, the disc largely grasps at retro soul straws, the production glossy and full, the instrumentation precise and rich, the vocals impeccable. But some of the choices seem forced, experiments that lack the emotional immediacy of both classic soul and Wasser’s past work.
In the most recent issue of football quarterly, The Blizzard, journalist Phillippe Auclair writes a thought-provoking piece which ponders whether the oft-quoted links between football and chess are really justified. Nowadays, it’s become a cliché for any tactical battle of attrition on the pitch to be described as “like a game of chess”, but Auclair does an admirable job of debunking the myth of the football-chess axis. One counter-example in Auclair’s argument references the current vogue for using opening gambits previously thought entirely obsolete, mentioning in particular a match in 2013 where grandmaster Magnus Carlsen began proceedings with the Ponziani opening – a quintet of moves first referenced in literature in the 15th Century yet seldom seen in competitive chess today – and won.
“I don’t want to be nostalgic.” Funny that Joan Wasser drawls this at the chorus of The Classic’s centerpiece track, “Good Together” – of course, there she is talking about an old relationship, because she couldn’t possibly be talking about the lion’s share of her latest offering under her Joan As Policeman moniker. Right down to its nondescript, backward looking title, The Classic spends an awful lot of its time carousing about the throwback flavor of the week, ‘70s soul. Granted, this foray is no surprise; Wasser retreated from her torch singer roots and began employing heavy doses of retro grooves in her last outing, 2011’s The Deep Field, but they were weighted and tempered with smears of melancholy.
Following various false starts and stints on backup for the likes of Rufus Wainwright and Antony Hegarty, Joan Wasser's debut album under the Police Woman guise was released when she was 35 years old, and already sounded like the work of someone who had dealt with unaccountable tragedy and loss. 2006's Real Life was – and remains – a revelation of an LP, and if it's one that she has never topped in terms of sheer impact and durability that's only because she set the bar so high on her first attempt. "I'm in the best place I've ever been in my life," Wasser declares in the press release for The Classic, the group's fourth album of original songs.