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LENE LOVICH (Buy CDs by this artist)
Stateless (Stiff/Epic) 1979
Flex (Stiff/Epic) 1980
New Toy EP (Stiff/Epic) 1981
No-Man's-Land (Stiff/Epic) 1982
March (Pathfinder) 1990
The Stiff Years: Volume One (UK Great Expectations) 1990

Lene Lovich helped pave the way for female vocalists to use as many vocal eccentricities as their male counterparts, to be unafraid to play a solo instrument (Lovich's is sax), and — as important as anything else — to feel free to adopt and project personae that are obviously feminine yet not socially stereotyped.

During her erratic and sporadic career, the Detroit native has made a batch of good tracks, but has yet to deliver an entire satisfying LP. This seems to stem from the fact that she and husband-guitarist-songwriting partner Les Chappell are not exactly prolific; even with choice selection of other people's material (including songs given to her expressly by Thomas Dolby and Fingerprintz's Jimme O'Neill) she has released only four full albums in twelve years.

Stateless, her debut LP, sports a pair of great singles: "Lucky Number" and "Say When." But despite her distinctive chirp'n'yodel vocals, the keyboard-dominated arrangements and the blend of great old American pop-rock with spooky occult and Balkan overtones, she needed more consistent material. Better production also might have helped; the US version has a reshuffled song order, a different cover and a much-needed remix.

Flex has a more modern studio sound and uses synthesizers, adding more varied vocal colors (and emphasizing the distinctive deep male backing voices). The songs are more consistent, yet the standouts, original and otherwise, don't quite match those on Stateless. The expansion of Lovich's religio-mystical worldview partially compensates.

New Toy, a foretaste of No-Man's-Land, is a single expanded to EP length; only the title track is truly worthy of any attention. Surprisingly, although two of the songs appear in slightly altered versions on the subsequent LP, "New Toy" itself doesn't. Lacking it, No-Man's-Land is another half-good LP, with Lovich's appropriation of "It's You, Only You" (from Holland's Meteors) again demonstrating her ability to bring out melody and create her own airy, eerie atmosphere.

The long-awaited March is a mixed blessing, but it's a welcome arrival all the same. While only "Wonderland" (the single) really jumps out, most of the album is pretty enjoyable. For every mannerism that seems a bit too cutesy or affected, there's another couple of moves that'll make you sit up straight in admiration. (One exception is "Shadow Walk," on which Chappell's grave enunciations of the title sound dangerously like frog croaks — or belches.) But for a spot of bass and percussion, Lovich and Chappell wrote, produced and played it all themselves.

[Jim Green]