Enemy is Kristeen Young’s second solo album, following Meet Miss Young and Her All-Boy Band on World Domination. Whatever happened between her and that label is a shame, because though Meet Miss Young… is a fine record, its seemingly overbusy keyboard textures and abandoned vocal mannerisms actually under firm control, Enemy is a significant advance: more artistically adventurous (meaning more eccentric) yet more surefooted; if there's any justice (meaning a reasonably-sized label release) it should get her more noticed.
For the first 24 hours I had it, I basically listened to nothing else; and the experience of both me and other friends who own it is that it becomes an obsession
Of the fifteen songs, only three I'd grade C; and only because they're just a little more conventional, a little more routine, sound a little bit too much like other songs of hers. “The Good Night” and “Nothing” are both in her frequent vein of fast, rocking keyboard riffs with more major-key choruses; “Sacrifice” is a ballad, but her emphatic almost Grace Slicklike choppy melismata take it out of the "pretty" range.
Another five rate a B: solid examples of her songwriting, which on this album tends to find a solid groove (riff, ostinato) and stick to it, intensifying the song as it goes along with more vocals, more heated lead vocals, more extra instruments added to the mix, etc.
One of these latter is a really nice ballad, "Lucia," much calmer than most of the album; “Night Blindness” is equally melodic but more uptempo; “I’m Sorry” is more rushed and desperate; all three dealing in their differing moods with the frustration of what-do-I-do-with-my-life. “BOOMerang” is more strident, more eccentric, more lapel-shaking; and “Enemy,” with its quick changes of mood from imploring to celebratory to back again, is more in line with the previous album’s songs.
This leaves seven A songs. One of them is also kind of a ballad, "Laurel," but it's uneasy, stumbling, heavyfooted, and triple time (somewhat similar to the great "Guidance" from her earlier Waterworks band, or “Fishnet” from Meet Miss Young…). It's more ominous than soothing.
Three further are of a type: huge, grinding keyboard riffs which, combined with Jeff White's almost overpowerful drumming, come close to Zeppelinish pummeling. The leadoff track "Year of the Woman"—which I'd never heard before but goes to the head of this class—is faintly reminiscent of the end of "Dazed and Confused"; "Take Me" is very much like "Kashmir," not only the rising chromatic main riff against a drone but the descending chromatic riff and the stiff, thud-in-place transition riff (though hers are shorter and her own); and "Mouth to Mouth" is very faintly like, oh, say, "Trampled Underfoot" in its high-energy minor-third riff. Though they resemble one another, the songs have such strong riffs -- they're hooks, really, like the best Zeppelin riffs—that after only a couple listens you say, oh, yeah, that one. This batch also gains in power through sheer reiteration and various kinds of intensification.
And this leaves three songs that tower above the rest of the album, definite A+ songs that I knew were among her best the first time I heard them live. All three are strikingly original (i.e. they're not like anything else she's written including one another) and stretch her style to the breaking point; but they're not experiments, they're achieved musical works.
"Have you ever worked with anything HI-TEK?" (I reproduce the orthography exactly) features a blistering ostinato in 7/8, not that far off from some of the other riffs on the album, but its shortness (one bar), unevenness, and relentlessness gives it an even more obsessive quality. Miss Young first talks then yammers over it, and the effect can only be described by two wildly disparate images: 1) Kate Bush covering "Apocalypse in 9/8" from the Genesis epic "Supper's Ready" 2) Laurie Anderson gone completely manic. It's a truly overwhelming song.
"Incubator" is the "you can't catch me" song (it has extremely creepy anti-pregnancy lyrics), built over an almost annoying little tonic/mediant alternation (also one bar), which on this studio recording has out-of-key tuned percussion clanking and wrong-key countermelodies; it sounds like a broken music box. For the occasion Miss Young dusts off her squeakiest, most cartoonlike vocal, and...well...words kind of fail me at this point. If the kid's chant "nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah" could be turned into a song, it might sound like this.
"Skeletons" is her sparest, quietest song; it's also one of the spookiest songs I think I've ever heard, a funeral-march danse macabre, if you will. Two piano notes (low tonic up to minor third , E-G in this case) on beats one and two of a slow measure, followed by two silent beats, constitute the "ostinato." The tolling tubular bell note on the upper tonic causes me to muse that the whole song is kind of the dark side of Arvo Pärt.
In comes Miss Young, in the very lowest register we've ever heard from her, sotto voce, worrying the tonic up to the third and down to the "flat 7th" (D in this case); there's a little cadential phrase that droops down to the lower 5th (B). The atmosphere has a static quality, but the hushed sense of fearful apprehension is strong.
Then she lets out a wavering wail, full-voice, about two octaves higher, which strains mightily to prevent the 5th (B) from collapsing to the tritone; it heaves itself even higher, up to the minor third (G) another sixth above it. It's a rivetingly dramatic moment; many of her songs start with a relatively restrained vocal which lets loose later, but in this context -- bare texture, stark contrast -- it’s rather like a siren went off in the middle of the song.
Back to the quieter vocal, in the middle octave this time, worrying the cadential phrase and breaking up into Margaret Hamiltonisms and modal warblings; then another even more apocalyptic clarion call before lapsing into mutters and silence.
It's only three minutes long, but subjectively it's much longer; essentially a single frightening musical image (just as Pärt's Cantus is a tearful but consoling one). It's just plain jawdropping.
One of these three is the best song she's written. But I'm not sure which. Bottom line: this is the first great album of 1999.