Lisa Germano albums
Lisa Germano is the greatest female artist in rock music history. I’ve heard most of the others, and while Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones comes close, Germano just gets everything right. She started her career much later than most in her mid-thirties, she often speaks in naïve sounding lyrics and whispered tones, most of her albums are full of downtempo ballads. Yet no other artist captures the beauty of music like she does. A talented master of both violin and piano, her songs/albums are all written by her but her collaborators are important, as more often than not they are the work of a band. Her two best albums are written from the two different points of views of each gender: Happiness is about what it is like to try and love a MAN, while Geek the Girl (1994) is about what is like to be a WOMAN. However, all five of the albums she made in the 1990’s are just about perfect, and that is a rare thing indeed. She is the master of subtlety, refusing to admit how clever she really is, so perhaps she is destined to be so underrated. BUT let’s spread the word shall we??
Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Rickie Lee Jones, Jonathan Segel, Kate Bush, John Mellencamp, Cocteau Twins
Happiness and Geek the Girl
On the Way Down from Moon Palace – (5 / 5)
The debut album by Lisa Germano is carefully planned out, as I imagine she worked the songs over and over in her mind while playing back up on tour with John Mellencamp. A huge blues rock influence can be heard the pounding “Dig My Own Grave”, which is a song that follows no traditional route in structure; it is more like the song itself is having a mental breakdown. The more accessible “Guessing Game” and “Hanging with a Deadman” should have found Germano a bigger audience, and rank among the best singles-that-never-were of the early 1990’s. Songs such as “Cry Baby” aim to reach a deeper human foundation with the lyrics, and well as the Joni Mitchell sound alike “Bye Bye Doggie”, and both songs are at once profound and soul searching. The ethereal “The Other One” shows an artist more interested in psychedelic music, or perhaps “psychosis” music is more accurate, as again the singer sounds on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
There are some traces of musical influence as well, the obvious blues-rock of Mellancamp or even more precisely Bruce Springsteen, who’s existential anguish rarely reached the kinds of depths Germano achieves here. “Blue Monday” and “Riding My Bike” are perhaps a little too simplistic, as the latter even rips off a melody from Camper van Beethoven’s “Waka” from 1988 album Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart , but the majority of the record definitely creates its own universe. Musical influences are surprisingly hard to find here, as Germano’s music is an odd mix of classical music whimsy and blues rock traditions colliding with folk music instrumentals. The way her vocals compete and collide with themselves over her whispered remarks is a joy to behold.
Five out of the thirteen songs here are instrumentals, all showing off Germano’s skills on the violin beautifully. “Dark Eerie” lives up to its name by closing the album with a solemn gesture; “Simply Tony” is one of the better instrumentals of all time, repeating a theme that Germano would return to throughout her career as a gentle guitar is strummed and picked while a violin pops in to accompany it; the title track and the shorter “Calling” are more akin to classical music with no repeating patterns to be found; “Screaming Angles Dancing in Your Garden” adds tribal percussion to the madness. The album is very eclectic and consistent for a debut album, as it sounds meticulously constructed even though it is at times almost painfully lo-fidelity. A must hear and a great start to a promising career.
Greatest Songs: Hangin’ With a Dead Man, Dig My Own Grave, Guessing Game, The Other One
Happiness – (5 / 5)+
“Nobody teaches how to laugh / nobody teaches how to live.” These are key lyrics from “Around the World”, the opening track from Germano’s second album. The singer seems more assured in her songwriting and more confident in her worldview on this record, as if set to conquer the world. In the alternate world that is my mind (personally) Lisa Germano did conquer the world with this album, as I bought in back in 1999 but it forever changed my idea of what a great song is. Part of that appeal I came to realize is because Germano is addressing the male population on this record, as each song is like an appeal to the different side of what it is like to relate to men. “Happiness” she says, “Relationships are like a cow…..poor little cow” and also addresses her father and issues with abandonment. “Give it up, try again, ain’t life fun?”. “You Make Me Want to Wear Dresses” is full of disdain for the record industry and also the male population, but in one of the most lighthearted ways imaginable (guitar chug influence by Lou Reed). “Bad Attitude” is full of quotable lines, too many to simply quote hear, but the chorus rings truest of all in “baby doesn’t have to be so sad”, which is ironic coming from someone like Germano who sings with an often-depressed stance. She is very misunderstood in this way as Germano’s world view is one of the most optimistic and heartfelt of any songwriter to come out of the 20th century.
It should be mentioned how much this album is just great rock n roll though and through, with members Jay Joyce and Malcolm Burn on guitar, Kenny Aronoff and Ronald Jones on Drums, and Toby Meyers and Toby Jones on Bass; yes…. it gets rather convoluted as studio bands sometimes do. “Energy” and “Everyone’s Victim”, along with the cheeky title track “Happiness” are killer rock tunes with the addition of Germano’s viola tracks being an addition to her unique sound. The haunting “Sycophant” has few precedents, a rambling melody with tribal drumming that mixes the everyday life of a human being by stating that we are all liars and want people to like us, but we all can only get through life by sticking together. The trilogy in the middle of the record- “Energy”, “Cowboy”, and “Puppet” – is important in displaying Germano’s diversity: the first song is pop rock in the vein of Velvet Underground and Rickie Lee Jones, the second is a moving acoustic ballad that recalls Jane Siberry or Emmylou Harris, the third is one of my favorite of Germano’s oeuvre with its demented chords and absolutely seductive chorus that portrays Germano as a sublime oracle of human relationships; “Puppet” is one of the greatest alt-rock songs of the 1990’s.
The last third of the record calms it all down quite a bit, every song works except the cover of Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin” which is not horrible but rather out of place; if it was removed the album would be perfect. The instrumental “Breathe Across Texas” plays like a leftover from her debut album serving as a bridge to her newer pop rock style. “The Darkest Night of All” is a super effective album closer, again demonstrating the power of music AND lyrics to describe a decaying relationship. Happiness, or rather the search for happiness in love, has been used by Germano as a theme for a true rock masterpiece. Underrated does not even begin to describe the importance of this record: it made me fall in love with her songwriting style and made me a fan forever.
Greatest Songs: Puppet, Sycophant, You Make Me Want to Wear Dresses, Everyone’s Victim
Geek the Girl – (5 / 5)+
If the previous record was about Lisa Germano’s take on men in relationships, Geek the Girl is her take on what it is like to live as a woman. It is just as much a masterwork as Happiness, and even more vital to the cannon of rock music. Rarely has a woman spoke with such artistic integrity about women’s role in society, about pure and honest feelings, about her very reason to be shy but her absolute resilience in the face of a harsh and cruel world. Geek the Girl may seem naïve sounding at first, but upon multiple listens one finds it is all-knowing in reality. Germano’s plays almost a theatrical part of a female character who is born into a confusing world and completely driven insane by its brutality.
One of the first things to note is Germano’s adherence to a lack of rock music backbeat conventions. Most of the instruments are played by Lisa herself. There are drums used on the album, and even almost danceable tunes in instrumentals “Phantom Love” (her most demented and forceful yet) and “Just Geek” (good but a little boring, probably the only weak spot on the record), but a lot of the songs play as symphonic poems that just drift along. “A Guy Like You” is Lisa’s take on not understanding why her spouse would ever lie to her, and the song plays with rhythm very skillfully. Other tracks such as the psychedelic “Cry Wolf” and “Sexy Little Girl Princess” come off as almost ambient, with a touch of an Enya influence. “Trouble” is almost a nursey rhyme played beautifully on piano, as Germano whisper’s rather than things about new experiences she is going though. Opening track “My Secret Reason” has a logic to it, but is also constantly on the verge of falling apart, as some verses extend longer than others and she says, “We have learned much about evil….its just evil.”
When drums and rhythm are on display, they are the most demonic forceful songs she has ever done. “Cancer of Everything”, with its schizophrenic protagonist on vocals insists “this is a happy song” before declaring that she wants “cancer of everything”, because she has given up on the world and just wants all life to end. The character has been brutally assaulted (either mentally or physically) and Germano took us through that journey on the track “A Psychopath”, in which a character is barricading her doors as a man tries to break into her house. In the end she doesn’t win the struggle, and a naïve melody is used to horrifying effect as a contrast to the barrage of banging and assault that occurs. “Geek the Girl” sounds to be as a girl attending her first social occasion such as a middle school dance party, and the feelings of inadequacy that accompany it. She states “I’ve always liked Rock n Roll / it’s kinda moves me” as if she had no experience with it at all, as if she was not one of the best songwriters ever.
Dealing with these themes can be difficult to say the last, but the listener is redeemed by the end of the album. Both closing tunes deal with a universal type of redemption, saying that yes life will beat you down, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “Of Love and Colors” states that “I had a dream / and in this dream we were unique” and that there is a chance everything will be ok from now on. “Stars” uses the double entendre of “stars in space” and “stars as celebrities”, asking “why do people like stars / they are so far away?” and also letting us know that the female character Germano has been chronicling is finally in a successful relationship. She has been put through the ringer by life, but everything is ok now, and she is ready to keep on living. Geek the Girl is a humble title for an album that encompasses so much, and gets so much right about how rock music can serve as therapy and well as catharsis. How beautiful it is to listen to, over and over again.
Greatest Songs: Trouble, Cancer of Everything, A Psychopath, Stars
Excerpts from a Love Circus – (5 / 5)
Germano has a lot of perfect records, but this one is probably the most enjoyable. She seems the most content, and she get the balance between her rock songs and her ballads just right. The album starts off rather tortured like Is typical of Germano at this point in her career, where as “Baby on a Plane” and “Bruises” are downers that set the tone as ‘pensive’. Luckily, there is a difference in Germano’s sound on most of the album though, a kind kinship found with her self-proclaimed “lonely life”. “A Beautiful Schizophrenic” sets the tone as well, as Germano is often happy about being so sad. “Victoria’s Secret” is a question about beauty in our society that totally works, as a play on the company for women’s beauty products but also a person named Victoria. “Big Big World” and “Forget it it’s a Mystery” are whispered fantasies that create an interesting take on the folk ballad. “Singing to the Birds” is one of Germano’s most moving ballads, asking the important question “so what if your hero’s change their minds/ and all you thought was right flew out the window/ and all you based your life on wasn’t real?” Its lyrics like these that make Germano the most important female artist of all time.
If these accomplishment were not enough, Lisa Germano’s greatest song is present here as well, which is called “We Suck”. So much is contained with in the four minutes of this song: the aching delivery of a painful break up, the inspired arrangement with the addition of more and more instruments one at a time building to an epic conclusion, the descending piano trills that happen towards the end. Germano sums up her take on relationships with the simple declaration of “We Suck” and by the end, the listener kind of agrees. “Does he call me / I’m so nice on the phone/ in a bad fucking way…I’m quiet I suck/ he’s happy….he sucks”.
There are plenty of upbeat pop tunes as well, with the masterwork “Small Heads” which really should have been a hit (featuring a prominent flute solo); the tribal percussion of “I Love a Snot”; and the haunting but gorgeous yearning of “Lovesick”. These doses of adrenaline are needed on an album full of ballads like “Messages from Sophia”, as beautiful as they can be overall. With this nice mix, Germano turns the art of the album on its head containing MOSTLY ballads and a couple of upbeat pop numbers (most albums contain the exact opposite). The album ends on the positive note of “it’s a big big world we are all floating in”, which is echoed through out the record by interludes from Lisa’s own cat Miamo Tutti (haha) keeping the sense of humor alive. Another impeccable record from one of the most important artists, aching to be rediscovered.
Greatest Songs: We Suck, Singing to the Birds, Victoria’s Secret, Small Heads
Slide – (5 / 5)
Not many rock music artists create five masterpieces period, much less in a row in the same decade. Yet here is Germano, firing on all cylinders yet again, changing the formula ever so slightly but creating another album full of insight and heart. On this record she is aided by members of Calexico on several tracks (whom she also made an EP with around this same time entitled Slush) and the earthy landscape they create is impressive. “Way Below the Radio” is a sparse tune instrumentally but one that perfectly gets the listener into the right depressed mood. Speaking of sparse, “No Color Here” and “Slide” are almost a capella tracks, only a minimal acoustic guitar or piano accompanying them. But arrangement is everything on the record, and “Electrified” features an accordion, “Wood Floors” has some expert piano playing, and “Crash” features all of the above having an almost gospel/chorale feeling to it. “Guillotine” is an aptly named piano ballad to end all piano ballads, somehow making us feel depressed and hopeful simultaneously.
Germano truly brings the ROCK on this album (well by her standards) as tunes such as “Tomorrowing” and “Turning into Betty” will grab your attention and but you right into her focus. “If I Think of Love” is another would-be-hit a la “Small Heads” from the previous record, displaying a genius knack for pop music melody. “Reptile” is one of her greatest rock songs, with its simply sung chorus of “hmm hmm hmm” and pounding snare drums; it is a stupendous song that comes along only once in a while in most artist’s oeuvre; hopeful message of “the sun came out and it didn’t go away/ no it wouldn’t, wouldn’t go away.” It is crazy to think that Germano has done it again, yet she has: she has created yet another work of subtly that stands up to multiple listens and critiques, an album that deserves to be held up in the highest of regards. Some melodies are familiar from previous albums, yet more of in the way that Germano at this point has such a unique style that it is lovely to hear them all said again.
Slide provides an arsenal of instruments that are at every artists disposal but hardly anyone makes USE of correctly, and arrangement is a fact that should never be undervalued. Is there no end to her incredible consistency?
Greatest Songs: Reptile, Tomorrowing, Wood Floors, If I Think of Love
Lullaby for Liquid Pig – (4.5 / 5)
Lisa Germano took a five year break between albums this time, needless to say whatever the circumstances behind this she has earned it. Her 90’s albums are some of the most intricate, well thought out rock music albums ever made, and the good news is she is still in fine form in the new century. “Nobody’s Playing” is her usual pensive piano opener, using minimal notes to create maximum effect. “From a Shell” also makes perfect sense in context, a delicate fairy tale feel that tells a personally effecting story; she sighs over and over “It’s the buzz it’s the buzz/ I wish I was”. “It’s Party Time” is a countrified ballad full of pedal steel and mandolin, harking back to her debut album On the Way Back from Moon Palace, and it’s a welcome return.
On the more rocking front, “Candy” is a hopeful yarn about feeling like an alien in girl form on planet earth. I’m not sure what thought’s go through this artists head, but “Liquid Pig” really does create a haunting atmosphere of whispered emotions and hushed feeling. That’s as much as we get this time around, as most of these songs seep into doom and gloom, and the variety of previous albums is sorely missed. In fact, “All the Pretty Lies” and “Dream Glasses Off” are actually rather boring tunes by Germano, which in my opinion is a first for her. Several of these songs could actually be a bit longer, as very few of them go past the three-minute mark and seem like sketches of ideas (“…To Dream” comes to mind). Sometimes it is better to have less songs when the ideas are as good as the ones on the first half of the record. Luckily, it is still a very enthralling listen, as Germano is a premier artist that knows how to craft an album, and closing ballad “Into the Night” is another effortless winner in every way, preaching a prophetic message in an upbeat manner, “close your eyes /its not a pretty sight and it’s not gonna be alright/ this time.”
Greatest Songs: Paper Doll, From a Shell, Candy, Liquid Pig