I started to construct this review after three or four listens of this album, but really couldn't sit down to write it, as it seemed to be one of those records that still had more to give. It was only after listening to it around a dozen times, that I felt that I had the measure of the album and could give it the response it deserved.
Exene Cervenka, for those who do not know, was a founding member of the L.A.-based punk band X. Although that is not the sum of this woman’s work, as she has since branched out into other bands including Auntie Christ and the Knitters to name but two, produced work in the form of books as well as film, and has also gone down the solo route of music making. The Excitement of Maybe is her third solo effort, but the first one I have heard, so I had no preconceptions of how the album would sound.
From the initial track “Already in Love”, what becomes apparent is that Exene has a voice that stands alongside many of my favourite female vocalists: Maria McKee, Kirsty MacColl, Liz Eldredge (Even in Blackouts) and Eleni Mandell. It’s got a serene quality to it that draws the listener in, as tales of love are delivered with minimal vocal emotion but allowing one to discern that there are, without doubt, depths of feeling within each song.
The album seems to encompass a range of styles, although they are all built within a country feel and not the sugar-coated, mass-produced version that is commonplace these days, but one that hearkens back to a straightforward approach, created with a minimum of fuss. With a touch of folk and a hint of pop, The Excitement of Maybe has slight variations throughout that delight and intrigue, thus ensuring it’s not a one-trick pony.
To showcase the pop element, the second track “Brand New Memory” reminds me of some UK indie bands, namely Heavenly and Girls at Our Best! as it breezes along, as fresh as the first days of spring—it’s got a fresh feel to it, the epitome of new beginnings.
With “Alone in Arizona” you can hear Exene’s voice quiver as she sings, again enhancing the emotional feel that flows through the record, and displaying how love can be fragile and also so strong.
The general theme of love is never far from the fore, with it being viewed from various stages, i.e. being in love, losing a love, as well as looking forward to what might be (“The Excitement of Maybe” being a perfect title in this respect). There is no vitriol or hyperbole—just plain talking from the heart, which I believe makes this such a beautiful collection of songs.
It’s hard to pick out songs that stand out as this is a rare album in that there is no weakness to the material; it is sequenced perfectly and burrows deep into one’s consciousness to form a lasting imprint on the mind. However, “Dirty Snow” and its plaintive refrain, “Please don’t leave me yet,” sticks in my mind, especially the lines “Until I replace each warm embrace / Please don’t leave me yet,” indicating that need to hang on to someone/something until something else comes along or you've had the chance to get over that person is the track that I frequently find myself singing.
This is a beautiful album, resplendent with a sound that is almost impossible not to enjoy, lyrics that beat at your heart and with a sense of feeling that love is always with us in one form or another, for good or bad. I can see me enjoying this album years from now as much, if not more, than I do now.
Finally, the cover art (by Exene herself) is a hint to the theme of the album and is a simple way of presenting the record—it gets the point across.