Jill Cunniff is a hippie, which turns out to be her least annoying quality on the truly unfortunate City Beach. All easygoing and inoffensively funky, the album plays like theme music for a rousing game of Hackey Sack in Central Park. It’s the first solo record from Cunniff, formerly of Luscious Jackson, and it does nothing to dispel the notion that Gabrielle Glaser was the glue that held that band together. Too urban-sophisticated to work as pop, too facile to be effective indie rock, City Beach is an album without a real audience.
It positions itself as a summertime chill-out record, and Cunniff’s voice is as warm and sultry as July, but the nagging feeling persists that she has no idea just how dated it all sounds. Luscious Jackson used to expertly merge stony hip-hop grooves with girl-group sugar, but the sub-Zero 7 noodlings here just don’t seem quite right.
The lyrics are often so simple that you expect them to have been written in a Mead notebook with pink ink, all the i‘s dotted with a heart. Some examples: (a) “Love is a luxury/ I don’t need much because you are enough for me”; (b) “They say you’re too wild/ But you got style”; and (c) “This town is full of women out there hunting for a man/ But right from the beginning I told you I’m a one-man band.” I imagine Jewel outgrew this type of shit by the time she got to high school.
I admire Cunniff’s attempt to create positive, breezy music. I just wish it were better.