Nellie McKay

Pretty Little Head (Hungry Mouse / Sony)

Phases & Stages

Nellie McKay

Pretty Little Head (Hungry Mouse/Sony)

New York's Nellie McKay, the precocious pianist with a penchant for wry humor, wants to be adult contemporary music's Lucille Ball. She casts herself in the role of female clown with her musical timbre and syntax, in addition to her conversational tone and bald-faced lyrics. As we all know, however, it's a short distance from smartass to dumbass, and it's never a good harbinger for an album when the opening track ("Cupcake") sounds like bad, way-way-off Broadway musical theatre. McKay's problem is that she's unsure whether she wants to be a novelty act, like her friends the Trachtenburg Slideshow Players, or a serious artist with a political message ("Columbia Is Bleeding" is her protest against animal testing at Columbia University). The result is a 2-CD showcase for multiple personality disorder. It's one thing to be eclectic; it's another thing entirely for an album to lack a cohesive conceit that connects one track to all the others. Duets with Cyndi Lauper and k.d. lang, while presumably lending an air of legitimacy to McKay's endeavor, don't help – they're just as annoying as almost every other track on this 23-song vanity project.

*.5

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