When Karen O announced her first “official” solo album earlier this year, it was somewhat hard to predict what it would sound like. Her website revealed that the songs that comprised Crush Songs were “written and recorded in private” around 2006, so it was easy to surmise that these recordings would likely be fairly low key affairs. Her site also said about the songs that “they are the soundtrack to what was an ever continuing love crusade” so not only would the album be subdued, but extremely personal. Sadly, neither of those promising statements came to fruition, as Crush Songs may be one of the most unpolished and uninspiring albums to come out this year.
Whoa. Pretty harsh for an intro right? That’s like some Pitchfork level hating going on right there. But hold tight, let me explain…
To begin with, of the 15 songs that make up Crush Songs, the longest track clocks in at just under three minutes, with a handful of songs hovering right around the minute long mark. Now, I know the definition of “song” doesn’t necessarily have any length requirement, nor should it. That being said, calling the album Crush Songs seems somewhat misleading. Crush Sketches? Crush Demos? Crush Tracks I Never Finished? All of those titles seem more appropriate. Hell, even the record label must’ve realized that when kept over a minute of silence on the end of “Native Korean Rock.” Maybe they had a length quota to hit? While length of song alone isn’t necessarily indicative of good/bad, consider how many punk bands have made their bread and butter in under 2:00 bursts of energy. The number is countless!
Another major drawback to Crush Songs is the quality of the recordings. Most of the songs feature Karen O singing along with a guitar being gently strummed in the background. Now that’s a fine sound and all if it’s produced a little bit, but considering that these tracks sound like they were recorded on a shitty Tascam 4-track from the late 80’s, the lo-fi edginess of the record wears off really…really quickly. When combined with Karen’s tell-all lyrics that provide a road map to her hearts inner workings, Crush Songs feels strangely voyeuristic, especially when Karen croons lines like “love’s a fucking bitch.” Have you ever had a musician friend that wanted to play you some songs they’ve been working on, and when they did you were forced to nod your head in approval because you were sitting in their living room? That’s what Crush Songs feels like. Way too intimate for its own good.
Therein lies the major drawback with Crush Songs. These are meant to be personal, intimate sketches of where Karen O was at the time of the recordings. I get that, but these songs are essentially demos at best. At their core, none of these tracks (maybe save “Visits” which features a great melody and a drum machine) really move beyond rough draft status, making for an uncomfortable listening experience. The brevity of these songs works to the determent of the album as a whole. When each track ends, you have no choice but to switch gears and get ready for the next snippit of thought from Karen O’s love-drenched brain, but instead of being able to match the schizophrenic pace of Crush Songs, all you can do is reflect on what might have been had some more work been put into each track.
(Author’s Note: I’m not sure if I’ve ever written a review that was so hard on an album. It felt kind of mean, but it was my honest reaction to Crush Songs. I’ve got nothing but respect for Karen O and I’ve always looked forward to her work, whether with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s or on her own. I just wanted it to be known that it wasn’t easy saying these things about someone I respect, but without reviewing with honesty, reviewing would be pretty pointless. So yeah. Sorry, but I just couldn’t get into this at all.)