Suzanne Vega faces the “Beauty and Crime” of New York


I’ve been a Suzanne Vega fan for a couple of decades. So I’m

happy she’s everywhere right now, doing interviews to promote her new album Beauty & Crime (released today).

If all you know of Vega is her hit 1987 song “Luka” or that infernal remix of “Tom’s Diner,” you owe it to yourself to take another listen. Vega has never stood still musically — she’s probably tired of hearing words like “experiment” and “evolution” in reference to the many musical paths she has traveled.

Despite that adventurous nature, there have been few missteps in her long career. Sure, she seemed to stand back from the limelight for a while (she even opened for Ani DiFranco when it should have been the other way around). But just pick a random song to stream on her website and you’ll soon see (er, hear) that she’s always been nothing but solid. Even when she’s doing visionary things like performing in Second Life, she shows her acoustic folk roots and her dedication to careful songcraft. How many artists take the time during an interview to talk about finding the right chords?

Vega’s new album Beauty & Crime is produced by Jimmy Hogarth, the man behind KT Tunstall‘s debut. Vega first envisioned it as “a mosaic of little stories about New York based on things people had told me or things I had seen or felt or heard.” And both The New York Times and New York magazine are passing along Vega’s own story, which makes for a fascinating read.

The songs on Beauty & Crime are short and singable, but as rich and vivid as anything she’s done.

Vega’s lyrics have always read like poems; I remember studying the insert to her 1985 eponymous album (OK, mine was a cassette) and feeling like I had picked up one of my sister’s Joni Mitchell albums by mistake. As soon as I read, “I want to live as an honest man /

To get all I deserve and to give all I can

/ And to love a young woman who I don’t understand” (from “The Queen and the Soldier”), I was hooked.

And then there’s Vega’s very lesbian-ish air. Yes, she’s married to a man (for the second time), but the woman has always known how to wear a jacket.

Plus, don’t tell me “Marlene on the Wall” and “Solitude Standing” aren’t kinda gay. And on her new album, there’s “New York Is a Woman”:

New York City spread herself before you

With her bangles and her spangles and her stars

You were impressed with the city so undressed

You had to go out cruising all the bars

Your business trip extended through the weekend

Suburban boy here for your first time

From the 27th floor above the midtown roar

You were startled by her beauty and her crime

And she’s every girl you’ve seen in every movie

Every dame you’ve ever known on late night TV

In her steam and steel is the passion you feel endlessly

New York is a woman

She’ll make you cry

And to her, you’re just another guy.

Fine, fine; maybe the word is “woman-centered,” to borrow a phrase from the days of “Luka.” Whatever it is, I dig it. And her.

You can stream Beauty & Crime on Suzanne Vega’s offical website and buy it from the usual retailers. (It will soon be available from the Logo shop too, and older Vega releases are there now.)

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