Thank God for Marykate O'Neil. At a time when I'd just suffered through a succession of discs about which I'd felt either articulate hatred or blanched indifference, I was looking for something, anything, to pluck me from the jaws of audio death. And there, through the crack in my corroding music lover's heart, sped the multicolored rainbow of Ms. O'Neil's self-titled disc, sure to spread warmth to my jaded soul.
So I'll admit it. I did it again. I said I wasn't going to judge an album by its cover again after having been regularly surprised and burned in the past but, as we all know, in times of desperation we look to the safety of old habits. In this case, I figured no album with blurry comic book panel photos of a cherubic girl and orange scribbles could possibly be as serious, depressing and dour as everything else I'd been listening to. Sure enough, my intuition led me to a tight, upbeat and melodic offering -- though not without its fair share of melancholy -- from a girl who sounds tailor-made for coffeehouses, small clubs and opening for Jill Sobule.
Sounding a little like a female George Harrison and a lot like herself, O'Neil packs a peppy punch in each of these economy-sized tracks -- fourteen in all, at a runtime of just under 41 minutes, making this disc a blueprint in How To Please A Listener: the songs don't have to be long, they just have to be good. Some of the best, such as opener "Hudson," Empire Records-inflected "Mundane Dream" and lovelorn toe-tapper "Still Waiting", clock in around the three minute mark. On the longer side, the beautiful and moody "U-Haul" still needs less than five minutes to tell its tale of love gone cold and the difficult business of sorting out what's whose as the van sits outside. O'Neil also shows a penchant for somewhat kitschy tunes in the Kinks-y "Newsday" and the pseudo-psychedelic "Prime Time", featuring a requisite clap-along rhythm track. There's not a dud on the album, and while some of the lyrics might not always click ("bedsores on my brain" -- effective yet unpleasant imagery) with the smart, smiley persona O'Neil puts forth, there's no denying she's a hell of a songwriter, both musically and lyrically. Jewel would do well to tap into this candy-coated vibe, just as Marykate O'Neil would do well to hoard it all for herself. But to her credit, she strikes me as the kid on the playground who always shared.
Going back to that Jill Sobule comment from above -- funny I mention that, for only after finishing the album did I see in the liner notes that this is a Jill Sobule production. Looking back, I also saw that Ms. O'Neil shared songwriting credit with her on several tracks. Ah, says I -- that would explain some similarities in their slyly ironic styles, but it does nothing to diminish the fact that Marykate O'Neil is a very catchy and talented artist, one that I suspect is more than capable of standing up and belting a few hits out of the park on her very own. May she bring the same jolt of joy to the lives of other disaffected music lovers in need of an upbeat boost.