For all its apparent hard-bitten toughness, Lydia Lunch's work is a surprisingly fragile thing, liable to shatter completely if it loses the listener's faith. In the case of Smoke in the Shadows, that entails buying into a series of semi-spoken, sleazy monologues about low-lifes, drifters, grifters, murderers and erotic obsessives, without allowing a smirk or a sneer to break the delicate meniscus of one's suspended disbelief. It's to her credit - and especially to the credit of the musicians who supply the suitably noir-ish jazz backdrops - that the edifice is sustained until the last few tracks, when her mannered delivery becomes intensely irritating: surly, swearing and sexually aggressive, she comes across like Peaches' pissed-off, crazy aunt on a track such as "Trick Baby", which is not really a recommendation. But the earlier parts of the album work well, in a manner reminiscent of John Zorn's Spillane. "The scene of the crime could be anywhere, at any time," she suggests in the opening "Hangover Hotel" - but it's always, by the sound of it, shot in moody black-and-white, to a Sweet Smell of Success soundtrack of creeping double bass, vibes and indigo horns, whether she's playing the sexual obsessive of "I Love How You...", the femme fatale of "Touch My Evil", or the spurned bunny-boiler of the title-track.
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