No new record by the Roches can bring the awesome surprise their debut did, but their third album is nearly as perfect. The first may have been prettier by conventional folk-music standards, but Keep On Doing is more ambitious, emphasizing some peculiar instrumentationespecially the coolly excited, pulsing guitar runs by Robert Frippthat often gives it the feel of rock, although the record is lush with acoustic guitars.
Arranging the songs in offbeat ways, the Roches sing them impeccably, their voices passing, colliding and scattering throughout the melodies only to meet on an exact chord. And they always deliver the unexpected. At a moment when just about any other songwriter would get weepy, a jilted Maggie Roche comes up with this couplet: "When I first met you, I failed to get you/Now that I let you come through, I forget who I am." Maggie's songs are more lyrically arcane than those of Suzzy and Terre, who are likely to address the problems of their lives in screwy ways. "Didn't you ever feel like the largest Elizabeth in the world?/Usually at a time when the boy is oblivious to the girl," writes Terre in one new song. The Roches like to let their audience know that they share the same awful momentsthe worst fears ("I'm probably not the kind of girl you think you want") and the worst feelings of inadequacy ("Why don't you listen to my little pep talk, instead of what that person said/And now I'm gonna open up the window, and you will come in off that ledge").
It's their weird sense of humor that sets them apart, and Suzzy and Terre are getting even funnier. The Roches could lay back and work their way through a set of gorgeous vocal exercises, like their epiphanous rendition here of "The Hallelujah Chorus," which they belt out like Broadway divas; instead, they bravely give the oddest material a go. And somehow, they remain folk singers whose harmonizing never seems like an elevated Campfire Girls' outing. Without resorting to psychobabble, they have sussed out the modern world and leave behind a maxim we can all live by: "Be on your guard/Jerks on the loose." (RS 382)
(Posted: Nov 11, 1982)
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