Love Imagined, Desired and Lost:
By Jillian Steinberger

When I switch on commercial radio, it never fails—or perhaps it always fails: one of the female vocalists selling albums as fast as Victoria Secrets sells polyester bras is over-emoting again. My lord, I think. Is this my gender?

If many contemporary female divas give you the willies with their falsettos and wavery, stretched out notes in glass-breaking keys, screeching—or moaning—melodramatic lyrics for the lowest common denominator, you may well find Paula Frazer’s country-tinged jangle pop refreshing.

Heck, you’d love it, anyway. It’s beautiful, romantic, sexy. It’s hot.


Indoor Universe (Birdman) is a relationship record composed of catchy songs. If you’re the sing along type, you’ll be singing along with Frazer’s ardent lyrics, from the first song to the last, as they explore that vast emotional territory from pining to longing (with a break-up song or two thrown in for good measure).

Indoor Universe is Frazer’s first solo effort after over a decade of musical involvement. The veteran songstress and musician from Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia moved to San Francisco in 1981, two years after dropping out of high school, and played with punk bands (Frightwig, Trial, Cloiter, Faith No More). She returned to the south and went to college, becoming an archeologist. She returned to the Bay Area in 1989 and formed the act, Tarnation. Tarnation recorded two well-received albums and toured extensively with Nick Cave.

Frazer recalls ‘60s female chanteuses like Leslie Gore, Nancy Sinatra and Diahann Carroll, as well as girl groups like the Ronettes. Further, she has oft been compared to Patsy Cline, and the comparison is apt. She’s no sloppy seconds to Patsy - honest; and I’ll cross my fingers that she proves that over a long and dynamic career. Unlike the female performers who came before her, however, Frazer writes all of her own material and co-produces. She’s a multi-talented woman of the times. She also plays guitar, and her strums are in all the right places, tugging at our heartstrings.

Heartache, desire and love arise naturally from Frazer’s material, the arrangements and her voice. She is believable and moving without overstating the intensity of that emotion. She sings achingly, solo and in first person on forlorn girl experience against grand, evocative soundscapes. Yet, while the album is of a piece and hangs together, it is also varied. Some songs will have female listeners reaching in the closet for their Nancy Sinatra boots, whipping out the eyeliner and the attitude, and heading downtown on the sassy click of their heels (for instance, the faster paced toe tapper, "Not So Bad, But Not So Good").

The character Frazer paints from one song to the next, whether autobiographical or not, seems to be the same. She is sympathetic. She’s "every girl" on a bicycle in the city singing her heart out for the guy she’s worthy of who’s off doing his own thing, forgetting to take notice. This is a girl who should be gettin’ some; she’s sweet—you’ll root for her. The fact that the guy isn’t taking notice only means he’s an aloof "Shane" figure, a cowboy, urban and rural both, since Frazer’s soundscapes move from the open West to the city and back again.

True to the ‘60s genre she recollects, it’s as if Phil Spector produced Frazer’s album rather than she herself (with co-producer Jeff Palmer), and she has pulled off a smashing success. Frazer’s vocals are backed by a rich strings section, horns, woodwinds and percussion. It’s a "big" sound. The arrangements are right on the mark, as is the musicianship. Patrick Main’s pianos and organs play a key role. Additional instruments help songs conjure varied but complimentary textures, rhythms, beats, and moods: harmonium, glockenspiel, marimba, tubular bells, tympani, vibraphone, harmonica, crash cymbals and gong. Some songs have more of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western sound, as on the epic "Deep Was the Night."

However, it’s Frazer’s warm alto that hits the minor chords and her hooky phrasing that carries all. She is the highlight; she holds it all together. She also admirably avoids the over-the-top diva crap trap unlike many of her peers.

"That You Know" is one of my favorite songs, not just on the album, just period. It’s a sumptuous siren call of her cowboy to her bed sheets, as if to consummate the love, with the strum of a sultry, western guitar in the foreground and the strings section backing it up, creating a wall of sound á la Phil Spector. A little of Patsy Cline’s ghost emerges in Frazer’s voice when she sings,

"A whisper is but a simple beacon to your heart

And all along, you have known right from the start

Fall into the arms that you already know"

This veritable love incantation is the most romantic song I have heard since an aria from La Traviata. One might light the Novena candles while humming along and pray for results. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of the return of that evasive cowboy. The song is quite powerful.

Frazer’s indoor universe is, statistically speaking, one which many women, gay or straight, will likely relate to as their own. It reflects the interiority of many a female mind. And no, I’m not quoting feminist theory, I’m talking horse sense. The universal quality of her songs is admirably demonstrated on one of the best of a great crop, and it’s another splendid song, period. On "This is a Song", Frazer sings earnestly,

"This is the song that I sing for you

And all the words in the song are true

What can I say, what can I do

Each time I get close to you

There’s something wrong with everything I do."

If "This is a Song", which opens the album at track two, has any truth for Frazer personally, it certainly also connects with the universal for the audience. I’d wager her "words are true" for many salt-of-the-earth "every gals". And, even when her cowboy is finally by her side, dancing with her on "Stay As You Are", she’s praying for the status quo; either he is not emotionally available, or she cannot perceive him as such. What woman hasn’t experienced that feeling? She can’t just take a load off, kick back and enjoy.

Sure, guys pine and long too, and blame themselves for minutiae. But it’s sort of like this: Eskimos have something like 50 words for snow, and women have as many for yearning.

While I would never say Frazer executes her work by formula, I’d sure say she has the formula right, and her songs of love imagined, desired and lost unite the personal with the universal. They are pretty—lush, melodic, sad. Many are even fun, catchy and upbeat despite their down content. The vintage aspect puts you in the mood to get out the shirtwaists and the matte red lipstick, and take your man out on the town in his wingtips—if you can get him off his horse, out of his boots, or out of his leathers and into his gabardines.