Nina GordonNina Gordon
Bleeding Heart Graffiti
(Warner Bros.)

Chicago's Veruca Salt was one of the key bands of the '90s alternative rock scene, but after only a couple of albums, half of its vocal duo defected and "went pop." Nina Gordon's first solo album was a gorgeous debut release, spotlighting vocals that could bring a person to tears. She scored a hit with the title track "Tonight and the Rest of My Life," then decided to relocate to California to write and record her next album.

That was six years ago.

Veruca Salt continued on without Gordon, and so did the pop world. But now, at last, Gordon has resurfaced with an overdue second solo disc. It was worth the wait. Bleeding Heart Graffiti is an amazing statement of sweet, melodic, harmony-rich pop, which pulls the heart strings with nearly ever song. That is no more apparent than on the sing-song first single, "Kiss Me 'Til it Bleeds," where atop crunchy guitar chords, a scattering of bells and gently pounding piano, she declares:

"I'm gonna hang myself on someone else's just-enough rope
I know it's bad news, but I can't say no
if bitter is sweet than he's just what I need
so kiss me 'til it bleeds."

Later, in “Don't Let Me Down” she begs a lover, “it took me all this time to figure out what I need/and the journey made me weep/I feel like it's coming, this time don't let me down” and in the catchy rock-pop of “Turn On Your Radio” she turns the tables on melancholy and heartache and tells a former flame:

“I wanna write a song that will break your heart
I want you to hear it and fall apart
I wanna be there when the tears fall from your eyes…
turn on your radio and listen to these words as I repeat them
you have lost me.”

Part of the reason it took Gordon so long to return with her sophomore release was that her first recording in 2003-4 of the album turned out too mellow and sad for her taste; she ultimately pulled Veruca Salt's old producer Bob Rock on board last year to re-record the songs with a brighter attack. The result is an album that shimmers with tight guitars, taut layers of keyboards and harmony and on a first listen, seems upbeat. But production can't hide the theme of heartache that still runs throughout these tracks, and the dichotomy of the instrumentation and Gordon's injured lyrics creates a contradictory gem of an album. As I write this review and listen, the aching emotion in her songs has literally brought tears to my eyes. At one point she sings “I'm happiest when I'm blue,” and that's a perfect line to outline the heart that imbues these tracks.

“Bleeding Heart Graffiti” is more solemn and melancholy than Tonight and the Rest of Your Life, but it also includes some beautiful songs. One of its best is also one of its quietest: “When You Don't Want Me Anymore” opens with a slowly moving piano chord background as Gordon sings “and it's good to be alone/and it's good to see what I've become/when you don't want me anymore” before concluding “love dies/everyone lies/you did your best but so did I/everyone has to give up sometime.”

The disc isn't all down though: in “Suffragette” Gordon unleashes an urgent bassline and handclappin' rhythms for a rocker that would not have been out of place with a bit more edge on a Veruca Salt album. And the head-nodding buildup of “Christmas Lights” opens the disc with chiming dose of singalong rock that extols the feelings of new love:

“I'm gonna look to the sky
check out the stars
how they shine
to your eyes
they're just like mine
searching the darkness for some kind of sign
and building our lives on the dreams we string together
like Christmas lights.”

Gordon's second solo disc is anything but a sophomore slump; she proves once again that she can write meaningful, thoughtful pop that is anything but disposable. If you give her CDs a chance, her songs will resonate with your heart and ears for years and years to come.


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