In fact, it’s when she goes full-throttle and sings angry that things work best. “Air Kisses to the Masses,” the single here and a cover of drag queen Dean Johnson’s song, has a driving “Axel F” beat and a great bassline and features the growl of a lioness: “nobody wants to hear a drag queen talk about love.” Bebe is in her element and she gets a slick guitar line from the Neighborhoods’ David Minehan, too.
There is the brutally bitter “Timeline,” too, where she uses that rock slur of Chrissie Hynde’s to spit: “you used me and you used my family/You lied, you cheated, you made me feel defeated/But the truth is clear/Your lies, they make no sense.”
Almost everything here is heavily produced, with walls of sound created from synthesizers and distorted guitars and digital backbeats. Often, it succeeds, but I think there’s another way she could have gone here, a more world-weary collection of songs where the age in her voice would evince wisdom and experience, like some of the later Marianne Faithfull records. I can’t help wondering what this would sound like vastly stripped-down and as raw as the punk shows Bebe used to go see at Geno’s, just instruments and charisma and sweat and whiskey.
Maybe closest to that is Bebe’s cover of Johnny Thunders’s “(She’s So) Untouchable,” off his So Alone solo album, post New York Dolls and Heartbreakers. It’s a spare open, leading into a strummed guitar intro, and her wail of desperation works perfectly as she changes the protagonist’s gender: “Cuz he’s so pretty, yeah/He knocks the girls out/He’s so untouchable, he makes me uncontrollable.”
Bebe’s been knocking guys out for years, and plenty of gals, too. No reason to stop now.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUGAR | Released by Bebe Buell | with Twisted Roots + Loverless | at Port City Music Hall, in Portland | May 8 | www.bebebuell.org
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