Portland's Pink Martini continues its suave, worldly ways in its third CD, "Hey Eugene," out today
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Pink Martini's particular confection of multi-culti cocktail pop has been familiar to the local chic set since the band started in 1994 by playing political fundraisers.
Its retro-suave, jazzy sound caught on quickly (the band's particularly popular in France) and boosted sales of its first two albums past the 1 million mark. Its blend of global influences from Latin America to Japan also has earned it a name for elegance and urbanity.
To the surprise of likely no one, the band's third and newest album, "Hey Eugene!" -- it hits store shelves today -- is as sophisticated and worldly as the band's prior work, including its first album "Sympathique" and its stellar follow-up "Hang on Little Tomato," which featured songs in languages from French to Croatian.
Once again, Portland's biggest little orchestra presents songs in several languages (sometimes within the same song, as with the combination of Russian, Italian and English in the sprightly "Dosvedanya Mio Bombino"), skipping from inflections of bossa nova to torch songs and beyond.
Singer China Forbes' voice particularly stands out here. It's a flexible instrument that carries everything from the staunch unforgiveness of the Portuguese-language "Tempo Perdido" (a Carmen Miranda song in which a woman refuses to take back her lover-done-wrong despite his tears) to the whimsical title song, which paints a more narrative picture than most of the rest of the album: It's about a man Forbes once met at a party who asked for her number but then never called.
On "Syracuse" she's a smoky chanteuse; on the Japanese-language "Taya Tan" she coos convincingly; and on "Cante E Dance" she pulls back into a lighter, breathier voice that gives the song -- one of the album's best, written by bassist Phil Baker and with additional vocals by Timothy Nishimoto -- grace and buoyancy.
Thomas Lauderdale, the band's pianist and artistic director, helps Pink Martini keep a coherent aesthetic despite the multitude of influences. The rhythm section in particular helps in this, laying down a solid foundation that maintains enough commonality through the course of the album to tie all the songs together. Lauderdale's classical training and discipline serve both him and the band well.
While the album's accomplishment is clear, though, so are its flaws. Pink Martini's sound is so well-established by now that there are few surprises for listeners to their previous two albums (although many, in fairness, will see that as a positive). A few songs don't measure up to the high bar the album sets. Among them is the title track (a fan favorite in the band's live shows), which feels like it wants to cut loose but never quite gets there.
Forbes, for all her obvious talent, at times veers into more of a musical-theater sound, as on the opener, "Everywhere," which, with its touch of saccharine, sounds a little too Disneyesque.
And the band's aggressive internationalism can feel forced, as on the Arabic-language song "Bukra Wba'do." Forbes deserves credit for learning so many songs phonetically and still infusing them with feeling, but she's undeniably better in the languages she actually speaks (as on the sultry "City of Night").
Still, if "Hey Eugene!" isn't quite as delectable as the startlingly beautiful "Hang on Little Tomato," the album doesn't go splat, either. There's enough here that's tasty to satisfy the appetite -- and maybe keep it just a little whetted for whatever Pink Martini whips up in the future.