Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)
I have a terrible confession to make about this album; I discovered it because of Boyzone. I know, horrible isn’t it? Back in 1997, I was in my Father-in-law’s car and, as usual, he had some dreary middle-of-the-road radio station on and I suddenly became aware of this fantastic song a group I knew I absolutely despised were singing. Knowing that it must have been a cover version, as it was too good to be a song written for those talentless twits, I went into the local HMV and asked the members of staff if they knew who did the original of “Baby Can I Hold You” and one of the more knowledgeable members of staff both informed me that it was a very wonderful Tracy Chapman song from the very wonderful “Tracy Chapman” album and expressed her utter disdain for the Boyzone version. Impressed by the sales assistant’s endorsement, I bought this album the same day. When I got home and played it, I realised that I already knew and liked a couple of the other songs, the catchy “Fast Car” with that lovely, memorable guitar line and the fantastic moment when the powerful snare drum crashes in, the country-tinted “For My Lover” and the quietly optimistic “Talking ’bout a Revolution” from the radio, years ago.
I was, and remain, blown away by the strength of the songwriting and the heartfelt delivery of the whole of the album. It’s surely one of the greatest, most remarkable début albums ever made. “Baby Can I Hold You” is still my very favourite song and often causes excess moistness in my eyes when I listen to it, but there are so many excellent songs on her début, so many songs that hit home, emotionally, that it is truly excellent as a whole. The social and political commentary is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago and it is all the more effective delivered by that beautiful, deep, soulful voice. “Behind The Wall”, especially, is hard-hitting and powerful, sung simply, starkly and without any backing. “Talking ’bout a Revolution” particularly hits home, talking about “welfare and unemployment lines” and could easily have been written today, about people’s lives in our difficult, present economic climate.
This wonderful lyrical mixture of love, anger, feminism and racial issues (the superb “Across The Lines”) works so well because it is so convincingly conveyed with such dignity, passion and, certainly, a very emotionally honest way. It’s an album that I come back to time and time again and it retains a timeless feel to it, thanks to the largely acoustic instrumentation and unfussy production. I haven’t heard every subsequent Tracy Chapman album, but I would find it difficult to believe that she has ever equalled such a tremendous piece of work. However, she is obviously a genuine talent and has had a long recording career, so perhaps I’m doing her a disservice by saying that. One thing is for certain, this is an essential part of any decent record collection.