Vega evokes New York

By Gus Bode

Suzanne Vega

“Beauty and Crime”

Release Date: July 17, 2007


Record Label: Bluenote

Sultry and mysterious, Suzanne Vega stands framed in the glow of a spotlight. Her blood-red lipstick and midnight silhouetted dress casts a glamorous allure about her, like a 1920’s film star photographed on her way out of a smoky New York club. Her slender fingers float near her chin, her eyes thoughtful. She seems to possess and embody clarity and mystery, subtlety and sexuality, purity and sin, in one expressive pose.

And that’s just the cover art.

Suzanne Vega’s most recent release “Beauty and Crime” is a series of poignant vignettes centered in and devoted to the city she’s spent her life courting. Her beloved New York City personified as “Every girl you’ve seen in every movie/ Every girl you’ve seen on late night TV” is further illuminated and explored with each moody, delicately crafted song.

The album opens with “Zephyr and I,” a breathlessly upbeat number boasting shining harmonies that bring to mind Regina Spektor’s endearingly lighthearted style. At just over three minutes the song is a testament to Vega’s gift for brevity without any loss to her clarity of vision.

The bright mood quickly fades however as “Ludlow Street” swoops in guiding listeners along in its wake. The song is a moving memoriam to Vega’s late brother, Tim Vega, whose passing was a result of alcoholism. “I can recall each morning after/ Painted in nicotine,” she sings, describing how she cared for her brother and establishing a thread of nostalgia that will last throughout the album.


“New York is a Woman” is the centerpiece of the album, establishing the city as a living, breathing entity. “Look down and see her ruined places/ Smoke and ash still rising to the sky/ She’s happy that you’re here but when you disappear/ She won’t know you’re gone to say goodbye.”

Vega’s “New York” is as nakedly alluring as the image on the front of the album, and just as out of reach. She embodies all the contradictions of glamour stirred up with the pain still lingering in her “ruined places” entirely out of reach to the outside. “She’ll make you cry,” sings Vega, “And, to her, you’re just another guy.”

In many ways, it is hard to imagine this album reaching a large audience. Vega has built a career around two hits (“Luka” and the brilliant a cappella “Tom’s Diner”) and a small fan base attracted to her fragile, unassuming songwriting. “Beauty and Crime” does not break any new ground, content to let Vega’s honed musical sensibility take a backseat to her lyrics. Don’t expect any chart-toppers here.

If there is any truth to her image, however, Suzanne Vega won’t mind at all. Her album is a slow-building gem meant to exist for its own sake. In the meantime, Vega will soldier on, as nobly unconcerned as the city she adores.

Daily Egyptian reporter Justin Leverett can be reached at 536- 3311 ext. 275 or [email protected].