I’m Not Perfect
e suspicious of CDs primarily sold through CD Baby, be skeptical of MySpace sensations, and be wary of songs titled “My Big O (I Can).” These are three rules you can live by, but don’t let them trip you up on the way to hearing sound clips or purchasing Johanna Stahley’s debut solo record, I’m Not Perfect. All of those warnings can go either way, but the latter is what will tip most. Female odes to masturbation are rare enough in any format—so you sit up and take notice when they rise to the top of your “Recent Country” playlists.
To the track’s credit, the lyrics and backing don’t bother giving anything away past a stuttered word and an extended coda. She could just as easily be talking about a big standing ovation (although the inset album art begs to differ). The song leads off the album and leads the listener gently into the title track, which continues the soul-bounce-rock vibe of its predecessor, livening it up with a lightly rapped pre-chorus and synthesized strings. Think the record Nikka Costa probably wants to make and you’re getting close.
It’s not all sunshine and roses: Stahley’s lyrical concerns are usually direct and without the sort of detail that would make this record a must-hear. (Less “I hope you find what you’re looking for out there” and more “Gonna sublet my apartment,” please.) That sort of deficiency drags down a song like “Right Here,” whose musical backing offers up nothing more than an acoustic, piano, drums, and a healthy dose of sincerity. (Less “Our souls connected intertwined” and more “I hear you talking all your smack again,” please.) That latter lyric at least gives hope to the tiresome “Misery,” which relies on far out guitar and vocal effects to give it a musical personality.
Luckily, elsewhere, Stahley and her YelloPOP production crew (Eitan Graff & Assaf Spector) are busy doing throwbacks to classic girl pop tropes for “Misery” to make much of a dent. The three song run before that dud mixes and matches horn-synth presets, narratives about cute bartenders, and double-time drums with a feel found nowhere else on the record. It’s hard to tell if it’s just the slightly distanced production or if it’s the same bass and drum sound, but it’s jarring when it heads for the door and opens it back up for “Misery.” Everything sounds brighter and, just like Stahley’s Big O, it sounds better when we had an element of subtlety to keep us guessing.
Mentions on MTV.com and in The Village Voice should be enough to get Stahley signed to a record label for the next go-round. And, as Chuck Eddy put it, I’m Not Perfect is probably the best Sheryl Crow record in a while now. Let’s just hope that in the process of making that next one that she embraces the quirk. Anyone attempting perfection is just setting themselves up for a fall.