Many artists past and present need a few album releases before they officially find their own style of music. Some may find what makes them unique right away. Suzanne Vega fits into the latter of the two groups. Her folk-style and pop influenced production began with her first official self-titled album in 1985. This same musical theme would spill into her most acclaimed project two years later in 1987, Solitude Standing. The way that Vega switches up the production on her second album, while still bringing a certain level of uniqueness to the 1980s was quite exceptional. You can argue that a lot of folk bands emulate her style nowadays, especially groups like Lord Huron and Bon Iver. It’s safe to say that this album has aged quite well.
What makes Solitude Standing such an impressive entry into the rock canon is Vega’s ability to tell a story. Whether fictional or not, many of the songs on this project can be relatable, comedic, or mature. Vega has an acute sense of detail that has developed in the indie-rock genre for quite some time. It feels almost poetic at certain points. Her descriptive language used on the first single, “Tom’s Diner” is funny, light, and engaging. Vega goes a cappella on this track, and many consider this to be her most well-known song of her career (or at least a version of it is: A dance remix by the DNA Disciples was a Top 5 hit around the world in 1990). The rhythm that she uses with just her voice has lead to artists creating different remixes with instruments and electronic sounds for this track. She sets the mood nicely here as well by starting the song with lyrics like, “I am sitting in the morning at the diner on the corner.” It’s easy to sing along to, and there is some light and enjoyable comedy mixed in as well.
Because Vega likes to use storytelling as a device in her lyrics, she does an excellent job setting up not only the plot, but the characters as well. For example, in one of her most mature songs, the hit single “Luka,” she addresses the topic of child abuse. Vega got the inspiration from an actual boy playing in the park who seemed different to her, because he was separate from the other kids. The contrast between the catchy instruments behind the mature lyrics creates something that people will really have to listen to a few times to understand. I
Vega creates this world on the album where her characters in each song want to break away from the depression or angst that they may be feeling. Whether she does this through a certain point of view, or through a first person account, each track uniquely represents something different. On “Iron Bound/Fancy Poultry, Vega sets this dark and depressing background showing the inner conflict that her main character possesses. With a slow-tempo guitar riff behind the lyrics, this is considered another gem on the EP. She uses a first person point of view on “In the Eye” where she has more catchy instrumentals to go along with her almost menacing voice. Lyrics like, “If you were to kill me now I would still look you in the eye,” shows Vega’s insistence on making herself known through love. She goes into more of a folk-style production on “Night Vision.” This song almost reminds me of a Lord Huron song from their second album. While the story in this track is fictional, it is still inspired by poetry and has a more belonging theme to it.
The title track, “Solitude Standing” is more alternative-based and pop influenced. Vega incorporates solitude as a character here trying to set things straight with her personality. Vega seems to be trying to find herself here on this song, leaving the impression that she has been fighting with solitude for awhile now. “Calypso” is taken straight form the story of Odyssey, where Vega uses instances from that play to tell a heartbreaking love tale. Much like in “Luka,” she has a lyric like “My name is Calypso” to set up the story from the beginning. Very moving track. On the song, “Gypsy”, Vega takes a storyline out of a book to put her own style in music form. Over a slow-tempo guitar, she talks of belonging once again much like “Night Vision.” Vega seems to be fighting with solitude as the album progresses on.
What ties this album together nicely is, the “Tom’s Diner” instrumentation at the end. Vega just has a violin playing to the rhythm of her first song on the project, without lyrics. It’s like the listener has to put the two together and envision it his/herself. While Vega has not come out with anything as impactful preceding Solitude Standing, this album has still shown people that storytelling mixed in with a folk-like production can create something that is socially relevant. Vega creates this world that people can relate to, and have their own perspective on. Bands like Lord Huron will try to emulate her style, but the challenge will be difficult.