reviewed by Cory McCrindle
If you believe that the door to true art is pain, then you will truly enjoy this album. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily painful to listen to the twelve tracks on Thought Experiment by Vanessa Cardui. In fact, it’s mostly rather soothing albeit at times quite melancholy. It’s just that you can really feel the pain Cardui must have gone through to be able to craft most of these songs. And that is part of the beauty of this album.
Thought Experiment features a lot of depth and drama, and will appeal to the more literate among us. Not being familiar with Vanessa Cardui, I would not be surprised to learn she has received classical vocal training. Her voice is rich and her song writing cerebral. She connects with you, I feel, because she has bared her soul and allowed you to experience her trials and tribulations from a safe distance. However, in doing so, we risk venturing so close to the glowing candle that we might get burned.
The first track on the album is called “Where Poetry Fails,” and offers up some welcoming, hypnotic guitar work. It’s a story of the excitement of new love that may remind some stylistically of Sarah McLachlan. The additional instrumentation – what sounds to me like mandolin as well as soft percussion and even wave sound effects if I’m not mistaken – works well. Cardui spins a good yarn here, and I love the line “You are where poetry fails.” Nicely done!
“Before She Falls Asleep” is a melodic number with some warm guitar and violin. I like the addition of what sounds like bongos and even flute in the song. Vanessa has a strong voice, although this song might have been boosted by a somewhat softer vocal delivery. Usually I am not a big fan of the acoustic guitar string scrape you hear from time to time on songs, but in this case it actually works to complement the track. One nice touch is the use of a rainstick in this tune, it really adds to the melancholy feel of the song.
In my opinion, Vanessa Cardui earns her closest comparison to Sarah McLachlan on track three, titled “Righteous.” Cardui weaves her magic on this one, with strong instrumentation including guitar and flute. It is a somewhat simplistic number musically, but definitely mesmerizing. To me it seems a bit short, but only because I was really enjoying it and suddenly it’s over. Lyrically, this is a strong number, with lines such as “I’m sorry that I’m doing this again/Confusion gets its claws in now and then.”
I am a big proponent of experimentation when it comes to music. It’s such a shame that emerging artists don’t do more of it. That’s why I enjoy the fourth track, “Reflections on a Goddess Crowned in Light.” It is a spoken word piece, and the result is powerful. It is a paean to love, stark in its delivery but nonetheless spellbinding. Vanessa shows off her flair for the dramatic and her marvellously poetic creativity.
“Keep Pouring Love On” is a poppier number, veering more towards Sarah Harmer territory in terms of style. The guitar work is warm and somewhat folksy. It’s nice to hear Cardui feature the higher end of her vocal range, which she does flawlessly. Not only that, but how often do you hear xylophone in a song these days? That in itself makes this one worth a listen. This number is a bit more uplifting than most of what came before it and makes for a nice counterpoint.
The spoken word approach returns in the song “The Wrath of Achilles” but operates mostly in the background of the track. The guitar and violin are supplemented with mandolin and it works well to provide the framework for the song. Vanessa does a great job on this tale of vengeance drawn from Greek Mythology. I’ve always been taken with musical artists who make you think, not just serve you up pabulum. Cardui seems to be influenced by literature and historical figures in her song writing, and I for one appreciate that.
“Laius” continues the theme of the previous tune, featuring spoken word behind the song. Again, it’s a guitar and violin flavoured track. It deals with the tale of King Laius – also of Greek Mythology – the father of Oedipus. It’s a dark story full of intrigue, and if you are familiar with it, you know what happens to Laius. If you don’t, and are interested, head for the library. Musically, it is a compelling tune and another good example of Vanessa Cardui’s literary bent.
“Cold-Blooded” marks the point in the album which for me sees Cardui stylistically repeating herself somewhat. Not to take away anything from the track. It would stand out well on its own, but is certainly not much different musically compared to some of the previous tracks. It’s yet another guitar and violin number with emotionally compelling lyrics. Depending on your mood, this song will either bring you comfort or despair. My money is on despair.
“The Legend of We” lightens things up a bit – slightly – which is a welcome detour. The guitar work is solid and the lyrics speak of a love lost but not forgotten. The percussion work is subtle enough not to interfere with the song’s emotional impact. You can hear the vulnerability in Vanessa’s voice and that is both compelling and heartbreaking. The only downside to this song, at least to me, is that at 3:10 it’s a bit too short.
Perhaps the strongest song on this album comes next. “Father” is an achingly beautiful track with a lonesome sounding flute providing the accompaniment to the clear, soft acoustic guitar. The stage set, Cardui tells us her story. “I turned every light out in my house/Sat in candle light/And softly hit bottom/Surrounded myself with odds and ends/Things my father touched/Before I forgot him,” she sings, her voice full of raw emotion. Any child who has become estranged from a parent for whatever reason can relate to this song. I give Vanessa full marks for tackling such difficult subject matter, and I am reminded of Joni Mitchell’s “River” when I hear this tune. They are both truly very moving numbers and I commend Cardui for sharing her pain. At the end of the song you feel empty, but to me that’s a sign that the artist has truly touched your soul.
“For Jason” is an instrumental, and to me sounds At times a bit like a slower, quieter version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” It’s a nice acoustic excursion, but doesn’t distinguish itself. I don’t dislike it, mind you, but nothing about it makes me want to hear it multiple times.
The final song on “Thought Experiment” is a marked departure from the rest of the album and perhaps a way for Vanessa Cardui to intentionally end things on a high note. It’s a Celtic sounding drinking song called “It All Winds Up in the Glass.” I am not sure whether or not Vanessa wrote it, but if she did it shows she has a wider range of musical influences. If you listened to just this song on the album, you would get a much different picture of her talents. The song features guitar, fiddle and even mandolin. I’m not exactly sure why she decided to put in pouring sound effects, but she did. There are also some backing vocals at play in this song, which is a nice addition. At least it may put a smile on your face after experiencing some of the heavier material on this album.
Good show! This is one of the better albums I have had the pleasure of listening to in quite some time. Sometimes it takes quite a while for an artist to open up. Sometimes they never really do, and only let us see caricatures of themselves in their music. But Cardui has done listeners a real service by exposing herself emotionally and letting us experience her artistry. Here’s wishing her a ton of success moving forward, and a sincere thank you, Vanessa, for sharing your gift. May all your experiments be as fruitful.
Top Tracks: “Father;” “Righteous;” “Keep Pouring Love On;” “The Wrath of Achilles”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*