From nude as the 90's (#96 of the 100 most compelling albums of the decade)

 

(we get there when we do)
suddenly, tammy!
Warner Bros., 1995

Reviewed by Jonathan Cohen


Unfortunately, this hidden major-label gem arrived on the scene just past the expiration date of true alternative music; before Fiona Apple and Third Eye Blind were rock radio’s idea of “challenging.” suddenly, tammy’s piano-centric sound was one-of-a-kind in 1995, but We Get There When We Do, the band’s major label debut, sadly got lost in the shuffle of less interesting ivory-ticklers like Apple and Ben Folds Five. It would be one thing if suddenly, tammy’s unconventional instrument lineup (piano/bass/drums) were its only distinguishing feature, but the Pennsylvania-based trio has the songwriting chops to set itself apart from the pack.

Indeed, We Get There was one of the last big-label alternative records to really push any kind of artistic envelope. Whereas Ben Folds writes lyrics from the perspective of his high-school-aged self, suddenly, tammy! singer Beth Sorrentino fashions these same childlike-themes into affecting, ambiguous stories-in-progress (the arty “Flemen,” “Mark Of Man”). And while Folds and company draw heavily from the theatrics of ‘70s-era Elton John, suddenly, tammy! informs its music with Carole King’s creative melodies (“Supersonic”), subtituting bombast for beauty.

Still, Sorrentino, an elementary school teacher by trade, is as adept at kicking up a storm with percussive poundings (propulsive opening track “Hard Lesson”) as she is at weaving sentimental instrumental webs in the vein of George Winston. She mulls over her experiences in both first and third-person guises, inspiring the kind of personal reminiscences that inevitably unearth bittersweet memories. On the crisp “Beautiful Dream,” her recollections of the “high school gym lit like a talent show” allow for a myriad of interpretations. But Sorrentino gets tripped up on songs like “Not That Dumb,” where allusions to “braiding my hair” confuse realism for interesting lyrical fodder.

Musically, We Get There When We Do does an excellent job of matching the tenor of a song with its implied subject matter. Several of the songs, such as “Snowman” and “River, Run” ruminate on the way nature influences mood and experience, where Sorrentino’s calming piano parts amplify the sparse surroundings. The more abstract tracks feature similarly original musical arrangements, particularly “Long Way Down,” which segues from a weird chant (“such a long way down / to see my parents”) into a smoldering, spinny chorus seemingly plucked from another song altogether. Occupying more of a middle ground, “Hard Lesson” reigns in the temptation to be odd for the hell of it and rocks out on a memorable melody and a strong, driving rhythm. Sorrentino’s pretty voice, although not particularly distinctive, lends just the right personal touches where necessary, most notably on piano-only closer “Bound Together,” one of the more direct songs on the record.

Destined to be heard by far too few, We Get There When We Do endows its songs with the kind of fresh perspectives that demand repeated listening. And out of the post-’95 major-label universe, it’s tough to name an album - let alone a debut - that demanded it more.

 

"'Hard Lesson' is my favorite track on the album. You have a tendency to learn things the hard way, and that's what the song is about."

Beth Sorrentino
- suddenly, tammy!