Review by LarryG|
3½ stars out of 4
Fan Dance is a great return to form for a good, interesting, mature
singer/songwriter. Phillips hadn't done much of note since her smart,
tuneful 1994 Martini & Bikinis CD. On Fan Dance, Phillips and her
husband and producer T Bone Burnett pared down Phillips' sound,
creating striking, minimal arrangements. More importantly, Phillips'
songs and voice easily hold up to the close scrutiny the spare
Fan Dance's songs are smart and striking. They draw you in by
avoiding excess and focusing on a few interesting, restrained
performances. The title track adeptly uses Marc Ribot, an expert in
creating exotic sounds, on guitar and banjo. Jim Keltner, playing
quiet drums and cymbal, shows his skill at subtly fleshing out a song.
Phillips' vocal is appropriately cool and seductive as she sings about
drying her tears then mesmerizing a crowd. Fan Dance is a brave CD.
Accompanied only by her piano and Ribot's guitar and banjo, Phillips'
sings on Edge Of The World about a strange, vaguely remembered night.
Edge Of The World is melodic but it also has the heightened sense of
drama of a silent movie score. With Ribot's sly, jazzy guitar, Soul
Eclipse has a cool sensibility. Phillips' sharp images(like "you think
I'm interesting, like the apocalypse") describe a relationship with
someone who doesn't really know her. Incinerator, which is also just
Phillips and Ribot's atmospheric guitar, is another showcase for
Phillips' cagey but playful romantic observations.
Though it works in a different idiom, Fan Dance is like the
soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, also produced by T Bone
Burnett, in the way it deftly keeps the sound simple. O Brother
participant Gillian Welch sings harmony and plays bass on Five Colors.
Five Colors focuses on Phillips' vocal and her simple My Sweet Lord
style acoustic guitar line. The similar but slightly more fleshed out
How To Dream is arguably the prototype for a perfect pop song.
Phillips vocal warms up and, with a basic guitar line, she creates a
modest but full and hopeful sound. With a classic sound that has
echoes of The Troggs' Love Is All Around, Phillips eases her way
through the very appealingly languorous Love Is Everywhere I Go.
Fan Dance's songs are stripped of pop gloss and extra rock and
roll flourishes. They're usually short with limited instrumentation.
Phillips' writing often has the vivid, simple images and unclear
meaning of a dream. On Wasting My Time, Phillips' intelligent vocal is
strikingly matched with only an evocative cello. Taking Pictures'
lyrics and music, with Van Dyke Parks' on harpsicord, are
interestingly delicate and dreamlike. Taking Pictures has a cutesy
lyrical hook "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" but it's mostly
about the haunted concept of always finding places to be different
than remembered before it reaches the sweet image "I can only picture
the disappearing world when you touch me" then quickly slips away.
Below Surface deploys Fan Dance's recurring themes of dreams and
desire as its muffled, hypnotic sound matches the lyric's feel of
slowly drifting down. Phillips plays one of Fan Dance's catchier riffs
on Is That Your Zebra? but she's content to let her vocal float mostly
wordlessly above the music. Fan Dance finishes with another good,
dreamy song, the jazzy Say What You Mean.
Fan Dance is a great, intelligent adult pop record. Phillips'
voice is very cool and often icy but it's also expressive and
interesting. Fan Dance's music is mostly austere and thoughtful but
it's also enjoyable and sometimes quite catchy. I can imagine that
some would find Fan Dance too enigmatic and austere but I find its
minimal, smartly focused sound extremely refreshing.