Even a brief survey of Robyn Cage’s songs shine out her unbridled love of music; she is no subject of the pop music machine. Her choices are unique, and, while her videos are stages and embed all sorts of artifice, they are never fake or artificial. With all the semi-goth, steampunk undertones of her look, her voice and words are those of a balladeer. There is a narrative drive in all of her songs, her videos, and her choices. I’ve been following Ms. Cage since I first saw her “Burning Now” video when it first came out in 2014; my response at the time was “Ridiculously good” (who knew we would have our history through Twitter)? That remains my response with the added realization of the breadth of her work. Simply listen to her the post-apocalyptic “Burning Now” with underlying baseline flipping to minor key misery then to the crystalline clarity of her cover of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” sounding as if she’s a member of Celtic Woman. Then there’s her tribute to David Bowie – here she is, appearing to float on the Great Salt Lake with only her voice and a keyboard. She nails it with a combination of earthiness interspersed with ethereal trills. What a range within a still relatively small body of work. So this is Ms. Cage – melting our minds with the story of “Theatre Noir” and capturing our hearts with her collaboration with Isobel Von Finklestein in “Annabelle’s Dance. ” There is variety and breadth as the threads of storytelling conjoined with beautiful singing are woven throughout the disparate songs.
With this picture of Ms. Cage before our eyes, let’s take a look at how this plays out in her album Born in the Desert. This beautifully eclectic album starts out with “The Arsonist and The Thief”: “They met in the desert-their encounter was brief/He was an Arsonist, she was a Thief/He struck a match and she burned with desire/She stole his heart, he set hers on fire.” I love the images even this brief line evokes. She sings of the tentative nature of love that needs to be nurtured by using juxtaposed images.
I also love how “Larger than Life” embodies Ms. Cage’s ability to meld her storytelling, songstress side with a driving pop sound. She speaks of the downward slide of love which builds towards a more driving sound with the pre-chorus: “We walked on holy ground/We took a sacred vow/You stripped me of my power/You broke me down” crescendos with this fabulous chorus: “I used to be a Goddess, a Priestess/In your eyes/I used to be stronger, stand taller/ Larger than life/ Now you’ve cut me down so small/ I don’t exist at all.” This mix of ballad and pop reflecting loss and recognition of strength work perfectly.
“Born in the Dessert” clearly sets itself up differently as she begins with her voice slide down the notes, an earthier tone and a melody whose beat roles just a little different than our expectations. She moves from near sotto voce to fortissimo voce as she builds her story. Her rich imagery of a flood of blood, pushing boulders up a mountainside and rising from the dust are what make her “love songs” unlike any other. Her imagination also shines in “Burning Now” while exercising her penchant for using opposing images, in this case, ice and fire: “But I’m learning now/My love is burning now/I’d do anything/To make you turn around/These icy walls are burning/My heart is burning now”
Here’s a cool remix of “Burning Now”
It’s interesting how much “Annabelle’s Dance” and “Theatre Noir” share a similar sound for two very different songs. Annabelle’s Dance is almost a postcard of a time in a girl’s life, providing both a picture of the girl and a slice of her emotional/thought caught in time. Theatre Noir, on the other hand, is a vignette of a performing circus group with a man who wishes to follow his love and to do so must become one of them. One of the things I love about Robyn Cage, and this song, in particular, is that she invites and involves those who don’t fit, those, to quote Maxim Gorky, who “are foreigners in their own country.” We misfits, fit in with her; her songs welcome us in and tell our story.
I haven’t even touched on the recognition of our storms and struggles in “If you Don’t Try”, our breaking from our cocoons in “The Cave”, letting go our anger at disillusionment in “Cinderella Story”, the loss of a loved one in “Letting Go” or the power of love to change us, even to enable us to love in “Capacity.” These are all great songs. What makes this album so special is that Robyn Cage applies her considerable voice, exquisite timing and emphasis to build a musical tapestry of varied weaves and texture into a lovely, coherent album.
I highly commend this album (and all of her work) to your listening pleasure.