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Stina Nordenstam | People Are Strange (eastwest)
Nick Drake is found alive, well, tattooed and bandanna-clad, playing drums with a southern Californian cock-rock outfit...Ian Mackaye is spotted toking on a doobie, knocking back the Special Brew and high five-ing with his buddies at an ELO reunion gig... Bill Callahan becomes the fifth Teletubby. God knows what further illusions could be shattered to follow these up, but wee Swede Stina Nordenstam's covers album is surely a contender. It's...well, interesting. As much for her iconoclastic choice of songs as her skewed interpretations. (But isn't 'interesting' a word that's summoned when what you really want to say is 'confusing,' or 'crap'?!) You'll find no obsequious tributes or attempts to claw back some faded credibility in these songs. Mixing the whispered acoustic intimacy that made her 1994 album And She Closed Her Eyes so beguiling, with the more claustrophobic hammering sound of her follow-up Dynamite, People Are Strange stirs together both the familiar and the obscure, taking in songs by The Doors, Leonard Cohen and Tim Hardin, alongside folk tunes and- it says here- a 19th century ballad, Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair. Even over-familiar songs are twisted unrecognisably by Stina's hesitant phrasing and eccentric vision, like the uncomfortable bedroom rendition of Rod Stewart's Sailing, sung to the backing of a rain storm in Stina's cracked, helium tones. Sounds contrived, no? Never the drama queen, she manages a whispered version of Prince's Purple Rain which, with drum and bass fills and swirling pseudo-orchestral static, transforms the song from an extravagant clamour of desire to a sinister murmur of closeted longing. It's stunning, but, like your batty aunt with the hygiene problem, this album is asking to be kept at arm's length, visited only when you really have to. Maybe repetition really is creative death, and the value of never revisiting her past triumphs is enough of a premium for Stina to deem this album a nominal triumph. Play People Are Strange back-to-back with And She Closed Her Eyes and see a tear in a grown man's eye.
CWAS #4 - Winter 1998/9 - The Lost Issue