Lisa Gerrard: The Mirror Pool (speaking of big voices)
Listening to Mary Fahl made me think of this artist, another of those who helped make the name of the 4AD label revered for many years. Lisa Gerrard was one half of the duo Dead Can Dance who released a number of albums on that label in the '80s and into the mid-'90s. I'm familiar with only one of these, The Serpent's Egg (1988), and I haven't heard it for a while. But as I recall--and it's a pretty vague recollection--I had a mixed opinion of it, and that was partly because of a sort of dark quality--not emotionally dark, with which I am usually happy (contradictory though that may be--or not), but spiritually dark. That was and is not something I can easily articulate or explain, but I felt that the band (if that's the right term) was inclined to that often foolish spirituality which involves a sort of non-judgmental syncretism that should in some instances be a bit more judgmental.
But then maybe I was over-reacting. I think the "while" since I've heard it probably approaches twenty years, and perhaps I was in fact a little overly judgmental. There was a time when I was not only heartily sick of what so many people now call "spirituality" but also wary of it to a degree that I may not be now. If so, it's probably more a function of age and fatigue than of any real softening toward very bad ideas; I'm tired of the fight. And, too, things have gotten much worse, so whatever bothered me about Dead Can Dance may not seem as significant now.
Well, I probably shouldn't even have said all that, as it's based only on a vague memory. My next close listen will be The Serpent's Egg; I'll find out what I now think about it and report back.
Anyway, about Lisa Gerrard and The Mirror Pool: as with the Mary Fahl album, I have it on CD, and there is enough about it that I like that I intend to keep it. I'd give them both 3 1/2 stars on a five-star scale. But beyond the star count and the fact that both feature very powerful female singers, there's very little in common between them. Mary Fahl is a writer and interpreter of songs, whereas Gerrard, like Elisabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, often sings wordlessly. In fact as far as I can tell there is no English on this album at all. And for that reason (and the 4AD connection) I've sometimes seen the two bands associated. But there, again, there isn't really much similarity.
And this solo project of Gerrard's has even less in common with the work of the Twins. In fact it has very little connection with pop music at all, in any ordinary usage of that term. It would not be unfair to describe it as one long dirge. And by "long" I mean an hour and eight minutes. The lively moments are few, and not all that lively. Most of it is extremely slow and, perhaps unintentionally, gloomy in tone, or at least somber: minor keys, and a frequent use of what I think are Middle Eastern melodic turns that to my ear always have a somewhat dark quality, as do some of Gerrard's vocal techniques. The arrangements are grandiose and monumental. There's some use of non-Western instruments which adds to the exotic--or, to use a term which is now frowned upon, foreign--atmosphere. More than a few moments strike me as sort of...well, the word that comes to mind is "spooky," and maybe that's what bothered me a little about Dead Can Dance. There is a fair amount of keening and wailing--in fact, I learn from Wikipedia that Gerrard's music has been prominent in the use of the "wailing woman" in movie soundtracks.
And yet I found myself letting it play over and over while driving. Every time the CD reached the end, instead of ejecting the disk and picking something else I would allow it to start again (which the player in my car does automatically), which I don't think I would or could have done if I'd been sitting quietly at home, as too much of the album is too much the same. It's partly, or mainly, because the first several tracks are pretty much my favorites, so I was always ready to hear them again.
I haven't actually mentioned the voice yet. It's magnificent. This is my favorite track on the album: "Sanvean: I Am Your Shadow."
I think the reason the string arrangement seems familiar is that it strongly resembles Pachelbel's famous "Canon in D." It's melodically and harmonically less "exotic" than some of the other tracks. Another such is an aria, "Ombra ma fui," from the Handel opera Serse (Xerxes), here titled "Largo." Whether she is singing the words of the aria or not I do not know. Those two tracks, with others that are somber without that spooky quality, are enough to make me hang on to the CD. I'd give a five-star rating to an EP composed of my favorite thirty minutes or so of the album.
I understand the justification for the wordless singing, or rather, as Gerrard might say, singing in the words of an invented language meant to communicate emotion directly. But it seems a bit like cheating, or at least corner-cutting. I don't know much about singing but I would think it would be very convenient to put sounds together as you like, and not have to deal with whatever constraints are involved in singing notes fitted to an actual word made of sounds not devised with singers in mind.