REVIEW: OH SUSANNAH – A GIRL IN TEEN CITY (2017)

Growing up in the 1980’s – but something for now

On the inner sleeve for “A Girl In Teen City” there is a picture taken in 1982.

It shows a girl of 13 years old with black eyeliner and short punky hair. That girl is Suzie Ungerleider and “A Girl In Teen City” is her new album.

This is her story of growing up in Vancouver, Canada.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, because this is the story of anyone who grew up anywhere in the 1980’s, whether its Vancouver or anywhere else on the planet – Birmingham, UK for example. Because although these songs are written from a female perspective and Ungerleider is six years older than MV, such is the skill in these tracks that they become our stories too.

Deeply personal, the inviting “Flashlights” is immediately recognisable to anyone who ever went round to the house of a “boy who lived up the road who’s parents we never saw” and “Wolf Boy” – a piano led ballad which showcases Ungerleider’s fine voice is a tale of teenage love.

The different styles of music are interesting too. “My Boyfriend” with its countryfied pop hooks, moves things into an almost Fountains Of Wayne area, “Darkroom At The School” is more reflective and “Getting Ready” is a two minute more blue collar thing, akin to something that the Gaslight Anthem might have done, but the evocative lyrics transport you back to the first concert you ever saw, (Skid Row at the NEC in 1991 if anyone cares….)

“Tickets On The Weekend” takes that theme and runs with it and Oh Susannah are that 13 year old punk again and the interesting music tells a tale of a girl that has been dumped and stoically manages to carry on, “you see the beauty in being alone” goes its pay off line and you know that she’s right.

One of the longer songs on “….Teen City”, “Waiting For The Blossoms” builds on lush strings. “Thunderbird” is another in the great tradition that subscribes to the idea that the car can be a metaphor for anything in songwriting – but it does have a quite fabulous chorus and sound like it could have been on Springsteen’s “Tunnel Of Love” record.

Given that Ungerleider is a Juno Award winning songwriter, we shouldn’t be surprised, perhaps that she’s cleverly able to bring the record back full circle before the end and write a couple of songs that reflect on the times the other work described.

“Puget Sound” is a huge ballad, but written in an immensely personal way, and “My Old Vancouver” is stark and stripped down, but there is an incessant, Dylan-esque quality about the way she sings it, and mention of “Clash City Rockers” and places where “X and Black Flag and Dead Kennedy’s played” sees her make sense of that 13-year-old and how she found her place in the world.

Writing about growing pains and bringing what is essentially a teenage diary to life was an ambitious thing to do. On “A Girl In Teen City”, Oh Susannah do it with passion, skill and a universal touch that makes this a thing of beauty.

Rating 8.5/10