Suzanne Vega has been away. It’s seven years since her last studio album. She has had to reinvent herself as an independent artist; she was dropped by her label. So she painstakingly re-recorded her best-known songs, to exert some ownership over her back catalogue. However, last month she finally a released a collection of new material, written with her long-time musical director, Dubliner Gerry Leonard (perhaps better known as David Bowie’s guitar-slinger on the album The Next Day).
Vega performs many tracks from the new LP for a sold-out Olympia. But she starts with an oldie. Donning an incongruous top hat, Vega coos her way through ‘Marlene On The Wall,’ a paean to adolescent yearning, penned when she was young herself, in 1985 (the hat, she says, is in tribute to the song’s subject matter, Marlene Dietrich).
From here, Vega requests our indulgence, as she and Leonard step briskly through the new LP, Tales From The Realm Of The Queen of Pentacles, a wispy affair weighed down with Biblical and classical illusions.
The subject matter — life, death, hope and despair — is heavy, but Vega’s delivery is light, almost breezy, and the material does not outstay its welcome.
Sad to say, but in 2014 nobody goes to a Suzanne Vega concert craving new songs. Vega is, no doubt, perfectly aware of this and, having reminded us she is still a working writer, seems happy to slip into retro-mode. She dips into her breakout 1987 LP, Solitude Standing, to perform the title track, the a cappella hit ‘Tom’s Diner’ and ‘Luka’, the rumination on domestic violence that made her a star.
She also pays tribute to her friend and collaborator, Lou Reed, who died last year, with a cover of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.
“It’s good we’re all together after so many months of Twitter messages,” she says, at the beginning. The whoops of acclamation around the room confirm the love flows both ways.
Star Rating: 4/5