On Boys Don’t Cry, the follow-up to her million-selling 2010 debut Seasons of My Soul, Rumer has recorded versions of tracks written by men in the 1970s. It doesn’t quite have the subversive qualities that Tori Amos’ similarly themed 2001 album Strange Little Girls had – with the possible exception of her take on Neil Young’s A Man Needs a Maid, where the sense and meaning of the original are somewhat altered by its being performed by a woman in 2012.
Often, with its covers of songs by Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Stephen Bishop, Paul Williams, Clifford T Ward, Gilbert O’Sullivan and Jimmy Webb, Boys Don’t Cry feels like Rumer’s deep immersion in the pantheon of arcane US and UK MOR rock prompted her to construct an alternative canon of commercial tunesmiths requiring critical rehabilitation. In almost every instance she inhabits the songs to such an extent that they feel like her own compositions, even when the titles at first seem inappropriate.
Williams’ Travelin’ Boy is one of two tracks here by a songwriter formerly covered by Karen Carpenter, whose voice Rumer’s resembles to an uncanny degree. Not for nothing did she recently receive the approbation of Richard Carpenter to go along with her plaudits from Elton John and Burt Bacharach.
The object of the project was, she says, to make a record that described the solace and anguish she’s experienced since achieving success and fame. Hence all the songs – including Travelin’ Boy, Ward’s Home Thoughts From Abroad and Flyin’ Shoes by Townes Van Zandt – about rootlessness and longing to be home.
It goes without saying that Rumer’s performances are uniformly technically flawless and models of restraint. Boys Don’t Cry works superbly as a companion piece to Seasons…, the harmonic richness of the music and lush chord sequences showing exactly where her allegiances lie: Be Nice to Me is Rumer doing Rundgren doing Laura Nyro doing Bacharach, and Travelin’ Boy suggests an album’s worth of collaborations with the composer of Rainy Days and Mondays would be no bad thing.
Boys Don’t Cry posits Rumer as a throwback, albeit a glorious one, to a bygone era, when the songwriting verities of the Brill Building were transposed to LA’s Laurel Canyon. Fabulous stuff.