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White Monkey (2001): Papa Don’t Preach

Danielle Spencer, White Monkey (EMI Australia, 2001)

[originally posted 19Feb2002]

A picture of Danielle Spencer looking pensive adorns the cover.

Black and white artist photo on cover: moody, acoustic singer-songwriter music. Guilty!
photo credit: crushable.com

Danielle Spencer is Russell Crowe’s on-again off-again girlfriend. [ed. note 2014: they’re married now.]

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, one wonders if her longstanding relationship with Crowe (which goes back some twelve years, to the two of them filming a painfully bad indie film called The Crossing in 1990) has eclipsed, rather than enhanced, Spencer’s long and obscure musical career. Over the past three years, she’s jettisoned the bands she’s been working with and set out to write her own
material. White Monkey is the first full-length showcase of the results. And while it’s an inconsistent piece of work, the first word that comes to mind is still “brilliant.”

The album doesn’t really seem sure of where it wants to go. It shifts gears time after time in tone and form and never really comes to rest anywhere. This isn’t to say the low points are bad; they’re just not spectacular. (Put all of the album’s ballads into this category.) There’s nothing in them you haven’t heard before in many places, and they’ve gotten Spencer compared to such disparate artists as Madonna, Kate Bush, and Portishead. (I will hasten to add here that anything on this album stands well
above Portishead’s painful “Nobody Loves Me” or Madonna’s… well, take your pick from among Madonna’s more empty-headed songs, of which there are a myriad.) The gods must have been smiling on Spencer as she recorded this album, because the low points accentuate the high points. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but having a song like “White Monkey” in a sea of soft rock makes it that much more stunning. It’s “White Monkey” and its companion pieces that make this album stand out. They’re dark, brooding, nasty, with streaks of lyrical dada three feet wide running straight down the middle. Drum machines straight out of Tricky’s best work, ethereal synthesizers, and jagged guitar lines. This is a woman who knows how to package depression for the masses. (She learned from the best; there’s a Cure cover on the B-side of the “Blast Off” single.)

Just when we thought girlpop was dead, the last two years have seen a revival of the art in its purest form. Add Danielle Spencer to the list of keepers. *** ½

 


The video for the title track.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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