Tuesday, March 11, 2008

165. Kathleen Edwards: Asking For Flowers (2008)

The personal is political, right? Kathleen Edwards illustrates that perfectly on her third album, Asking For Flowers. Sharp lyrical storytelling has always been Edwards' calling card, and her skills are in full bloom here. Intertwined in her tales of angry, abused, underappreciated and lonely women is commentary on war, pollution, race, and death. Small details are the key to Edwards' writing, allowing her to avoid preachiness and make every tale feel like she's lived it.

This balance is most evident on Oil Man's War, a tale of two young lovers. The anti-war message is subtle and tangential, with the focus instead falling squarely on character detail. The chorus is one of the best she's ever written: "I won't change my mind / keep your hand on my thigh tonight / When we get up north we'll buy us a store / Live upstairs after the kids are born."

Alicia Ross
takes a similar approach. The song is a first-person narrative from the perspective of the titular woman. And, get this, she may or may not be dead! Purposefully vague, and all the more disturbing for it, we're led to believe she's been the victim of violence. Again, the details are the key to the song, with Alicia just wishing to remember her mom's ring size and her dad's favorite song. Edwards' vocal is pure and a string section and extended coda help create the mood.

Edwards has always been a champion of forgotten women; it's nearly her trademark. Cheapest Key and Asking For Flowers continue that tradition, both screeds against unappreciative men. The latter takes an angry, rocked-up approach, while the former is melancholy and mid-tempo. Both feature strong lyrics no man should want directed at him. The title track especially, with a chorus that states: "Asking for flowers / Is like asking you to be nice / Don't tell me you're too tired / Ten years I've been working nights."

I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory is similar in theme but not content or tone. Instead it operates like a funnier, less swooning version of The Temptations' The Way You Do Things You Do or Cole Porter's You're The Top. Edwards lists all the ways she's inferior and her subject is superior (e.g. "You're cool and cred like Fogerty / I'm Elvis Presley in the '70s"). She also outs herself as a true Canadian with the line "You're the Great One / I'm Marty McSorely" referencing the Edmonton Oilers' duo Wayne Gretzky and the defenseman that helped the team win two Stanely Cups.

Other songs, like Sure As Shit, Run and Scared At Night seem to be written from a more autobiographical place, the latter two seemingly about her parents and the former about her marriage.

Oh Canada is the album's most straightforward and blistering track. A scathing subversion of Edwards' own national anthem, each verse takes on a different topic: race inequality, environmentalism (or lack thereof), and poverty. Any careful listener will have to take hard look at their own response to these problems. Heavy drums and electric guitar punctuate the message.

When you add her excellent lyrics to sensitive, no frills production and impeccable performances, this is easily the most coherent and consistent album Edwards has made, and neither of the first two were slouches. As you might guess from the subject matter, Asking For Flowers is definitely not ear candy. Instead, it's more like a tasty meal that's good for you, too.

Grade: A-
Fave Song: Asking For Flowers

1 comment:

Any major dude with half a heart said...

Excellent review. I liked Edward's previous albums, but found this one difficult to get into. A friend advised me to give it a few more spins. At some point it clicked, and I'd say this is a strong contender for my end of year top 20 of albums of the year (it's probably around 4th or 5th right now).