Monkey / Angelika Köhlermann
adored Austrian chanteuse Zeebee's debut Chemistry with the kind of admiration that leads you to play an album until you start noticing the littlest things, until it's the placement of certain notes or phrases that really sing to you when you hear the music again. When I get that deep into a record it means what I'm really looking for in a follow-up is more of the same. When it doesn't do that, and whatever its strengths and weaknesses Priorities is not Chemistry, Part II, I tend to be disappointed.
Well, not disappointed, exactly; this record starts out with a song called “Zeebee Case” that features the kind of big band arrangement that tends to make me think of classic Bugs Bunny cartoons and Cowboy Bebop-style hand percussion, something an order of magnitude more exuberant than even the brightest moments of her debut. That initial explosion, along with the brightly coloured single “Cartoonboom” (of which the “Radio Mix” on the album proper is not as satisfying as the statelier production on the video version, also present on the disc) and a few other tracks, tricked me the first few times through Priorities into thinking Zeebee had fully abandoned her devastating languour from Chemistry. To some extent she has. But Priorities feels entirely different than Zeebee's debut even when songs like the hazily reserved instrumental “Sticks” or the chilling, vulnerable (although not necessarily in the way you'd expect) “Suicide Attempt,” are superficially similar to Chemistry.
There would be something very wrong if a new record didn't stand on its own feet and possess its own atmosphere, but part of me is put off nevertheless. Priorities, in addition to the exuberance mentioned above, is more present than Chemistry, funnier, more eager to engage the listener, certainly more conducive to dancing, more sensuous, and brighter. But it's also less focused, less decadent, and lacking that magical quality that allowed Zeebee's voice to practically melt into the music, even as it (and her) remained the center of attention.
The actual failings of Chemistry are few and predictable; versions of “A Tisket a Tasket” and “Fever” are less than essential, there are a few tracks (especially the instrumental “Jeff's Disco”) that are pleasant but probably should have been cut, and not every expansion of sound is a stunning success (the aforementioned “Radio Mix” of “Cartoonboom”). But they're outweighed by the progress; Zeebee's command of her voice, evoking everything and everyone from Bjork to a kitten to your stereotyped Jazz Age vixen, has improved by leaps and bounds. “Zeebee Case” alone indicates how exciting she can be when she goes up-tempo in the right way, and a slow burner like “Sweetness” or the hazily sexy “Sunday Morning” show how compelling she can be when she turns up the charm.
Priorities might be an even better entry point to one of the more interesting voices out there right now than my beloved Chemistry; messy, poppy, and vibrant, if nothing else it offers further proof that Zeebee could go in any one of a million directions and still make gripping music.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-05-10