CD Review of Blue Alert by Anjani

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Blue Alert
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Sony Legacy
Released: 2007
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Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Just…wow.

Ahem. Sorry about that. Chalk it up to a momentary loss of composure, but don’t be surprised if you have the very same reaction upon settling in for your first listen to Anjani’s Blue Alert. Then again, you might be sitting there at this very moment, instead finding yourself surprised at the fact that Bullz-Eye is just now getting around to discussing this album, given that it was released by Sony back in May of 2006. Funny thing is, that’s not the version we’re talking about…but, wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Anjani’s last name is Thomas, but you’ll find yourself using it about as often as you use Ciccone when referring to Madonna; this is definitely a woman who already has enough of a musical identity to only need just the one name. This realization of her sound has undoubtedly come about in no small part because of her work with Leonard Cohen. Having worked with Cohen since 1984, Anjani’s vocals first appeared alongside his on 1985’s Various Positions, and with the lone exception of 2001’s Ten New Songs, she’s been on every studio album he’s recorded since. Indeed, the ongoing musical collaboration was successful enough to result in Anjani co-writing two songs with Cohen for his 2004 release, Dear Heather.

Anjani released two solo albums prior to Blue Alert – her self-titled debut arrived in 2000, which was followed in short order by the spiritual expedition of 2001’s The Sacred Names – but, for better or worse, it’s likely that those discs will ultimately be remembered about as well as the discs Alanis Morissette released before Jagged Little Pill. All ten songs on Blue Alert were co-written by Anjani with Leonard Cohen, who also served as producer and arranger for the disc, and the end result is the sort of smoky piano-jazz album that Norah Jones and Diana Krall would give their eye teeth to call their own.

The slow, slinky, and sensuous feel of these songs occasionally belie surprisingly intense lyrics, which emerge as early as the album’s opening lines, in its title cut:

There’s perfume burning in the air
Bits of beauty everywhere
Shrapnel flying, soldier hit the dirt
She comes so close you feel her then
She tells you “no,” and “no” again
Your lip is cut on the edge of her pleated skirt
Blue alert

(Is it just me, or can you close your eyes and just picture Cohen leaning over Anjani’s shoulder, saying, “Oh, I like that”?

For the most part, however, this is an album about love. There’s a steel-pedal-powered drinking song about the lack of it entitled “Never Got To Love You” (“They're stacking up the chairs / Wiping down the bar / I never got to tell you / How beautiful you are”). There’s also a sad but familiar story about mistakenly forcing oneself into it; in “Crazy to Love You,” Anjani sings, “I had to go crazy to love you / Had to let everything fall / Had to be people I hated / Had to be no one at all.” Amazingly, however, she still manages to kick the sad up another notch for “Nightingale,” which rivals Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” as a poignant song of farewell. On its heels is “No One After You,” about a woman of the world who, after plenty of “misadventures” (that’d be the polite term), has finally found love; Anjani’s delivery of the lines, “I tremble when you touch me / I want you more and more / I taught the Kama Sutra / But I never loved before,” the track officially earns her title of “a Julie London for the 21st century.”

To call Blue Alert an instant classic is in no way overstating things; if it wasn’t, then surely it wouldn’t have already been reissued via Sony’s Legacy imprint, adding a bonus DVD to heighten the experience – right? Of course, this is faulty logic – in truth, it’s really a typical major-label method to fleece a few more bucks out of completist fans – but if you missed Blue Alert the first time around (and, hey, we admit it, we totally did), you’ve got even more reason to check it out.

~Will Harris