Monday, 28 October 2019

Janis Ian - Stars (1974)

Sweet sympathy....


Released in 1974

Running time 35.31

This was the predecessor to Janis Ian’s breakthrough seventh album Between The Lines and, while a fine album, was not quite the complete perfection of that album. It is a little instrumentally starker and plainer in places, more fitting in to the plaintive singer-songwriter pigeonhole, certainly the opening song is, although a lot of the rest of the album features a fair few livelier, upbeat styles. Lyrically, it is full of Ian’s trademark intelligent but self-conscious analysis, delivered very much from her female perspective.


1. Stars
2. The Man You Are In Me
3. Sweet Sympathy
4. Page Nine
5. Thankyous
6. Dance With Me
7. Without You
8. Jesse
9. You've Got Me On A String
10. Applause                                                               

Stars is a gentle acoustic number full of thoughtful lyrics that lasts a full seven minutes plus. Ian fully accepted she had been hugely influenced by Don McLean’s Vincent in the song’s construction. It is very much the album's stand out track. The rest of the songs are comparatively much shorter. They are also fuller in their instrumentation as I mentioned earlier.

The Man You Are In Me sees the full band backing come in, with a rhythmic drum sound and a totally delicious, rubbery bass line. It is one of the album’s rockier numbers with a solid, punchy instrumentation. I really like this one. Sweet Sympathy is actually just as lively, with a feel of Elton John’s more upbeat early seventies material to it in its brassy punch. Once again, it has an infectious, appealing melody. The chorus could have come off Tumbleweed Connection or Honky Cat.

Page Nine also has a strong country rock vibe which was very typical of the early/mid seventies. It is a song that slowly grows on you. The piano part is very Carole King.

Thankyous is a melodic and sensitive number with another powerful backing. Dance With Me is  another Elton John-influenced song that concerns the singer’s brother’s body coming back from Vietnam. Whether this was Ian’s true experience I am not sure, or whether she was writing in character. Either way, it is an unsurprisingly sad song.

Without You is a short, plaintive but melodic and appealing number. The same description could be given to Jesse. The song was a hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. You’ve Got Me On A String is a bit cacophonous in places and doesn’t quite do it for me, while Applause sees Ian going all Broadway and Vaudeville in a sort of Leo Sayer style, something she occasionally liked a bit of. It is a fun, lively track to end on.

Overall, however, I find the album is far less cohesive than Between The Lines and some of the tracks don’t quite get there, for me, as if they were half-formed demos. Never mind, it all would come together the following year.


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