Riki Michele had the cards stacked against her when she went solo in the very early 1990s, often unfairly. I enjoy her solo stuff, particularly 1993’s One Moment Please, but she was coming from the highly influential band Adam Again. Her particular sound was far more “pop,” more in tune with the band’s first couple of albums than later ones. Her circle of collaborators was, let’s face it, sort of a boys club. And her peers of the time were known for being belters, whereas Riki’s voice was softer and sweeter.
Time changes nearly everything, and those changes can be heard on Riki Michele’s long-awaited return to music, Push. First off, indie pop has embraced the sweet-voiced delivery, and rather than Riki running to catch up with the world, it is as if the world has finally caught up to her. She’s also found in producer/collaborator Margaret Becker — a versatile writer and performer in her own right — someone who allows her to be so much more expressive, ethereal, and dare I say soulful than in the past. Without knocking Riki’s previous work, it is like she’s now found a partner in artistic crime who has allowed her to unlock her own doors.
That freedom is significant, as it seems to have allowed Riki to say whatever she wants. That sounds evident in the track “What Would You Say?” which suggests the breaking of a dependent relationship. “What do I get from you, what am I clinging to, and will it ever feel right? So for the plans I’m making, I’m gonna heal this aching, I’m going to stop mistaking you for God.” You can read that however you choose to, but it could narrate any sort of relationship that acts as a crutch, be it with a lover, a friend, a chemical. The vagueness supports a universality that probably would have been out of her reach during the times of her earlier albums. Sadly, that openness was out of a lot of artists’ hands. That’s just the way things worked then.
“Hey Mama Hey” grapples with grief and grace: “Oh, but mama I do love your style, your graceful timing and your sweet smile, your giving hands that care for many, it’s your turn now — I’ll give you what you need.” That’s the toughest flip to make, isn’t it? When you find that a parent or caregiver has become the person in need of care. The song indicates the willingness to make that reversal, without patronization or infantilization, but with love.
And that’s the reoccurring theme that runs through Push. Even when the subjects get a bit heavy, the atmospheric music and the “you are here” immediacy of the message comes through. Everything outside of the moment we inhabit, even tomorrow, is a mystery. Sometimes the only way to get past the tragic moment is to push through, and once that happens, you can appreciate that moment afterward where all you really need to do is breathe. The CD is peaceful but not sedate. Riki Michele and her friends and conspirators have not come to lull you to sleep, but they certainly have produced a set of recordings that “get you in the feels,” as some might say. Push now stands as Riki Michele’s best solo effort, and all the pieces, including those that never quite aligned before, fit right into place.
You can find out more about the new album at Riki Michele’s website: www.rikimichele.com