Picture Perfect Morning
By John McAlley
Whether or not you were jazzed by her boho antics and philosophical musings, you would have to concede that Texan Edie Brickell cut one of the more idiosyncratic figures in the pop landscape of the last decade. Her wonderfully elastic voice bounced gleefully off the New Bohemians, a band capable of both jazz- and pop-inflected virtuosity and rock & blues rough-and-tumble. The collaboration yielded two albums: a studio-polished platinum debut, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars (and its inimitable, career-defining breakthrough single, "What I Am"), and the more satisfyingly rough-hewn sophomore effort Ghost of a Dog. If, ultimately, those records showcased in Brickell a modest talent whose winsome lyrics repressed more than they revealed, she was still—thoughtful and brimming with personality—an artist worth rooting for.
Picture Perfect Morning, Brickell's solo return after a four-year hiatus, is perhaps too cleverly titled for its own good, so strenuously tasteful are its musical settings and unapologetically melancholic in its emotional pulse. In its desire to be a mature work, the record—produced by Paul Simon (Brickell's husband) and his longtime associate Roy Halee—obliterates the glory of Brickell's Bohemian days: the youthful whoops, the roadhouse fervor and, for that matter, the ambivalence and philosophical reveries. Resignation and a near-clinical air of depression pervade Morning (mourning?). This might have been illuminating were Brickell a deeper writer or had she managed to put more of herself on the line. As it is, the chugging "Tomorrow Comes" merely convinces us that she knows too well the torpid rhythms of psychological paralysis. The singer sounds similarly stuck — and suitably strung out—on "Green" and the dreamy blues "Stay Awhile." Fictional surrogates in marginally more dramatic scenarios ("Hard Times," "Olivia") don't free her to take more risks.
Simon and Halee recruited Dr. John, the Dixie Cups, Barry White and the Nevilles to deliver some Southern flavor (most seriously on "Good Times" and the title track); there's even a hint of Simon's world-beat high jinks on "In the Bath." Formidable hired hands notwithstanding, too much of the music feels self-conscious and canned. In those moments when it does take on muscle, it only serves to betray Brickell's surprisingly inanimate vocals.
There is, however, a telling resonance to the album's final and finest track, a Rashomon-like exploration of perspective and individual need. "Lost in the Moment" deftly reveals the complex interlocking of human lives—and the sometimes untenable strain of dependence and expectation. In the song a woman's grief is so all-consuming that she's deaf to her crying baby in the next room. In this, Picture Perfect Morning's most crystalline image, the songwriter seems to be suggesting that our conundrums are at times so deep that there is no access, there are no answers. Not even from an artist.