I went to St. Louis to visit my college friends Mark and Lana on the second weekend of March 89. We went out and about for awhile on Saturday and wound up, naturally, at a music store, where I picked up Little Lives, by Adele Bertei, a disk I’d seen recommended somewhere (doubt it was Rolling Stone, since their blurb apparently didn’t appear until the 3/23/89 issue). I listened to it back at my friends’ apartment and was pretty quickly captivated; it wound up being the album I listened to most frequently that spring.
I’ll let Wikipedia summarize Bertei’s career, mentioning just one thing: it turns out I’d heard her voice once before picking up this disk—perhaps her biggest turn in the spotlight was being the back-up singer on Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive.” Little Lives sounded nothing like that. It’s mostly synth-driven dance music, with a few slower numbers thrown in. Not generally my sort of thing, but the lyrics are intelligent overall, and Bertei shows a strong sense of story development in her writing.
My recollection is that Little Lives got decent enough reviews at the time, but sold so poorly that it disappeared from even the cutout bins fairly quickly. One sign of its almost utter obscurity: only five of its ten tracks appear on YouTube. Unfortunately, some of those I like best aren’t represented, but I’ll share with you what I can find.
The single, which made #40 on the AC chart in late 88, is the anti-apartheid “Little Lives, Big Love.” There’s even a real video! It’s a great leadoff song, grabbing my attention so much that I wanted to keep listening.
The deal was sealed with track #2, “The Green Suit.” I was definitely in for the rest of the album at this point.
“Truth and Lies” is pretty topical for a dance number, noting a couple of events from 87: the Black Monday stock market crash of October and the Jessica Hahn-Jim Bakker sex scandal, which had broken in March.
The other two songs on offer today are ones I wouldn’t have picked for this post given a choice; they’re both among the slower pieces. “The Loneliest Girl (Pentimento)” tells about Jackie, who’s decided to leave town “rather than live life in a masquerade,” while “Golden Square” is a heartfelt ballad about a love affair that’s seemingly gone awry.
If I could, I’d have replaced the last two (nice as they are) with tracks 8 and 9: “Fool for Love,” an up-tempo number produced by Gary Katz, and “Hollywood,” a noir-ish piece about reaching out to a friend who’s succumbed to the temptations of the LA lifestyle. Another option would have been the erotic-sounding closer, “Love This Way.”
I’m not sure I’m coming across as a strong enough advocate for the disk, giving you enough reason to seek it out. I’ll just say this: I could still listen to it multiple times a day (and did so one day last week).
Bonus content: a pretty solid unreleased single that Bertei recorded around 86 with the help of members of Scritti Politti (yes, Green’s singing backup).