David Browne
May 31, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Cruel Inventions

type
Music
Current Status
In Season
performer
Sam Phillips (Musician)
Producers
Virgin
genre
Pop, Rock

We gave it an A

Every so often on Cruel Inventions, Sam Phillips sounds as if she’s ready to lose it. Thank God, too: On the surface, Phillips seems just another wispy-voiced, ethereal singer-songwriter, writing moody songs chronicling the dangers of corruption and obsessive love. But Cruel Inventions is fraught with both beauty and tension, making it one of the year’s most beguiling records. Phillips’ producer (and husband), jack-of-all-trades T Bone Burnett, frames the razor-like edge of her voice with idiosyncratic arrangements, including fuzzed-out electric guitars and quirky percussive accents. The resulting combination makes the album’s lauded 1988 predecessor, The Indescribable Wow, sound as mild as a collection of Carole King rejects. Phillips is, alas, fond of overwrought lines like ”You face the blue and wish the roof would open up/But the arches of commerce have made the sky corrupt.” But then, on songs like an ode to confusion called ”Now I Can’t Find the Door,” the band drives the music into high gear, while Phillips’ voice vaults into a pained upper range to keep up, and all is forgiven. At moments like that, Cruel Inventions is pop at its most inventive. A

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