Janis Ian

Uncle Wonderful

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A Janis Ian dance album? Even her most ardent fans couldn't have seen this one coming. Uncle Wonderful -- an Australia-only album from 1984 that was recorded over three years -- sounds like something from Flashdance or Footloose, and as such it's dated rather badly. Drum machines, synthesizers, and Ian's incongruous grand piano all vie for attention, and the effect is not unlike being caught in a noisy traffic jam for 30-plus minutes. Still, there's some amusement to be gained from hearing Ian sing uncharacteristically coquettish lines like "let me be your body slave," and there's a great, hyperspeed piano solo on "Just a Girl." Ian's writing is as sharp and pointed as ever; Uncle Wonderful initially sounds like throwaway pop, but perseverance reveals that each song is actually a rather dark, well-constructed novella. "Trigger Happy Love" tells the tale of a married prostitute-killer, "Mechanical Telephone" examines marital dissolution, and the title track addresses incest and abuse, themes Ian would return to with great success on her comeback album Breaking Silence.

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