Leona Anderson

Music to Suffer By

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Leona Anderson's 1958 album is an example of what can be called a knowingly camp classic -- given that Anderson herself happily embraced and promoted her claim as being "the world's most horrible singer," this is a different kind of spirit than drove someone like the apparently convinced-of-her-own-greatness Florence Foster Jenkins. With that in mind, Music to Suffer By is best appreciated as the work of outrageous comedy it's clearly meant to be, with the orchestra-backed Anderson tackling a slew of songs ranging from pop standards to novelty tunes and lyrics riffing on classical arrangements. "Tackling" perhaps is an understatement when "grievous bodily harm" could better be used. Hearing the orchestra kick things off with a snippet of "La Marseillaise" before Anderson launches into "I Love Paris" sets up the appropriate sense of mock grandeur -- her spoken word introduction is OK enough in a flowery sense, but hearing her crack, strain, burble, and otherwise demonstrate that her singing voice is completely surplus to any requirements might either be seizure-inducing or seizure-removing, depending on how you place your speakers. From there it's a full-bodied romp into a long-lost world of private recitals and high culture as public display, where the idea of the society matron as artist was perhaps a bit more commonplace, as was a comedic understanding of same -- it's no wonder Anderson was a favorite of Ernie Kovacs. Hearing her raspy croon on "Chloe," on the descending verses of "Habanera," and -- perhaps most utterly terrifying -- on "Indian Love Call" and "Tell Me a Tale" can't be easily conveyed via language. Then there's "Limburger Lover," and to say the result is cheesy is unavoidable yet, ultimately, the only appropriate response. Maybe the only regret was that this wasn't produced by Spike Jones in his pomp -- the resultant collision of aesthetics might still be echoing today.

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