Retro Review: Suzanne Vega's Beauty and Crime

In 2007, Suzanne Vega released the best album of her career, Beauty and Crime. To make such a claim is saying a lot, as all of Vega's records are significant artistic achievements. She has remained a distinct if subdued vocalist and songwriter, and her work marks both evolution and aesthetic consistency. Beauty and Crime presents Vega at the peak of her powers, stepping her music forward but maintaining her strengths.

Clocking in at thirty-four minutes, the album is the kind of concise record we rarely see. Beginning with the spirited pop of "Zephyr and I" through the folky conclusion, "Anniversary," there is not a moment of wasted sound. In fact, these book-ending tracks represent the album well: a mix of pop-inflected folk (or folky pop, depending on your view), the project is a tribute to life in New York City. At times, Vega bursts with joy and nostalgia, as on the opener and the delightful "Unbound." In others, she discusses sadness and loss, like in "Edith Wharton's Figurines." Regardless of her material, Vega is a premiere and under-appreciated crafter of melodies and lyrics. For example, "New York is a Woman" could easily be a rote personification of the Big Apple. Instead, Vega creates a story-song about a tourist meeting the city for the first time, but casting her off as a one-night stand. Vega is a master at taking familiar material and looking at it from a new angle, not to mention an impeccable career-long observer of her home town.

Vega has spent the five years since Beauty and Crime rerecording her catalog for her own label with the goal of keeping her material in print. Her Close Up retrospective project seems indicative of her position in the music industry--a heralded musician whose legacy has been under-valued by a hit-based business. However, we can hear Vega's influence in a variety of genres, particularly in what we call "indie-pop." Without her, we might not enjoy another soft-voiced songstress, Feist, and the many other artists that mix hooks and sweet melodies with gentle productions. (Keeping that in mind, the trajectory of Vega's career might serve as a map for Feist and other singer-songwriters). Vega paved the way for the crossover stars that keep music blogs buzzing.

That said, if you have not listened to Vega in a while, or if the only songs you associate with her name are "Luka" and "Tom's Diner," go out and buy Beauty and Crime. The album will show you she has continued to make great music; she deserves more people listening.