Lisa Germano | Lullaby for Liquid Pig | Review

Chris Ott

deceptively potent; in just thirty minutes it divines your most closely held memories

I'd wager that most of our readers would otherwise ignore what's sure to be among the more spectral and alluring records of 2003 because its author was once a precious Lilith Fair poetess. You'll probably shiver to learn she previously made her living-- for the better part of a decade-- as John Mellencamp's violinist. In fact, I dare say most of you would mistake Lisa Germano for Meredith Brooks.

Germano, however, has certainly earned some measure of disinterest and even disdain thanks to her uncomfortably maudlin records, all wincingly breathy and for the most part bereft of focus. On her first two full-lengths, her violin playing is still saddled by the stereotypical country melodies she spun for Mellencamp's renowned backing band; her second album Happiness was a learning and chaotic affair, and didn't make much of a splash until Capitol Records allowed her to re-sequence and re-release it on 4AD (a lot of people will tell you it was remixed as well-- it wasn't).

Once on 4AD, the precociously pouting "Dresses Song" caught a college radio breeze, introducing us to her moan, which was instantly compared to Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. But while Sandoval had a more terrestrial timbre, Germano followed her sleeve-tugging, cutely awkward drawl into a melodramatic, overproduced and compositionally slight third album of effects-pedal atmosphere, 1994's Geek the Girl. Her most recent records-- Excerpts from a Love Circus (1996) and Slide (1998)-- hid a handful of great songs like "I Love a Snot" (fantastically remixed by one Tchad Blake) and the solemn "Wood Floors", but were beset by more incongruous, confused instrumentation.

It's an odd notion but the music is really what's detracted from Germano's increasingly excellent songwriting all these years. I have to assume she begins with lyrics, and whether or not she skirted a sound comparable to her constant critical companions Mazzy Star, on her bizarrely-titled sixth album Lullaby for Liquid Pig, she's stopped trying to work her words into traditional rock instrumentation and started building tunes around her effortless voice, tense but never breaking. Save one glaring failure-- "Liquid Pig", an underdeveloped experiment in distorted, drunken chaos-- these depressed and depressing drawing room dirges wring regret from the coldest and oldest of hearts.

The record comes into focus with "Nobody's Playing", an introduction that clearly defines a piano-scored slip into Americana, falling through memories real or imagined, recorded on stuttering kinetoscope and dug up a century later. On "Paper Doll", it seems every word is a chorus unto itself, swelling and releasing in an instant, until a multitracked passage longingly repeats, "You can always play with me," perhaps not caring whether the game is child-like, loving or destructive.

"Pearls" echoes the record's opener, and if you'll skip "Liquid Pig", it's around this time-- just ten minutes in-- that it strikes you how easily these devastating choruses come for Germano. And they aren't heavy-handed breakup anthems or fatuous VH-1 ballads calling back to tender teenage dreams-- Germano is famously adult and obscure with imagery, and continues in her tradition. As with roughly half the tracks on Lullaby for Liquid Pig, the sound of a breeze blowing across a cheap microphone is mixed in as "Pearls" ends. It could come off as a cheap device in lesser hands; I've checked my windows more than once.

This daydreamt, cinematic mode is most powerfully explored by the stumbling, bemused "From a Shell", a hugely poetic and far too brief resignation that refuses to fall into despair in the wake of personal tragedy. Without a doubt, these are Lisa Germano's finest three minutes on record, as resonant in their doleful simplicity as any feature-length post-modern melodrama.

Of the four songs that depart from near-solo accompaniment, three are successful, if not outstanding. "It's Party Time" is instantly catchy but also instantly recognizable, an unwitting, note-for-note duplication of Beat Happening's most famous tune, "Cast a Shadow"; its loose rhythm, clean production and topical similarity to UB40's "Red Red Wine" also invoke that track done at a speedy clip. "All the Pretty Lies" follows, by far the most sonically menacing piece on the record, a twisted pile of vines and dead leaves collecting in the corner of a collapsed house, leading into the shimmering strings of the title track, which isn't powerful so much as captivating as it spins away toward this brief record's hazy horizon.

Lullaby for Liquid Pig is deceptively potent; in just thirty minutes it divines your most closely held memories, guiding you farther and farther back with endless, heartbreaking choruses. Though its divergent tracks are merely distractions, the record would push either monotony or melodrama without them; they reassure us she hasn't forgotten the self-assured, sexed-up smirk that sold so many of us down her dizzy rollercoaster in the 1990s. Where she once darted past our baiting stares with coy glimpses and we'll-see winks, after ten years Lisa Germano is no longer playing in those fields, resolved, somewhat remorseful and shooting back an unwavering, crushing gaze.

-Chris Ott, April 18, 2003