Zeebee: Priorities
Angelika Köhlermann

Invariably any article about Zeebee likely opens with mention of her ‘Billie Holiday on helium' voice—an understandable and excusable ploy given how indelible an instrument it is. She may be the only singer whose natural voice needs to be heard at half-speed in order to sound ‘normal.' But enough of that; every listener sufficiently familiar with the Chemistry debut will have become acclimatized to her singing style—or not. Those who have know that there's considerably more to Zeebee than the unusual voice: there's the adventurous stylist, the torch aficionado whose taste extends from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee to dancehall and electro-punk. Still, it's the voice that unifies her sophomore effort Priorities though, interestingly, the singing style doesn't radically change while the songs themselves—eclectic to say the least—do.

The stylistically disparate opening songs are clarifying statements about who she is (“I was born as a Zeebee / Under the sign of Exupéry” and “These are my priorities / A simple life is all I need”). Driven by frenetic bongo- and horn-driven rhythms, the raucous curio “Zeebee Case” transports us to The Cotton Club, the manifesto character of the song's lyrical content a bizarre match for the raging jazz band accompanying her. The following song, “Priority,” bleepy dance-funk interspersed with a spy thriller guitar riff, is more successful but the album's best material, like the lush electro-pop of “Free Now,” lies ahead. The anguished torch of “Sweetness” and pleading “Sunday Morning,” for example, play to her strengths in allowing her to wring emotional drama from her voice.

As before, Zeebee fully exploits her collaborators' gifts—Chemistry partner Gerhard Potuznik, plus Jeffry Math, Trishes, Sub City , and Kayleph—but it's the three collabs with Kevin Martin (aka The Bug) that are the album's strongest. Ella Fitzgerald's classic “A Tisket A Tasket” becomes almost unrecognizable in the slamming dancehall treatment Zeebee and Martin bring to it. The song's pounding groove and squirming synth hook provide an incredible counterpoint to Zeebee's less ornate vocal delivery. The lethal snare crack and dubby production he brings to “Cards And Signs” is even more fabulous, especially the cavernous echo with which her vocal is drenched, while “Attempted Suicide” closes the album with a slightly less poisonous dancehall treatment.

The album's not without flaws. The swaying dance-funk treatment given Peggy Lee's “Fever” is less compelling than the Fitzgerald outing, though the creaky violin hook is distinctive and the bubbly bass line lends the song bite. “Jeff's Disco” is a decent enough but unnecessary instrumental interlude—filler, put less charitably—and the grating electro-punk of “Cartoonboom” seems more calculated to show her range than anything else; in addition, shaving a few minutes off of the album's 54-minute running time might have been wise. But there's no denying Zeebee's uniqueness and the Martin collabs in particular bode well for the work to come. An album-long collaboration between the two would be especially enticing.

September 2006