FAYE WEBSTER – I Know I’m Funny Haha (Secretly Canadian)
Review by Bernard Zuel.
Breakups don’t just hurt, they can kick you in the guts, smack you about the head when you tip over, smear grease in your hair, and paint a mocking “kick me now, please” sign on your back. They’re not funny, okay?
Someone didn’t tell Faye Webster.
While not exactly a gag-cracking response to a breakup – she may be a photographer, but she’s no sociopath – I Know I’m Funny Haha manages to look at the shitshow with a lightly amused eye, and a dryly philosophical mind.
In A Dream With A Baseball Player, she asks a fairly standard post-breakup question, “how did I fall in love with someone I don’t know?”, but uses the analogy of her teen obsession with a player she’d never met to stand in for the relationship. “How am I supposed to ever be with him/When he and I don’t speak the same language?/But we have conversations in my head.”
This is presented in a kind of dream state Motown, slow and smooth, impeccably dressed, as if the Four Tops were standing behind her making tight little spins, splitting to each side to let a saxophone player who has somehow being transposed from the 1980s slide in for some smooth blow. (And no not that kind – this is definitely an album seen and heard through a smoke haze, not a snowstorm.)
The effect is more than lightening the mood, it lightens the step, making Webster feel like she is gliding over this emotional canyon is if it’s just a pothole and she’s up for the dip.
Even more sleekly soulful – heading east from Detroit’s Tops to Philadelphia’s The Delfonics now – is In A Good Way, as in “you make me wanna cry, in a good way”. Unfurling as slowly as a pour of thick honey, with electric piano, strings and polite guitar (which is countered by a surprisingly urgent but low-key bassline), this feels like a song made for the quiet sob. And not necessarily in a good way – unless breaking down in front of your friends one more time is the plan.
Yes, it’s about beginning to live again after a breakup, but there is no hiding that it is still built on the slippery residue of the previous relationship. However, there’s something about Webster’s delivery as much as in lines like “You weigh just as much is me, don’t you?/I can feel it when we touch”, that again brings a sliver of humour. Just enough.
If soul is one key ingredient in Webster’s emergence from Atlanta’s music scene with this and her previous record, the quite marvellous Atlanta Millionaires Club (you can hear it also in the marrow of the torch song-in-waiting, Both All The Time, and the gorgeous k.d. lang-uor of Sometimes) so is country music.
Whether it is the leavening agent in what on the surface feels like a Cure-ish piece of rock in Cheers, the last dance in an Austin bar feel of Overslept, or the pedal steel spine of the title track, the other great pillar of Southern American music feeds into this album. It’s late night country, small bar country, rather than the church or the dancefloor, but it’s here and it has worn-in boots.
Maybe that’s what brings some of the hints of humour – country generally having a bit more lean that way than soul. Or maybe they can be put down to Webster’s way of holding hurt and sadness just far enough away for it to be observed rather than absorbed.
Either way, it works on a record that never exceeds a suburban streets speed limit, sometimes never seems to leave that suburban home, but finds ways to let light in and weight out.