Nina Gordon
"Bleeding Heart Graffitti"

(Warner Bros. Records 2006)Nina Gordon - Bleeding Heart Graffitti

Albums like this are the reason why the major labels have been laying off so many employees. Sure, the guys at the top with the gray ponytails might blame it on college kids stealing MP3s but, if you ask me, the real problem is that no college kid would want to steal any of the fourteen tracks on "Bleeding Heart Graffiti." This sort of middle-of-the-road adult-alternative milquetoast serves only one purpose: to give thirty-something old farts (like me) who remember Nina Gordon's fifteen minutes of fame fronting Veruca Salt something to half-pay-attention to while driving around in our Toyota Priuses, shopping for bookshelves and shower curtains.

Nearly all of the songs on "Bleeding Heart Graffiti" follow the same basic blueprint with only the slightest variation, like houses in a suburban subdivision. Most begin with just Nina's voice and a guitar, until a laid-back drumbeat and piano kick in on the third line of the verse. Choruses invariably swell to what's meant to be a dramatic crescendo, with the drummer laying into the cymbals and synthesized strings mixed into the background, while Nina's voice reaches for some auto-tuned high note. Then it's back to the strumming guitar and restrained drumbeat, perhaps with a guitar solo to separate the third verse from the second.

Formulaic songwriting and arrangements can sometimes be redeemed by brilliant lyrics, but such is not the case here. The words to "Christmas Lights" are only worth following if you've never heard love compared to flying (though Nina gets points for naming a specific model of aircraft that being in love is like flying in: a Gulfstream "G5" twin-engine executive jet). "Pure" offers yet another clinical study about how women use cosmetics to become "someone else," while "Watercolors" delves into the deep psychological paradox of how a person can feel "happiest when I'm blue." As if that weren't bad enough, "Bleeding Heart Graffiti" is supposed to be a concept album, which explains why some tracks are little more than 30-second intros or interludes, plus the recurring holiday imagery in songs like "Christmas Lights" and "The Crickets Sound Like Sleigh Bells" (proving once again that the only thing worse than bad music is bad Christmas music).

Even by the standards of mid-tempo, female-fronted soft rock, this is bland stuff. At least when listening to Sheryl Crow one gets the sense that she parties hard, or that the Dixie Chicks could kick some ass in a barfight, or that Dido's been through some serious emotional shit. All one gets from Nina Gordon's music is the sense that she'd like to be a Sheryl Crow, Dido, or Dixie Chick, but lacks the originality or personality to qualify as an interesting mainstream entertainer, let alone a fascinating artist like Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, or Suzanne Vega. Sitting through "Bleeding Heart Graffiti" made me wish I could keep Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls chained up and half-starved at the bottom of a pit*, just to toss singers like Nina Gordon down there and listen the screams.

* Realistically, if I ever got to know Amanda Palmer, I'd more likely end up divorced and bankrupt with an unlisted phone number and a glass eye.


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