Poe, a female singer/songwriter — “Hey, wait, isn’t she the one who did that song ‘Criminal?'” No, that was Fiona Apple. “Oh, right, yeah. So Poe was the one who did ‘Ironic.’ I remember her now.” No, wrong again, Alanis Morissette did that one. “Okay, I got it, I think I know her now. Poe. Ummmm… I give up; what song did she sing? Was it ‘I Don’t Want To Wait?'”
Get the point yet? At this point, female singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen, and a new one is about as capable of arousing excitement as a new Vanilla Ice record. Haunted, the new album from Poe, is a fine example. Mixing the typical whisper-to-a-growl vocals that mark so many so-called “grrrl rock” bands, with electronic-flavored atmosphere reminiscent of Portishead, Poe brings nothing new to the genre.
The album is a concept album — another musical idea being vastly overused of late — based on the book House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, Poe’s brother. The book and album are based on Poe’s father, respected documentary director Tad Danielewski — presumably, he’s the ghost haunting Poe here. The record is filled with sampled recordings of his voice and excerpts from House Of Leaves. And although this weighty concept is a noble basis for an album, the music never lives up to Poe’s lofty aspirations.
Following a spooky intro with sampled sound effects and voices, Poe churns out sixteen generic pop numbers, most obscured by layers of electronic effects and distorted, jagged guitars. A precious few tracks work — most notably the gasping “Hey Pretty” and the lovely, melancholy “5 1/2 Minute Hallway.” But a large number of the songs overextend themselves, especially the 9-minute “Wild,” which shifts and careens through various 180-degree stylistic changes before concluding in a cluttered, ear-splintering climax.
Other songs, including the hard-rocking “Not A Virgin” are so derivative that they’ll surely bring to mind many other artists who have already done this kind of thing. But even when they start with a good melody or an interesting idea, many of these songs suffer from being over-edited and produced.
Poe crafted the album entirely on her own computer, and she seems to have been unable to resist the temptation to add on multiple layers of unnecessary flourishes. “Spanish Doll,” which could have been a pleasant — if rather simplistic — folk melody, is ruined by overbearing electronic effects. Overall, this album has some scattered bright moments, but they’re few and far between. The album, at nearly 70 minutes long, just isn’t creative or interesting enough to sustain its length. When listening to it in one sitting, all the album’s (many) weaknesses become painfully apparent, while its strengths are buried.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Poe’s hit from a few years ago was called “Angry Johnny.” (You’ll know it if you hear it.) And “I Don’t Want To Wait” was a Paula Cole tune.