MTV Unplugged was a great idea. Strip down the sound of your favourite band and have them play, usually, quite out of character. Throw in the odd quirky and inventive cover and hear their reminiscences whilst the appreciative audience stoke their, usually, mammoth egos. Possibly even pull in an all together different audience with the slightly left field approach.
A new take on ones own songs is nothing new, people have been squeezing the last dollar out of long forgotten gems for a good while now and there is no reason to see that ever ending. Collaborations, duets, dance mixes, soundtracks, TV shows and ad work can all potentially rejuvenate a faltering catalogue. Revisiting, reworking, reinventing, rejigging, repackaging, re-mastered blah blah. Is it all 'Flogging A Dead Horse' or 'Money For Old Rope?'
In many ways it pains me to say so but with Close-Up, Vol. 1, Love Songs, Suzanne Vega has failed to see a potential merit in a new take on her old work, it's unlikely to capture anyone from a different audience and could be accused of running the well dry. Vega has gone all acoustic on a selection of her best loved tracks. Gone acoustic! She was never electrifying in the first instance, rarely a guitar strummed in anger, a drum beat to awaken the birds or a bass note likely to trouble your neighbours.
Vega is to release 4 themed albums in 2 years, this is the first. Choosing roughly 3 tracks an album from her acclaimed back catalogue and then loosely tying them together with a weary reference to love sounds is about as creative as this is. This is probably Steve Wright's wet Sunday Morning Love Songs dream. For Reg and Vera who've been married six hundred years and still can't work out how to change the station on their original Roberts radio it's all very pleasant, a nice sounding girl playing the guitar and singing songs of love.
So by now your thinking, good god he must hate this woman. No, quite the opposite. Suzanne Vega is a very talented singer song writer who once upon a time was able to create unique songs that either created their own genre or at least help redefine one that had begun to tread water. The early compositions of Suzanne Vega have opened the door to a whole host of copy cat imitators, trying to emulate her narrative, literary and often perceptive takes on day to day life. Vega's lyrics have been the subject of intense debate in much the same way as Bob Dylan's, even down to the meaning of Small Blue Thing, disappointingly just a small blue thing as it turned out! Her later albums are full of good work, sadly over looked and probably never as attention grabbing because they aren't that different or unique anymore.
The problem I have with the album is that it's largely unnecessary. Doing acoustic studio versions of songs that weren't so far off that mark in the first place is quite frankly a waste. Sold on a tag line of "Imaginative and Intimate renderings" is rather like estate agent speak for a bijou and cosy cottage. 12 songs sung by Vega to a similar beat with only an acoustic guitar for company can get dull, you need a break, it doesn't work as an album.
Close-Up has some great tracks featured on it, Marlene On The Wall, Caramel, Small Blue Thing and (I'll Never Be Your) Maggie May (After this she surely won't be) among them. They are all professionally done with the sparsest of arrangements. Vega's voice sounds a delicate and mellow as ever and there is clear love for the songs delivered within each composition. If you're a fan, you'll like it but lurking at the back of your mind will there be a nagging doubt, have you been done over by the want of an artist trying to cling on in any way possible.
Suzanne Vega should by rights be referred to as one of the great song writers of her generation. This collection, and the gaping omissions that will presumably be reworked on the forthcoming releases, show how good a writer she is. Unfortunately however, what it also highlights is a lack of judgement and slight sense of desperation.