GENA ROSE BRUCE
Can’t Make You Love Me (Dot Dash/Remote Control)
As my mate Polonius would declare, neither borrower nor lender be. Or for the purposes of this exercise: don’t take someone’s heart, nor hand yours over, for loan oft loses both itself and friend.
Though if you do such a wildly ill-advised thing, you’d want to be able to chronicle it with some of the verve and piquancy of Melbourne-based Gena Rose Bruce on her debut that finds a way to make pain palatable.
I didn’t say easy, just palatable. For this isn’t an album of misery guts moaning; it’s too sharp and smart for that. Nor is it a solemn procession of downbeat moments; it’s got a pop spirit that won’t go away.
And even with its ability to nail some choice hurt (“Is that the sound of my heart splitting open?/Is it the break that will leave me broken?”) and offer moments of incomprehension (“aren’t I worth a second thought, a change in mind?”), there’s also a bite or two in there (“And I know she thinks you’re god’s gift to the world/With an ego like yours/Only you can shine”) and some glimmer of better things (“But I’m heading to the shoreline/And I’m taking back what’s mine/See me in a new light”).
Still, there’s no getting away from the fact she’s been kicked in the guts and isn’t yet rebuilt, even if as with Lindi Ortega, whose voice hers somewhat resembles, you sometimes have to look at contradictory evidence. For example, Bruce can be murmuring almost passively when ostensibly defiant, as in the Fleetwood Mac-meets-Bat For Lashes Logan Beach and the dappled light jangle of Rearview, yet sound breezily optimistic when the hardly hidden subtext is almost pleading, as in another song that looks to a California pop past, I Can’t Be That Easy.
Or there’s the way Revive, which is almost pared to outright simplicity in its looped keyboard groove for its first two minutes before hinting at a Lindsey Buckingham flourish in its denouement, projects positivity in unlikely circumstances, while Wild One, barely moving on a barebones rhythm box, rudimentary acoustic and a small splash of high synths, feels like some lost astral folk recording made by a small town country singer but actually declares itself accepting of, or maybe indifferent to, fate’s turn.
Bruce’s debut has been, as good debuts often are, over-praised: its qualities amplified by the relative youth and rawness, and its flaws downplayed in the shadow of freshness. There’s more room for these melodies to grow, or be given air to grow, for a start, and a song such as Angel Face, with its foray into full ‘80s grand atmosphere, shows minimalism won’t always be her default but maybe just one of her tools.
Nonetheless, this is an album offering real pleasures and I’d be with Polonius wishing that the wind sits in the shoulder of her sail.