Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Album Reviews # 105 Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman


Tracy Chapman's eponymous debut album from 1988 was that unfortunate thing. A record that was played far too much for its own good. It was everywhere for more than half of that year. For good reason. It was full of wonderfully written, emotive and instantly memorable songs.

That doesn't make it any easier to listen to almost thirty years on. These songs are just too damned familiar. From the one two of Talkin' Bout a Revolution and Fast Car, the latter particularly which still, never ever seems to be off the radio or the jukebox of any pub you ever go into.

It's not the songs fault. It really isn't. They're immediately songs that project emotions and convictions that you can get behind immediately. Liberal ones essentially that says the world's a bad and unjust place and we should definitely get off our asses and do something about it.

These were the tenor of the times. There was a lot of music like this in the Eighties; Gabriel's Biko U2's, (well half of U2's output for amost of the Eighties, until they discovered and acted as if they'd invented irony. Oh, the irony), Simple Minds and Jim Kerr's astonishing mullet, Suzanne Vega's Luka. 

At the heart of it all, the undoubtedly well meaning Live Aid, which ended up making the wrong Pop Stars multimillionaires and directing the money the event generated into the hands of completely the wrong people.

None of this of course is Tracy Chapman's fault. She's an evidently sincere and able performer. A talent, though for some reason she never capitalised on the immediate and spectacular take off this record gave her career. Can you name a single song by her that's not on this album?

Ultimately, this seems stranded in time now. Sispended in aspic. It's so 1988, it's really rather difficult to listen to in 2021 if you experienced it the first time round.

There are plenty of moments that still draw you in. I particularly enjoyed Baby Can I Hold You, its third best selling single and Mountains O' Things with its gorgeous marimba patterns. Most of all, If Not Now, I'd forgotten how lovely that one is.

I'm sorry though but Tracy's good intentions wore me down rather eventually. Yes the world's a bad place, Trace but don't you know any jokes? I know... I'm a bad person.

In the end it reminded me of the Gerard Depardieu character in Green Card who initially repels Andie McDowell but eventually steals her heart from her worthy but dull boyfriend before the end of the movie.

'All your ideas come from the same place..' he says eventually after much provocation. I'm sorry Tracy. you're right, but all your ideas come from the same place. The world seemed a bad place in 1988, listening to this. It feels a lot worse than that to me now and I'm afraid listening to Tracy Chapman isn't going to be the prescription anyone really needs.


  1. Gotta respect her for not trying too hard to stay relevant. When I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s, I had a conversation with someone that spoke about how she cashed in on her hits to buy a decent house there.