Suzanne Vega is, rather unjustly, known almost exclusively from her second album, 1987’s Solitude Standing — and particularly for the two hits Luka and Tom’s Diner. That was my first album of hers (and by the way, these two songs are some way from being the best it has to offfer). It inspired me to dig a bit deeper, so I got her self-titled debut album, which is a delight: sparse, insightful and chilly. And this year, her third album, Days of Open Hand.
It’s a noticably warmer sound than those first two albums: while instrumentation is still mostly crafted in a way that leaves a lot of space, it now seems to work much more with the vocal rather than being a canvas that the vocal is painted onto. (I’m not saying that this is a better approach, only that it’s different: both work well.) The songs feel as though the words, melody and backing were all evolved together, whereas on the first two albums the sense (whether actually true or not) is that songs were written with just a guitar, and then arrangements added later.
The song I’ve chosen, Fifty-Fifty Chance, is perhaps not very representative, and feels in some ways as though it would sit more comfortably on one of those first two albums. But I’ve chosen it because I love how the tension of the string part — the only instrumentation — evokes the helplessness of sitting by a hospital bed, not knowing what the outcome might be. The twist at the end of the song casts the whole in a new, and more heartbreaking, light.