Listen to this track by New York singer-songwriter and back-catalog revisiting artiste Suzanne Vega. It’s “Small Blue Thing”, a hauntingly beautiful love song that originally appeared on her 1985 debut album Suzanne Vega. This version of the song appears on her 2010 release, Close-Up, Vol. 1: Love Songs.
This album was one of four that Vega would release between 2010 and 2012, most of which were comprised of previously released material from her back catalog, and thematically arranged on each volume. This song is an impressionistic reflection on what it is like to be in love, with all of the contradictions and overwhelming forces that have indelible effects on the human heart. How could it not be included on a volume of love songs?
And maybe this new version reveals something else, too.
To start with, the Close-Up project was conceived as a way to accomplish a few goals as determined by the artist. One was to capture some different interpretations of some older material. Another was to secure the creative control over the songs, and in a format in which they could be offered to her online community as downloads.
A third goal was to bring the lyrics of the songs into the forefront by minimizing the production flourishes present on some of the original studio versions, and perhaps to free them up further by separating them from their original running orders. In changing their context by arranging the songs thematically, perhaps the way they’re perceived is changed, too. This gives them a new lease on life for longtime fans.
But, as a single unit within an album of love songs, “Small Blue Thing” is a towering achievement. It is a culmination of Suzanne Vega’s always unique combination of slice-of-life narrative and metaphor-rich impressionism. There are plenty examples of that to draw from here, with my favourite being the image of someone sitting with their knees against their mouth. It’s like the way a child would sit, a powerful image of vulnerability, and about being small in the face of love. It’s about being vaguely frightened by love as well, which is an aspect of love referred to in pop music, but rarely as eloquently as this.
Originally, “Small Blue Thing” was a single from her debut, charting in the UK, and only scoring low-level showings in her own country. She would have bigger hits in “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” that would bring her to prominence in North America. Yet, this earlier song established her as a songwriter with an incredible command of metaphor, imagery, and character.
Suzanne Vega is an active musician today. Her newest record Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles is out next month, kids! It’s her first platter in seven years. What’s a “platter” you ask? Look it up, junior.
Otherwise, check out what else she’s up to at Suzannevega.com
Also, check out this interview with Suzanne Vega on Sodajerker.