Purchased : 29 October 1988
Tracks : Good Tradition / Cathedral Song / Sighing Innocents / I Love You / World Outside Your Window / For All These Years / Twist In My Sobriety / Poor Cow / He Likes The Sun / Valentine Heart / Preyed Upon
This was bought in Rochdale ( I can't recall which shop ) on the way up to a 2-2 draw against Darlington ( about which match I can remember precisely nothing ).
Actually I suspect not quite remembering how this record came into your collection is quite a common phenomenon. The nineteen-year old Tanita's success was so sudden and so fleeting that this LP which reached number 3 in the charts remains one of the decade's curiosities.
The German-born daughter of a Malaysian mother and Indo-Fijian father burst onto the scene when her first single "Good Tradition" made it to number 10 in the charts in the summer of 1988. It was good timing ; the movement away from hardnosed materialism ( which eventually sunk its chief propagandist two years later ) in favour of something warmer and rootsier brought success of variable durability to the likes of Tracy Chapman, Enya and Fairground Attraction and Tanita's jaunty espousal of home and family security fit the bill just perfectly. It sounds like a huskier Chrissie Hynde fronting Too-Rye-Ay -era Dexy's perhaps unsurprisingly as Helen O' Hara is playing the violin on the track. ( Incidentally at exactly the same time Kevin Rowland was failing to get arrested with material recorded under his own name.)
What became clear when Tanita put the album out was that she was getting heavyweight help from two pre-punk musicians , former Zombies keyboards wizard Rod Argent and drummer Peter Van Hooke who worked with Van Morrison for most of the seventies. The songs are Tanita's but they are credited as both arrangers and producers as well as playing on most of the tracks.
After the hit, the second track is "Cathedral Song" an optimistic choice for third single ( it stalled at 48 ) but a lucrative earner for Tanita thanks to two big covers in Latin America. In an opaque way Tanita seems to be singing of the conflict between earthly and spiritual desires but sails perilously close to Adrian Mole - territory with lines like "wrench my soul". The song starts out appropriately as a slow hymn resting on Argent's muted chords then develops into a light, tasteful meander ( with some excellent guitar work from Mitch Dalton ) that sounds more attuned for the next decade ; it could easily be segued into Sting's Fields Of Gold or something by The Lighthouse Family.
The third track "Sighing Innocents" exposes Tanita's immaturity as a lyricist with little sense of bathos - "I'd rather be cold than lying over there". The ungrammatical hookline " No this ain't sighing innocents" reinforces the point. The song seems like a patchwork of one verse ideas stitched together and the light guitar jangle behind it offers little by way of compensation.
The title of "I Love You" wouldn't win any prizes for originality and the song itself betrays a familiarity with the first Suzanne Vega album and Freeze Tag in particular. That said it's a nice song in its own right featuring with a sparse arrangement and a more focussed regretful lyric on the impossibility of a meaningful relationship with a junkie.
"World Outside Your Window" was the fourth and final single and the obvious choice ( although it only got to number 58 ) , a sprightly pop tune vaguely about the joys of travel with a catchy chorus. It could easily have fit onto any Dire Straits album and Argent's Walk Of Life organ makes the debt more obvious.
"For All These Years" is something different again , a slow jazzy meander dominated by the drowsy flugel horn of Mark Isham and Van Hooke's freeform drumming on which Tanita comes across as David Sylvian's kid sister. The song is typically elliptical but seems to refer to guilt at both an underage relationship and one with a married man - "Yes I have his wife in the background".
Side Two commences with her second single and defining song "Twist In My Sobriety" which is much better than its modest number 22 placing would suggest. Although lyrically impenetrable the darkness at the heart of the song is palpable and the arrangement is first class with Martin Massiter's oboe sinuously wrapping itself around Van Hooke's clipped drums. The melody is perfectly suited to Tanita's low register. The only thing tarnishing it is the memory of the ghastly assault on it by Liza Minelli and the Pet Shop Boys less than a year later, a definite contender for worst ever cover.
"Poor Cow" is a brief jaunty little ditty with a hint of Afrobeat about the mating game from a wry observer's point of view.
"He Likes The Sun" is a long wordy song, again difficult to decipher but seemingly about a difficult relationship. Tanita's constant switching between between third and first person seems like a deliberate device to obfuscate. Musically it has a slow prowling blues-y groove with occasional hints of Ode To Billy Joe apart from a bizarre and jarring rock out in the middle eight .
"Valentine Heart" is a lovely piano and strings ballad with a more direct and affecting lyric about getting serious . It reminds me a lot of the closing song on one of my favourite albums of all time which we'll be discussing fairly shortly so I'll say no more here.
"Preyed Upon" the final track is exceedingly disconcerting as the lyrics taken together with the title could easily be about an abusive relationship - "You were inside that playground" , "I 'm not choosy I'm just half grown " which is completely at odds with the languid and mellow accompaniment and Tanita's woozy drawl of a vocal. Maybe I've got it completely wrong but it ends the LP on a very odd note.
But then Tanita was a very odd pop star. This is a very accomplished debut giving little clue as to why she was unable to maintain the footing it gave her. Perhaps when we get to the follow up - a long way down the line I'm warning - it will have become clearer.