June 22, 2005
Tracy Bonham's one of the toughest women ever to tinkle the keys of a Wurlitzer. Or so she might like you to believe.
"Blink the Brightest" is glossy with pop artifice -- in that scuffed-boot alto that is capable of surprising sweetness (although in "I Was Born Without You," it dips into harsher Alanis-like bitterness) -- and the way the note-perfect production, featuring Bonham on violin and vibes among other instruments, makes every word crisply audible in her tales of heartbreak and pain.
The line between portraying a character and succumbing to its cliches is a high wire to walk, but Bonham treads it gracefully after two other albums and an EP of this stuff. She carefully maintains the biker-chick persona with her husky voice and the occasional line like "I spilled my guts on your best shoes." When she pushes the image too far, as with closer "Did I Sleep Through It All?" she sounds like dozens of other leather-and-lace wannabes, with too cute turns of phrase: "I drank too much at the Sunday school party . . . I smoked too much during my operation." She's best on the lushly melodic "And the World Has the Nerve to Keep Turning," wherein she castigates the sun for having the, uh, masculine nerve to keep burning.
"Blink the Brightest" wouldn't work for a second if this pop diva didn't admit she's striking pose after pose. "I'm tough as nails, I'm made of stone, don't you know?" she sings. "I don't want you to see me wilting like a flower."
- Pamela Murray Winters