Lisa Germano | ReviewÂ“alternativeÂ” in the truest sense 1993
During a moment of musical epiphany in “Around the World,” the first song on Happiness, Lisa Germano’s voice takes a child’s sense of wonder. “Nobody told me what to do,” she sings, “when life gets pretty ugly.” It’s as if she can’t fathom why she’s been cheated out of some essential information everyone else seems to know intuitively. That confession provides only a hint of the honesty flowing from nearly every track on Germano’s second album, a collection of moody folk and rock tunes reflecting her Midwestern perspective, Middle Eastern melodic sensibility, and firm grasp of the pop song.
Germano’s debut, On the Way Down from the Moon Palace, seemed to have popped out of thin air when it appeared two years ago on her own Indiana-based label, Major Bill. Her resume included gigs as violinist with John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, but the music bore little resemblance to the songs of those rock populists. Germano’s rueful words, breathy, sad voice and moaning violin were “alternative” in the truest sense. But, if the tunes sounded unusual, the emotional processes Germano was working through seemed reassuringly familiar.
On Happiness, Germano charts similar territory, although the music has taken on a harder edge. With a major-label budget, the guitars and violin are crisper and better focused, the bottom end deeper, and an expanded pallet of percussion, keyboards and strings – contribute textures that help identify the different moods in Germano’s stream of psycho-emotional purges. And purge she does. Behind the drone of violin and guitar in “Happiness,” she announces that “pain and sadness are real to me.” Self-doubt doesn’t get any more vicious than on “The Darkest Night of All” or “Everyone’s Victim,” or lines like “What a waste to feel the way I feel” (“Around the World”) and “You wish it was sunny, but it’s not – ha, ha, ha” (“Bad Attitude”). She’s seldom maudlin – her acerbic words are often sarcastic – but she does spend a lot of time beating moments of “Bad Attitude,” her childlike voice has taken on the Marlboro-wrecked edge of Marianne Faithfull’s ; in desperately measured tones, she whispers, “You would give anything – to change back – to when – the waves were smaller" sense of humor, however, makes up for her self pity. She kicks a throwaway, bar-band rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” and in the title song, just after she self mockingly calls herself an “inconsiderate bitch,” she deadpans, “C’mon everybody – sing.” You get the sense that Lisa Germano was never allowed to express her pain and rage – and that’s what Happiness is all about.