Ron Sexsmith is the anti-Rodney Dangerfield: he gets tons of respect (Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Elton John and Chris Martin, among others, have praised him), but little airplay or sales (although enough to sustain a career over 20 years and 12 albums). His latest album is another collection of well crafted pop music, this time with an upbeat production sheen from Bob Rock (yes, the man who spent years producing Metallica – seems a strange mix). It’s another strong addition to his canon, but not likely to make the slightest difference to his popularity, which is a shame.
Sexsmith has a gift for sharply observed lyrics, and this is again evident on this album, particular on tracks like “Get In Line” and “Michael and His Dad.” He maintains a strong melodic sensibility as well with a couple of good “head bobbers” (my term for those songs you just end up bobbing your head to, almost subconsciously), with “The Reason Why” the strongest example of this. His voice, a quavery and delicate-sounding instrument at times in the past (although surprisingly strong live) is deeper and smoother on this album, which unfortunately tends to downplay the songcraft here: it’s a little too middle-of-the-road at times.
The sophomore release from the Swedish singer (almost three years after Youth Novels put her on the musical map) contains, on first listen, nothing as catchy as “Little Bit” or “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” but does move her music forward. “Youth Knows No Pain” opens the album with a stew of electronic percussion and a roller arena organ leading to a simple chanted chorus. And “Get Some” with its Bo Diddley beat is pretty catchy.
In spite of the “electro-pop” label she’s saddled with, this music owes a lot to late-1950s/early-1960s pop, and especially the Bo Diddley beat that appears several times. Just listen to “Unrequited Love,” “Get Some” or “Sadness Is a Blessing” and you’ll know what I mean.
Li’s voice isn’t the strongest, but it’s unique, recognizable, and suited to her material – most of the time: occasionally it’s not up to the task. There’s a hard edge to it that doesn’t suit a song like “Unrequited Love,” for example. That same quality works well, however, on the quiet “I Know Places.”