Faint flickers of maturity to be found in Lisa Loeb's unassuming firecracker



Joey Guerra

Entertainment Editor

Lisa Loeb: firecracker

(Geffen Records)

There's something sweetly appealing about singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb, from the cutely ironic musings of her lyrics to her humble, unassuming stage presence during her various Houston appearances.

During this summer's Lilith Fair, where Loeb served as the opening act for headliners Sarah McLachlan and Jewel, the singer held her own for most of a 35-minute, pleasant acoustic set. Loeb and her guitar were the only ones on stage, and that seemed just fine with everyone.

That sense of unfettered wistfulness is precisely what carries firecracker, Loeb's second solo outing, along a quietly affecting course. It's not as immediately catchy as 1995's Tails, which built on Loeb's girlish, acoustic mega-hit, "Stay." At times, firecracker dwindles down to a barely flickering spark, weighted down by murky musings that go nowhere. But the album is tight enough to fuel a few warm, pleasant fires.

If the rollicking first single, "I Do," is any indication, Loeb's fan base hasn't deserted her. It's making big strides on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart (where it's been a Heatseeker for four weeks), and rightfully so - the song is a collage of radio pleasantries: a swelling background chorus, catchy refrains and sweetly defensive lyrics.

That sound can be heard on a number of firecracker's more lively tracks, including "Truthfully," which benefits from Loeb's up-down vocal delivery. The singer's chops are hardly diva-caliber, but there's an innocence behind Loeb's cat-rimmed glasses that suits her tales of love and longing.

"Split Second" takes it to a whisper behind a driving guitar riff, but some of firecracker's flame is dampened by slow-moving tracks like "Jake," "Dance with the Angels" and the scattershot title track. They seem more like diary entries from a semi-precocious eighth-grader than the lyrical poetry of a truly seasoned performer.

Loeb relies too heavily on overly personal ideas and phrasings, like "Your dad died, cause his heart hurt, arking away his forty-five years/dragging your mom along" and "You change your shoelaces/I light firecrackers."

She should leave the quirky story-weaving to the likes of Jewel, and instead concentrate on the poignant musings of tender ballads like "How," where Loeb asks, in a plaintive plea, "How does your heart beat, and why do you breathe?"

Loeb really rings true on "Falling in Love," a country-twinged tune that beautifully, if rather sadly, states, "The time between meeting and finally leaving is/Sometimes called falling in love." The tale of a weary woman searching for simple affection is often heartbreaking.

Loeb has talent, and if she can ever pull through the cotton-candy web of polite, petite love songs, she may truly soar. Firecracker offers glimpses through the sticky haze, if only for a few fleeting moments. Unadorned by dainty posturing, it's a lovely sight to see.

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