Strange Love and the Secret Language

Adrien Reju

Zip Records, 2015

http://adrienreju.com

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/20/2015

Described as a “collection of unconventional love songs,” Adrien Reju’s latest album Strange Love And The Secret Language is more than that. Emerging from the music scene in Philadelphia, she has performed alongside luminaries such as Neko Case, Gillian Welch, and Linda Rondstadt, who have influenced her alt-country-tinged pop. Her preceding releases, including the album A Million Hearts and the EP Lucky Ones, display her ability to consistently craft catchy and beautiful material for an increasingly formidable oeuvre.

The first half of the disc consists of cover versions of “unconventional” love songs. I cringed at the prospect of this because an artist recording a series of covers on an album like this is generally a high-risk, low-reward proposition. Fortunately, the gamble pays off. The album opens with her take on David Bowie’s “Soul Love,” followed by John Cale’s “You Know More Than I Know,” as well as others like Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and Elliot Smith’s “Waltz #1.” She adds her graceful touch to each of these songs, making them her own (though the Prince cover does come off a bit awkward). While it’s difficult to successfully reinterpret well-known works by artists like David Bowie and Prince, Reju still proves to be a capable interpreter of the material. This is better demonstrated on the versions of “Waltz #1,” “You Know More Than I Know,” and “Hemophiliac Of Love” (a duet with A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers), which are absolutely brilliant. nbtc__dv_250

The second half, which consists of original material, is decidedly more conventional but still beautiful and skillfully composed. Staring off with the upbeat “Last Call,” the songs bring forth layered harmonies and lush arrangements for a warm and mellow sound that is in turns pensive, melancholy, and sweet. Perhaps her introspective lyrics on songs like “Solo Mission” allude to the secret language in the title. Highlights include the lullaby-like “Moonlight” and the aching but sweet torch song “Still Not Over You.” The album closes with “Direction Of The Sun,” a soaring ballad that showcases her strong vocals.

In spite of the “unconventional” angle of the songs (the lyrics, really), the music is still very much mainstream and… conventional. The music is beautiful and the performances are compelling, yet this release still struggles to distinguish itself in an already crowded field of singer-songwriters. The “unconventional love song” angle succeeds more by the strength of the performances and the choice of material that by the cleverness of the theme. This strikes me as the kind of maneuver that a more widely known artist might pull when they are running short on fresh ideas and original material. Yet this is clearly not the case with Adrien Reju. Even though the bifurcated format (covers/originals) tempts one to look at this as conjoined pair of EPs, the consistency of style, arrangement, and production manages to pull everything together and yield a unified and satisfying album.

Rating: A

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