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Tanita Tikaram – Can’t Go Back (A Music Review)

Tanita Tikaram – Can’t Go Back (Eagle Rock)

Tanita Tikaram sounded much older than only nineteen when she released her 1988 debut album Ancient Heart.  This was not simply due to her hushed, husky vocal delivery, but it was also due to the shockingly mature introspection of the songwriting.  Ancient Heart was released to massive acclaim (I’d personally rank it as one of the ten best albums of the 1980s) and made Tikaram a star in her native England.  The album mined the hits “Twist In My Sobriety” (which is still considered a standard worldwide), “Cathedral Song” (Matchbox 20 blatantly stole the intro to their hit “If You’re Gone” from this tune), “Good Tradition” and “World Outside Your Window.”

Tikaram never became as big in the States as she did in Europe, but she was a staple of college rock at the time, with “Twist” and “Cathedral” getting significant airplay.  Tikaram never had another album that was quite as stunning as that debut, however she released four more very good albums in the next seven years and each one had some brilliant moments and even a few minor hits like “We Almost Got It Together,” “Little Sister Leaving Town” and “Only The Ones We Love.”

While she has periodically released indie albums in the UK since that spurt, Can’t Go Back is Tikaram’s first album to get a US release since her final major-label recording. Lovers in the City in 1995 did actually house a minor comeback single with the worldbeat flavored “I Might Be Crying,” which got a good amount of AAA airplay as well as placement in a high-profile ad campaign.

If you haven’t heard any of the UK releases she has done since then (and I have), the first exciting thing about Can’t Go Back is that Tikaram’s vocals have lost none of the supple sultriness after all these years.  Plus as a songwriter she has so many more years of experience to draw from that the idea of new music from this special talent is a reason for excitement. 

And while Tikaram still has not eclipsed her opening shot, it’s nice to see how much she still has to say.  Can’t Go Back is as close as you can get to going home musically, and it is as comfortable and welcome as an old favorite pair of pants.

Tikaram has aged, we have aged, but some things stay the same.

Tikaram is still as smart, insightful and surprisingly hooky songwriter and her unique delivery still can raise chills. 

Tikaram’s ironic viewpoint is still refreshing: the casually catchy song “Rock and Roll” is amusing in the fact that it is so far from rock and roll, and yet it is still kinda great.  “All Things To You” is, on the other hand, surprisingly rocky for the singer, a tough retro boogie beat that sounds much more roadhouse than she normally allows herself to get.

Then she washes off the years with the softly passionate first single, “Dust on My Shoes,” which feels like an outtake from Ancient Heart.  “Can’t Go Back,” on the other hand has a retro 60s piano ballad vibe.  By the time that the first disk ends with the samba-tinged devotional “If the World Should Want For Love” you realize that there is not a single bum track on the CD.

Can’t Go Back then, ironically to its title, indeed goes back and adds a bonus disk in which Tikaram performs acoustic versions of eight earlier songs.  Bravely, she doesn’t go the “Best of… Acoustic” route, only doing two of her known singles.  The rest are album tracks – three of which are from the 2009 album Sentimental, so they are getting their first US exposure on this bonus disk. 

Strangely, the best known song is the one that comes off worst here.  Odd instrumentation doesn’t ruin “Twist in My Sobriety” – the song is too brilliant to be ruined by much of anything – but listening to the too-stripped-down new version just makes you want to pull out the original.  However, a softer flamenco vibe makes “Only the Ones You Love” an interesting variation of an already pretty terrific song.  A gorgeous piano version of “My Love” and a hushed folkie take on “Valentine Heart” is still heartbreaking.  In all, none of these acoustic takes are better than the original, but most are worthy alternatives.

Whether you are a long-starved Ancient Heart fan or just a totally innocent music fan in search of smart and tuneful pop, it is long past time that we look back to this criminally underappreciated talent.

Jay S.  Jacobs

Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved. Posted: September 21, 2012.

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