tremble clef

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Skin, "Movin'"/"Falling For You" (2006)

Much to my own surprise, one of my favorite albums of 2003 turned out to be Skin's Fleshwounds.

Skin (real name: Deborah. Hee!) is best known as the former lead singer of Skunk Anansie, the British punk-rock band that sold quite a fair amount of records in the 90s. Just not to me. In theory I liked them fine: it was a band led by a skinhead woman with a really great voice! As long as I never ran into Skin in a dark alley, or even a chichi party, I was "down" with "that." But in practice: no. First of all, I was too busy listening to handbag house in the 90s, and pretty averse to rock music except, possibly, when it showed up on my Now That's What I Call Music compilations. Second: that band name. I know that "Anansie" is a West African god and folk hero, and "'Skunk' added to make the name nastier." But mostly it just makes me think of a poor Dalmatian I used to know who had an uncanny knack for always getting skunked; thus, no matter how many tomato-juice baths his beleaguered dad gave him, he always smelled adorably foul. And he seemed to know it too, or at least that was why, by my interpretation, he always seemed vaguely depressed. Oh, Jeffrey.

Um, anyway, given that history, I was thus pretty startled to discover how much I loved Fleshwounds. (I've posted a song from the album before, but that was for the sake of making some sad pun, and I'm not even sure the Electronic cover is one of the album's highlights.) But then again, Fleshwounds is quite different from anything Skunk Anansie put out, being a largely bruised and vulnerable-sounding record. This was even true of the loud rock numbers, like the singles "Trashed" and "Faithfulness" (which received a trance mix from Tiesto, for chrissakes); a close listen to them confirmed the rumor that Skin was going through a breakup while making the album.

And it was certainly true of the quiet ballads, of which my favorite is "Burnt Like You." With an acoustic guitar for accompaniment, Skin sings a bewitching lyric that appears to be from the point of view of a faghag who watches her "swollen-in-the-gut" gay friend destroy himself, and who herself is perhaps no stranger to the same tendency: "No, I can't watch the same mistake/Waiting for the boys to turn out straight/No, I can't run the same dog race/And get burnt like you." If you can listen to the way Skin's voice dextrously skim the high notes on the chorus without feeling all the hairs on your body stand up, you're a better man, or a slightly less hirsute woman, than I am. (Memo to Will Young: forget "Don't Cha." This is the song you should be covering.)

The new album, Fake Chemical State, is a return to Skunk Anansie's sound: harder, spikier, more raging. It's thus less my cup of tea than Fleshwounds is, but it still offers some delights. The soaring, anthemic "Movin,'" with its rousing drumming, is one of the loud rock tracks I like -- if U2 came up with it critics would be creaming in their pants -- and lyrically also serves as Skin's declaration that she's left whatever anguish she's suffered behind. "That's where I'm going to/Some place that's far from you/I'm movin' on." And predictably, I'm partial to the simple slow burner that closes the record. "I'm falling for you," Skin croons; a guitar chimes behind her, a phrase behind, and everything's beautifully swirly. In that moment, I can even block out the uncomfortable Celine Dionesque echoes -- falling into, falling for, whatever, it's too close -- of the song title.


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