Nellie McKay's first album of new material in three years returns her to the stylistically scattershot, lyrically ingenious nature of Obligatory Villagers. As she admits herself ("I have no idea how this album happened"), McKay is working on instinct, which helps preserve not only her many idiosyncrasies but also the charming and witty nature of her songwriting. She did gain guidance from two elder sources, one being her mother Robin Pappas (a co-producer) and the other David Byrne, who recruited McKay to appear on his Imelda Marcos concept album Here Lies Love and then returned the favor by making compilations and recommending people for Home Sweet Mobile Home. Byrne's help is intriguing, since the album has all the sounds of the post-millennial global village: reggae rhythms and vocal inflections for several tracks (including "Caribbean Time"), a New Yorker's version of Latin-ized tradition for "¡Bodega!," and, as before, plenty of the good-time, slightly New Orleans-influenced jazz she's floated in the past. The album also has slightly more guitar than any since her debut. Guitars were expected on her first record, since it was produced by Geoff Emerick, but here McKay and her group appear to be attempting an adult-alternative pop crossover of some type. Lyrically, she continues the incisive satire and parody heard on her earlier material. (The first line on Obligatory Villagers was "Feminists don't have a sense of humor," while Home Sweet Mobile Home begins with "The New York Times invents the news.") While her mood inevitably varies from track to track, McKay, more often than before, sounds as though circa-2000s malaise has infected her songwriting; the opener, "Bruise on the Sky," is especially dark (its chorus ends "What I hoped would be my rainbow, was just a bruise on the sky"). "Beneath the Underdog" and "No Equality" are equally dispirited, nearly fatalistic, despite the latter's airing as an organ-led soul jam.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by John Bush