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Sally Timms - In The World Of Him

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Artist: Sally Timms

Album: In The World Of Him

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Oct. 27, 2004

Sally Timms’ In the World of Him is a good deal more thoughtful than your run-of-the-mill covers album. It’s one thing to cover a batch of songs concerning a similar topic. Timms went further and assembled a group of songs written from a similar point of view. (Astute readers have no doubt picked up from the title that each of the nine songs on this album was written from the point of view of a man.) What’s more, Timms and co-producers Johnny Dowd and Justin Asher arranged the songs in such a way that they have virtually no resemblance to the original: someone listening to Timms’ version of Mark Eitzel’s “God’s Eternal Love” has to feel more than a little disconcerted by the bleak, synthetic background. There’s nothing familiar except for the lyrics, which then become the center of attention, and then – yes – she’s made whatever point she hoped to make by covering the song.

Now, one could argue that this album serves as a generalized social commentary. That seems to ignore the fact that collections of pop songs almost axiomatically become less than the sum of their parts. (I mean, for 40 years lyrics have pursued the same five topics, so there’s only so much cultural studies fodder available.) That’s not a knock on what Sally Timms was trying to accomplish here, just a recognition that a pop music project such as this serves as a reflexive commentary on pop music first and foremost – for which it’s incredibly useful, by the way. Listeners to In the World of Him still get treated to a number of subtle and impressive tricks. The toy store xylorimba beat on Jon Langford’s “Sentimental Marching Song” undercuts its sentiment about all men being born to brutalize at the same time that the studio beats and squalls of guitar feedback come to reinforce it. Tom Greenhalgh’s slow-motion guitar heroics on “Corporal Chalkie” do no favors to the grandstanding narrator; and needless to say, the strangeness of his tale sounds even stranger through Timms’ subdued cabaret hiss. Dowd’s own “139 Hernalter Gürtel” is a bizarre free-association between marital and sexual conquest, and here it opens as a synth-pop spoken word piece (from which Timms drew the album’s title) and ends in a disjointed spiral of falsetto vocals. The faithful cover of Ryan Adams’ “The Fools We Are as Men” is first rate; it could easily have gone wrong, reinforcing Adams’ theatrical melancholy, but instead it serves as a timely reminder that he can be, when he wants to be, a startlingly effective songwriter.

Two new songs also appear. “Bomb” is a tongue-in-cheek protest song that concludes “things are so much better, now that we have the bomb,” and on which Timms is backed by the other members of the Mekons. Then the concluding, “Little Tommy Tucker,” which opens as a nursery rhyme that becomes more depressive as it follows its subject through time, ending in the brutal repetition of the single line, “none shall be married.”

Initially, In the World of Him seems like an album that works as simple irony: nine songs told from a male point of view, but sung by a woman. Here again, though, it’s more clever than you would think. Look again at the composers: Jon Langford, Johnny Dowd, Mark Eitzel, Tom Greenhalgh, even Ryan Adams – all writers aware of the strong authorial voice in their own work. They’re storytellers, and even their autobiographical songs contain a good deal of self-consciousness. Which means that the point isn’t (or isn’t only) the unconscious biases evident in the narrators’ words, it is also that each one of these songs is in its own right a revealing and worthwhile composition, each one making a point over and above whatever irony might be involved in their being sung cabaret-style by Sally Timms. Here the concept and the execution are both spectacular. Like I said, a good deal more thoughtful than your run-of-the-mill covers album.

By Tom Zimpleman

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