Susie Suh‘s smoky vocals and spare, gutsy writing, combined with gorgeous Glen Ballard production, make this debut a cathartic listen. With a snaky, soft-pop sound that brings to mind a less precious Sarah McLachlan or a sadder Norah Jones, Suh just might be perfectly positioned to take advantage of the hunger grown-ups have for new, grown-up pop music, while still appealing to younger music fans.
Suh’s rich voice spins a honeyed web that clutches the listener and won’t let go. Within a limited alto range, her warm tones manage to thrill and soothe at the same time; you immediately feel that you know her, and more important, that she’s somebody you want to know, the proprietress of a world of beauty, mystery and – somewhere in a room you won’t necessarily find – sex.
No doubt that sense of immediacy is partly because of Suh being her own primary songwriter. Ballard co-wrote the catchy first single, “Shell,” but I was equally taken with the intense, small masterpiece “Your Battlefield” and the achingly sad “Petrified To Be God-like.” The soulful ballad “Seasons Change” is another highlight, and the wry shuffle “Lucille” is a captivating song and a nice change of pace.
A few more changes of pace would have been welcome. The tone of the CD remains a little too constant, which is my only complaint. The world has enough forgettable ballads that don’t really go anywhere – someone as talented as Suh shouldn’t feel obligated to record some more such tracks just to pad an album to full length.
Much of Suh’s advance press has focused on her being Korean-American. It is heartening to see a major label taking what must seem, to them, a chance on an Asian face, but her music has as universal an appeal as any able popster’s. My own feelings on Suh’s signing are mixed. Without the big-money backing, Suh’s album wouldn’t sound as beautiful as it does, nor would she have the marketing muscle behind her. On the other hand, to what extent will she get lost among corporate machinations? As a female singer-songwriter, and Asian-American to boot, are her chances of breaking through as a pop star (like Jewel, or even Aimee Mann) increased or decreased by this early label sponsorship? I wish I knew. I do believe, however, that as a singer and songwriter Susie Suh has the goods.
Technical note: This copy-protected CD includes (Windows) software to enable you to listen on a PC and make backup copies. Supposedly, if you rip the tracks using any other software, the sound will be corrupt. I didn’t try it on a Windows computer, but on my Mac, iTunes was able to rip without any problem.
Homonym note: When I mention that I’m reviewing a CD by Susie Suh, they assume I mean Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. I suppose “Susan Sue” must have sounded a little too formal, and as for “Sue Suh” – well, I guess “Susie” must have seemed the best choice after all. Still, it’s a shame. I guess today’s record execs have forgotten all the confusion over Patty Smyth and Patti Smith.