While the press materials tout Smoke in the Shadows as Lydia Lunch's "return" to her classic Queen of Siam persona, that assertion is basically erroneous. The truth is, Lydia Lunch has upped the musical ante once more. Much of the material here comes right out of the nocturnal brand of West Coast cinema jazz that accompanied the soundtracks to Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, They Live By Night, and In a Lonely Place as well as countless noir B movies. Lunch employs a stellar band this time out that includes guitarists Nels Cline and Tommy Grenas, drummer Alex Cline, saxophonists Vinny Golia and Niels Van Hoorn (from the Legendary Pink Dots), keyboardist Len del Rio, Terry Edwards, and backing vocalists Adele Bertei (Contortions) and Carla Bozulich (Geraldine Fibbers). That said, the jazz here is far more deliberate and intimate; the big-band cuts like "Hangover Hotel," "Johnny Behind the Deuce," and "I Love You Now" feature Lunch offering a spoken/sung narrative that moves into the music accompanying her and never rises above it. The focus is on the entire proceeding, not on her with instrumental backing. Elsewhere, on "Blame," a shimmering minimal hip-hop rhythm track is ornamented with reverbed saxophones and what sounds like a Wurlitzer. Lunch offers a paean to broken love that is alternately tender, empathetic, stylish, and taut emotional drama, like a length of cord beginning to fray. The swirling piano line and out sax fills that kick off "Touch My Evil" become a rap track with layered loops and drum lines. It's gritty, funky, and in the pocket. When a brief vibes solo breaks into the horn-drenched chorus and an Afro-Cuban rhumba, the lid comes off. It's the most adventurous cut on the set and its groove is faultless for all of its chameleon shape-shifting. It is followed by a revamped funky hip-hop joint called "Lost World," which keeps its fangs bared throughout. Smoke in the Shadows is compelling from start to finish. The musical and textural landscapes bleed into and feed off of one another, and Lunch -- as poet, narrator, and singer -- is at the top of her darkly lyrical game. If any comparison can be made to Queen of Siam at all, it is simply that this outing is her finest musical moment since that time. Highly recommended.
Smoke in the Shadows Review
by Thom Jurek