Cindy Lee Berryhill

Naked Movie Star

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Happily, Cindy Lee Berryhill's second album, 1989's Naked Movie Star, moves beyond the simple but effective acoustic-based folk of her 1987 debut, Who's Gonna Save the World. Unfortunately, it's a terribly uneven album that tries to find a middle ground between that album and the Brian Wilson-influenced pop of her superb follow-up, 1994's Garage Orchestra. Honestly, there are some absolute howlers here, the worst songs of Berryhill's career. On the other hand, the good songs are standouts, and one, "What's Wrong With Me," is possibly the best song Berryhill has ever written. Just barely flirting with self-pity but never quite stepping over that line, thanks largely to a deflatingly self-mocking bridge that smartly punctures the overriding sense of "woe is me," "What's Wrong With Me" also features the loveliest melody of Berryhill's career and a simple piano-based arrangement that makes it sound not unlike a Beach Boys ballad from the early '70s. The first two tracks, the garage band narrative "Me, Steve, Kirk and Keith" and the Tom Waits-like ballad "Old Trombone Routine," feature Berryhill's remarkably vivid, novelistic lyrical sense and strong tunes, but after a couple more solid tunes, the album loses its footing. The protesty "Trump" picks far too easy a target, and "Turn Off the Century" is really just kinda whiny. The nadir, though, is the 13-and-a-half-minute "Yipee." It starts off fine, with some powerful wordless singing and spare, economical imagery, but then Berryhill launches into an overlong monologue that's just nowhere near as interesting as something like this has to be. There are intriguing segments, particularly one where she muses on that point at which a young hipster stops going to the clubs every night, but the monologue could easily be edited by half. Berryhill doesn't hit the vomit-inducing depths of Jim Morrison's stoned blather, thankfully, but neither does she hit Patti Smith's surreal heights. (One can assume that's what she was going for, since Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye produced the album.) Naked Movie Star then limps to a close with the too-cute-by-half "Baby (Should I Have the Baby?)," a not bad song seriously weakened by Berryhill's coy delivery. Half good-to-great, half bad-to-worse, Naked Movie Star is perched right between success and failure.

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