Sarah Cracknell

Lipslide
(Instinct)

After listening to Sarah Cracknell's solo debut, four out of five dentists will surely recommend brushing. The St. Etienne vocalist's voice is sticky sweet and fluffier than marshmallow cream -- perfectly suited to the emaciated synth-pop lite of her band and Lipslide. Released in the U.K. in 1996 and reissued for American consumption now, the album isn't much of a departure from St. Etienne's plinky indie-dance stylings. Here Cracknell aims more for a cosmopolitan update of Dusty Springfield than the skin-deep glamour of Etienne. With such a lofty ambition in mind, it's no surprise that Cracknell rarely succeeds. Springfield possessed one of music's all-time great voices, while Miss Sarah leans too heavily on keyboard-heavy cheese that's well past its expiration date.

In Etienne, Cracknell is the face up front, and she continues that pattern here, co-writing all the songs with some of the biggest names in fluff pop. Electronic sculptors Stephen Lironi (Jon Bon Jovi, Hanson), Andy Wright (Simply Red, Eurythmics), Stephen Hague (Pet Shop Boys, New Order), and St. Etienne engineer/producer Ian Catt aren't known for building classics. They succeed at times in bringing a balance to the record, giving Cracknell more room than she needs, but too often the songs suffer under the weightlessness of their collective muse.

If the music had more substance, Cracknell's voice could be forgivable. After all, disposability is one of the prime attractions of this kind of harmless pop. It's just that there are too many quick-tempo, piano and synth-laden numbers suggesting a resurgence of that mid-1980s a-ha/Bronski Beat era that we're all trying so hard (hopefully) to forget.

The few moments that work include the glorious dance-club single "Anymore," which mediates the fine line between groove and construction. "4 Months, 2 Weeks" employs a slowed, trip-hop vibe making it more ethereal; the thicker production giving her something to fall back on. Even when Cracknell and company set their sights lower, they do occasionally hit the delicate point of catchy and ephemeral, such as on the jazzy acoustic guitar and vocals of "Oh Boy, the Feeling When You Held My Hand." Ultimately, though, Lipslide is like a meal of cotton candy -- filling, but only for a little while.

 
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