Sunday 22 August 2010

Maria McKee - Life is Sweet. An introduction

Maria McKee, Life is SweetI first became aware of Maria McKee sometime around the Spring of 1993 when I saw the video for her not-so-hit single I’m Gonna Soothe You on ITV’s The Chart Show. I have to admit, being the naive young thing I was, I was more taken with her happy smile and the frisky snails than the record itself. It was only later, when I heard the same song on the radio, that I noticed the ex-Lone Justice singer had a voice.

I mean, she really had a voice.

Then I heard her take on Goffin and King’s I Can’t Make It Alone and just the way she sang the word “always” was enough to make me hand over the money for the album. By the time Life is Sweet came out, three years later, I was a confirmed fan and the record did nothing to disabuse me of that emotion. While there were some who were alienated by the album - wanting yet another easily accessible collection of country blues songs - for me, with its jarring guitars, sweeping strings and determined psychodrama, it was by far the best thing I’d ever heard from her and remains to this day my favourite album of the 1990s.

Sadly, this enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the world at large. Despite some rave reviews, it sold poorly and led to Maria and Geffen Records going their separate ways. It just goes to show that people don’t always get the success they deserve and that, despite the album’s hopeful title, life is not always sweet.

Still, there’s that wonderful thing called the Internet, through which fans like me can express our love in ways we never could have done in the long ago past, and the hope that somehow, by a process of attrition, all resistance to Maria may one day be worn down and the whole world will come to love the album that can only be described in its own words as absolutely barking stars

That's what this blog is about. It's for me to share my thoughts on the album's various tracks and if, in that process, just one person is convinced to buy or (legally) download the thing, I'll feel my time here wasn't wasted.

And if not?

Well, like the characters in its songs, at least I'll have given vent to my obsession.


Anonymous said...

I love your review of Maria's album and the way you think :-)

The Cryptic Critic said...

Thank you. I aim to please. :)

omnipop1026 said...

Thank you for this blog. I love Maria and it's great to see that this album is appreciated.

At the time MOJO magazine raved about it, voting it one of the best albums of 1996.

If I may be so bold to make a John Lennon comparison, This is Maria's 'Plastic Ono Band' in that although the most acclaimed LP by critics, most people would rather listen to 'Imagine' or 'Walls and Bridges' In Maria's case this is a difficult album to be sure, and it threw people for a loop. I think a lot of fans of Maria probably would rather listen to the first album. I like 'Sin to be Saved' myself and I listen to that one more. It's a safer choice, more in the style that Maria was cultivating up to that point; what with working with her former band mates in Lone Justice and also the Jayhawks.

I like all of her stuff; her last one ' Late December' was really good. She is overdue for a new album, don't you think?

Thanks again and I'll read the other posts in due course.

The Cryptic Critic said...

Hi, omnipop, thanks for dropping by, and thanks for the comments. It's always nice to know there are people out there reading. :)

Martin, Cambridge said...

Just to say thank you. Life is Sweet is deserving of your gorgeous web-site.

This is my favourite record ever, even if my own highlights (the hypnotic opening verses of Scarlover, the guitar explosion on What else.., and the the out-of-body experience that is I'm Awake) may not be exactly yours. You make a great case for every track. What do you think of High Dive ?

NB Having lost contact with internet Maria in about 2008, I seem to have caught up with her new postings on a film which I eagerly await.


The Cryptic Critic said...

Hi, Martin, thanks for dropping by. I have to admit I've only heard bits and bobs of High Dive but like what I've heard. I also love all the bits of Life is Sweet you've highlighted.

Anonymous said...

Nice take on the album. In addtion to the album itself being what it is.. the stark difference to her prior album is compelling. And you mention you have not gotten into High Dive yet.. The Life is Sweet version is wonderful <3.
I enjoyed reading your blog.

The Cryptic Critic said...

Hi, Anon. Thanks for dropping by. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this: Life is Sweet astonished me when I first heard it, still astonishes me now, and I've long been saddened by its fate: deleted, briefly reissued, but now pretty much unavailable other than as an import CD. I keep hoping that it'll get an official digital release, but that doesn't look likely.

The Cryptic Critic said...

It just goes to show there's no justice in the world. All we can do is hope that, one day, it'll finally get the recognition it deserves.

Anonymous said...

I remember when life is sweet came out and being thrown by what a change it was from her previous work, but give it time and you understand what a terrific album it is.

Marc said...

Hi CC,

I was thrilled to stumble upon your blog while doing some searching on Maria

I recently got back into her music after years away. I have been spending a lot of time watching old videos on YouTube, even acquiring a couple of excellent dvd bootlegs that had stuff not on YT.

Besides loving Lone Justice I had a massive crush on Maria...probably could be considered the original Bieber girl when it came to her. I'm 49 now, not much older than her but still carry much affection toward her.

I have enjoyed much of her solo work too, but I must admit Life is Sweet did test me. I know you know that it was a bit of a dividing line for fans, and I have warmed to it. You've done a fantastic job covering it, giving it it's due. I know the album means a lot to Maria so I definitely want to give it every consideration because I care about her.

I love the paragraph in the introduction where you talk about using your blog to wear down all resistance to the album. That was truly one of the loveliest things I've read anyone write about her, or about any artist's work. I feel very much the same way about Maria in general. I've been trying to introduce, or re-introduce if you will, her to acquaintances. Many don't know her or have vague recollections. She does deserve more attention.

Have you seen the Dutch television special that was done while she was promoting Life is Sweet? It truly is something special, especially the interview in it, the best I've ever seen with her. I've become internet friends with the director and we've discussed it and Maria at length.

She and her husband do have a new movie out called "After the Triumph of Your Birth" which can be viewed at her website and is available at Amazon, with extra scenes.

She also just performed at a benefit for a performing arts center at a show in Newport Beach, CA. Still thriving, still surviving. My greatest regret as a music fan is not seeing her live, unfortunately I blew a couple opportunities here in northeastern (Cleveland) Ohio during the Lone Justice years, although I really didn't get word of the shows at the time

If you want to discuss any more let me know. I can clue you or anybody in on some other stuff I've discovered.

Take Care,
Marc Nichol
Youngstown, Ohio USA

marc nichol.35 facebook (not much on there, just got started, but it's dominated by our fave, with the recent show highlighted)

maria has a facebook fanpage as well..she responds occasionally

The Cryptic Critic said...

Hi, Marc, thanks for dropping by, and for the kind words about the blog. :)

Daniel Walker said...

Very nice blog, for a classic of an album. Even if I'm a little late in finding it. I was wondering if you ever heard the rather fine b-sides from This Perfect Dress? Magdelaine is frankly magnificent and really should have gone on the first side of the album, a real blistering rocker with excellent lyrics.

The Cryptic Critic said...

Hi, Daniel. I'm glad to say I have heard, "Magdelaine," - and also, "Ribbons." It's amazing the quality of songs that failed to make the album. She really was firing on all cylinders during that period of her career.