The singer-songwriter is a (deservedly) revered figure in popular music, bearing his or her emotions in their art for all to see. Sometimes it will strike a chord with us on a personal level, other times their stories are gripping enough that we feel for them, and in other instances we simply appreciate the music and lyrics for its beauty. Annie Dinerman’s 2009 release Broken Cookies fits into every category, although not always at the same time.
Its opening track, “If It Ain’t True (It Just Ain’t Love),” is a wayward country song, its narrator a woman recovering from a hurtful relationship, hoping – cautiously – to find her dream man. The song’s title shows the value of lessons learned at a more mature age, wiser despite the loss. Annie’s voice really shines on this one.
On what would, in a perfect world, easily be the smash single from this album, “My Ex-Boyfriend” appears to carry on the heroine’s tale. Its opening line, “You remind me of my ex-boyfriend,” is never something we men ever want to hear. (Seriously – even if you mean it as a compliment, that is the last thing we’d like to hear.) Annie makes the sentiment behind that potential date-ending non sequitur humorous by offering counter-statements: “You’re much cuter and you wear cool shirts […] you actually like your job.”
The song’s middle section holds all the secrets, where the narrator reveals a lack of affection and attention from her father, and an additional fear of being hurt once again by another man in her life. For anyone who’s resumed dating after a bad split, we can sympathize – that first embrace, that first hand on the knee – with the familiarity of physical and emotional intimacy, how even in that flash of a second, we’re reminded of the last time. It ends on a sweet, romantic note, with the narrator telling her man that he reminds her of her next boyfriend. We can almost hear the kiss at the end of the song.
The title track is a weak spot. Like the icing-coated cookies of the song’s chorus, it’s too much as far as the sentimentality of the lyrics go. Musically, it’s a bit flat. This is rectified quickly with “Egyptian Cotton,” which paints a realistic portrait of a date unexpectedly leading to romance. It isn’t roses, candles, and satin – we’ll let Barry Manilow keep that mass deception alive – it’s wondering if your partner will notice your thinning bedsheets. Instead of all the ornaments that typically adorn depictions of intimacy, Annie sings, “All I can give / Is just me, myself, / This defenseless heart,” an honest glimpse of what’s really on display in such a setting. Beautiful.
“Different Now” sounds like it was written by Kinks front man Ray Davies, whose second-person character sketches show a remarkably perceptive songwriter. With Annie Dinerman, “Different Now” comes across as an affirmation, with just a hint of darkness bubbling underneath the surface – references to bruises and a “tale of woe” imply an abusive relationship – that can make this an encouragement addressed either to herself or to an embattled listener. “In The Dark” is an oddly humorous, but still slightly sad, story about the narrator’s neighbor having raucous sex with a girlfriend. Rather than envying his exact experience – “His mattress is a rock band,” while hers is “A love song that’s waiting to be sung,” – she once again longs for a man to call her own.
“One Planet At A Time,” the first track on the album to feature multiple vocals (all overdubs from Miss Dinerman) as well as a double-tracked vocal on the bridge, gives us a unique twist on saving planet Earth, asking that we ignore exploring outer space until we get things right here on our own terrestrial orb. It’s a philosophy I endorse – those spacecraft used by NASA aren’t exactly eco-friendly. The whimsical shuffle “Big Dog” is, at its surface, about the narrator’s attempt to win over a neighborhood stray. Just beneath it is a sweet plea for affection from a loving man who is with another girl. It’s a fun song, but with a palpable ache in the singer’s voice.
The piano ballad “A King And A Hero” is a confessional where Annie admits her own flaws, brushing off a man’s kiss, wanting to remain “happy on my own,” but realizing her mistake. She asks the question the album itself seems to ask, the fundamental question underlining every person’s desire to find their soulmate: “Could you love me as I am? / Proud and plain-spoken?” It’s a touching moment on what is already an emotional roller coaster ride of an album. “Stole My Soul” follows in a similar frame of mind, asking if a relationship would be something beautiful or simply another source of pain. At the song’s end, she says to her lover “I can’t picture a morning without you,” a statement that goes so much deeper than simply saying “I love you.”
On the penultimate track, “Talking With Absent Friends,” we hear an electric guitar. Annie reflects on living a period of excess in the 1990′s, mourning for friends lost in 9/11 and a suggested suicide in the song’s bridge. It’s the most touching set of lyrics in this collection of songs, looking backward while also looking ahead with a feeling of hope. The closer, “Shores Of Egypt,” deliberately conjures up Biblical imagery – “I’ve crossed my Red Sea / He’s still standing on the shores of Egypt” – as a metaphor for a lover struggling with a depression the narrator is all-too-familiar with. As she beckons, “Lover, come to me / I’ve crossed the same sea,” we see Annie as a woman changed through the course of 12 songs in thirty-four minutes, stronger, and now reaching out to offer the help and guidance she’d yearned for.
Buy Broken Cookies on Amazon.
Annie Dinerman will be performing at Feinstein’s at the Regency on February 21, 2011. For more information, check her calendar page.
Visit Annie’s Homepage.