Rachel Fuller

Cigarettes & Housework

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Singer/songwriter Rachel Fuller's debut album, Cigarettes & Housework, is the kind of record one used to hear quite regularly. Fuller is a classically trained pianist, composer, and arranger whose previous works have been recorded by the London Chamber Orchestra (which performs here as well). She has also orchestrated portions of partner Pete Townshend's Lifehouse Chronicles. Her songs are elegant and graceful affairs musically, and wonderfully gritty, vulnerable slice-of-life stories lyrically. The combination of the two creates a kind of emotional tension that pulls the listener in many directions, making equanimity all but impossible. Fuller's tomes dig under the skin; they seek to scratch an itch until it bleeds and celebrate the flow of blood from the scars of living and loving. If this sounds morbid, it hardly is; she simply doesn't have time for mindless generalities, spineless pondering, or idle chitchat. She celebrates the melancholy not as a way of wallowing in the mud, but as a way of practicing radical acceptance of situations, relationships, and the self. In short, she poetically faces the inner spaces: she records every attempt at self-deception and practices great empathy for all of her protagonists in the first or third person. And she does so poetically. Townshend and his brother Simon guest with her band, as does bassist Pino Palladino. But this is all Fuller. The lush and poignant title track that opens the album with glissando piano and tempered rhythm accompaniment states with detachment: "My teenage years were full of fear/I spent most of them inside...Playing my piano, writing a requiem for me/Thinking I could clean up all the trouble from yesterday/Or hoping that my cigarette smoke would carry it away/I have come through the trouble of youth/But once in a while I still find myself/Naked in the kitchen, smoking in the hall, vacuuming the sofa trying to make sense of it all." There's the tender scar left by heartbreak in "Into My Heart," the raw need of "Eat Me," and the glorious celebration of the beloved's person in "Imperfection." Rock, pop, and classical textures swirl together, shimmering in the foreground, carrying the singer along, allowing her to open and look into the abyss without flinching. The effect is not one of catharsis, but of encounter, leaving the end result for the listener to determine. Fuller's musicality is head and shoulders above her peers; in her lush and textured version of musical and poetic realism she exposes Sarah Brightman for the pretentious phony she is, and in her willingness to go further and wider she makes Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan sound like they are spoiled children. This is adult music. It looks at the pop song as a way of expressing what is normally felt but nearly always hidden away; its expression of hope and willingness is tempered and strengthened by its wondrous candor and musical sophistication. Bravo.

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