Radio Doll’s first self titled album is pure delight. One part early Madonna, one part vintage Stevie Nicks, this eleven track treasure charms from beginning to end.
Eschewing the modern vocal theatric techniques of many of today’s pop singers, Radio Doll’s Serena Wright has a nuanced delivery that is both expressive in content and emotional impact. Rather than wring out every line by bending and twisting notes beyond recognition she allows her lyrics to define themselves and let her impassioned tone do the heartrending. She is able to direct each subtle change of lyrical meaning within and between songs with a soulful voice drenched in hope and longing.
The opening track, “Serious,” exemplifies many of the albums finest qualities. It is succinct, simple in production, and features the minimalist guitar work of David Wright. Reminiscent of the way Andy Summers of the Police or James Wilsey, the guitarist on Chris Isaac’s early albums, could provide a full sound without overburdening the listener, David Wright with just a few chops is able to give this song an understated grandeur. While this is a dance song as good as any you are likely to hear today, it does so without layers of unnecessary synthesizers mucking up the production. It is precisely because of the songs simplicity that the one brief technical trick, a faded delay on a vocal line in the middle of a short instrumental break, catches the ear as one of the highlight moments of the album.
The next two tracks are in the same rock/disco vein as “Serious.” “Day By Day,” perhaps the album’s most radio friendly song, has a full ominous sound with a memorable chorus that is easy to sing along with, and is followed by the Blondie-like “Super Model.” If the album had continued in this fashion it would have been good, but that it shifts directions and becomes stylistically much more is what makes this a great album, an album that cannot be pigeonholed.
The final eight tracks of Radio Doll contain songs of stylistic variety that are glued together by Serena Wright’s unique vocal presence and quality songwriting. “So Sure” is a post-punk guitar relic similar to the Motels, “Can’t Believe” has a Fleetwood Mac sensibility, “Escape” wraps around an up-tempo blues rock riff like something from Los Lobos, “Twisted By Love” with its interplay between synths and guitar riffs could have been an 80’s Belinda Carlisle hit, and “All I Have” is grunge during the verse and Duran Duran during the chorus. The poignant “Bittersweet” offers an emotional closure with a foreboding wall of unison bass, guitar, and synth driving the chorus to the enduring melancholy end of this brilliant recording.